Press Releases

    WOM/1478
    19 January 2005

    Committee to Eliminate Discrimination against Women Considers Reports of Croatia

    Discusses Situation of Minorities, Efforts Towards Gender Equality

    NEW YORK, 18 January (UN Headquarters) -- While Croatia had made great progress in a short span of time to guarantee formal gender equality, the challenge now was to achieve substantive equality, the expert members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women said today, as they considered the situation of Croatian women in two meetings.

    Croatia succeeded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1992.  In 2001, it ratified the Convention’s Optional Protocol by which individuals or groups of individuals can petition the Committee. 

    Commending Croatia for the steps it had taken to strengthen its legal and institutional framework for the promotion and protection of women’s rights, many experts expressed concern that such measures had yet to benefit the country’s minority and ethnic women.  Noting that the report used “a kind of patronizing language” when addressing the situation of Roma women”, one expert stressed the need to involve Roma women, many of whom had no citizenship, in the planning and monitoring of government programmes.

    If the Government were not careful, another expert cautioned, it could set a hierarchy of minorities.  In dealing with ethnic division, most societies needed anti-racist education to achieve a better understanding of racist attitudes.  In that regard, she encouraged the Government to focus its efforts on mainstreaming minorities into the larger society.  

    Noting that many of Croatia’s recent efforts to promote gender equality had been motivated by its aspirations for European Union membership, several experts encouraged the Government to transform progress in legal and institutional reform into tangible gains for Croatian women.  One way to do that, an expert noted, was by drawing public attention to the link between the Union’s directives and the provisions of the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention.  With Croatia actively debating accession to the Union, the Government would do well in ensuring that new measures, such as the 2002 Gender Equality Act, and the establishment of new institutions resulted not only in legal progress but also in real change. 

    Addressing the role of the recently established Office for Gender Equality, several experts, while commending that body’s autonomy and independence, noted that the new structure, which replaced the former Commission for Gender Equality, functioned outside of the Government and was inadequately equipped, both in terms of budgeting and personnel, to handle the ambitious agenda it had been given.  In its present shape, experts questioned whether the Office would have the institutional authority to influence Government policies and the wherewithal to balance the dynamic tension between government institutions and non-governmental organizations.  

    Presenting Croatia’s report, Helena Stimac-Radin, Head of the Office for Gender Equality, said her country had seen many important changes in the implementation of gender equality policies since 1988.  Croatia had established a strong institutional framework for the promotion of gender equality.  As Croatia was a candidate for European Union membership -- one of the country’s most important and historic political goals -- a series of legal regulations had been passed and government bodies had been established with the mandate of eradicating discrimination against women.  A number of anti-discrimination laws had also been adopted, such as the Protection from Family Violence Act. 

    Addressing experts’ concerns on the status of minority groups, Milena Klajner, Head of the Office for National Minorities, explained that Croatia’s 22 ethnic minorities had the right to participate in elections for special guaranteed seats in the Parliament.  Of the eight minorities with seats in the Parliament, three were Serbian.  Regarding the Roma community, she noted that during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Kosovo, many Romas had come to Croatia without documents.  Roma people were the most vulnerable European minority and should be incorporated in all spheres of Croatia’s public life.  Both short- and long-term objectives had been elaborated in that regard.  With the European Union’s help, Croatia was trying to involve the Roma people in the elaboration of national programmes related to minorities.

    The Committee will meet again tomorrow, Wednesday, 19 January, to take up the situation of women in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

    Background

    The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to consider Croatia’s combined second and third reports on the country’s compliance with the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

    Report Summary

    Croatia succeeded to the Convention in 1992 and ratified the Convention’s Optional Protocol in 2001. Croatia also adopted the amendment to article 20, paragraph I of the Convention on the Committee’s meeting times.  The report before the Committee, which covers the period from 1995 to 2003, describes important changes since the presentation of the country’s initial report in 1998. 

    The report states that the Convention is a part of the country’s internal legal order and is “in terms of legal effects above the law”. Amendments to the Constitution, adopted by the Parliament in November 2000, set the stage for the adoption of legislation for the improvement of gender equality, including article 3 of the Constitution which says that gender equality, among other things, “represents the highest value of the constitutional order, and is thus the basis for the interpretation of the Constitution”.

    Croatia is a State party to all six United Nations conventions in the area of human rights, the report says.  It also ratified, in 1997, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.  New legal regulations in the area of labour, maternity protection and employment have been consolidated with the provisions of the conventions of the International Labour Organization.  In October 2001, Croatia and the members of the European Communities concluded the Stabilization and Association Agreement, by which Croatia formally undertook the obligation to consolidate its entire legislation with the European Union’s standards, including on gender equality. 

    Since its last report, Croatia has adopted a number of substantial and procedural provisions towards the elimination of discrimination against women.  The greatest of those changes regard domestic violence and the realization of equal employment opportunities.  Compared to previous codes, the 1998 Criminal Code classifies rape during marriage and domestic violence as criminal acts.  According to the Code, a member of the family, including former spouses and common-law couples, who use violence and harassment to humiliate other family members are punished by imprisonment from three months to three years.  The Code also introduced the idea of psychosocial treatment. 

