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    For information only - not an official document.
    Press Release No:  UNIS/WOM/484
    Release Date:   16 June 2000
    Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee Begins Consideration 
    Of Austria's Periodic Reports

     NEW YORK, 15 June (UN Headquarters) -- The representative of Austria introduced her country’s third, fourth and fifth periodic reports on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women this morning, highlighting the advances made on improving the quality of life for women in that country.

     Speaking to the monitoring body of the Convention -- the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women -- Elisabeth Sickl, Federal Minister for Social Security and Generations, said that the fact that women were still discriminated against in many spheres of society, despite formal legal equality, highlighted the need for an independent women’s policy that would eliminate de facto discrimination.  Such a policy would cover all life situations of women; from youth to old age, in the labour market and the home, as well as women with or without children.  

     With the political will in place, and programmes and agencies working to promote equality at all levels, efforts to achieve a speedy amendment in the law for equal treatment of women in the private sector was now under way.  In that regard, it was important to note that regional ombudswoman’s offices had been set up for women or men seeking advice on issues of equal treatment.

     Turning to the important issue of family and children, Ms. Sickl said that the Austrian Government wanted to offer parents real freedom of choice.  Parents should be able to decide freely how to harmonize their family and professional lives.  It was, therefore, the aim of the federal government to introduce a child-care allowance as a family benefit.  From 1 January 2002, every mother or father would be paid $400 a month for childcare.

     Ms. Sickl also said that Austria had taken particular interest in addressing the needs of women with regards to new information and communications technologies.  It was important to prepare their transition into a newly competitive, dynamic and knowledge-based economy.  Women had so far been under-represented in the use and further development of information and communication technologies.

     Following the report’s introduction, comments and questions were posed by Committee members.  Several experts expressed appreciation for Austria’s attention to the issue of women and the new information and communications technologies.  It was important for women, as both users and entrepreneurs, to be included in the development of new technologies, one expert said.

     Another expert said that, while the establishment of an ombudsperson in 1990 was a significant step forward in the field of equality, what exactly was the power of the ombudsperson?  It seemed to be a “soft law” mechanism and not really an effective mechanism.  As far as the private sector, she was surprised that she had no evaluation of the consequences of the equal treatment act on the private sector and the role of the ombudsperson in the private sector.

     The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to continue its consideration of Austria’s third, fourth and fifth periodic reports.

    Committee Work Programme

     The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to consider the third, fourth and fifth reports of Austria on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  The third and fourth reports, presented as a single document (document CEDAW/C/AUT/3-4), describe programme launched by and for women, as well as the major legal measures taken in the period from 1989 to 1995.  The fifth report (document CEDAW/C/AUT/5) contains an in-depth description of specific activities for the advancement of women and of the situation of women in Austria during the years 1996 to mid-1999. 

     According to the third and fourth periodic reports, a decisive factor in establishing the equality of women as defined by the Convention was the growing presence of women in the public sector.  In many respects, those achievements were the logical outcome of Austria's work in previous decades, such as the reform of the Austrian Family Law.  The socio-political reforms of the 1970s, which gave women a higher degree of personal independence, laid the necessary groundwork for further changes and advances.  Thus, priority was given to reaching the goals of equal treatment in the public sector -- quota rules, legislation on equal treatment, the appointment of equal opportunity ombudspersons -- along with a more equitable distribution of political positions. 

     Despite those advances, the 1990s seemed to characterize worldwide regressive trends that could once again encourage the rise of gender-specific inequality.  According to the reports, there is still an apparent discrepancy between the equal treatment principles in law and the realities of women's lives.  As compared with men, women enjoy a lesser degree of social protection because social systems tend to be geared to the "normal male biography", which reward full employment and continuous gainful activity.  Society still expects women to lower their career aspirations for the benefit of their families.

