Press Releases

    WOM/1482
    26 January 2005

    Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee Stresses Need to Promote Participation of Italian Women in Political, Public Life

    NEW YORK, 25 January (UN Headquarters) -- Without measures to promote the active participation of women in political and public life, the situation of Italian women would remain unchanged, despite improvements to the country’s legal and constitutional framework for gender equality, the members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women said today. 

    Acting in their personal capacities, the Committee’s 23 expert members monitor compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Having ratified the Convention in 1985, Italy ratified its Optional Protocol in 2000.

    Noting a decrease in the already low number of women in Italy’s Parliament, experts said the limited presence of Italian women in the political arena was a clear sign of the gender discrimination that was contrary to the far-reaching terms of the Convention. Deeply entrenched cultural stereotypes would need to be overcome if women were to take their rightful places in modern Italian society.  Italian women had been fighting with the issue of gender parity in politics for many years, one expert said. 

    Given the adoption of a constitutional amendment which introduced the principle of equality in access to political offices, experts urged the Government to consider using temporary measures to increase the number of women in decision-making positions in the Parliament, judiciary and in senior levels of Government. Such measures would be in line with the Government’s adoption of new legislation requiring a 30 per cent quota for women’s representation on electoral lists for the European Parliament.

    Describing the situation of Italy’s large immigrant population, several experts noted that, in many European countries, immigrant women suffered from multiple forms of discrimination. While measures had been taken to improve the situation of Italian women in the workplace, for immigrant women, the glass ceiling was a cement ceiling, one expert noted.  With thousands of immigrants from Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America, another expert stressed the need for the Government to avoid stereotyping immigrant women. Italy’s report clearly put ethnic minority women within their ethnic enclaves. In that respect, they were not seen in the same way as mainstream Italian women. 

    Regarding women’s participation in the labour market, experts noted that while there had been an increase in the number of employed women, women continued to be segregated in lower-level occupations. Experts asked what was being done to eliminate occupational segregation and promote equal participation by women in highly skilled and senior management positions. They also emphasized the need for concrete data on the impact of measures for the advancement of women.  Without statistics, one expert noted, it would be impossible to trace the evolution of gender equality in Italy. Experts also emphasized the need to strengthen the country’s national machinery for the advancement of women, both in terms of human and financial resources.

    Presenting Italy’s reports, Aldo Mantovani, Deputy Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations, stressed that the political, civil, social and economic advancement of women required their full participation in all areas of public life. Treating women as victims undermined their role.  Instead, women should be seen as “precious elements” in the human rights arena.  Highlighting recent developments, he noted the adoption of a law by Italy’s Parliament in late 2004 to decrease the risk of women’s under-representation in European Parliament elections. As a result of that law, after last June’s elections, there had been a 20 per cent increase in women in the European Parliament. 

    Responding to questions on the issue of quotas, Mario Serio, Counsellor of the Minister for Equal Opportunities, noted that, in 1995, Italy’s Constitutional Court had said no to quotas in political elections. That decision had nothing to do with defying the Convention. Rather, the Court felt that imposing quotas on voters could result in restriction of their liberties. The situation had dramatically changed, however. A law passed in the spring of 2004 had resulted in the increase of the number of Italian women in the European Parliament.

    In a short span of time, he added, the Italian Parliament had adopted several important laws, including laws on sexual violence and human trafficking, and the amendment of the Civil Code to give family judges the power to issue protection orders against violent spouses.

    The Committee’s next open meeting will be on Friday, 28 January, when it is expected to conclude the work of its current session.

    Background

    The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to consider Italy’s combined fourth and fifth periodic reports (document CEDAW/C/ITA/4-5) on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  Italy ratified the Convention in 1985 and its Optional Protocol in 2000.

    The report states that when Italy’s new Government took office in 2002, it launched a programme of broad reforms affecting all sectors of political, economic and social public life. The Ministry for Equal Opportunities based its activity on a modern concept of equal opportunity which involves careful monitoring and combating of all forms of inequality, including gender, racial and sexual preferences. A presidential decree confirmed the range of tasks assigned to the Ministry. A major declaration on equal opportunities for all set the political priorities for both Ministry and the entire government. Six objectives have been added to the programme, including representation of women in elective assemblies, measures against trafficking in human beings, fighting paedophilia, reforming equal opportunities bodies, elimination of discrimination and the National Plan for kindergartens.

    Regarding women’s representation in elected bodies and public offices, the report explains that a bill modifying Article 51 of the Constitution, which introduces the principle of equality in access to political offices, has been passed. The new text of that article introduces, for the first time, the concept of equal opportunities into the Constitution, compelling the country to foster “equal opportunities for men and women by means of appropriate provisions”.