    In 2003, Croatia adopted several special anti-discrimination laws, including the Law on Gender Equality, Law on Protection from Domestic Violence and Law on Homosexual Communities.   The Law on Gender Equality protects and promotes gender equality as a fundamental value of Croatia’s constitutional order, regulates the right to protection from discrimination on the basis of gender and the creation of equal opportunities for women and men in political, economic, social, educational and all other areas of public life.  It defines discrimination on the basis of gender in all its forms, both direct and indirect, including, for the first time, sexual harassment.  It also determines State mechanisms for the achievement of equality and non-discrimination, as well as the obligation to introduce principals of gender equality (gender mainstreaming).

    The Law on Protection from Domestic Violence focuses on the complete protection of the victims of violence, the report adds.  Along with prison sentences and fines, the law introduces a line of precautionary measures for the protection of the victims of violence from further domestic violence, including psychosocial treatment, removal from the home, restraining orders and compulsory drug-abuse treatment.  The failure to report domestic violence by an official or authorized person, moreover, is subject to prosecution. 

    The report also includes information on minority women, including programmes to improve the status of Roma women, and touches on the issue of displaced and refugee women.  As of July 2003, some 353,137 persons have the status of refugee, displaced person or returnee -- 189,240 of them are women.  Given the normalization of the situation, the issue of refugee women is no longer crucial in Croatia.

    Regarding mechanisms for the promotion of the gender equality, the report describes the establishment, in 1996, of the Equality Commission, an advisory body composed of representatives of all ministries and operating under the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare.  On the basis of the Beijing Platform for Action, the Commission adopted the National Policy for the Promotion of Equality in 1997.  The establishment of the Equality Commission and the adoption of the National Policy have contributed to raising awareness on the need for action to ensure full equality between Croatian men and women.  In 2001, the Parliament adopted the National Policy for the Promotion of Gender Equality together with the Implementation Programme of the National Policy for 2001 to 2005, thus making it a comprehensive document for the promotion of women’s human rights.

    Introduction of Report

    HELENA STIMAC-RADIN, Head of Croatia’s Office for Gender Equality, presented her country’s combined second and third periodic reports (document CEDAW/C/CRO/2-3).  Other members of the delegation were:  Nevo Setic, State Secretary, Ministry of Science, Education and Sport; Stefica Staznik, Assistant Minister, Ministry of Justice; Milena Klajner, Head of the Office for National Minorities; Mila Jelavic, Head of the Department for the Protection of Children, Family and Foster Care, Ministry of Health and Social Welfare; Tihomira Ivanda, Head of the Department for Primary Health Care, Ministry of Health and Social Welfare; Nada Kerovec, Senior Adviser, Office for Gender Equality; and Lora Vidovic, Second Secretary, Human Rights Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

    Ms. STIMAC-RADIN said that since 1998, Croatia had seen many important changes in the implementation of gender equality policies.  Currently, debates were taking place on the start of negotiations for Croatia’s accession to the European Union -- one of the country’s most important and historic goals.  Croatia had established a strong institutional framework for the promotion of gender equality.  A series of legal regulations had been passed and government bodies had been established with the mandate of promoting gender equality and eradicating discrimination against women.  The 2002 Gender Equality Act defined the prerequisites for an equal opportunities policy.  A number of anti-discriminatory laws had also been adopted, such as the Protection from Family Violence Act and the Act on Same-Sex Union. 

    Describing national mechanisms, she noted that according to the provisions of the Gender Equality Act, the Commission for Gender Equality had been replaced last year by the Government Office for Gender Equality as the central government expert body.  In 2001, the Parliamentary Gender Equality Committee had been created, and in 2002, the Ombudswomen for Gender Equality had been appointed.

    Women’s participation in political life had been continuously increasing since the 1990s, she said.  Women accounted for some 25 per cent of Croatia’s Parliament.  Of the 13 candidates standing in the recent presidential election, four were women.  The current vice-prime minister, standing as the ruling party candidate, had entered the second election round.  Compared to women representation in the national parliaments of the 45 members of the Council of Europe, Croatia was above the European average of 18 per cent.  Croatia had adopted a number of provisional special measures to achieve gender equality in the electoral lists of the various political parties. 

    Such measures, however, had not increased women’s representation at the local government level, which stood at about 14 per cent, she said.  In view of upcoming local elections in April, the Gender Equality Office had launched a number of activities to change that situation.  The question of women’s political participation at the local and national levels was central to the question of gender equality, as increasing the number of women politicians changed politics.  Without women, there could be no genuine democracy, she added.

    Concluding, she said that while most of the Convention’s provisions were being implemented in Croatia, very important areas required coordinated action for removing the obstacles to the attainment of genuine gender equality.  In that regard, the Government had singled out several priorities for empowering women, including introducing gender sensitive school curricula; increasing women’s political participation; reducing violence against women; fostering their economic status; and strengthening women’s participation in civic society organizations and their influence on decision-making.

    Experts’ Comments and Questions

    In the opening round of questions, experts congratulated the Government for its willingness to introduce measures to strengthen the national machinery for the promotion of women and improve legislation in that regard.  Welcoming such new laws, as those on the protection against family violence, they stressed that Croatia’s impressive achievements towards establishing de jure equality should now be translated into de facto improvement of the situation of women.