     For the advancement of women in the private sector, the Federal Ministry for Women's Affairs, in cooperation with the Confederation of Austrian Industrialists, launched a nationwide initiative that is intended to support enterprises that offer women new career opportunities and help them combine family and job to adjust to new role models in the workplace.  The Federal Ministry of the Environment, Youth and Family supports an initiative that motivates enterprises in the public and private sector to establish equal employment opportunity through affirmative action.  Also, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has, in the past few years, organized events, launched studies and issued publications to raise awareness of women's rights.

     According to the reports, international contacts and cooperation have repeatedly revealed that women and men are insufficiently informed about law establishing equal rights between men and women as human rights.  To remedy this, the Federal Ministry has invested much effort in distributing clear and explicit information on such instruments to women and men in government and non-governmental agencies, among others. 

     On measures for the elimination of discrimination against women (article 2), the report notes that during the period under review, a central theme of public discussion concerned the amendment of the constitutional equal treatment regulation to include temporary special measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women.  While those proposals are under consideration, however, the Federal Equal Treatment Act, which entered into force in 1993, contains a clause stipulating the advancement of women, under which proactive efforts are to be made to assure equal opportunities for women.  Programmes for the advancement of women are to be drawn up for the entire Federal administration. Among other things, these programmes will give women priority access to training, recruitment and advancement in areas where they are under-represented -- provided they are "not less well qualified than the best qualified male competitor".

     The report states that additional measures taken under article 2 specifically targeted perpetrators of violence against women and children.  The rate of acquittals for perpetrators was fairly high, and if a panel of judges was composed mostly of men, the likelihood of acquittal doubled.  While criminal prosecution and prison sentences are seen as the only possible consequences in these circumstances, public prosecutors are now empowered to keep a complaint pending for the duration of measures taken to reduce violence in a family or a relationship, when such measures promise success.  Since in Austria every fifth woman experiences physical violence in a relationship with a man, particular attention was also given to this issue.  Advisory centres have been set up throughout Austria for victims of physical and sexual abuse, and information designed to eliminate any kind of mental and physical abuse was now readily available. 

     On measures to overcome discrimination against women in politics and private life (article 7), the report notes that, since the late 1980s, sections and agencies representing women's interests have been set up in all the Austrian provinces and in some of the major towns.  While 15 such agencies or sections had been established during the reporting period, many of those had been given insufficient support.

     According to the report, it was a well-established fact that women, even when they have the same formal qualifications as men, start their careers at lower levels.  Women also had fewer opportunities for advancement, and many ended up in "dead-end" jobs.  To combat these inequities, measures taken under article 11 include the adoption of a "tandem law" in 1993 on industrial relations which contains a variety of measures that take into account the different living and working conditions of women and is aimed at safeguarding their equal treatment in the workplace.  It also resulted in new pension arrangements for women and provided credits for childcare.

     According to Austria's fifth periodic report (document CEDAW/C/AUT/5), some of the most important measures the country has "energetically pursued in order to ensure equality between men and women include:  creating a legal framework for the furtherance of equality of women and girls in all spheres of social life; preserving jobs for women through specific labour-market programmes; giving women and men the opportunity to reconcile job responsibilities and family obligations through the establishment of sufficient child-care facilities; and safeguarding the material and non-material basic needs of women and their children in single-parent families, in existing marriages and after divorce. 

     The report also notes that Austria has improved the status of women in old age and integrated a gender perspective into Austrian development cooperation programmes at all levels.  It also advocates the partisan approach to the human rights of women at the international level and supports measures that ensure a more effective application of international human rights instruments.  As a result of the 1998 amendment of Austria's Equal Treatment Act, the precept of equal treatment was broadened to include sexual harassment by third parties. Further, in 1997, the Federal Minister for Women, the body that has since 1991 represented women's issues at the government level, created a special Internet home page.

