Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women
775th & 776th Meetings (AM & PM)
Women in Serbia were beginning to benefit from the many measures aimed at overcoming the serious problems the country faced as it underwent a process of political transformation following a period of conflict, instability and isolation, a member of Serbia's delegation told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today.
Presenting Serbia's first ever report on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Vesna Ilić Prelić, State Secretary of Serbia, said that, despite the introduction of radical legislative reforms and democratic institutions, the many challenges facing women in Serbia remained. The period covered by the report -- 1992 to 2003 -- had been marked by conflict, disturbed relations with neighbouring countries and the international community, economic sanctions and internal instability.
Regarding the Convention's implementation in the autonomous province of Kosovo and Metohija, which had been under United Nations administration since June 1999, she noted that, while the Convention was applicable in that province, Serbia could not assume responsibility for its implementation. Describing the human rights situation in that province as generally "very grave", she suggested that the Committee find the most adequate way to consider the Convention's implementation there. While political will and commitment to change no doubt existed in Serbia, achieving gender equality was an ongoing process, she added, reaffirming that, as a country in transition, Serbia remained committed to that change.
In the discussion that followed, one expert said the report was "silent on the situation of women in minority groups", and wanted to know whether the delegation thought the situation of minority women deserved specific attention. Another expert asked what measures the Government was taking to tackle persistent gender stereotypes, as well as re-emerging traditional practices in certain minority groups, such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage.
Turning to the issue of temporary special measures, an expert noted that, while the delegation had detailed an impressive number of initiatives, some women were systematically overlooked. Roma women were the most vulnerable of all minorities in Serbia, with high levels of illiteracy, and suffering from labour discrimination, lack of access, and degrading treatment by health professionals. While she recognized Serbia's political struggles, she also recognized that it was formulating a new society, and that was the greatest opportunity for special temporary measures for women at all levels.
Several experts expressed concern regarding the issue of violence against women, with one expert noting that the country's Criminal Code "seemed to be going backwards" in terms of women's rights. Experts also stressed the need for legislative reform to include provisions for penal sanctions and compensation for the victims of violence, and asked whether legislative change would be accompanied by protective measures, such as shelters, rehabilitation and support services for victims of violence.
While there had been developments in Serbia, the country was still in a phase of transition, uncertainty and negotiation, one expert said. Noting the important contribution of women in post-conflict reconstruction, she encouraged the delegation to ensure women's involvement in the negotiations on the situation in Kosovo. Serbia had made extraordinary progress in so little time, another expert said, while at the same time asking women in the delegation to think about the Roma and other minority women, who currently had 0 per cent representation in the Government. If women made progress at all levels and in all spheres of social and political life in Serbia, then "you will rapidly recover all that was lost".
Expressing some concern at the delegation's repeated reference to conforming to standards of the European Union and not to the Women's Convention, another expert asked whether the Government intended to adopt a holistic approach to modify and eliminate the various forms of systemic discrimination against women in the labour market by using the Convention as a framework. She also suggested a review of the "psycho-physical" capabilities of women that did not allow them to work at certain jobs, as that notion was outdated.
Responding to several of the questions raised, a member of Serbia's delegation said that, while the Government had been preoccupied with accession to the European Union, it had no intention to neglect the Convention. The new Constitution provided grounds for the adoption of temporary special measures and the Government intended to use that.
Also participating in Serbia's delegation were Dragana Petrović, Deputy Head of the delegation, Vice-President of the Gender Equality Council; Zorica Pavlović, Ministry of Health; Snežana Elez, Ministry of the Interior; Marina Ivanovic, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Marija Antonijević, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Gordana Mohorović, Agency for Human and Minority Rights; and Ana Ilić, Permanent Mission of Serbia to the United Nations.
The Committee will meet again tomorrow, 17 May, at 10 a.m. to take up Sierra Leone's combined initial, second, third, fourth and fifth periodic reports.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to consider Serbia's initial report.
Heading Serbia's delegation was Vesna Ilić Prelić, State Secretary of Serbia. Also participating were: Dragana Petrović, Deputy Head of the delegation, Vice President of the Gender Equality Council; Zorica Pavlović, Ministry of Health; Snežana Elez, Ministry of the Interior; Marina Ivanovic, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Marija Antonijević, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Gordana Mohorović, Agency for Human and Minority Rights; and Ana Ilić, Permanent Mission of Serbia to the United Nations.
Introduction of Report
Introducing Serbia's initial report, VESNA ILIĆ PRELIĆ, State Secretary of Serbia, first apologized for the report's late submission, which was mainly due to the complex process of negotiating Serbia's new Government. After the democratic changes in 2000 and the reinstatement of its membership in the United Nations, the then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, as one of the successor States of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, had continued its membership in all international instruments in the field of human rights, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which it signed in 1980 and ratified in 1981. In 2002, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had ratified the Optional Protocol. Upon the submission of the notification of succession on 12 March 2001, the then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had commenced the process of preparation and submission of initial reports before the competent treaty bodies.