    According to the report, one of the main objectives of the Equal Opportunities Ministry is to reconcile the multiple roles of women in the family and at work, through a series of instruments and services. A national plan for nursery schools has been drawn up, which provides working women with immediately available services, allowing them to combine their family and professional life. A bill providing for the creation of day nurseries, as well as nurseries in the work place, is currently under examination by the Committee of Social Affairs. The institution of “micro-nurseries” is particularly important as they are flexible, small and easy to set up in public and private working places, thus allowing parents, in particular women, to pursue their professional careers. 

    The Government’s commitment to fighting discrimination is illustrated by a bill to fight prostitution, which represents the highest level of exploitation of women, the report says. An increase in immigration and the involvement of organized crime in Italy has resulted in an increase both in the number of people who voluntarily take up prostitution and in the involvement of organized crime. The bill prohibits prostitution in public places or places open to the public, as that is where the worst cases of criminal sexual exploitation thrive. 

    The report adds that some 25,000 foreign prostitutes have been brought to Italy over the past few years and forced to prostitute themselves under threat of violence from their exploiters.  Introducing the ban on prostitution in public places or places open to the public into the Criminal Code with sanctions for both the prostitute and the client aims to disrupt the systematic meeting of supply and demand in the flourishing market of “sex for payment”.

    Given the link between prostitution on the streets and trafficking in human beings, a specific case of immunity for punishment is provided, which excludes sanctions against those who can prove that they have been forced into prostitution against their will. The Government has also decided to increase funding for social protection programmes for those who intend to leave prostitution. In broad terms, in order to stem the tide of prostitution, the Government has opted neither for regulation nor abolition, as prostitution is not forbidden inside a house which is being used legitimately.  Rather, it has confined prostitution to the private sphere.

    A government bill has been presented to Parliament proposing effective provisions to fight and eliminate crimes linked to the forced immigration of human beings and their reduction to slavery or servitude, the report continues. The objective is to fight the modern “slave trade” phenomenon. The provision, which has already been approved by the Chamber of Deputies and is currently under examination by the Senate, introduces a separate type of crime with appropriate sanctions, and provides victims with assistance and protection.

    Regarding women’s participation in public life, the report states that the low level of female participation in politics is undeniable. The last elections registered even fewer women elected to Parliament than the already low previous percentage. That is alarming as it represented a drifting apart of politics and society. Despite the fact that women have distinguished themselves for their commitment and ability in the most important sectors of socio-economic life, they are still at a disadvantage compared to men.  While the Ministry of Equal Opportunities is committed to identifying the regulatory and administrative instruments that will enable women to play a primary role in politics, more effective measures are needed.

    The shortage of female representation in the political arena is mainly due to deeply rooted cultural factors, including the image of women as weak and needing protection, the report adds.  Another factor has strong political connotations, namely, difficulty in reconciling the female role in politics and work with family life. Italian women today are weighed down by a much longer working day than the European average, and an ever increasing workload, due to the demands of society, business and city life.

    The report explains that due to the increasing presence of migrant and/or refugee women from sub-Saharan Africa, the issue of female genital mutilation has increased in recent years. Female genital mutilation is a complex and painful issue encompassing many aspects, including gender relations, sexually, education and human rights. Some 30,000 sub-Saharan women live in Italy, and the number is constantly rising. Among the measures taken by the Government to combat female genital mutilation is the establishment of an Inter-ministerial Multidisciplinary Committee tasked with the responsibility of monitoring the problem. Comprised of experts on the matter, the Committee has conducted hearings with associations and experts, single women and care providers, and has drafted the “National FGM guidelines” directed to health and social care providers, schools, universities and health-care centres.

    Introduction of Reports

    The documents before the Committee were introduced by Italy’s delegation, which consisted of Mario Serio, Counsellor to the Minister of Equal Opportunities; Lucia Borgia, Vice-President of the National Committee for Equal Opportunities; Andrea Cavallari of the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations; Luigi Clavarino of the Ministry of Instruction, University and Research; Colomba Iacontino of the Ministry of Health; and Isabella Menichini, Ministry of Welfare.

    Presenting Italy’s reports, ALDO MANTOVANI, Deputy Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations, provided an update to the information contained in the documents before the Committee, which dated back to 2002.  The most important topics emphasized by the Government included the role of women in political life and access to public office; access to labour market; violence against women; and health-care services.  Among significant new laws and initiatives on gender issues, he listed a 2003 act aimed at incorporating European Directive 2002/73 into the domestic legislative framework.

    The Directive aimed to mainstream gender equality in the areas of access to the labour market, education, professional training and social conditions. The incorporation of the Directive by a domestic decree, which was currently reviewed by the ministries, would broaden the definition of sexual discrimination to include sexual harassment and retaliatory measures in response to allegations of discriminatory actions. Stricter judicial measures had been provided to protect women who had been discriminated against, as established by the law on positive actions for the implementation of the principle of gender equality.