     According to the report, a 1994 Action Programme against Violence in the Family constituted the background for measures adopted in the area of overcoming stereotyped roles of men and women (article 5).  Since that time, Austria has stepped up efforts to identify the extent of violence directed against women and children.  Those efforts were summarized in the 1997 Federal Government 25-Point Action Programme against Violence in Society.  Among other things, those activities included raising public awareness and intensifying networking on the issue, amending sexual criminal law, and increasing training and research.

     For some years now, Austria has been actively committed to combating trafficking in women (article 6).  In that regard, the report notes that Austria has become active in gathering and disseminating information on the background and the reasons for trafficking in women.  It has been recognized that this phenomenon cannot be eradicated by sanctions under criminal law alone.  It is, therefore, essential to have knowledge of the structural cases and mechanisms of trafficking in women, if the situation is to be changed and current trends are to be reversed. To that end, activities have been organized to stimulate active cooperation between law enforcement agencies, non-governmental organizations and international and national officials.

     The report notes that, despite significant upwards trends that have manifested themselves since the 1970s, the standard of education for women and girls was still far below that of men and boys.  To reverse that trend (article 10), the legal prerequisites concerning, among other things, career counselling and admission to classes, have been incorporated into the Austrian legal system with a view towards ensuring equality of women and men.  In practice however, the methods of enforcement and the rigidity of society as a whole have presented difficulties.  To bring about any changes at the formal level, amendments need to be made to the laws governing education.  

     In that regard, the report continues, the Federal Ministry of Education, in the 1994-1995 schoolyear, introduced "gender equality" as a principle of education to the curricula of academic and vocational schools, as well as teaching curricula.  A 1998 amendment to the regulation on the panels of experts who appraise teaching aids is also important in that context.  When appraising school textbooks, those panels must now take into consideration equal treatment of women and men, and education towards developing fairness in shaping society.  Implementation in schools of the "Action Plan 2000:  99 Measures for the Advancement of Equality" began in 1997.  The plan is based on the Beijing Platform for Action.  Additional measures include the introduction of advanced training courses for teachers, the establishment of career guidance projects with special emphasis on girls, plus a wide range of information and sensitizing activities.

     Finally, the report concludes that women's policies cannot be restricted to offering women compensation for the manifold disadvantages they suffer in society. The goal must be to eliminate those disadvantages.  Policies must be pursued that take into account the life circumstances of women, which differ significantly from that of men, and does not allow the traditional pattern of sex-stereotyped tasks and roles to become petrified.  Austria would try to continue to interpret equality as a comprehensive concept on which democracy and distribution policies are based.

    Introduction of Reports

     ELISABETH SICKL, Minister of Social Security and Generation of Austria, said that all relevant members of the Austrian Government, as well as representatives of various United Nations agencies, had been instrumental in helping her office prepare the three periodic reports presented to the Committee.  Those reports, on Austria’s efforts to ensure the full implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, highlighted the fact that the Government considered women’s policy an integral part of its overall policy.  In conformity with the strategy of gender mainstreaming, women’s policy fell within the scope of responsibility of the entire Government, and thus within the purview of all ministries. 

     Ms. Sickl went on to highlight some of the new measures the federal government had taken to ensure equal rights for women.  The fact that women were still discriminated against in many spheres of society, despite formal legal equality, had spotlighted the necessity of an independent women’s policy that would eliminate de facto discrimination.  Such a policy would cover all life situations of women, from youth to old age, in the labour market and the home, as well as women with or without children.  It had also been acknowledged that giving women the greatest possible freedom in decision-making fields would contribute to compensating women for various other forms of discrimination.

     The Government had, thus, committed itself to an ambitious women’s policy programme, she continued.  Priority had been given to promoting equal opportunities for women and men at all levels.  In that regard, a working group of female experts had been set up to address the issue.