Serbia's process of reporting on the implementation of international human rights instruments had so far been complex, she said. After the dissolution of Serbia and Montenegro in June 2006, Serbia -- as the legal successor of the State union -- had continued the membership in all human rights treaties and conventions. Serbia's initial report on the Convention's implementation covered the period from 1992 to 2003. Leading up to the democratic changes in 2000, the reporting period had been complex, marked by conflict, isolation, disturbed relations with neighbouring countries and the international community, economic sanctions and internal instability, which had resulted in rapid economic degradation and impoverishment.
The initial report covered two different periods and, for practical reasons, could be divided into two separate parts -- the period before 2000 and the period after the democratic changes in October of that year, she explained. The building of democratic institutions and society had commenced after 2000. The period before 2000 had seen the spread of human rights violations. In view of Serbia's strategic commitment to European and Euro-Atlantic integration, the process of domestic legislative reform was aimed at harmonizing with the "acquis communitaire", as well as with the highest international standards in the field of human rights.
Continuing, she said Serbia's new Constitution, which had been adopted in November, prohibited all forms of discrimination. It also introduced the option of special interim measures to achieve full equality. The Constitution also stipulated equality in marriage and family, and special maternity protection. It also prohibited slavery, all forms of trafficking, forced labour, sexual abuse and economic exploitation, and defined Serbia as a secular State. The Constitution proclaimed that Serbia's laws and acts must be in accordance with international treaties and generally accepted rules of international law.
Concerning legislation, she noted that a gender equality law had been drafted and was awaiting adoption by the Parliament. The Criminal Code penalized domestic violence and marital rape. Other laws included the Family Law, which introduced special measures against violence, and the Labour Law, which forbid gender discrimination and sexual harassment at work. Election laws, moreover, fixed a quota of 30 per cent for the less represented gender for the national, provincial and local elections. The Ombudsman Law focused on gender issues as one of its priorities. The proposed Gender Equality Law would harmonize Serbia's legislative system with international standards. That law's adoption was one of the conditions for accession to the European Union and would regulate the policy of equal opportunity. The current Judicial Reform Project provided gender analyses of legislation, gender statistics, the monitoring of domestic violence treatment, education for judiciary and a booklet on women's rights.
Regarding gender mechanisms, she explained that the Gender Equality Council was an expert and advisory body of the Government which dealt with the issues of gender equality, analysis and evaluation, as well as with short- and long-term measures to achieve gender equality and strengthen the position of women. Local Gender Focal Points existed in some 42 cities and municipalities, but did not have any legal support. In the autonomous province of Vojvodina, there was the Provincial Secretariat for Labour, Employment and Gender Equality, which paid special attention to the promotion of gender equality.
While the political will and commitment to ensure gender equality no doubt existed, certain discrepancies between legislation and practice remained, she said. Equal rights guaranteed by law did not always manifest themselves in practice. Some measures, therefore, needed to be taken. For that purpose, the Ministry of the Interior had carried out training related to domestic violence. The Republic Statistical Office planned to introduce obligatory gender disaggregated registers and administrative records. A step forward had been the process of drafting the National Action Plan for 2007-2010 -- based on the Beijing Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 -- which had been prepared by the Gender Equality Council in cooperation with 33 non-governmental organizations and prominent gender experts.
Turning to the Convention's implementation in the autonomous province of Kosovo and Metohija, she noted that the province had been under United Nations administration since June 1999, in accordance with Security Council resolution 1244. As the resolution recognized Kosovo and Metohija as part of Serbia's territory, the Convention was also applicable in that province. However, as the province's administration was entirely within the prerogative of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Serbia, as the State Party to the Convention, could not assume responsibility for its implementation. For that reason, the report did not contain detailed information regarding the Convention's implementation in Kosovo and Metohija.
At the same time, she stressed that the human rights situation in Kosovo and Metohija was generally very grave. Extremely worrisome was the widespread discrimination of ethnic minority groups, in particular members of the Serbian community. That was true for practically every right guaranteed by the Convention, such as the right to education, health care, employment and participation in public and political life. Under the circumstances, and taking into account the conclusions of the relevant United Nations treaty bodies, the delegation suggested that the Committee request UNMIK to provide relevant information, and find the most adequate way to consider the Convention's implementation in the province. She was convinced that the Committee would be able to obtain a real picture of the position of women and, therefore, contribute to the improvement of gender equality in general, and of the grave position of members of the non-Albanian communities in particular.
Concluding, she noted that, in spite of radical legislative reforms and positive practices since 2000, many challenges remained, including the negative inheritance of the 1990s, the consequences of conflict, economic sanctions and large number of refugees and internally displaced persons. A part of Serbia's territory had been under United Nations administration for nearly eight years and the future status process of Kosovo and Metohija was still under way. The country had been going through a complex process of economic and social transitions, the main priority being acceleration of European integration. Serbia remained committed to further advancement of the process of democratization, fulfilment of international obligations and the achievement of the highest human rights standards. Achieving gender equality was an ongoing process. Although the results of some measures might not be visible, women had already benefited from many of the actions taken.