    The political, civil, social and economic advancement of women required their full participation in the decision-making process, policy-framing and education. Treating women as victims undermined their role. Instead, women should be seen as precious elements in the human rights arena: active subjects, and not simply objects of concern in the field of human rights. In late 2004, the Italian Parliament had approved Law 90, an initiative of the Ministry for Equal Opportunities. That law aimed to decrease the risk of under-representation, and provided that in the European Parliament elections, at least one third of the candidates must be of each gender. As a result, after last June’s elections, there had been a 20 per cent increase in women in the European Parliament. A bill with similar provisions for other types of elections was now under consideration.

    According to the latest data, from 1998 to 2003, there had been a 3.7 per cent increase in the rate of activity of Italian women workers, nearly double the European average.  Participation in the workforce had grown and a portion of the informal workforce had been acknowledged. In line with the Lisbon Strategy, Italy had tried to reduce the unemployment rate. A new initiative, “Gender News – Good News”, had been promoted by the Ministry of Welfare together with the country’s European Union partners.

    Over the past few years, the Government had expressed its full commitment to family issues by drafting a strategy of integrated actions to improve the living conditions of Italian families. The White Paper on the Welfare State, which the Government had submitted in 2003, was an innovative instrument to assess changes in Italian society and identify the main trends. Together with a subsequent national action plan on social inclusion, it had highlighted the crucial role of the family -- a key actor in preventing social marginalization or exclusion of the elderly, children and persons with disabilities.

    He said that the Ministry for Equal Opportunities dealt specifically with gender-related issues, coordinating actions pursuant to the latest laws on sexual violence, trafficking in people, forced estrangement of a violent spouse, and promotion of children’s rights.  Law 66/96 on sexual violence had helped to raise public awareness of the issue, as evidenced by an increase in women’s complaints of sexual violence and violent sexual harassment between 1994 and 2002. The fight against trafficking in women and girls continued to be one of the country’s priorities. Italy had adopted various instruments, which provided for the issuance of a residence permit for reasons of social protection in order to “allow the foreigner to subtract him or herself from violence and from the hands of criminal organizations and to participate in a programme of assistance and social integration”.

    An inter-ministerial commission had been established to coordinate, control and plan assistance programmes, which were carried out by local authorities and the private sector. Some 70 per cent of the costs were financed by the Government, and 30 per cent by local councils. At the end of 2004, the Office for the Promotion of Equality and Elimination of Racial and Ethnic Discrimination had been established. There had also been an increase in the number of gender-awareness campaigns.

    Regarding health-care services, he said that the objectives of the latest national health plan (2002-2004) included a reduction in the number of Caesarean sections, particularly in the regions with high incidence. The mother-child project provided for the basic level of obstetrical and paediatric/neonatal assistance in childbirth. Under that initiative, a regional and interregional network of specialized staff with a wide range of technical resources had been set up, based on the structural needs of hospitals and their staff. An initiative was also under consideration to protect the rights of parturient women, promote natural childbirth and protect the newborns.

    Experts’ Questions and Comments

    Before opening the floor to experts’ questions, Committee Chairperson ROSARIO MANALO, also an expert from the Philippines, noted that as part of its effort to refine its working methods, the Committee had decided two sessions ago, on an experimental basis, to use country task forces for the consideration of States parties’ reports. Italy was the first to be considered by the Committee in that fashion. In that regard, a limited number of experts would pose questions, which would be clustered according to the Convention’s four substantive sections.

    DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, commended the Government for the significant improvements in Italy’s legislation since the country’s last report. In that respect, she asked if the report had been formally adopted by the Parliament and if non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had participated in its drafting. Also, would the Committee’s concluding comments be presented to the Government in order to raise awareness of Italy’s obligations under the Convention? She also asked for additional statistics on the percentage of women in the judiciary and in academia, as well as about the situation of Roma women in Italy. In many European countries, Roma women faced double discrimination, especially in the area of education. Had the Government planned a special programme of action to address the discrimination faced by Roma women and the girl child? Noting that Italy’s legal changes were mainly evident in the area of employment, she asked if the prohibition of indirect and direct discrimination was being applied to all fields.

    FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, noted that almost eight years had elapsed since Italy’s last presentation to the Committee. While some countries faced technical and financial difficulties, that was hard to understand in the case of Italy. On the report itself, she noted that the report did not comply with the Committee’s guidelines on drafting. Some of the Convention’s articles had been ignored. To what extent was the Convention known by the judiciary and civil society?  Was the Convention widely available, and was there an independent monitoring mechanism to ensure compliance with the obligations under the Convention? Had NGOs been consulted in drafting the report, and had they been informed of today’s hearing? 

