|For information only - not an official document.|
|Press Release No: UNIS/WOM/486|
|Release Date: 19 June 2000|
|Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
Takes Up First, Second Reports of Lithuania
NEW YORK, 16 June (UN Headquarters) -- All necessary internal legal procedures had been completed in order to pave the way for Lithuania’s imminent signature of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the representative of Lithuania told experts this morning during the introduction of its initial and second periodic reports on compliance with the Convention.
Speaking to the Convention’s monitoring body -– the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women -- Gediminas Šerkšnys said that his country could be considered a pioneer in the field of equal opportunity legislation. In December 1999, Lithuania’s Parliament adopted the “Law on Equal Opportunities” for women and men, which defined discrimination and sexual harassment, as well the concept of “positive discrimination”. An independent Ombudsman monitored the implementation of the Law.
While Lithuania had made progress by passing new legislation and creating mechanisms for their implementation, gender equality had not been achieved yet in all spheres, he continued. Women were still in a disadvantaged position in the labour market. The increased participation of women in the workforce since 1995 had resulted in the feminization of certain branches of the economy. Women were now employed more often in the non-productive spheres of the economy. Women also had to be encouraged to take a more active role in political life.
He added that the issue of violence against women in the family was addressed by State institutions in cooperation with non-governmental organizations. Assistance to women who suffered from violence was provided in Lithuania in nine crisis centres. Also, the Government was planning to launch a special programme aimed at preventing prostitution and trafficking.
The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to continue its consideration of Lithuania’s initial and second periodic reports.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to begin its consideration of the initial and second periodic reports of Lithuania, submitted under article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. That article provides for States parties to submit reports on legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures adopted to give effect to the provisions of the Convention. Lithuania acceded to the Convention in 1994. The initial report was submitted in June 1998. The second periodic report elaborates on the first report and highlights developments made in the implementation of the Convention since 1998.
On articles 1 and 2 of the Convention (discrimination and policy measures), the initial report (document CEDAW/C/LTU/1) states that the Lithuanian legal system does not provide for an official definition of the concept of "women's discrimination". However, several draft laws on equal opportunities are currently under consideration of the Seimas, the Lithuanian Parliament. Although there is no special law on equal opportunities as yet, certain special laws require that the principle of gender equality be followed, especially in the area of labour relations.
On article 3 of the Convention (guarantee of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms), the report says that to ensure not only the equal rights of women but also their equal possibilities to participate in political, social, economic and cultural life, in 1996 the Government endorsed the Lithuanian Women's Advancement Programme. The Programme is targeted at 10 essential areas, including the protection of women's human rights, women's economic and social status, women and environmental protection, women's health, family planning, women and education, women in politics and administration, abuse and violence against women and girls, women and the mass media, the system of statistics and gender differences.
The report goes on to say that one of the main actions planned for the protection of women's human rights is the drafting of a law on equal rights and opportunities for men and women and a mechanism for the supervision for its implementation. An enforcement mechanism has been put in place to supervise the implementation of the Lithuanian Women's Advancement Programme. The mechanism is comprised of institutions at the parliamentary level, the governmental level and at the level of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
On the issue of prostitution (article 6), the report says that prostitution has become a conspicuous phenomenon stemming from the country’s poor economic and social conditions. Trafficking in women has become a part of the activities of local and international crime. The absence of a consistent policy on the problem, non-participation in international programmes, and diverse attitudes on the part of public and political organizations towards this phenomenon made it difficult to create a legal regulatory system. Moreover, the mass media, acting on the basis of freedom of the press, often promotes prostitution in an indirect way. In response to the issue of prostitution, a complex preventive programme was launched in 1996, involving the police, the Migration Department, health-care institutions, other interested institutions and the mass media.