Experts' Comments and Questions
HANNA BEATE SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked for information about the new law on churches and communities. In that context, she asked about the role of the Serbian Orthodox Church and others in public affairs. Did they get seats on public boards, review laws as they were drafted, and so forth? Also, what was the church's attitude with respect to the equality of men and women, and how did the Government monitor the performance of churches if they performed public functions? She had information that a number of privileges were given to the Serbian Orthodox Church and asked if such privileges were also given to non-religious organizations.
FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, noted several new pieces of information, as well as the fact that the gender equality law was not yet in place. When did the delegation expect that bill to be adopted? Although the law for an ombudsperson had been adopted two years ago, no one had been appointed, so she asked the delegation to identify the obstacle. While 33 non-governmental organizations had been involved in drafting the National Action Plan, there had been no mention of their involvement in drafting the report to the Committee. Hence, she sought more information about that procedure. Also, were Serbian women aware of their rights under the Convention and the procedures available to them in the case of the violation of those rights?
DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, Committee Chairperson and expert from Croatia, asked whether there had been any court cases involving the Convention. Also, were those who could use the Convention really aware of its contents, and was Serbia's supporting national legislation really prohibiting all forms of discrimination at the national level?
She said that preparation was the first step to starting a transparent dialogue with the Committee, and, thus, she wanted to know whether the report had been made available in the national language throughout the country and whether non-governmental organizations had been consulted. Today's first constructive dialogue would result in concluding comments, and it was important to transmit those to all relevant parties back home and to the Parliament, she stressed.
RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, followed up on questions concerning awareness among Serbian women of their rights under the Convention. She also wanted to know what the Government was doing to enable women to exercise their rights and bring lawsuits demanding the realization of their rights. Was legal assistance available for women? She understood that the Convention could be invoked directly in domestic courts, but what happened when there was contradiction between it and the Constitution or a specific law? The Criminal Code "seemed to be going backwards" in terms of women's rights. For example, sexual harassment was no longer a criminal offence. She sought more information on that and on the penalties for violence against women.
The head of the delegation, Ms. PRELIC said that the new Constitution prescribed direct application of all ratified international agreements and conventions and the alignment of all domestic laws and regulations. Serbia, in its adoption of new laws and regulations, had paid attention to those agreements. If certain provisions of the Women's Convention were contained in domestic legislation, then the courts did not need to implement the Convention directly, such as in the case of the Family and Labour Laws; if not, the courts would apply the Convention directly. Attempts had been made to bring all domestic legislation in line with the Convention, she added.
As for women having recourse to the courts, she noted regular implementation of regulations guaranteeing legal aid.
Regarding the new Criminal Code, she said she was surprised at information that said the act put women in a worse position than before, when the situation was the opposite. The Criminal Code, as well as other laws, had expanded Serbian women's protection, including from violence and sexual harassment at home and in the work place. Also, marital rape was included in the new law. Data had showed that women more regularly registered cases of rape and violence in the family; they now had the courage to identify the perpetrators and seek protection.
The 2005 law related to the Ombudsman had not yet come into force because intensive work on the new Constitution had begun shortly thereafter, she replied to a further series of questions. Now, for the first time, the Ombudsman had become a constitutional institution. The new Constitution also provided legal grounds for the ombudsman to be elected in the Parliament by a "quality majority vote", which had not been possible under the former Constitution.
As for the law on gender equality, she stressed that the new Parliament represented the political powers in Serbia, which were committed to the further democratization of Serbia towards European integration and the achievement of high internationally recognized standards in all fields, including in terms of the position of women in the country.
The law defined Serbia as a secular State, she replied to a further series of queries, adding that the freedom of religious affiliation was a human right. The law on churches and religious community sought to regulate that field of human rights and liberties. There was no reason for worry, she said, and no serious problems in practice. As for the Serbian Orthodox Church, according to the law, it had the same position as other traditional churches and religious groups around the world, such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Muslim community, the Jewish community, and the Protestant and Evangelical churches, she said.
Regarding the question on the separation of church and State, she noted that, according to the law on churches, the State had the right to intervene when any religious community abused the rights of the people. Religious instruction had also been introduced in the area of education. Children had the right to chose, however, between civic and religious instruction. Neither the Serbian Orthodox Church nor other religious bodies influenced the curriculum for religious instruction. Church representatives could attend sessions of Parliament but could not participate in its work. They were not allowed, moreover, to run as candidates for Parliament.
Another member of the delegation added that there was great expectation of the new Government. In carrying out the country's complex political processes, some people had been overburdened, however. That must be acknowledged. Regarding the definition of discrimination, she said the law against discrimination would regulate the definition of discrimination. The draft of that law, which had been adopted, envisaged a system according to which individuals could exercise their right to protection against discrimination. The bill on discrimination envisaged the adoption of special laws, providing a clear definition in line with the terms of the Convention.
Regarding efforts to publicize the Convention, she said the process of training public servants in report preparation had started last fall. There were plans to increase the Convention's visibility, including by holding a number of panels and press conferences on the topic of gender equality. While raising public awareness was a priority of the Government, further efforts were needed. The Gender Equality Council had held three sessions with editors of the media in that regard.