    She also asked for clarification on the national machinery for women’s rights. What powers did the Ministry of Equal Opportunities have within the government apparatus? How capable was it of ensuring gender mainstreaming? She also asked if the Ministry communicated with the other government ministries.  What resources were being allocated for gender budgeting, a technique used in many countries to address the discrimination facing women?  What was the actual machinery of the national commission and would the reformed commission be more limited in its power?  Noting that a great deal was being done regionally to ensure equality, she asked the delegation to explain the interaction nationally and regionally to ensure equality. She also asked for more information on what the Government was doing to combat negative stereotypes in the media.

    CEES FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, noted that the report focused on the legal situation, but hardly on the impact of measures, programmes and laws for gender equality in Italy.  The report also lacked conceptual clarity. On the national machinery, the creation of the Ministry of Equal Opportunities in 1996 had been a step forward. The Ministry’s work, however, focused on the modern concept of equality, which was based on a cross-cutting approach. The danger in that approach was that the fundamental characteristics of gender equality could easily be lost. How would the Government ensure that gender equality remained at the forefront of the Ministry’s work?

    Expressing appreciation for Italy’s early ratification of the Convention’s Optional Protocol, which provided for an individual recourse procedure, he said he had a problem regarding the role of Italy’s courts. How aware were the courts of the Convention’s existence? The Constitutional Court had ruled that legislation on minimum quotas was unconstitutional, despite the fact the Convention required States to adopt temporary special measures. What prevailed in such situations? What role did the Women’s Convention play in Italian case law? Were there any cases in which specific references to the Convention had been made?

    He noted that migrant women often faced multiple forms of discrimination. For them, the glass ceiling was a cement ceiling. In that regard, what had been the impact of the “Bossi-Fini Law” on immigrant women? On women asylum-seekers, he asked if a general law on asylum existed.  On the victims of trafficking, he noted that Italy had, for a long time, been praised for its liberal legislation regarding victims. The recent Bossi-Fini Law had proven to be a step backward, namely, by giving far-reaching powers to local authorities and by making the conditions for State permits harder.  What had been the impact of that Law on asylum-seekers?  Regarding violence against women, while a number of initiatives had been taken in recent years, there seemed to be a lack of a coordinated approach. In that regard, what actions had the Ministry of Equal Opportunities taken on the issue of violence against women?

    GLENDA SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, also raised the issue of immigrant women.  Thousands of immigrant women, mostly from Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America, lived in the north of the country.  Even though the Ministry of Equal Opportunities had a mandate to fight for gender equality, the report clearly put ethnic minority women within their ethnic enclaves.  In that respect, they were not seen in the same way as mainstream Italian women.  On the issue of prostitution, for example, while prostitution on the street was against the law, it was legal in private homes.  Many immigrants did not have private homes.  Was that not discrimination based on ethnicity and race in terms of prostitution laws? 

    Turning to labour laws, she noted the provision of family benefits to help women move into professions.  Many immigrant women, however, were not in professions, but were cleaning other women’s homes.  What laws existed to give them an opportunity so that the next generation of immigrant women would not have to face discrimination?  Many immigrants were young and were overusing abortion services.  The report stated that those services were overused because immigrant women overused them in their countries of origin.  That perception should be revisited, she said, as abortion was illegal in many of the countries of origin.  The Ministry should avoid stereotyping immigrant women.  If it did not look at the crosscutting issue of gender, race and ethnicity, it would be setting up a hierarchy, in which immigrant women were at the bottom.

    VICTORIA POPESCU, expert from Romania, asked for information on the Biagi Law to reform the labour market.  While the new Law brought about flexibility for women in the labour market, part-time work was very often seen as a form of discrimination, both direct and indirect.  Had the Government assessed the impact of the expansion of possibilities for part-time work on women?  Were men being encouraged to use the provisions of that Law?

    KRISZTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, said she appreciated the vision in Italy’s report of people as human beings and not as robots.  That vision could also be brought to research on the issue of sexuality.  For example, a huge number of abortions were still being performed.  If partners looked at each other with respect in line with the vision, a man would not impregnate a woman against her will.  She asked the Government to reconsider its position on the legalization of prostitution through a similar lens.

    Country Response

    MARIO SERIO said that his Government appreciated the important suggestions made by the experts.  The system followed in the preparation of the country’s reports included their drafting, submission to the Parliament, and discussion of whether new machinery was needed to implement the Committee’s prior recommendations.