    NAELA GABR, an expert from Egypt, said that while standards had been established to address discrimination against women in Croatia, it was even more important to implement them.  In that connection, she wanted to know what was being done to coordinate the efforts of various mechanisms involved in gender issues.  How was the country trying to overcome negative stereotypes and what was being done regarding violence against women?  She also asked for further information on such phenomena as prostitution, sexual exploitation of women and trafficking.

    VICTORIA POPESCU SANDRU, an expert from Romania, said she highly appreciated the detailed information provided by the delegation and commended the Government for its ratification of the Optional Protocol.  Significant progress had been achieved in such areas as legislative reform and the incorporation of gender perspective in national plans.  She wanted to know about the obstacles encountered in the implementation of those plans and asked about the new laws introduced in the country.  In particular, how many complaints had been filed under the new domestic violence law and how many cases had been filed as a result?  She also asked about the situation of ethnic minority groups, in particular Roma women.  Her other questions related to the situation of Serbian returnees to Croatia.

    ZOU ZIAOQIAO, an expert from China, wanted to know what other bodies, aside from the Office of Gender Equality, were involved in the work for the achievement of gender equality.  As for the laws on protection against domestic violence, she asked how cases of domestic violence were distinguished from misdemeanours and other crimes.  How was verification of injuries conducted?

    FUMIKO SAIGA, an expert from Japan, asked about the position of the Office for Gender Equality in the government structure.  She also wondered how the function of receiving complaints was distributed among various institutions.  Had the country evaluated the implementation of the first national plan for gender equality and what were the results of such an evaluation?  Also, as the report had been drafted in the final stages of the legal reform of 2003, she wanted to receive clarification on the newly promulgated laws.

    SILVIA PIMENTEL, an expert from Brazil, echoed other experts’ concerns about the situation of minorities, especially as far as the country’s citizenship was concerned.  Regarding domestic violence, she asked about State-run shelters and those run by non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  How many of the latter were supported by the Government?

    HEISOO SHIN, an expert from the Republic of Korea, congratulated the Government for measures to strengthen the national machinery and improve legislation.  She also welcomed such measures as the adoption of new laws on violence, introduction of the national anti-violence day and cooperation with NGOs.

    According to the country’s presentation, three forms of legal measures were envisioned for domestic violence:  fine, imprisonment and protection, she continued.  However, in some cases, when a perpetrator was fined, a wife had to pay the fine under threats from the offender.  Was that a source of concern in Croatia?  She also noted that while over 3,000 cases of violence had been reported in just three months in 2004, only some 80 cases had been initiated.  Why was there such a gap?  Was special training provided to police, judges or prosecutors dealing with cases of domestic violence?

    PRAMILA PATTEN, an expert from Mauritius, said that tremendous work had been done by the Government in a short span of time to guarantee formal equality.  Now, it was important to achieve substantive equality, as well.  She wanted to know to what extent the efforts to promote gender equality had impacted on the lives of women in the country.  She also wondered if legal professionals, including judges, were familiar with the provisions of the Convention.  Her other questions related to data collection, accessibility of statistics and the situation of women with disabilities in Croatia.

    Country Response

    Responding to expert’s questions, Ms. STIMAC-RADIN said the Office for Gender Equality was responsible directly to the Government.  According to the Gender Equality Act, the Office reported once a year to the Government.  It had the status of expert government body, and was financed from the State budget.  In her view, the budget, given the tasks assigned to it, was rather modest.  The Ombudswoman had been appointed by the Parliament and was directly responsible to that body.  The Ombudswoman’s Office was also financed from the government budget.  The committee for Gender Equality was a parliamentary body.  A new institution was the appointment by the various ministries and State administrative offices of coordinators to implement gender equality polices.  The Office was responsible for training the coordinators.  While institutions had been established, they had to be strengthened in order to implement the Gender Equality Act.

    Commissions for gender equality at the local level were also important, she said.  The Office for Gender Equality, which was less than one year old, had established gender equality commission in 10 counties.  It had also instituted a training programme for local officials.  That was a very important achievement. Local gender equality commissions had the important task of ensuring public awareness on the issue of gender equality.  She was pleased that the opinions of the Council of Europe had been taken into account in instituting its legal framework for gender equality.  The Gender Equality Policy expired this year, and one of the Office’s priority tasks was the preparation of a new policy.  The new policy, which would be submitted to the Parliament and open to public debate, would be more effective and clear than the present one, she added.

    The Office for Human Rights was also responsible to the Government, she said.  Cooperation between all the various State mechanisms was satisfactory.  As they were new institutions, however, the goal was to make them more effective.  Harmonizing Croatian legislation with that of the European Union was very important.  With the date for the start of negotiations already fixed, Croatia had begun the process of reforming the whole body of Croatian legislation.

    On the issue of ethnic minorities, she said there was a large number of minorities.  Croatia had highly developed legislation in that regard, including a constitutional law on ethnic minority rights.  The Gender Equality Office and the Office for Ethnic Minorities had organized a working group, in which ethnic minorities participated, including members of the Roma minority.  The aim was to develop a specific plan for the promotion of ethnic women.  Eight minorities sat in the Parliament.  An analysis by the Office on ethnic women’s participation in political life showed that they shared the same fate as the majority population, in the sense that they were underrepresented.