The report goes on to say that unlike prostitution itself, procuring a person for prostitution is considered a criminal act, according to an article of Lithuania's Criminal Code, and incurs a sentence of up to five years of imprisonment. Application of that article is rare, however. One of the obstacles preventing the courts from applying that article is lack of clarity in its wording. Furthermore, legal inefficiency is caused by the one-sided attitude of investigative bodies. Charges are usually dropped due to the absence of evidence or on other grounds. Prostitution-related crimes are included in the Lithuania's newly created Criminal Code. Stricter penalties are imposed on those who procure a person for prostitution, including fines, arrest and imprisonment. Upon the adoption of this new code by the Seimas, requirements of article 6 of the Convention will be met.
On article 7 of the Convention (elections), the report says that Lithuanian women voted for the first time in 1920. During that same year, Lithuania's provisional Constitution introduced equal suffrage for men and women. The 1922 Constitution firmly established the principle of equal suffrage. In the 1996 parliamentary and local elections, women's representation, both at the political and administrative levels, increased. If compared with the 1992 elections, the number of women candidates has grown almost threefold, from 98 to 278.
The report adds that the representation of women in the Seimas has also increased from 10 female parliamentarians in 1992 to 25 in 1996. Although the laws of Lithuania do not provide for quotas for women on election lists or in the administration system, plans are under way to develop a programme for female candidates to high government offices. There are currently 45 registered women's organizations in Lithuania, including organizations in the five largest political parties.
Education and its support at the national level are becoming one of the key principles in the realm of gender equality, the report explains. At present, education at all levels, with the exception of higher education, is free. Overcoming obstacles to higher education, namely, financial factors, has become a priority for the Government. One measure to improve women’s access to higher education includes development of a system of loans, benefits and allowances for students with children.
The report goes on to say that education laws treat men and women equally. In 1996, women made up 50.5 per cent of students at all levels of education. Girls comprised 50.3 per cent in secondary schools, 38.8 per cent in vocational training schools, 65.3 per cent in high schools and 56.3 per cent in higher education. On average, therefore, the level of education of women is higher than that of men.
On article 11 of the Convention (employment), the report says that the right to work is guaranteed by Lithuania's Constitution. Employers are prohibited from refusing employment on the grounds of sex, race, nationality, citizenship, political convictions or religion. The Constitution also guarantees the right of every person to adequate compensation for work.
Continuing, the report states that under Lithuania's labour law, pregnant women and women with children under three years of age may not work overtime or at night. They can work on weekends or holidays only with their consent. A woman with children under one and one half years of age who is unable to work is transferred to other work at her own request and she is paid the average of her previously paid salary. She is also given 30-minute breaks every three hours to feed her baby, in addition to other breaks for rest and meals. The law also stipulates that women under 40 years of age may not be given work that can harm their reproductive organs.
The report also says that women are granted maternity leave with benefits for 70 days before childbirth and 56 days after the birth of the child. Upon her request, the mother can be granted child-care leave until her child reaches three years of age. The law also forbids employers to dismiss women from work on the grounds of pregnancy or childcare.
On the issue of health care (article 12 of the Convention), the report states that in Lithuania every person is entitled to the same measure of health protection, including, but not limited to, private family planning clinics and State medical institutions. The law on health care guarantees free health care, supported by municipalities, to pregnant women, as well as to women with children under one year of age. Mother-and-child health-care services are accessible to all women. Abortions present one of the most acute problems for women. Although termination of pregnancy is not considered a method of family planning, it is still practised on a wide scale.
The second periodic report (document CEDAW/C/LTU/2) elaborates on the findings of the first report and outlines recently adopted measures to promote the development of Lithuania's equal rights policy. Since the presentation of the initial report, the Seimas passed the "Law on Equal Opportunities" on 1 December 1998. Passing this law, which came into force on 1 March 1999, is one of Lithuania's most significant achievements in compliance with the provisions of the Convention. The implementation of the law is supervised by an Equal Opportunities Ombudsman. An office, with the status of independent public institution, was created in May 1999 to ensure the work of the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman investigates complaints relating to discrimination and sexual harassment.