The process for preparing the initial report had not been ideal, Ms. PRELIC added, noting that the report had been prepared during a time of the State's transformation. Spanning the period of the former socialist Yugoslavia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, the delegation was now presenting the report as the Republic of Serbia. She hoped that the period of instability was behind the country and that all future international obligations would be fulfilled under more calm and normal circumstances.
Experts Questions and Comments
VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, said there was quite a bit of evidence of progress achieved, particularly regarding the establishment of gender mechanisms for gender equality, including the Gender Equality Council, which had been vested with a huge number of complex and demanding tasks. In that regard, she stressed the need for governmental expert and advisory bodies to be equipped in order to carry out their tasks. Gender equality could not be promoted without investing financial resources.
SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, also raised the issue of the Gender Equality Council, asking for clarification on the Council's composition, including the number of non-governmental organizations serving on it. She also asked about the Council's mandate, noting that its members had been given considerable responsibility. In addition, she asked for information regarding the monitoring and analysis of the Convention's implementation. Who would be responsible for the implementation of the Committee's concluding comments?
MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, said she understood that Serbia was involved in a complex process of restructuring and reorganization. As its name implied, the Gender Equality Council had an expert and advisory function. In that regard, she wondered how the Council combined the function of advisory body with its implementation function. She also asked about accountability mechanisms in the various institutions of the executive branch regarding programmes for the advancement of women. Who was accountable to whom and with what regularity was reporting done? Regarding the existence of focal points in 42 cities and municipalities, she asked what percentage of the country's municipalities that represented. On the question of minorities, she asked how the Gender Equality Council dealt with the issue of minorities within the country.
ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, asked for information on the National Action Plan for enhancing gender equality.
Ms. SAIGA, expert from Japan, wanted to know where the national machinery was located. With so many ministries, which ministry had the daily responsibility and coordination task for the Government's work on the promotion of women?
Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, Commission Chair and expert from Croatia, asked if any new body would be established by the new law on gender equality.
Ms. PRELIC explained that the Government had the executive power. As such, it established and implemented policy in all fields. The ministries and ministers, in operational terms, were accountable for creating and implementing policies in their areas of competence. The country report was prepared by the Service for Human and Minority Rights. The Gender Equality Council was an advisory body. As such, it was not responsible for proposing, adopting or implementing regulations. It was responsible for monitoring the gender equality situation and drawing ministries' attention to what more needed to be done and how it could be done better. There was no overlapping of competencies; the different organs of Government supplemented each other.
As to who would implement the Committee's recommendations, she said that they would be submitted to the Government, and the respective ministries would be obligated to implement the recommendations relevant to the areas for which they were responsible. The Gender Equality Council would be responsible for overseeing implementation of all the recommendations. The Council assisted in the "full and proper" implementation of the Women's Convention by providing advice, organizing training and criticizing the authorities. Physically, it was located in the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Policy because that body covered the main issues dealing with women.
She explained that the new law on local governance would adequately resolve the issue of the focal points by introducing the possibility of clear instruments at the local level in charge of women's status there. The gap in women's position between rural and urban areas had narrowed. Still, there were sensitive issues in rural areas that needed to be addressed.
Another member of the delegation added that half of the Gender Equality Council's 20 members were representatives of various ministries and Government institutions, and the other half were nominated by the Government from the core of academic and civil experts. The Council's capacities were "moderate", which was among its disadvantages. The situation of the national machinery should be resolved by the gender equality law, she said.
Experts' comments and questions
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked about the National Action Plan and the vague terms used to describe it in the country report. She acknowledged the improved attitude in the responses and oral presentation, but a certain attitude had persisted in the report, which was the main document before the Committee. As for the national machinery, or the Gender Equality Council, she noted that it had only advisory power, and was not an executive or intervening power. She hoped the whole Government was gender sensitive or the Council's task would be "an impossible mission".
She said that the report was "silent on the situation of women in minority groups". There had been some references to the Roma, but not many, and she wanted to know whether the delegation thought the situation of minority women deserved specific attention. Also, did they enjoy, not just the same rights, but the same chances, and, if not, why were they not explicitly mentioned in the report?
MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, Committee Rapporteur and expert from Malaysia, said she failed to see a clear, normative legal framework as a basis for the elimination of discrimination against women. The National Action Plan seemed to address several themes, but would it also apply a normative legal framework? She had not seen any mention of the Convention being used as a standard. How comprehensive would the National Action Plan be? Specifically, would it address the various situations and contexts that were the result of the previous war? For example, how would it address the large number of women refugees and displaced persons? What measures were inscribed in the Plan for proper restitution and would the Plan contain provisions for gender analysis in such areas as women's access to health care? What would the Plan say in relation to the women victims of war crimes? The delegation had mentioned Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. Could projects related to the resolution be integrated into the Plan? Was there a strategic approach to implementing the Convention across all other efforts?
Turning to temporary special measures, GLENDA P. SIMMS, Vice-Chairperson and expert from Jamaica, noting that the delegation had detailed an impressive number of initiatives, said, however, that in Serbia, like in all other countries, "There is no level playing field for all women". Some women were systematically overlooked –- historically or contemporaneously. She had been told that Roma women were the most vulnerable of all minorities in Serbia, with high levels of illiteracy. They also suffered from labour discrimination, lack of access and degrading treatment by health professionals. Given that scenario, were there any Roma women on the Gender Equality Council and were any temporary special measures in place for those women? She recognized Serbia's political struggles, but she also recognized that it was formulating a new society, and that was the greatest opportunity for special temporary measures for women at all levels.