    Italian authorities considered the start of the new millennium as a very important period, within which a number of laws had been passed, he continued.  Presentation of the country’s reports had been delayed because it was felt that it was better for Italy to give the Committee a more extensive view of the newly considered and implemented measures.  The Ministry for Equal Opportunities had been set up less than a decade ago as a direct consequence of the outcome of the Beijing Women’s Conference.  Creating that body in 1996, the Government had been fully aware that creation of a competent body for equal opportunities would not be a magic wand.  It was an important step, however, in the efforts to promote gender equality.

    The NGOs had played an important role in the preparation of Italy’s reports, he continued.  “To be honest, we are aware that there may be occasions when NGOs’ views might not coincide or be critical of the Government’s actions.  We accept that”, he said.  Of course, the outcome of today’s hearing would be made known to the country’s NGOs.

    The Minister for Equal Opportunities was “at the steering wheel”, in charge of the country’s efforts to promote gender equality, he said.  At the same time, a related commission, which had been in existence since the beginning of the 1990s, had not been eliminated.  The National Commission for Equal Opportunities represented all fundamental actors, including trade unions, NGOs and civil society.  As a certain overlapping of functions did occur, a reform had been initiated to rationalize the work of the two bodies and avoid duplication.

    LUCIA BORGIA, of the Commission for Equal Opportunities, also addressed the issue of reform.  The bill modifying Article 51 of Italy’s Constitution had introduced the principle of equality in access to political offices in Italy.  Women, both in the Government and in the opposition, had advocated the adoption of that amendment.  For the first time, the concept of equal opportunities had entered into the Constitution, which defined the rights of all citizens, on an equal basis, to access public offices and elective appointments.

    Data was being collected in the country regarding women’s access to work and participation in decision-making, Mr. SERIO said.  From the legal point of view, the situation had dramatically improved since the passing of the amendment of Article 51 of the Constitution.  The Convention was an important human rights instrument in Italy.  Awareness of the Convention within legal circles was, in his opinion, growing.

    On quotas, he said that, in 1995, Italy’s Constitutional Court had said no to quotas in political elections.  That had nothing to do with defying the Convention.  The decision was grounded on a technical reason.  The Court felt that imposing quotas on voters could result in restriction of their liberties.  Now, the situation had dramatically changed:  a law passed in the spring of 2004 had resulted in the increase of the number of Italian women in the European Parliament.  In a short span of time, the Italian Parliament had adopted several important laws, including laws on sexual violence and human trafficking, and the amendment of the Civil Code to give family judges the power to issue protection orders against violent spouses.

    Regarding the current situation within the judiciary, he noted that was not “a great number” of female judges in the high courts.  There was a historical explanation for that, for not enough time had elapsed since women had been accepted into the judiciary.  Seniority played a relevant role in the promotion of judges.  He believed that more chances would be given to female judges in the near future.  Full implementation of the Convention was of paramount importance to the countries of Europe, and Italy was one of those countries.

    LUIGI CLAVARINO said that it would be fascinating to study how Italian society was moving from a society dominated by a male vision of the world to the modern condition, where “ladies sometimes take the lead in traditionally male jobs”.  In many cases, young women were “better in their studies than their male colleagues”.  There were now many female principals, teachers and doctors in Italy.  Remarkable female achievement could be attributed to the changes in the curricula, awareness raising and efforts to overcome stereotypes.

    He said that the problem with the 40,000-member Roma community was that it did not stay in one place.  Despite the efforts of the Government to provide education for all, it was hard to keep those children in school for more than several months at a time.  To address the situation, cultural mediators had been employed who were members of that community.  The Government also advocated study of both Italian and Roma languages.  A director-general of a newly established directorship for the students was in charge of the country’s policies in the area of education.  There was also a network of 20 regional representatives, teacher trainers and tutors, who were collectively trying to tackle the challenges in connection with the Roma community.

    Another member of the delegation said that the Bossi-Fini Law had introduced some modifications to the country’s immigration law, which regulated all aspects of the presence of foreigners in Italy.  The structure of the law recognized the rights of foreign people, including those related to health, education, family reunification, work and access to social benefits.  There were specific rules that applied to immigrant women, as well.  For instance, expulsion of pregnant women was prohibited under that law.  Aiming to reduce the share of the informal labour market, article 33 of the law regularized the status of illegal migrants in Italy’s territory.  Almost 700,000 foreigners, a high percentage of whom were women, now had a right to legal work in Italy.  The law also provided for integration of migrants.  While some of the projects were supported by local authorities, others were financed by the national Government.

    COLOMBA IACONTINO, Ministry of Health, noted that Italy followed the principle of universal health services.  While there had been a reduction in the number of voluntary abortions by Italian women, among immigrant women, the number of abortions had increased.  In response to that situation, the Ministry of Health had planned many actions to facilitate their access to health services.