The report goes on to say that already-established national mechanisms have also been further developed. In March 2000, an Inter-Institutional Commission with approved regulations for its activities was established. It involves representatives from all government ministries. The Commission is responsible for coordinating activities of State institutions in implementing the policy of equal opportunities for women. The Commission submits its conclusions and proposals to the Government and other State institutions for implementation of the principles on equal opportunities. It also has an advocacy role.
It is noted in the report that under article 3, Lithuanian NGOs actively participate in gender-equality matters. The number of NGOs is growing in both numbers and importance. In 1999, there were some 63 women's organizations. The position of women in politics is also changing for the better. In local elections in March 2000, 38.5 per cent of the candidates were women, and 17.6 per cent of them were elected. Women's organizations play a role in encouraging women to seek leadership positions.
On the issue of sex role stereotyping, the report says that mass media is indifferent to the problems of women, often referring to classic stereotypes. The influence of female journalists was insufficient. In this regard, Lithuania's Programme for the Advancement of Women has established guidelines to encourage the mass media to objectively describe modern women and deal with gender equality issues, to promote women to editorial boards, create favourable conditions for their career advancement, and pay more attention to human rights issues and professional ethics in training journalists. The programme has also established guidelines for developing measures prohibiting the popularization of violence against women, pornography, advertising prostitution and humiliating the dignity of women.
Under article 6 (prostitution), the report states that since the adoption of the Law on Equal Opportunities, new legislation and sanctions relating to violence against women have been imposed. On the issue of domestic violence, violence in the family and sexual abuse are extremely sore subjects. The general attitude of Lithuanian society and patriarchal traditions often place the blame on women for violence committed against her. For this reason, victims do not often report cases of violence. According to the Criminal Code, rape and sexual assault are defined as "sexual intercourse when physical coercion or threats are applied, or when the helpless position of an abused female is made use of". The sentence for such crime is imprisonment for three to seven years. Child abuse is considered "sexual intercourse with a sexually immature person", and is punishable for up to five years. The term "sexual harassment" is included in both the Law on Equal Opportunities and the Criminal Code. The Criminal Code also states that the production and keeping and distribution of pornographic materials are punishable for up to two years or a fine.
The report goes on to say that the problem of violence against women in the family has been addressed by State institutions in cooperation with NGOs. Finding solutions and introducing preventative measures to stop violence and abuse is seen as a priority issue for police officials. The Women's Issues Information Centre have prepared published advice for victims of violence and abuse, indicating contact details of counselors in the police. Assistance to female victims of violence is also provided by 11 recently established "crisis centres" and 14 telephone hotlines. Social programmes are currently being implemented in
On article 7 (public and political life), the report says that insufficient participation of women in politics and administration indicates that democracy is not yet fully reached. Participation of women in decision-making is an obligatory condition for implementing gender equality. The number of women organizations, however, has greatly increased with 63 active women's organizations.
On article 11 of the Convention, the report says that until 1996 women made up more than half of the workforce in Lithuania. Between 1996 and 1998, the number of women in the labour market fell slightly. Although women enter the labour market with a higher level of education, it does not determine their position in it. Women hold less prestigious jobs and occupy lower positions in the same branches of employment. Although the unemployment rate of women increased since the beginning of 1999, unemployment rate of men was higher because the Russian financial crisis affected the more technical, male-dominated branches of industry. In 1998, women earned an average of 77.2 per cent the amount earned by men. That did not mean that women are paid less for doing the same job, but that they held lower positions in the same sectors.
As regards health care for Lithuanian women (article 12 of the Convention), the report states that an order by the Minister of Health in 1999 stipulates that health care for pregnant women, women in confinement and newborns is made available by out-patient clinics, regional hospitals and perinatological centres. Although the number of abortions -- one of the most acute problems for women in many post-communist countries-- had decreased, it was still high.