Responding, Ms. PRELIC said Serbia was a country in transition. The changes it had experienced were both good and true. That process had only started, however, at the end of 2000. In its replies to the list of questions from the Committee, the Government had tried to present the real picture of the Convention's application in Serbia. That was why the report covered two periods. She had focused on the second period, which provided the only true picture of the position of women in Serbia.
On the situation of the Roma, she noted that since 2004, they had been officially considered a minority in Serbia. Roma people, like other national minority groups, had their own council and were given special privileges. As in other parts of the world, minorities were vulnerable, especially minority women and children. In that regard, she noted that Serbia's National Action Plan for 2007-2010 was in line with the national strategy for the integration and improvement of Roma in Serbia. A project entitled the "Roma Decade", had been welcomed in Serbia and used as an opportunity to improve the position of the Roma. Certain problems remained, however.
Serbia had inherited a large and serious problem in that regard, which would not be solved quickly or easily, she continued. Measures by the State would not on their own resolve the problem. It was necessary to raise awareness about the issues facing the Roma not only in non-Roma communities, but also among the Roma population as well. Changing traditional attitudes would take time. Progress was being made, however. With the support of foreign donors, efforts were being made, for example, regarding the employment of the Roma in the municipalities.
The question of refugees, internally displaced persons and war victims was delicate and difficult, she said. Serbia had introduced new measures for positive discrimination, including the law on the protection of disabled persons.
Experts Questions and Comments
Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, raised the issue of gender stereotypes, including stereotypes within the different minority groups. Noting the important role of Government in that regard, she asked what measures had been taken to tackle persisting gender stereotypes, along with the re-emergence of traditional practices in certain minority groups. She referred in particular to Muslim women, among whom there was evidence of traditional harmful practices, including female genital mutilation and forced marriage. How were the authorities responding to those violations of human rights?
PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, addressed the issue of violence against women, noting the concern of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women in that regard. She asked specifically about details on proposed changes to legislation. Did the reform process provide for penal sanctions, civil remedies and compensatory provisions? She also asked if those changes would be accompanied by preventive measures, public information programmes and protective measures, such as shelters, rehabilitation and support services for victims of violence. Although the judiciary had received training, had medical personnel also received such training? Were law enforcement officials receiving training for multiple forms of discrimination? She also wondered if the methodology for data collection would be reviewed. Another issue was that of entrance requirements for safe houses, including measures for access to houses by Roma women.
HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked for information on the prosecution of perpetrators of domestic violence and rape. Did 24-hour crisis hotlines exist? How many shelters existed? how many were run by the Government and how many by non-governmental organizations? Did shelters run by non-governmental organizations receive financial support from the Government? She wondered if any programmes existed to target boys and men to correct their behaviours. She also drew the delegation's attention to the Secretary-General's in-depth study on all forms of violence against women. Member States were supposed to report on the implementation of follow-up action on the report. Was the delegation aware of the study?
SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked whether the Government was considering a new special law on domestic violence as part of the national strategy and as part of the National Action Plan. Also, were women's non-governmental organizations included in the Plan as important partners to combat violence against women? Did the country have any sensitization campaigns on female genital mutilation in Muslim communities, and was the Government intending to establish a legal prohibition of the practice and introduce appropriate training and seminars?
Noting that the delegation had said that violence against women was being monitored, the expert asked if it could provide information about the percentage of women between the ages of 15 and 65 who had been victims of any forms of violence –- be it physical, sexual or psychological -- perpetrated by a partner in the past year. She also asked about the number of reported cases and the percentage of those that had reached the judiciary.
DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, noted that analysis of school textbooks had been undertaken as part of an earlier project, but asked if there were plans to make the books more gender sensitive. On domestic violence, she encouraged the Government to have a concrete implementation strategy for its domestic violence law because the evidence had shown that laws alone did not achieve the desired results.
Ms. PRELIC said that many temporary special measures had been undertaken because the Government understood that the elimination of stereotypes could not be achieved by the adoption of laws alone; much more specific steps were needed. In addition, a series of organized actions had been carried out recently in cooperation with the media towards the goal of eliminating stereotypes. The participation of women in public and political life also contributed to eliminating stereotypes, and 60 per cent of state secretaries, who were the special assistants to the ministers, were women. Her delegation, composed solely of women, had been assembled, not to influence the Committee, but because all of its members worked on serious assignments concerning women.
On genital mutilation, she said she had no information about the existence of that practice in Serbia.
To the many questions relating to domestic violence, she said that Serbia had taken an important step forward, but what lay ahead was raising awareness of the rights of women and exerting influence on men to change their mindset. As to how women reported rape and family violence, all such judicial proceedings were closed to the general public. They were shortened and simplified to the degree possible, but the victims had to testify, however, once only. The secrecy of the proceeding was guaranteed. "Women used to believe that if they deserve to be beaten, they will be beaten," she admitted. There is a need to change that mindset, and "it is being changed, but it will take time".