    Experts’ Questions and Comments

    Ms. GASPARD said the amendment to Article 51 of the Constitution had been good news.  Italian women had for many years had been fighting with the issue of low quotas and parity.  Women’s participation in politics in Italy was much too low.  As a neighbouring country, Italy was lowest on the list in Europe and even within the world in terms of women’s participation in Parliament.  With the modification of Article 51, there was a real possibility for change.  In that regard, she asked for more information on the law on European Parliament elections.  Quotas could relate to the number of candidates and not to actual results.  Could the delegation provide more information on the other laws being considered by Parliament?  Where was Italy in terms of its attempts to improve the situation of women in Parliament?

    The report did not contain information on women in regional or local politics, she noted.  What was the situation in the municipalities?  There were few statistics on the actual situation of women in decision-making positions.  Statistics were needed to portray the actual situation and its evolution.  The situation of women was complicated.  Had measures been taken to facilitate the situation for women working in diplomacy? 

    Ms. SIMONOVIC said the limited presence of women in the political field was a clear sign of discrimination, contrary to the terms of the Convention.  The situation had not changed since the last report.  One of the reasons for the shortage of female representatives in the political arena, according to the report, was that women were depicted as weak.  That notion had been repeated in today’s statement.  Were men also perceived as “precious” in Italian culture?  Also, it was not clear if Italian legislation contained a definition of direct, as well as indirect, discrimination.

    HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked the delegation to clarify its understanding of substantial and formal equality.

    MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, noted that women in her country closely watched the situation of women in Italy, as both countries were in the Mediterranean basin.  Any equality that could be achieved would be an example for her country.  Progress in the area of women’s participation in politics was extremely important, especially for women in the Mediterranean basin.  In that regard, she noted the importance of special temporary measures, as stipulated by the Convention.  Once ratified, the Convention superseded domestic law.  Perhaps the Government should consider eliminating subsidies for political parties that did not have a 30 per cent quota for women candidates.

    Country Response

    Responding to the questions, Mr. MANTOVANI said that, according to amendments to the legislation last year, lists for election to the European Parliament had to contain at least one third of each gender.  That did not guarantee, however, that those candidates would be elected.  The Constitutional Court clearly stated that no pre-determination of the outcome could be made compulsory by the law.  No legislator could oblige voters to elect a certain candidate.

    A process was currently under way to apply the same process to other types of elections, including local elections, he said.  The Ministry for Equal Opportunities was committed to achieving results.  Politics aimed at reconciling family and work played a vital part in that process.  One fundamental measure was the creation of child-care services within all workplaces.  Parental leave for men was another such measure.  The Convention should not only be seen as a legal instrument, but as a factor contributing to progress.

    On the issue of women in diplomacy, ANDREA CAVALLARI said there was indeed a lack of women’s representation in the top levels of diplomatic service.  Recent trends, however, reflected a greater balance of women in diplomatic service.  The number of women ambassadors had increased, as had the number of women Directors-General.  When he had joined the Foreign Service in 1988, there had been no women in diplomatic service.  That was not the case today.  The last 10 years had seen significant progress.

    Ms. BORGIA added that right now there were 16 Italian women in the European Parliament -– 19.5 per cent of the total.

    She was convinced that in Italy there was a need to form a movement aiming to increase women’s participation in the Parliament and political parties.  She hoped that NGOs would help to bring about an amendment to the article of the Constitution on the organization of political parties, for there was a need for greater transparency to force out men who would otherwise never leave, to allow women to enter a party.

    Experts’ Comments

    PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said that the report and oral presentation emphasized women’s rising presence in the labour market.  According to the information provided by the country, 66 per cent of newly created jobs were now taken by women.  That was commendable, but concerns had been expressed that women continued to be segregated in lower-level occupations.  Italy’s women were under-represented at top levels and overrepresented in lower-paying positions.  In particular, the International Labour Organization (ILO)’s committee of experts had expressed concern that, due to greater adaptability of women, they often found themselves in part-time positions, as well as in personal services and sales employment.

    What was being done to eliminate occupational segregation and promote equal participation by women in high skilled and senior management positions?  What measures was the Government taking to facilitate upward mobility of women and promote their employment in non-traditional jobs?  What was being done to improve access to vocational training in such areas as engineering, technology and environmental sciences?

    She also wanted to know if efforts were being made to encourage adaptation of curricula and teaching materials and to create a supportive environment for occupational changes for women.  Was the Government trying to ensure access to quality education and training for older women, women with disabilities and members of ethnic minorities? 

    Also mentioned in the reports were wide pay gaps between men and women, which ranged from 20 to 25 per cent, she continued.  In the meanwhile, NGOs had flagged gaps of up to 35 per cent.  What was being done to address that problem?  What measures were being implemented to promote women to be elected as trade union officials and provide job security in connection with the discharge of their functions?  Was a review being considered of the wage structure in female-dominated professions?