Citing other improvements in Lithuania since the time of its initial periodic report, the report says that since the Programme for the Advancement of Women was prepared in 1996, the first implementation plan of the Programme has been accomplished. The second plan for 1998-2000 is currently being implemented. Problem areas, however, included violence against women and the fact that women have not yet reached a critical mass of representation in Government to influence policy issues. Involvement of women into public life, government, business and family relations continued to be areas of concern not only for women, but for Lithuanian society as a whole.
Introduction of Report
GEDIMINAS SERKSNYS (Lithuania) said that one of the priority guidelines of Lithuania’s State policy was to ensure equal opportunities for men and women. Equality was treated as the main principle of democracy. The rights of women in the context of human rights were provided for in the Constitution, in providing for non-discrimination on the basis of gender, exercising the right to work and the right to education. Active participation of women in governmental structures, business and other professional activities based on the principle of equality was a major condition in creating an open democratic society.
He said that history of gender equality dated back to the first Lithuanian legal code published in the sixteenth century, which stipulated the punishment for killing or inflicting bodily harm on a woman was twice as severe as the punishment for injuring a man. Women were entitled to their share in the property owned by the family and exercised the right to represent the legal interest of the family and husband in court. Lithuania lost its independence in the late eighteenth century. After independence was restored in 1918, women were given equal voting rights.
Fundamental human rights were consolidated in Lithuania’s Constitution, which provided no limitation on individual rights and privileges based on gender, race, nationality, language, religion or social status, he said. The Constitution also guaranteed fundamental civil and political rights to the citizens. Lithuania had acceded to a number of other international human rights instruments, which directly and indirectly dealt with the protection of women’s rights. Lithuania had finished all necessary internal legal procedures for the signature of the Optional Protocol to the Convention. It planned to sign the Optional Protocol in the near future.
He said that the rights of women were consolidated in the majority of national laws, namely, the Law on Elections, the Law on Referendum, the Law on Employment Contracts, the Law on Wages, the Law on Safety at Work, the Law on Support to the Unemployed, as well as in national codes. Lithuania could be called a pioneer in the field of specific laws on equal opportunities. It adopted the Law on Equal Opportunities for women and men in December 1999. The law introduced a definition of discrimination, which meant passive or active conduct expressing humiliation and contempt, restriction of rights or granting of privileges by reason of a person’s sex.
He added that exceptions to the law included special protection of women during pregnancy, childbirth and nursing, compulsory military service, different pension ages for women and men, work-related safety requirements and specific work that could be performed only by a person of a particular sex. The Law on Equal Opportunities also introduced the concept of “positive discrimination” and defined the concept of “sexual harassment”. An equal opportunities Ombudsman monitored the implementation of the law.
He said that another measure which strengthened gender equality was the establishment in 1994 of a post of a State Counsellor on Women’s Issues in the Prime Minister’s Office. In 1996, that post was upgraded to the Office of Adviser on Women and Family Issues. In 1997, other major steps were taken towards creating national machinery for equal opportunities, including a structural subdivision within the Ministry of Social Security and Labour and a gender statistics section in the Department of Statistics. Within the Parliament, a group of women parliamentarians was created.
The establishment of the Office of the Ombudsman of Equal Opportunities in 1999 was the first such office in Central and Eastern Europe, he said. The Office of the Ombudsman was an independent public institution, having its own competence and being accountable only to the Parliament. The institution had an independent budget, which had increased in 2000. The Ombudsman investigated complaints of discrimination and sexual harassment and conducted investigations at her own initiative. She submitted recommendations to the government and administrative institutions on the revision of legal acts. The Ombudsman had received 42 complaints in the first year alone. Thirty-seven of those complaints had been investigated and appeared to be well grounded.
In March 2000, the Government established a permanently functioning inter-ministerial Commission on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, he explained. Representatives from all 14 ministries and two departments were appointed as members to the Commission. Non-governmental organizations were also invited to attend. The Commission aimed at coordinating the activities of State institutions in the sphere of implementation of the principle of equal rights and opportunities for men and women.