    MILENA KLAJNER, Head of the Croatian Government Office for National Minorities, noted that Croatia’s 22 ethnic minorities had the right to participate in elections for special guaranteed seats in the Parliament.  Of the eight minorities with seats in the Parliament, three were for the Serbian minority.  Italian and Hungarian minorities also had seats.  The other ethnic groups chose their minorities by groups, include the Roma.  Unfortunately, the Roma candidate had not been elected.  Roma people belonged to the smaller ethnic minorities.  In addition to guaranteed seats, ethnic minorities participated at the regional, municipal and town levels.  Councils for ethnic minorities were newly established bodies in which ethnic minorities participated in political decision-making.  That had been important for the Roma, which up until 2000, had not been represented in local councils. 

    On the issue of citizenship, she said Croatia had a national programme for Romas, which had been adopted in 2003.  The programme would be evaluated next month.  A large number of Roma did not have citizenship.  The national programme envisaged the creation of mobile teams consisting of government representatives to assess their health and social welfare.  In September 2003, the teams had travelled to the various Roma settlements and the teams had found that where the largest number of Roma lived, all had Croatian citizenship.  Roma often failed to apply for the necessary documents, as they had to pay for them and often held documents from other countries.  During the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Kosovo, a large number of Roma had come to Croatia without documents.  They had been given instructions on how to obtain documents.  The mobile teams would participate in future work in that regard.  A booklet was being published which would explain how to acquire citizenship and other rights.

    Addressing the issue of violence in the family, another member of the delegation noted that the 1998 family act for the first time specified protection for the victims of violence.  In the same law, misdemeanour provisions had been included, which specified the procedures for the perpetrators of family violence.  The goal was to sensitize the public, experts and institutions on the need to implement the law.  Given the inadequacy of existing legislation, Croatia had amended the family law in 2003 and had drafted a special bill for the protection against family violence.  In July 2003, the law on the protection against family violence had been passed at the same time as the new family act.  Violence was also sanctioned as a criminal act according to the criminal code.  Penal procedures were followed in such cases.  The country did not have shelters for the victims of domestic violence, but relied on civil society in that regard.  Victims were provided food, health care and psychosocial support.

    Ms. STIMAC-RADIN said it was important that the Government stressed the need for women to report abuse.  The law for the prevention of family violence, adopted last month, envisaged both long- and short-term measures in that regard up until 2007.  Among the Government’s goals was the preparation of a detailed analysis for shelters for victims of family violence, the opening of new shelters, and the establishment of a shelter network.

    STEFICA STAZNIK said the Ministry of Justice also dealt with the problem of family violence through educational programmes for judges and public attorneys.  The Ministry of Justice had created a special academy, which had been entrusted with the education of judges, State lawyers and others on European law to better prepare them for the Union’s standards in that area.  Training seminars were also held on the issue of trafficking in human beings, including women.  A number of seminars would be held this year for judges and lawyers on conducting such cases.  International assistance had helped in creating the necessary curricula and finding experts to teach seminars.

    Croatia had created the necessary legislation for dealing with trafficking in human beings, she said.  With the entrance into force of the amendments to the penal code, a firm legal framework had been created for the punishment of the perpetrators of trafficking.  A normative framework had also been created to protect witnesses.  In addition to prosecuting perpetrators, Croatia also helped the victims of trafficking.  A database had been created to follow the issue of victims of trafficking in human beings.

    Regarding the return of refuges, as of 1 January 2005, some 327,000 persons had been returned since the process began in 2005, she continued.  In 2004, 12,448 persons had been returned, 58 per cent of which were Serbs, and 42 per cent Croats.  Since 1995, a total of some 53 per cent of the displaced persons had been women.  Regarding repossession of property, 18,400 housing units had been repossessed, and some 1,107 housing units still needed to be returned, she said.  The Government had adopted measures for property repossession and other processes on the issue of returns.  A department monitored the return process.  The deadline for ex-tenancy holders outside the areas of special State concern had been extended.

    Experts’ Comments and Questions

    As the Committee turned to its second round of questions, GLENDA P. SIMMS, an expert from Jamaica, expressed concern over the situation of Roma people.  Listening to the country’s presentation, she had a feeling that if the Government were not careful, it could set a hierarchy of minorities and the most disadvantaged might not find their rightful place in society.  Rather than focusing on such peculiarities as the minorities’ right to health services and education, the Government should focus on the efforts to mainstream minorities.  Most societies trying to deal with ethnic division needed to advance anti-racist education to enlighten the people and achieve a better understanding of racist attitudes.  A wider view of what discrimination meant was needed, and the Government needed to adapt an integrated approach to allow the disadvantaged to take their rightful place in society.

    CEES FLINTERMAN, an expert from the Netherlands, asked if there was any case law in Croatia, in which the Convention had been directly referred to by the judiciary.  He also asked about the role of the Convention in the training programmes implemented in the country, and the cases taken up by the ombudsman for gender equality and the procedure followed in that regard.

    MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, an expert from Malaysia, congratulated the Government for its excellent legal framework for gender equality.  The challenges in its implementation now needed to be addressed.  In the report and written responses to questions, information had been provided on the national machinery in that regard, but she wanted to know more about the coordination among various bodies.  Mainstreaming of national policies was critical, and she wanted to know if the Government had launched any position papers to provide a conceptual basis and set common standards across all institutions involved.  It was not enough to distribute relevant laws and documents -- it was important to determine the Government’s own approach to relevant policies, as well.

    MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, an expert from Cuba, joined the experts who had praised the national machinery and laws promulgated in the country.  She wanted to receive some additional information, however, in particular on inter-institutional coordination within the country and the efforts to harmonize various policies.  How was progress evaluated?  What were the trends in relation to main gender-related indicators?

    MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, an expert from Portugal, stressed the encompassing nature of the gender equality law in Croatia and asked several follow-up questions, including one on the status of the Office for Gender Equality.  As she saw it now, it was really outside the Government, providing advice and reporting to it only once a year.  The previous structure had been part of the Government, and she wanted to know if the Office in its present shape could really influence the Government’s policies.  Was there regular interaction with NGOs?  Not enough information had been provided on minority women.  Were their rights ensured in the same way as those of the Croat population?

    FRANÇOISE GASPARD, an expert from France, commended the sincerity of the delegation in analyzing the situation in the country and added that real capabilities of the Office for Gender Equality represented an important issue.  Would the Commission on the Gender Equality within the Parliament be informed about the outcome of the Committee’s consideration of Croatia’s reports?  Did local authorities have the means of integrating gender equality issues in their activities?

    DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, an expert from Ghana, asked about the present status of the draft law on the protection of witnesses.  If it had been adopted, she wanted to know how many women had availed themselves of its provisions.  Had it led to any convictions?  She also wanted to receive additional information about the functioning of shelters.

    KRISZTINA MORVAI, an expert from Hungary, asked about the budget and staff of the gender ombudsman.  She also knew little about the budget and working methods of the national machinery for the advancement of women.  How was it staffed?  Turning to Roma women, she said that she was worried that the Government did not have specific statistics in that regard.  How would trends and progress be evaluated without such data?  The report used “a kind of patronizing language” when addressing the situation of Roma women.  Roma women should be proactively involved in the assessment of the needs, planning and monitoring of programmes.

    She also wanted to know if there was a clear relationship between trafficking and prostitution in Croatia.  It was important to monitor not only the supply, but also the demand side of the problem.  Did women getting out of prostitution receive help?

    Country Response

    Ms. KLAJNER responded to questions on the situation of the Roma women, saying that the national programme in that regard contained specific actions related to their education and involvement.  The programme also took into account the role of the media in spreading the stereotypes.  For example, the press would often report on Roma women stealing things.  It was important to show the customs and history of the people in an advantageous way, and those reports were on the decrease now.  Croatia had also joined the decade for the Roma people, which had been initiated by the World Bank together with other institutions.

    The Roma people were the most vulnerable European minority, she continued, and they should be incorporated in all spheres of the country’s public life.  Both short- and long-term objectives had been elaborated towards that end.  The Office for Ethnic Minorities had organized a number of seminars to train Roma people.  One of the conditions was that at least half the participants should be women.  Many Roma NGOs were active in the country.  With the help of the European Union, Croatia was trying to involve the Roma people in the elaboration of national programmes related to minorities.

    The Office of Gender Equality had a far wider mandate and dealt with other tasks, Ms. STIMAC-RADIN added.  Many of the questions raised in the debate should have been addressed to the Office on Minorities.  A national strategy had been adopted to combat all forms of discrimination, but cooperation with the Roma people was important in that regard.  Roma Women Can Do It was the name of a recently-launched programme, which sought to address their concerns.  Proposals for wider cooperation with the minorities were under consideration now.

    About the functioning and mandate of her Office, she reiterated that it had been established only eight months ago.  It had a staff of three people and was financed from the State budget.  Independent and autonomous in its activities, it was accountable directly to the Government.  It proposed adoption or amendment of laws, drafted new policies for the promotion of gender equality and supervised their implementation.  It also carried out studies, cooperated with NGOs and monitored harmonization of laws and policies in Croatia.  All those activities were carried out by only three staff members.  Of key importance was the definition of a long-term strategy on the promotion of gender equality.

    Seminars for the local commissions for gender equality had been held as part of a joint Government-NGO project and had yielded good results, she said.  A large number of institutional changes had taken place within a short period.  At the local level, effective mechanisms had been set up for implementation of gender equality policies.  Regarding the national level, the drafting of a new policy for the period 2005-2010 would begin this year.  Non-governmental organization projects had been financed with the aim of strengthening women’s political participation at the local level.  In the months leading up to local elections, the Office would focus a large part of its activities on helping towns and municipalities to promote the election of women candidates.

    The Office’s influence, while considerable, was not great enough, she added.  Good communication had been established between the Office and the various ministries.  The Office also played the role of mediator between the Government and the civil sector.  On the removal of gender stereotypes from school books and curricula, for example, the Office had succeeded in establishing a link with the NGOs on the sensitive issue.  The Ombudswoman had been appointed by the parliament.  In terms of funding and personnel, the Ombudswoman’s office was stronger than the Office both in terms of staff and funding.

    Experts’ Comments and Questions

    SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, asked if the National Programme for Roma Women intended to include a review of the existing policy on minority rights.  The Gender Equality Office and the Parliamentary Gender Equality Committee should consider taking up as a priority the issue of Roma women citizenship rights.  Ensuring full citizenship rights was significant in terms of gaining access to a range of fundamental human rights.