     She said that with the political will in place, and programmes and agencies working to promote equality at all levels, efforts to achieve a speedy amendment of the law for equal treatment of women in the private sector was now under way.  Some of the most important objectives in adjusting the law included:  shifting of the burden of proof in sexual harassment cases; increasing sanctions for violating the obligation of gender-neutral vacancy announcement, and introducing instruments to enhance the enforceability and monitoring of the equal treatment obligation.  In conjunction with that, it was also important to note that regional ombudswoman’s offices had been set up for women or men seeking advice on issues of equal treatment.

     Turning to the important issue of family and children, Ms. Sickl said that the investment of personal time and the disadvantages many women faced in their professional careers had forced more and more women to wonder if they could really afford their desire to have children.  In that regard, the Austrian Government wanted to offer parents real freedom of choice.  Parents should be able to decide freely how to harmonize their family and professional lives.  It was, therefore, the aim of the federal government to introduce a child-care allowance as a family benefit.  That would make it possible to choose between continuing a professional career or staying at home with children.  From 1 January 2002, every mother or father would be paid $400 a month for childcare, regardless of whether the person was previously employed or not.

     Ms. Sickl then went on to highlight some of Austria’s successful strategies to address the implementation of the Convention over the last 10 years.  In the area of combating violence against women, she said that, thanks to numerous and sustainable measures, efforts had been intensified and Austria had achieved a pioneering position in the international community.  A federal law on protection against family violence had entered into force in 1997 and had created a speedy and efficient means to protect victims of domestic violence.  Public safety organizations were also now authorized to order perpetrators to leave the home and to forbid their return.  Since that law had taken effect, women no longer had to flee their homes in order to take refuge or find protective residences for their children.  
     
     Special attention had also been paid to combat the trafficking in persons, she continued.  An intervention and support centre for women victims of the phenomenon had been set up in Vienna in 1998.  Austria was also taking steps towards establishing a programme to protect female court witnesses by introducing a “humanitarian visa” for victims.  International efforts in that area had also been vigorously supported.  The provisions of the criminal law regarding the sexual abuse of children and young people had been made more stringent.  And, in late 1998, a comprehensive media campaign had been started to inform and sensitize the public regarding the problem of domestic violence and child abuse.

     On the implementation of a gender mainstreaming strategy, she said that the subject of equal opportunities and employment were at the top of Austria’s agenda.  Austria, as well as other States in the European Union, had been asked to take into account the gender mainstreaming approach in implementing guidelines to ensure the availability of appropriate procedures and data collection.  Measures had also been introduced to reduce income discrepancies between men and women, reduce segregation and foster equal sharing of unpaid domiciliary care.  There was also a call now for affordable, accessible and high-quality child-care facilities.  The Austrian Government had applied the principle of gender mainstreaming in the National Action Plan for Employment of 1998 and expanded efforts in 1999.

     Ms. Sickl said that Austria had taken particular interest in addressing the needs of women with regard to new information and communications technologies.  It was important to prepare their transition into a newly competitive, dynamic and knowledge-based economy.  Women had so far been under-represented in the use and further development of information and communication technologies.  Recently, the Government had launched some initiatives to inform women and make them aware of the opportunities and risks of new technologies.

     In that context, she mentioned that the specific needs of women in that area were addressed for the first time at the “Information Society Technologies Conference and Exhibition” held in Vienna in 1998.  At that event, experts pointed out the grave under-representation of women in the field of information and communication technologies, not only as users, but also as software and media development experts.  The field of research and development was also under-represented.  Those experts also underlined the lack of software that was user-friendly for women.  The “Vienna Declaration” was also presented at that conference.  That Declaration contained a comprehensive recommendation for a Europe-wide action plan to promote the participation of women in developing, shaping and applying information and communication technologies.

     She went on to say that a pilot project, “Villacher Frauen Technologie Programme”, launched in 1998 presented a package of measures for a “women in technology programme”.  It was also the aim of this project to encourage more women to take up non-traditional, technical professions, to promote and safeguard job opportunities in the field of new technologies and to establish cooperation among the economic sector, educational institutions and politics.  Further, there were plans to develop similar projects for all Austria based on the model of the project, in order to allow women to participate in the progress of technology, and to prevent a situation in which future generations of women would have little or no access to the high-quality labour market in related fields.