He said that civil society was actively engaged in gender-equality matters, he continued. The number of NGOs was growing and they became increasingly important in society. In 1997, there were about 50 women’s NGOs . That number had grown to 63 in 1999. One of the most active women’s organizations was the Woman’s Issues Information Centre, which initiated social studies, collected and analysed gender-related data with a view to the employment of women, entrepreneurship, education and family issues.
Women’s engagement in the political life of the country had slowly but steadily increased, he said. In 1992, 10 women were members of Parliament; 7 per cent of that body. By 1996, that number had grown to 25 or 18 per cent. Women also took an active part in elections to local municipalities. In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, almost half of the diplomats were women.
On the issue of education, he said that education was open to all and capable of meeting the needs of both men and women. In the area of education, women had made significant achievements. Some 58 per cent of university and 70 per cent of high school graduates were women. Also, more women were seeking higher scientific degrees.
The participation of women in economic activities had greatly increased since 1995, he said. As in many other countries, the feminization of certain branches of the economy was also observed in Lithuania. Women were employed more often in non-productive spheres of the economy and less in industries. The difficult economic situation in Lithuania inevitably had a negative impact on women. The unemployment rate at the beginning of 2000 had increased to 11 per cent, with the unemployment rate of women at 10 per cent.
On health care and the family, Lithuania’s Law on the National Health System provided medical services at national institutions free of charge, he said. Pregnant women received free health care, and all women had access to maternity and child health-care services.
He added that the issue of violence against women in the family was addressed by State institutions in cooperation with NGOs. The priority was to set guidelines for policy actions that were aimed at mitigating violence and abuse in domestic life and introduced preventive measures, among other things. Some articles of the Criminal Code provided for punitive responsibility for violence, prostitution and trafficking in human beings. Assistance to women who suffered from violence was provided in Lithuania in nine crisis centres. The Government was planning to launch a special programme aimed at preventing prostitution and trafficking.
In conclusion, he said that while Lithuania had made progress by passing new legislation and creating mechanisms for their implementation, gender equality had not been achieved yet in all of those spheres. Women were still in a disadvantaged position in the labour market and had to be encouraged to take a more active role in political life. Violence against women, moreover, remained a serious issue.
Comments and Questions by Experts
Concern was also expressed about the feminization of poverty in Lithuania and the situation of older women. She also wanted to know how aware Lithuanian women really were about their rights under the Convention. Lithuania’s report had mentioned that the Convention had been translated and published in newspapers, but what else had been done to raise the awareness of courts, educators and law enforcement officials?
Both experts expressed concern about the structure of the ombudswomen’s programmes. How were the programmes funded? What was the extent of an ombudswoman’s power? If she pronounced a verdict, was that verdict legally binding? Would those verdicts be published to raise awareness in the public sector about issues such as sexual harassment in the workplace? There were also questions about Lithuania’s credit-line structure for women.
Turning to article 2 of the Convention, and opening the floor to comments from other experts, there was great concern expressed about Lithuania’s national machinery for the promotion of equality between men and women. There was some confusion about the real differences between State subsidies and social security schemes.
Another expert expressed particular concern about the situation of elderly women. The periodic report had included striking statistics about Lithuania’s ageing population and had shown the sharp increase in the number of women over the age of 80. It was also significant that unemployment among older women was high, since the pension system seemed to be geared towards benefits that were based on continuous employment. While those sections of the report were complex, it seemed likely that elderly women would be subsisting on a lower income than those that had been employed for lengthy periods. That was particularly troubling because women lived longer and might, therefore, suffer form disabilities longer. The expert wondered if Lithuania had instituted any measures to address the social conditions of elderly women, such as isolation, loneliness, as well as other mental and physical health issues. Was there an adequate system of institutional care for elderly women?
Another expert asked for clarification of the priorities of Lithuania’s Plan of Action for 1998-2000. Had specific ministries contributed? Did NGOs have any input?