    While welcoming the Government’s positive action in the field of employment and its efforts to establish a network of equality advisers, she wanted to know about the impact of those measures, particularly in the south of the country.  She also expressed concern that, while designed to promote greater flexibility for women with family responsibilities, introduction of alternative contracts, as well as part-time and flexible work, could be detrimental to women’s opportunities in the labour market.  She would appreciate receiving sex-disaggregated statistics in the next report in that regard.  What social security protection was being provided for women with atypical contracts and women with disabilities?  What special support services were available to women entrepreneurs in the country?  What measures had been undertaken to strengthen women’s businesses and cooperative enterprises in remote and rural areas?

    MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, said that adequate data was needed to substantiate the country’s accomplishments in the implementation of the Convention.  Regarding women’s health, she was concerned about women’s access to services, particularly in the context of privatized health care.  Had a study been done on that matter?  What kinds of services had been privatized?  Were free services provided for women of certain socio-economic status?  She also had questions about women’s reproductive health services and details of the country’s national health plan.  Did that plan have the goal of promoting all aspects of women’s health, or just maternal health, as suggested by the report?  What benchmarks had been set for indicators of women’s health?  What responsibilities and powers did the country’s office and commission of women’s health have?

    Turning to reproductive health, she expressed concern over the high rate of Caesarean sections performed in Italy.  Did the Government have statistics in that regard?  Since the Committee had expressed its concern over that issue during its previous consideration of Italy’s reports, as well, she wanted to know why it had taken so long to put in place the necessary measures.  She also posed questions about the work of the working groups on breast, colon and uterine cancers, which had been established in the country.  What had been done to introduce cancer screening for women?

    The national health plan promoted maternal health, and she wanted to know about the provision of such services to minority and migrant women.  Also, factual data was needed to examine the trends as far as provision of basic maternal and pre-natal care was concerned.  As Italy had a large group of women over the age of 60, she asked how many elderly people received assistance.  How was the Government dealing with such “older-age” diseases as osteoporosis, hypertension and arthritis?  As for HIV/AIDS, had the Government launched a campaign to educate the population on the dangers of unprotected sex? Could an infected adult be penalized if he or she intentionally infected a partner without telling him or her about the danger involved?

    SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, wanted to know what percentage of newly created jobs went to minority and migrant women.  What percentage of those jobs was in the traditionally unrepresented category?  What equal opportunity legislation had been introduced to change the situation and get women to the top level of employment?  She also wondered about the content of the national action plan for employment.  Was there a difference in the wages of part-time and full-time jobs?  What was being done to remove regional disparities in employment and improve the opportunities for women without university education?

    Ms. POPESCU, expert from Romania, said that reporting on the reform of the labour market, the Government had not mentioned whether it had assessed the positive and negative effects of part-time employment for women.  She noted a possibility of discrimination in that connection.  Such employment was considered to be a form of flexibility, and she asked if men were also encouraged to use it.

    Country Response

    Responding to questions on the labour market and the welfare system, ISABELLA MENICHINI noted that the adoption of a new law in 2002 had resulted in a reform of the social governance system.  Under that ongoing reform, some of the areas traditionally under the competence of the federal Government had been transferred to the local level.  Regional authorities were responsible for programming and planning of social assistance and labour policies.

    A related issue was the allocation of financial resources, she said.  Since 2003, more than half of the national resources had been allocated to the regional level.  Regional authorities were free to allocate those funds according to the targets set by regional social assistance plans.  While cooperation among the different institutional levels had been difficult, both national and regional authorities were committed to finding new forms of cooperation.  Many regions, for example, had decided to allocate part of their financial resources for child-care services within their workplaces. 

    Regions were free in setting the priorities within their context, she said.  The same applied to labour policies.  Within the European Union framework, Italy had to submit national action plans for employment and social inclusion.  In 2003, the new national action plan on social inclusion had been presented to the European Commission.  By monitoring the implementation of the plan in 2005, it would be possible to verify the steps that Italy had achieved in that regard. 

    The Biagi Law had been adopted in 2003 and Italy was at the beginning of the process, she added.  Before that, the Italian labour market had been very rigid.  Thanks to the Biagi Law, flexibility had been introduced into the labour market through the use of different types of contracts.  Monitoring the implementation of the reform brought about by the Biagi Law would be necessary, however, so as not to create a new channel of discrimination.

    On part-time work, she said that while part-time jobs were seen as useful for women, they were not limited to the women’s labour market.  Part-time jobs were to be used to improve personal and professional opportunities.