     Moreover, Austria was making efforts to foster the implementation of the Vienna Declaration at both the European Union and international levels.  In that regard, pilot studies would be carried out for new software applications supporting women in their daily lives, Internet services would be adjusted to the needs of women users, and plans to promote and continuously support women in fields traditionally dominated by men would be prepared that would increase their share of participation.

     Ms. Sickl said that Austria had consistently advocated that the importance of the Convention should be enhanced by the Optional Protocol. Austria was looking forward to early entry into force of the Optional Protocol, and efforts were being undertaken at a high political level to encourage and support other member States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to sign and ratify the Protocol.

     She went on to say that when Austria had ratified the Women's Convention and the Convention on the Political Rights of Women, Austria had the right to apply article 7(b) regarding access of women to the military services “in the framework of the limitations provided for by national legislation”.  After the introduction of the act on women’s education in 1998, which created a basis for voluntary access of women to the Austrian Federal Army, Austria is now in the position of revoking those reservations.  The necessary steps had been taken and the Austrian Government had passed the corresponding resolution.

    Comments and Questions by Experts

     One expert said that she appreciated the quality of the written documents submitted by Austria, as well as the high level of the Austrian delegation at the session.  She did, however, have some concern about the abolition of the Ministry for Women’s Affairs.  She congratulated Austria on its withdrawal of its reservation to article 7 of the Convention, on women in military service.  At the same time, she said that Austria still had a reservation to article 11, on night work.  But, she had noted there was some conflict between European Union directives and International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions and that the Government would consider withdrawing the reservation.

     The expert also congratulated Austria on its laws on violence against women and international trafficking in women.  She also appreciated Austria’s attention to the issue of women and the new information and communications technologies.  It was important for women, as both users and entrepreneurs, to be included in the development of new technologies.

     On the issue of migrant women in Austria, the expert expressed concern, bearing in mind that in recent months the question of xenophobia in that country had been raised by several human rights bodies.  She asked for a response as to what was being done to address the concerns of international human rights community.  On the issues of the trafficking of women, what was done for victims of trafficking who were brought into Austria and who were then victims of violence?  Were they entitled to physical and psychological health care?

     The expert also asked for information on data collection.  She had noted that there was no collection of data on criminal proceedings following violence against women.  There was also no statistical data on equal opportunity cases in the labour court.  She wanted to know if there was any government-sponsored research on health care.  It appeared that feminist research had not been well integrated into academia.  Were there programmes to sponsor feminist research of gender issues?

     On the social role of women, the expert expressed concern on women’s roles as homemakers and child-raisers.  The 1994 data indicated that one third of households were headed by women.  Austria’s report said that child-care facilities were highly undeveloped, due to the multiple responsibilities of local, regional and federal governments.  Were there plans to assume federal responsibilities for child-care facilities?  Given the number of female-headed households, she was concerned about wage discrepancies, especially in the private sector.  

     She was also concerned about elderly women and their rights to social security, pension and health-care benefits.  Women’s entitlements were often dependent on their marital status.  Given the rising rates of divorce, the question was, what kind of social security and health-care benefits were in place for elderly women who had either never been married or who had been divorced?  Furthermore, what measure did the Austrian Government plan to use to disseminate the Convention?

     Another expert pointed out from the report that 50 per cent of women did not go beyond mandatory schooling.  There was also a high drop-out rate for girls at the different educational levels.  She wanted to know what was being done at the community level to change the strong stereotypes that determined the importance given to the educational preparation of young girls and women.  On violence in the schools, the Committee was concerned about that issue, particularly with regard to violence against girls.  She asked for more information on that issue.  It seemed also that education had a negative influence on women's opportunities when it came to employment.