    Ms. ZIAOQIAO, expert from China, noted that while the number of women in decision making positions had increased, at the local level the number was quite low.  What was the reason for the low level of women’s participation at the local level and what measures would the office take to improve the current situation?  Moreover, how were the eight seats for minority delegates in the Parliament guaranteed?  How many women from ethnic groups were represented in the Parliament?  She also asked for the percentage of Roma people both in terms of the national population and among the various ethnic groups.

    HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, applauded the creation of local equality offices as well as NGO involvement.  Noting that many of Croatia’s most recent efforts towards gender equality had been motivated by its desire to join the European Union, she encouraged the Government to make the link between European Union directives on equality and the relevant articles of the Convention.  On civil service positions, what had been the result of the policy in place since 2002, by which ministries and State bodies had encouraged women to apply for such positions?  Mere encouragement, she added, did not always produce real results.

    Country Response

    On the means of increasing women’s participation, Ms. STIMAC-RADIN said that the country’s political parties played a key role in that respect.  However, women in small communities often did not belong to any parties.  There was also greater resistance on behalf of local politicians to nominating women.  Work was under way to persuade political parties to nominate more women in next elections.

    It had been only last year that coordinators had been appointed in various ministries, she continued.  They were in charge of the implementation of the Gender Equality Act, and her Office was in constant contact with them.  As for the need to coordinate new policy directives with the Committee, she fully agreed with the experts.  Common foundations of the policies and the Convention needed to be emphasized.

    The law on witness protection had come into effect last year, Ms. STAZNIK said.  For under age witnesses, protection could be applied only with consent of parents or guardians.  Victims of trafficking had a right to special protection.

    Statistics were not available on the court proceedings related to gender equality in Croatia, she continued, because separate figures were compiled on offences in various spheres of life, for example education and labour relations.  Some data were available on how the Convention was reflected in legal proceedings, however.  In the coming years, stress in the work of the Judicial Academy would be placed on the international aspects of law.  Practical implementation of international law would be focus of attention in the workshops and training seminars planned in the country.

    Agreeing that links existed between prostitution and trafficking in people, she said that prostitution was sanctioned under the law on misdemeanours in Croatian legislation.  The national counter-trafficking strategy focused on prevention.  Systematic and comprehensive studies would be carried out on the causes and trends in that respect, and education campaigns were planned to prevent trafficking and raise awareness of the problem.  A free SOS line had been set up to provide assistance to the population.

    Regarding minorities, a member of the delegation said that they had the same rights as other citizens.  They also had a right to education in their own language, as well as some rights related to their culture.  Financing of associations promoting ethnic cultures was provided from the budget.  Croatia had a total of 7.5 per cent minorities who were scattered over the territory of the country.  They were guaranteed eight seats in the Parliament.  One of those people was a woman.  Afraid of discrimination, Roma people often declared themselves as Croats or members of other ethnic groups.  For that reason, while officially there were some 10,000 Roma people in the country, in reality, their number could be much higher.  One of the measures to promote their situation was aimed at engaging more Romas in the police force.  Efforts were also made to increase their participation in the public life of Croatia.

    Experts’ Comments and Questions

    Ms. SHIN, the expert from the Republic of Korea, asked whether Croatian universities had women’s studies programmes.  Was the subject of gender equality included in teachers’ training programmes?  Did the participation in the seminars organized by the Government and other organizations count as “points” towards a promotion? 

    Ms. GASPARD, the expert from France, also emphasized the importance of studying women’s issues, noting that the inclusion of gender specific issues in education required trained personnel.  Understanding the disparities between men and women required analysis and study.

    Mr. FLINTERMAN, the expert from the Netherlands, said he had been struck by the lack of ethnic breakdown in Croatia’s statistics.  He also noted the high dropout rate of Roma girls in primary education, as well as high illiteracy rates among Roma women.  Noting that only a small number of Roma boys and girls attended higher education, he asked for information in that regard.

    Ms. POPESCU SANDRU, the expert from Romania, asked what measures the Government had taken to deal with high illiteracy rates among women.  On Roma women, she asked whether segregated classes for the Roma population existed and, if so, what language the classes were taught in.  In general, how would Roma students be integrated into the broader situation?

    MS. KHAN, the expert from Bangladesh, noted that the labour act prohibited both direct and indirect discrimination.  Unfortunately, however, both forms of discrimination existed.  Ethnic minority groups were in a far more difficult situation in the labour market.  In spite of the fact that women were better educated, they had greater difficulties accessing the labour market.  Young women in particular seemed to face greater difficulties.  How did the law on gender equality address that situation? she asked.

    Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked if the Government had temporary special measures regarding the labour market.  Also, was the training of judiciary obligatory?  She was also concerned about the low salaries of women working in the female dominated State budget sector, such as teaching.  The low salaries might amount to indirect discrimination, she said.

    Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, from Portugal, addressed the issue of the reconciliation between of work and family life.  The issue of reconciling work and family life was a key issue both for gender equality and for quality of life.  In that regard, she recommended a rethinking of the issue in the context of family policies.  She was impressed by the level of women’s participation in political life.