Turning their attention to article 4, some experts commended Lithuania on temporary special measures introduced to promote gender equality, while others expressed concern about the low numbers of women employed in educational fields and diplomatic services. It was very important to improve the figures in that area, as it had been shown that only when women were properly represented in decision-making fields could their voices be heard.
It was generally felt that one of the most difficult tasks in implementing gender equality was addressing negative social cultural models, stereotypical attitudes and discrimination (article 5). In that regard, one expert was particularly interested to know the scope of the training programmes Lithuania had put into place to address it. Would those programmes have a national scope?
Several experts were most impressed by the number of media initiatives Lithuania had established. As an awareness-raising tool, the mass media provided many options to reach large segments of the population. There was concern expressed, however, about representation. Were the images of women in the media what was now being called “the modern woman”, or were they images that might reinforce stereotypes?
Questions were also asked about initiatives with respect to the content and scope of laws promoting equal opportunity for men and women in the labour market. One delegate wondered about the influence of the Church on national plans of action for ending discriminatory attitudes and practices.
On article 6 of the Convention, which deals with violence against women, an expert noted that while Lithuania had set up many programmes that addressed the issue, a closer look at the actual provisions of the laws highlighted some problems. Lithuania’s law on rape specified physical assault. Was it always necessary to prove violence? In many other countries, the standard for proving rape was sexual intercourse “without consent”. Laws on prostitution also appeared to punish the sex workers and not clients
With so much focus on domestic violence, another expert asked what programmes had been established to rehabilitate victims and reintroduce them into society. Were there training programmes for social workers and police? She was also concerned that Lithuania’s programme to end trafficking in women was not backed by strong legal measures. It would also be important, she said, to ensure that the victims of trafficking were not considered criminals.
Turning next to article 7, an expert said that, while the number of women’s associations and NGOs had increased, there appeared to be many discrepancies in funding. There was an apparent contradiction in the Government’s attitudes towards them. That was troubling, since many women’s NGOs, now seen as a part of civil society, provided services that the Government did not. Without funding, that good work could not continue. Was there parity in funding? Were charitable associations allowed to generate income? Did membership fees qualify as “income”? Did the Government envision any tax legislation that would make it profitable for business associations to donate funds to those organizations?
Another expert asked for the correct figure for the percentage of women in Parliament. What was the total number of people elected in local elections? How were women expected to fair in the autumn elections? How many women would be running in that election? On the issue of political parties, what was the percentage of women in the different parties? How many women held leadership positions in the parties? Were their quota systems for women? Also, what were the future plans for the Woman’s Information Centre?
On article 11, an expert noted that the right to work was guaranteed by the Lithuanian Constitution. There had been a fall in the women’s share in the employment market. That trend was also visible in sector-wide data provided by the Government. On Lithuania’s labour law, she noted that the right to work should not be dependent on demand. The issue of the right to work had to be translated into the accessibility to work. Because the labour market was quite segregated, especially in the new information technology areas, women found it difficult to access markets. Lithuania also had a large percentage of older women. How could the basic principle of the labour law be explained in light of International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions and the Women’s Convention? It seemed that the right to work and remuneration was conditional on the labour market situation. There was also a wide gap in wages. On sexual harassment in the workplace, did the Government have statistics? What kind of punishment was given to aggressors and were victims compensated?
On unemployment figures, the expert noted that independent sources showed unemployment in Lithuania at about 20 per cent. The report said that unemployment was at about 10 to 11 per cent. She asked for clarification of the conflicting information. Was it a question of statistics? She also wanted figures on how many women had been unemployed on a long-term basis. Were there programmes for unemployed women? Since unemployment benefits were paid for six months, what happened after that? Did they receive benefits? Were they income-tested? She also asked for information on training for women and men. On wage differential, she wanted to know if they were being set by social partners. Were there trade unions? If wages were set by trade unions, had there been a study to determine the root cause of the undervaluation of women’s work in certain sectors?
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