     She noted that one third of Austrian women in the labour market were part-time workers.  Moreover, women’s labour activities were concentrated in areas typical to women.  What programmes existed to alter cultural traiditions.  There was also a major wage difference.  In some areas, wages were some 30 to 50 per cent less than that of women.  Was there an equal opportunity mediator?  She also wanted more clarification on “being available for the labour market”, in accordance with social security law.  What was done to protect single mothers?

     Another expert said that she was also concerned about the actual policy of the Government towards women.  Why had the Ministry for Women’s Affairs been abolished?  Abolishing the title alone was symbolic.  Austria, as with other European countries, faced great challenges and the danger of “backlash”.  It seemed to her that a special ministry, together with the body concerned for social affairs, should be a “watchdog” on policies affecting women.  What had been the budget allocation for the women’s affairs Ministry in the previous administration and what was the budget for women’s affairs under the current ministry?

     In the few months since the new Government was in place, she had not seen any improvement on the former policy.  While the establishment of an ombudsperson in 1990 was a significant step forward in the field of equality, what exactly was the power of the ombudsperon?  It seemed to be a “soft law” mechanism and not really an effective mechanism.  As far as the private sector, she was surprised that she had no evaluation on the consequences of the equal treatment act on the private sector and the role of the ombudsperon in the private sector.

     In Austria’s previous report to the Committee, she said that much attention had been given to article 5 of the Convention, on elimination of stereotypes, particularly in the media.  The current report did not include anything on that.  What had been undertaken to abolish stereotyped roles for women?  As for the decision-making role of women, what had her Ministry undertaken to promote women’s representation in political life?  Could political parties adopt quotas to encourage women to participate more broadly in political life?

     The expert said that, as for the immigration question, how many immigrants could be received in a year?  How many immigrants who had been allowed to enter the country could not then stay because they could not obtain a work permit?  Also, what social protection did they have for the elderly?  Did homes and training programmes for the elderly exist, so that they were not so alone?  What was the policy for the elderly, not only from a social security and pension aspect, but also from a psychological perspective?

    Response by Austria

     Responding to concerns about the Ministry for Women’s Affairs, Ms. SICKL said that the office had not been abolished.  Since the scope of its authority had always come under the Chancellors Ministry, it would continue to operate under that office, but with the same powers and authorizations it had always had.  The same programmes existed, only the title of the Ministry had been changed.  While she understood that there was some symbolism on the old title of the ministry, it was important to assure the Committee that women’s affairs would still be addressed.

     On the issue of women’s participation in political life, she said that her Government felt that it was very important for women to hold decision-making positions, because they showed ambition and high competence.

     She also said that there had been a 15 to 20 per cent increase in the amount of money given to women’s organization and projects.  She was also pleased to announce that a Senior Citizen’s Council had been established two weeks ago.  Austria would also shortly announce an innovative idea to establish, under one roof, shelters for seniors and child-care institutions.  Having both under one roof was a “beautiful way to foster understanding” between the two generations.

     Another representative from the delegation spoke on Austria’ issue of xenophobia and racism.  He said that a law had been enacted in 1999 to establish a new advisory on human rights, which guaranteed rights at the constitutional level.

     On trafficking in women, he said that Austria had launched a model project financed by the Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Social Affairs, Health Care and Generation, which established an intervention centre to support victims of trafficking.  That project also urged cooperation with the police to get information on suspects, as well as victims.  Emergency accommodation, food, “pocket money” and health care, if necessary, would also be provided under the prorgamme.  He added that he agreed with the experts that Austria’s crime data- collection policies needed to be changed, in order to include information about victims, as well as perpetrators. 
     
     On immigration and access to labour markets, he said that access to labour was for legal residents of Austria, otherwise, applications could be made from abroad.  He described the application process and said that there were only two quotas on employment in Austria.  Those quotas dealt with alien law and foreign national employment.  It was important to mention that the quota legislation did not discriminate on grounds of nationality or gender.