    Ms. DAIRIAM, the expert from Malaysia, asked how the Government planned to ensure that women benefited from the labour act.  While there were many avenues for complaints in cases of discrimination generally, protection of labour rights was provided through general jurisdiction courts alone.  How were cases of labour rights violations handled?

    Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked what efforts had been made by the Government to raise awareness among women on the new laws and the new national policy for women’s equality.  Did the Government have a legal aid system for bringing complaints forward in the labour market?  What efforts were made to improve women’ access to justice?

    Country Response

    Responding to questions about education, NEVO SETIC said that under the country’s law on education, women and men had the same rights.  That was also true in practice.  Some 39 per cent of principals of the country’s 856 elementary schools were women.  In secondary schools, 52 per cent of principals were women.  To raise sensitivity to women’s issues and break down stereotypes, numerous seminars and workshops were organized in Croatia.

    Regarding the Roma population, he said that a large number of children starting primary school dropped out later.  Many Roma people had moved to Croatia in recent years, measures had been introduced to integrate Roma children in local schools and improve the quality of teaching.  Separate classes for boys and girls were introduced only when integrated classes could not be organized.  Roma people spoke two languages and despite State assistance, they found it difficult to decide which one of those languages should be used as an official one.  The decision was up to the Roma people themselves.

    According to the census of 1991, 3 per cent of the population was illiterate, he continued.  As a result of a literacy campaign, by 2001, that number had fallen to 1.9 per cent.  The goal was to eradicate illiteracy completely.  As for stereotypes in schoolbooks, some problems had been inherited from the past.  The Ministry of Education had prescribed certain criteria.  Legal and other measures had been stipulated to realize those standards, based on the national policy for gender equality.  The overall review of textbooks was expected to be completed within a couple of years.

    Ms. STIMAC-RADIN added that some Croatian universities had special courses dealing with women’s studies and gender equality education, for example in philosophy departments.  She supported universal introduction of such studies.  As for stereotypes, they were still present in the choice of studies.  They related to the traditional division of labour within the country.  The situation was gradually changing, however.  For instance, an increasing number of female students pursued engineering degrees.  The Ministry of Education, Science and Sport was now discussing the possibility of organizing a programme for the training of teachers.  Funds had already been allocated for seminars on equality and tolerance.

    On people with disabilities, she said that in cooperation with an NGO, the Ministry for Family Affairs had launched an entrepreneurship programme for deaf women.

    Turning to labour issues, she said that training for women was very important in order to improve their employment opportunities.  Statistical trends for working women were monitored by her office, which cooperated with the Statistical Bureau and conducted surveys among the population.  During the period of transition, Croatia had embarked on a market economy, and in many cases, women had suffered during that time.  When looking for a job, many women encountered discrimination with regard to gender when employers asked them about their marital status or intention to have children, for example.  Although against the law, such practices often went unreported.  A multidisciplinary project to stop such practices had been launched in cooperation with trade unions and other players in the country.  At the same time, there were quite a few positive examples of companies where women had achieved exceptional results within certain companies.

    NADA KEROVEC said that women in Croatia were often found in positions inferior to men in the labour market.  Women’s lower salaries were also a source of concern, like in many other countries.  Older women were much more affected by unemployment than young ones.  The problem had been recognized by the Government, which had put in place certain measures to improve older women’s chances in the labour market.  To that, another member of the delegation added that the need to increase women’s employment was one of Croatia’s main priorities, for a normal life of a family required two incomes.

    Women were concentrated in social welfare, health, education, financing and catering sectors of economy, Ms. Kerovec continued.  Such segregation was difficult to overcome, unless radical measures were put in place.  Among the projects initiated by the Government, was a programme carried out by the Ministry of the Economy, which provided significant subsidies and loans to women entrepreneurs.  The Government had also launched programmes for young people with higher education. 

    Ms. STAZNIK said that, in general, courts had divisions specializing in various areas of law.  Specialists in labour law dealt with employment cases in Croatia, for example.  Individual courts’ data were not centrally collected, however.  Computer software was being prepared, which would cover all relevant information.  She also elaborated on the country’s efforts to improve training of judges and State attorneys.

    Experts’ Comments and Questions

    Ms. GABR, expert from Egypt, noted the fact that the rate of HIV/AIDS in Croatia was among the lowest in Europe.  Regarding the new National Policy, would immigrants and minorities be taken into account in its formulation?

    Ms. AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, said it was praiseworthy that Croatia had holistic health indicators for women.  She also asked about family planning services, including the use of birth control.  On the issue of abortion, she asked for an explanation of the drastic decline in abortion rate between 1991 and 1995.

    Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, said she had a dream that in the near future no women would need an abortion.  Abortion was a terrible and painful experience for women, both psychically and emotionally.  As in most post-communist countries, abortion was used as a contraceptive method.  What was the reason for the still high number of abortions?

    ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, raised the issue of rural women and the redistribution of land from State to individual ownership.  What percentage of rural women held land rights in their own names?

    Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked if a survey had been taken on the status of rural women in Croatia and whether the Government envisaged special measures to address their particular vulnerabilities.

    MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said that while Croatia had made strides in many areas, further progress was needed.  Perfection was not of this world.  De facto inequality of opportunity existed.  Joblessness, particularly of young women, was a problem.  Croatia had spent a great deal to train women at the secondary and university levels and should see a return on that investment in terms of women’s access to the workforce.  What had been the result of the Committee’s previous concluding comments on the issue of family planning and minority women’s rights?  She also asked if the media had targeted various sectors of society on the diversity of roles played by men and women.  As long as women had to work both inside and outside of the home, discrimination would continue.  She also asked about the situation of elderly and disabled women.  While she welcomed NGO involvement, it was up to the State to implement the Convention.

    Ms. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, noted that the Head of the Gender Equality Office had been in charge for only eight months.  She would have to develop a focused gender mainstreaming strategy to influence the Government, and it was hoped she had the institutional authority to influence the Government and the wherewithal to balance the dynamic tension between government institutions and non-governmental organizations.

    Country Response

    On health issues, TIHOMIRA IVANDA said that Croatia had a low prevalence of HIV/AIDS.  As a result of risky behaviour, adolescents were often exposed to the threat of sexually transmitted diseases, and the Government was focusing on educational programmes in that regard.  Many contagious diseases could be overcome with consistent implementation of preventive programmes.  Early detection of cancer was emphasized to overcome that disease.  A pilot project on early detection of breast cancer had been recently launched.

    On abortion, she said that it was quite clear that any decline in the number of abortions was a positive sign, and recently, Croatia had registered such a decrease.  In 2003, some 10,000 abortions had been registered.  Legal abortions accounted for some 53 per cent of the abortions.  Many spontaneous and a small number of illegal abortions had also been registered.  However, it was a reality that in many cases, abortions were, indeed, used as a form of contraception.  Measures were being taken to educate the public in that regard.

    On persons with disabilities, MILA JELAVIC said that, as beneficiaries of social welfare, they had special rights under the law.  There were some 429,000 disabled people in Croatia.  They had a right to counselling, and many categories of disabled people were entitled to assistance for independent life and work.  Elderly people had a set of rights similar to the disabled persons.  The number of people living in old people’s homes was over 9,000, over 7,000 of them women.

    Ms. KEROVEC added that employers received incentives from the State for training disabled people and adapting work space for their use.

    Ms. STIMAC-RADIN thanked the experts for their kind comments and said that in view of the time constraints, many of their questions would be answered in writing.

    On rural population issues, she added that the Ministry of Agriculture had initiated a reform on privately-owned land, and a number of rural women’s associations had tried to promote women’s interests.  Traditional roles in rural areas were changing.  Many rural women had become very successful in the production of organic food products.  Many were also politically active, including in the areas of environmental conservation and protection.  The Government had launched a public debate on the role of women in the labour market.  Gender mainstreaming in all areas of the country’s public life was a high priority.

    Experts’ Comments and Questions

    Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, congratulated the Government on the new family law.  She asked for clarification on the extramarital community and the unmarried women’s rights to property.  Did the unmarried women’s rights to property diminish the wife’s rights?  Was she reading the report correctly in that regard?

    HUGUETTE BOKPE GNACADJA, expert from Benin, also addressed the issue of marriage, noting that there were religious and customary provisions and the provisions of family law.  Did the family law have two components, namely religious or customary law and civil law?  If not, what happened if some of the conditions accepted by religious rights contravened the legal provisions of family law?  What was the prevailing law in the case of divorce?  She also asked for information on marriage in Roma communities.

    Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, noted that the marriage age was 18, except in exceptional cases, where the marriage age was 16.  What reasons justified the lowering of the marriage age?  Who initiated the judicial procedure -- the person wishing to lower the age or the parent?  How many girls and boys had used the judicial procedure? she asked.

    Country Response

    Responding to those questions, Ms. JELAVIC said that family law defined an “extramarital community” as a union of an unmarried woman and an unmarried man.  A marriage under Croatian legislation was concluded under the civil procedure.  Religious ceremonies were also allowed for religious communities, which had concluded a contract with the State.  As Croatia was a predominantly Catholic country, most such ceremonies were conducted within the Catholic tradition. Religious marriages were verified by the State.  The age of marriage had been set at 18, but as an exception, it could be allowed for persons as young as 16.  As a  rule, those were girls.  In the past several years, permission for marriage had not been requested by any young men under 18.  She emphasized that if social workers were not absolutely certain that under-age persons were mature, marriage should not be permitted.

    Regarding civilian and religious marriage, Ms. STAZNIK said that civil procedures had precedence over the religious ceremony.  The provisions of the family law were the only regulations in respect of marriage.  Some couples chose to also have a religious ceremony, in addition to the State registration.  If a religious ceremony took place prior to a civil one, a priest had to submit related documents to authorities within eight days.

    A representative of Croatia, Mr. SETLE, said that the Croatian education system promoted life-long education.  Various possibilities were provided for education at later stages of life.

    Ms. KLAJNER addressed the issue of the extramarital life of under-age persons among the Roma population.  The Roma people lived in extended families, and the eldest person within that family provided family ceremonies, which, of course, had no legal value under the civil code.

    ROSARIO MANALO, expert from the Philippines, thanked the members of the delegation for their constructive and fruitful dialogue with the experts. The observations, conclusions and recommendations of the Committee would be forwarded to the State of Croatia.

    Ms. STIMAC-RADIN said that Croatia would try to present its next report on time.  An exchange of views within the Committee was very important, as gender equality was a global issue.  Countries should learn from each other’s experience and promote better policies for gender equality.

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