She explained that the Family and Criminal Laws together regulated all issues relating to domestic violence. The Criminal Code regulated the court proceedings and protection of victims. All forms of violence from physical violence to mental abuse, rape, marital rape and sexual harassment and abuse were criminal offences. Special training was organized for judges and prosecutors. As for statistical information, she acknowledged that more data was needed.
Turning to the elimination of stereotypes in textbooks, she said that there were no problems in terms of the presentation of degrading or unequal depictions of women, but bringing to light women's role in history, culture, the arts, literature and so forth deserved particular attention, and not just in Serbia, but internationally, she added.
Another delegate, responding to the same set of questions, added that training for prosecutors, police, health workers and other professionals was under way. There were dozens of shelters for victims of violence, but none were state-owned. On several occasions, financial assistance had been provided, but the problem needed to be resolved systematically. The National Action Plan envisaged certain improvements in that regard, but others should be elaborated. A national conference was planned with the participation of civil society, the ministries, the media, and the statistical office.
At the conference, she said, research would be introduced on the frequency of family violence, gathered using a World Bank model for information collection. Hopefully, the conference would produce an overview on what needed to be done further, in order to introduce measures to combat violence against women. The Government knew that the problem was serious and it was committed to efforts to resolve it. Once data was collected and "put on the table", conclusions would be drawn as to the next steps. For example, "re-socialization" programmes were needed for the victims once they left the shelters, as well as for the perpetrators.
When the Committee resumed its meeting in the afternoon, Ms. CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, asked several questions about trafficking in women.
Responding to earlier questions, a member of the delegation said that Serbia signed, in 2000, the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime. It also signed the related Protocols on trafficking in women and children and on combating trafficking via air, sea and land in 2001. Subsequently, the country established a national team for combating that phenomenon. For the first time, in 2003, the crime of trafficking in human beings was incorporated in the criminal legislation, and, in 2006, smuggling and human trafficking were separated in the criminal legislation.
Last year, a strategy was also adopted to combat trafficking in human beings, she said. The police and judges were now trained to treat victims of human trafficking, and training was under way for healthcare workers. The Minister of the Interior and the Minister of Justice were directly responsible for implementation of the legal provision to bring the perpetrator of human trafficking to justice. The national team for fighting human trafficking had three parts: State authorities, non-governmental organizations, and working groups. The State authorities included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Service for Human and Minority Rights.
Four working groups involved in the strategy were dealing with the following areas: prevention and education, trafficking in children, victims' assistance and protection and the judiciary. Additionally, anti-trafficking mechanisms were monitored and evaluated. As for prosecuted cases, most had concerned human trafficking; no cases were related to trafficking in human organs or in human beings for the purpose of armed conflict.
Experts' Comments and Questions
Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, asked what measures had been employed or were being planned to increase women's participation at the highest levels of Government.
Similarly, FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, asked whether the Government had adopted temporary special measures to increase the number of women in the various branches of Government. Unless there were mandates attached to the quotas, those could not produce results. There appeared to have been a reduction in the number of women ministers between 2001 and now, and she wanted to know the reason for that declining trend. She also asked whether the Government had a budget to support its gender mainstreaming programme.
FRANÇOISE GASPARD, Vice-Chairperson and expert from France, noting that 60 per cent of assistants to the State Secretaries were women, asked how many women there were in Parliament. She also asked about the gap between the law and female political candidates and plans to redress that.
MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said she understood how difficult it was for the people of Yugoslavia –- for the women of Yugoslavia –- to live through such difficult times. She congratulated the delegation on its courage as its members tried to restore the situation in their country. She also congratulated the delegates on the results of the last legislative election, in which the number of women in Parliament had nearly doubled from 12 per cent to 20.8 per cent; that was quite considerable. In that connection, the Inter-Parliamentary Union ranked the country in fiftieth place in 2007. Behind Serbia were European countries such as the United Kingdom and France, as well as the United States.
In so little time, Serbia had made extraordinary progress, she said. That needed to continue. She reminded the women in the delegation to think about the Roma and other minority women, adding that they had zero per cent representation in the Government. If women made progress at all levels and in all spheres of social and political life in Serbia, then "you will rapidly recover all that was lost". "Good luck," she told them, adding that women always provided balance in society.
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said that while there had been developments in Serbia, the country was still in a phase of transition, uncertainty and negotiation. In that regard, she asked about women's involvement in the negotiations on the situation in Kosovo. The contribution of women in post-conflict situations and in reconstruction was important. Were women part of decision-making structures in the context of negotiations or were they marginalized? If so, what measures did the Government plan to adopt to guarantee women's full participation in efforts for peace and reconciliation?
Responding, Ms. PRELIC noted that after the January elections, some 20.4 per cent of the new Parliament was women. The Election Law included special procedures for positive discrimination. One of the first measures introduced, following the recent election, was to allocate a certain number of reserved seats for national minorities in the Parliament. The present Government had four women ministers. While more could be done, the Government was a coalition Government. It had not been easy to reach agreement in establishing such a Government. Under the circumstances, it was not always possible to insist on women's proper representation. The President of Serbia's Supreme Court was a woman, she noted, adding that other important bodies, including the treasury, were headed by women.