     Another representative said that health care and pensions for women now extended to self-employed women, as well.  Unemployment benefits now also covered health insurance.  Family members were also covered without further contributions by the employed person.  It was important to note that 99 per cent of persons in the country were covered by State-provide health insurance.  The remaining 1 per cent was covered by private insurance. 

     On the issue of Austria’s advances in women’s health care, another representative said that all parties had adopted the Women’s Health Programme in 1998.  That programme had highlighted the necessity for gender-specific health procedures and targeted girl children, middle-aged women and mothers and elderly women.  Along with educational initiatives, the programme also promoted strategies to provide better childcare, establish trauma stations for victims of violence, and promote cancer screenings.

     Another representative agreed with the suggestions of the experts that Austria did indeed need to implement European Union regulations on night work.  In fact, she said full implementation would take place during the summer or fall of the current year.  Speaking briefly on employment, she also agreed with the expert’s observations that the labour market, briefly, had been highly segregated in Austria.  She assured the Committee that the issue was being addressed.

     Another member of the delegation said that it was true that 50 per cent of girls had not gone beyond mandatory school.  Most of the drop-outs went on to vocational training.  That included school training, as well as training on the job.  However, girls were generally more successful in school than boys.  There were career guidance projects for girls with special emphasis on technology.  

     Publications of the Ministry of Education also discussed gender-specific teaching for girls.  

     She added that, at the university level, in 1999 58 per cent of the students entering universities were women, 49 per cent of those already enrolled were women and 48 per cent of the graduates were women.  Thirty-four per cent of the doctorate degrees were awarded to women.  Unfortunately, however, too little was being done to rectify the issue.  There were career-planning offices for girls, but more appropriate measures would have to be taken to address the problem.  

     On the issue of school violence, she said that to her knowledge physical violence in school had not yet been an issue.  What had been noticed, however, was an increase in verbal violence.  In that regard, a pilot project in the area of co-education, with girls-only classes, was being undertaken.  Findings had shown that girls had increased confidence and improved performance when they were among other girls in the classroom, especially in the area of science.

     On the question of women and gender studies, she said that, in the past, universities had been subordinate units of the federal administration.  Because of an expansion in students and costs, a university reform was introduced in 1993 which had paved the way for financial autonomy of university budgets.  It also affected the inclusion of gender-study courses in university curricula.  Structural changes would institutionalize gender studies in curricula.  If gender courses were contained in the curricula, the departments would be obliged to provide the necessary financing. 

     Another member of the delegation said that there were still no statistical data on labour court decisions.  The Equal Treatment Commission invited the President of the Labour Court in Vienna to discuss the problem.  He had explained that the problem was a lack of computer resources within the court system, which would hopefully be overcome in the next few years.  Each year, however, a detailed evaluation of the Equal Treatment Commission was given to the National Assembly.  The annual report contained detailed statistical data given by the ombudsperson and the cases dealt with in the Equal Treatment Commission.  The statistics showed a slowly increasing number of complaints, but compared to the number of women employed in the private sector, complaints were still very rare.  

     On the question of the empowerment of the equal treatment ombudsperson, she said that they were discussing the empowerment of equal treatment institutions in Vienna by a fifth amendment to the Equal Treatment Act.  The fifth amendment would contain a range of instruments to enhance that body’s work.  One of the proposals was for the right of the ombudsperson to go to the Supreme Court in cases where collective agreements contained hidden discrimination against women.  Discrimination was very often hidden in the private sector.  In the everyday practice of her work, she often concluded that the main power of the ombudsperson was that she personified and represented the interests of the State authorities in achieving equal opportunities for women under private law.  She could not be asked to consider the interest of the enterprise.  The intervention of the ombudsperson was not seen as a soft one, despite the soft law mechanism.  But, proposals to employers could have a wider range of possibilities as compared to a court, because it was a soft law mechanism.

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