Another member of the delegation said the trend of women in diplomacy had been increasing since 2002. A larger number of women had been employed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs -- more than 50 per cent, including women at the highest levels of the Foreign Service. Regarding the question of Kosovo and Metohija, she noted that the Head of the Coordination Centre for the region was a woman.
Experts' Questions and Comments
Ms. AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, said she had expected more up-to-date information with regard to education. She wanted more information in that connection, especially divided on the basis of rural and urban areas and ethnic groups. Over 60 per cent of the Roma population was either illiterate or had not completed primary education. From 2002 to now, what concrete measures had been taken to improve their educational status? The number of women who had not completed their education was significantly high, given that Serbia was a European country. Were there educational programmes for adult women?
Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, asked whether gender departments existed at universities in order to "train the trainers". Were there any gender studies departments at universities and was research in those fields encouraged?
Responding, Ms. PRELIC explained that primary education was mandatory according to the law. Almost 97 per cent of both male and female children attend schools. There was, however, a serious problem with the Roma population, particularly with girls, who were not usually sent to school. Women at all levels of education seemed to be more interested in education.
Regarding the Roma population, another member of the delegation noted that national minorities enjoyed additional rights. The Law on National Minorities enabled members of the Roma population to establish "national councils", by which members of minorities could exercise cultural, educational and other rights. There were some 14 national minority councils. Female members of the Roma minority received special care.
Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said there were extensive legislative provisions in place, but asked whether there were adequate sanctions in place for them. She also asked what measures had been taken by the Labour Ministry to sensitize women on the new laws in place to protect them, and what mechanism existed to assist women who wished to bring complaints of violations. Was there a legal aid system in the case of labour disputes, and was there a special labour court? Also, was data available on the number of such cases that had been detected by the labour inspectorate?
In light of the unemployment rates among women provided by the delegation today, she asked what special employment projects for them were currently being prepared by the national employment council and service. Additionally, were efforts being made to promote women's self-employment? Occupational segregation was extremely apparent, so what efforts were being undertaken to promote women's equal participation in highly skilled jobs, including through temporary special measures? Also, what mechanism was in place to adjudicate matters relating to wage discrimination?
Ms. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, asked if there were any plans to measure employment among women with higher education.
Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said she had the impression that there might be systematic discrimination against women in the labour market, some attributable to arrangements under the former system and some under the present system. For example, women's unemployment rate was higher than men's; women did not seem to have unrestricted access to military jobs; and the leave of absence for fathers was restricted, making it difficult for women to have parity with men in the workplace.
Expressing some concern at the delegation's repeated reference to conforming to standards of the European Union and not to the Women's Convention, she asked whether there was any intention to have a holistic approach to modify and eliminate the various forms of systemic discrimination against women in the labour market by using the Convention as a framework. She also suggested a review of the "psycho-physical" capabilities of women that did not allow them to work at certain jobs, as that notion was outdated.
A member of the delegation responded that the Government would be invoking the Convention more frequently, but it had been preoccupied with accession to the European Union. However, it had had no intention to neglect the Convention. The new Constitution provided grounds for adoption of temporary special measures and the Government intended to use that. In the area of employment, discrepancies and obstacles to women's equality had been identified. As a first step, laws had been harmonized with the International Labour Organization (ILO) standards. Implementation of the main law had come into force less than two years ago and the data on how it was being implemented was still being processed.
When it came to the issue of family organization, she said it was now permitted for fathers to also take leave. However, in the first three months, the leave option only applied to mothers. For labour disputes, regular courts were competent; the thinking was to include labour disputes into the mandates for the peaceful resolution of disputes. It was true that the judiciary in Serbia was slow. Programmes had been launched in the Labour Ministry to sensitize personnel about discriminatory practices towards women, and a service would be organized to react to such discrimination because women should be encouraged to report such cases. Overall, women's position in the labour market had been the subject of a full year of research in 2006. A complete analysis of the legislation had occurred. The recommendations were now being harmonized and a policy paper was being prepared, which should be binding on the Labour Ministry and part of the action plan for employment. Efforts were also under way to improve women's access to loans and credit.
Experts' Comments and Questions
Ms. XIAOQIAO, expert from China, asked what measures the Government took to ensure that refugee women and women in other risky situations enjoyed medical coverage. The report indicated that the situation of HIV/AIDS was "not optimistic" and that education was lacking among young people. In that light, had the Government ever conducted an awareness-raising campaign? Did it have any programmes targeting young people? Had it ever incorporated prevention in school curricula? What were the main elements of the National Action Plan, and had it incorporated a gender perspective? Also, did the Government help educate rural women about HIV/AIDS or provide any services in that respect?
Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, said she had read that abortion was widespread in Serbia and had become a contraceptive method since contraception was very limited and there was a lack of education. She asked the delegation to provide clarification on that issue. She also asked whether women were included in drafting health strategies, policies and programmes.
Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, noted that access to health care might be declining. She asked why abortion was so widely used. Finally, was there a policy on women's health that provided a binding framework for quality care, which was non-discriminatory and addressed women's basic health needs, including coverage and access, especially for the most marginalized?
Another member of the delegation pointed to a considerable increase in health protection. The new Constitution and new laws on health protection and insurance had been adopted with the aim of initiating reform of the health care system and ensuring the right of women to health protection and service, in accordance with article 12 of the Convention. Health protection included family planning, paid maternity leave of 12 months and health insurance, among other features. Formerly, there had been no adequate available treatment for HIV/AIDS. A national strategy to combat HIV had been adopted in 2004 and there was free testing available, and protection was now provided"in the most modern way". She acknowledged that Serbia still had a problem with reproductive health services, but it was launching related health programmes that included the education of youth, prevention, family planning, and so forth.
ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, raising several questions on the issue of rural women, asked for statistics on the number of women with property registered in their names. She also asked for the breakdown of the type and number of health facilities in rural areas. What were the most common health problems faced by women in rural Serbia? She also asked for gender-based statistics on domestic violence in rural areas.
Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, regretted that the report contained an elaborate explanation of the old Family Law, but not the new one. She also asked about religious law. The Government's response to questions posed had been vague. What was the role of religious law, and did it supersede civil law? She also asked for data on the division of property between spouses. While the Family Law seemed to be egalitarian, she wondered whether it was being enforced. Did women receive their equal share in terms of property? She also asked about the rights of widows of refugees and displaced persons.
Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, asked if there were any figures on the number of polygamous marriages. Under which religious and customary laws did these marriages take place? Was there a limit on the number of wives allowed in a polygamous marriage? What were the rights of the wives in polygamous marriages? She noted that custody was usually awarded to the father and that the father's family would often stop the mother from communicating with the child. Was that still frequently the case and were there provisions to ensure more equitable child custody rulings?
Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked how much of the population was under religious law or under common law. Was polygamy or other practices considered a violation of women's rights? If so, what was the Government doing in that regard? She was also concerned about the situation of female-headed households. In addition, did they have any figures on disabled women?
Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked for detailed information on property rights for common-law spouses. She also asked for clarification on the legal marital age.
Responding, Ms. PRELIC said she might not have been clear enough in her replies regarding the laws on the church and marriage. The law on religious communities in no way affected all other civil relations in Serbia. The law on churches provided the possibility for all religious communities to regulate their internal relations and to have the right to have their own schools. Religious people had the right to believe what they chose to believe and to use the rites and rituals of their own faith. That did not, however, exclude them from their civic rights and obligations. Civil marriage was the only valid marriage in Serbia. Polygamy was a criminal offence under the law. Marriage was not a prerequisite for property acquisition.
According to the present marriage law, the property acquired during marriage was divided into equal parts, she said. The court took into consideration the contribution of each spouse, not just the one who generated income. According to the inheritance law, the surviving spouse inherited half of the entire property of the deceased spouse. The new Family Law had been adopted in 2005. In terms of custody, children were most often given to the mother and not the father. The father assumed the obligation to support children according to his ability to pay.
While the marital age was 18, adolescents between the ages of 16 and 18 had certain rights, including the right to marry with parental consent and consultation with the social welfare centre, she said. Parents in the Roma population, however, did not act in line with the proscribed procedure, resulting in girls often marrying unofficially. Late marriage was now more of a problem than early marriage.
On the issue of land rights, another member of the delegation noted that some 70 per cent of rural land belonged to men since patriarchal and traditional models still prevailed. That problem needed to be further addressed.
Throughout the ages, said Ms. PRELIC, people belonging to the Muslim community had lived in Serbia, but their traditions had never included polygamy or the exercise of other extreme elements of Islam.
To another question, she said that more than 100 non-governmental organizations concerned with women's issues were registered in Serbia.
In closing, the Committee Chairperson and expert from Croatia, Ms. SIMONOVIC, thanked the delegation for the open and constructive dialogue. It had been the first report and the start of the process. She expected periodic reports and a chance to discuss further progress. Up to now, there had been significant progress in several areas. For example, the political participation of women was up from 12 per cent to more than 20 per cent, a new law on gender equality was being prepared, and preparations were also under way to adopt a new national policy on women's advancement. There were numerous other laws, but there was also a lot that needed to be done to fully implement the Convention.
She said it was important that the new Constitution contained provisions guaranteeing gender equality, but in accordance with the Convention, it was important that each State party ensured practical application of that principle. Thus, a lot needed to be done in a range of fields, including violence against women and improving the conditions for Roma women. The delegation would receive concluding comments and recommendations at the close of the session. Those should be distributed as widely as possible and sent to the Parliament, where the Convention could be used as the most important legal tool to advance women's position in Serbia.
Ms. PRELIC thanked the Committee for their useful proposals and questions, which provided guidelines for further work. Within a very short period, and after many years, Serbia had done a lot for the protection and advancement of women. However, that was only a minor part of what it was going to do. The Committee's recommendations would most sincerely be very useful. She hoped that all future reports would be submitted under more stable conditions and allow for further steps towards full implementation of the Convention.
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