    Facing incoming waves of immigrants, another member of the delegation noted that Italy had not always been able to deal with such waves.  Immigrants came from some 165 countries, including Albania, China, Ecuador, Philippines, the former Yugoslavia, Morocco and Romania.

    The situation in the country’s school system was linked to the situation in the labour market, another member of the delegation said.  While there were a few more male pupils than female pupils in the schools as a whole, in the social pedagogy sector, the share of women was larger than elsewhere.  In technical schools, males were prevailing.  However, contrary to popular belief, in the traditional fields, like mathematics, chemistry and science, girls –- in the minority -- did better than boys.  A pending reform of secondary and higher education intended to create equal opportunities for personal development.  New curricula were being elaborated in Italy, taking into account gender equality issues.  In fact, now was the opportune time to raise concerns as far as equality in the education sphere was concerned.

    Regarding women’s health, Ms. IACONTINO said that under the national health plan, the State provided strategic guidance to ensure essential levels of assistance to everybody.  Health advisory centres were considered an important instrument to improve the health of women of all ages.  Those centres worked together with educational and social security institutions.

    On Caesarean sections, she said that the Government’s general objective was to reduce their incidence to 20 per cent within two years.  Breast, uterine and colon-rectal cancer screening was now provided free of charge.  The regions were responsible for the implementation of prevention programmes.  Special women’s health indicators had been established in the country.

    Experts’ Comments

    HUGUETTE BOKPE-GNACADJA, expert from Benin, said that no information had been provided in the report on the implementation of articles 15 and 16 of the Convention that related to marriage and family law.  It would seem that nothing needed to be flagged, because women’s rights in those areas were firmly entrenched in Italy.  However, it was not possible that there was nothing to be said on the implementation of those articles, particularly in view of the fact that the Committee had last taken up Italy’s situation eight years ago.  She asked for more information in that regard.  There were indications that there was an increase in the rate of separations and divorces in Italy.  What were the trends in that regard?  Also, some 40 per cent of husbands who had to pay child support did not do so, and forced recovery was often needed.  How effective were the existing procedures?  She also had questions about the laws on custody of children, measures against violence against women and female genital mutilation.

    Ms. BERMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, suggested that a fund could be created at the government level to facilitate payment of child support.

    ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, asked about the impact of the new law on sexual violence, which had been in effect for six years.  Had a study been made on the root causes of violence and the main trends in the country?  She added that no answer had been provided to question 29 of the list prepared by the pre-session working group that related to measures to enforce payment of alimony.

    Country Response

    Mr. MANTOVANI noted that, in cases of divorce, while there were no specific rules as to what spouse was awarded custody, custody was most often assigned to women.  To ensure the payment of alimony, criminal and civil sanctions existed for those who did not meet their obligations.

    Regarding sexual violence, it was true that crimes related to sexual violence had increased in the last eight years, he said.  Compared to the past, women felt more protected and able to report sexual violence.  The very notion of 

    sexual violence had been broadened to include minor acts that violated women’s dignity.  On domestic violence, important amendments had been made to the Civil Code enabling judges to evict violent spouses from family homes.

    Addressing the issue of female genital mutilation, Ms. BORGIA said the issue had been discussed by the Government, the Parliament, NGOs and immigrant women.  A related bill had been passed by the Chamber of Deputies in 2004.  Awareness-raising programmes had been carried out through the media.  The bill was scheduled to come up for a vote by the Senate in February.  She hoped the Committee could see that Italy had made tremendous progress in the last eight years.

    Concluding Remarks

    Committee Chairperson ROSARIO MANALO, also an expert from the Philippines, thanked the Government for having accepted the amendment to the Convention on the Committee’s meeting time, as well as the ratification of the Optional Protocol.  While it was positive Italy had “constitutionalized” the Convention, the Committee had not received any information on the application of the Convention in case law.  The National Commission for Equal Opportunities did not seem to have much power, as most of the power belonged to the Ministry for Equal Opportunities.  For the Commission to play an important role, the Government would need to strengthen its powers with significant human and financial resources.  The Commission also needed to work in close cooperation with the Ministry, not only to prevent discrepancy in policies, but also to ensure the advancement of women in all fields.

    On political decision-making, she encouraged the Government to adopt measures on temporary measures with respect to article 7 of the Convention in order to increase the number of women in political decision-making in the Parliament, judiciary and in senior levels of Government.  She commended the Government for adopting the law on sexual violence, which defined sexual violence as a crime against women, and provided protection orders against violent spouses.  While she commended the Government for the law against trafficking, more measures were needed to prevent trafficking in women, including mechanisms to monitor trafficking and to ensure cooperation with other countries. 

    The Government also needed to increase measures regarding women’s health, she said, including cancer screening.  It also needed to pay close attention to the wage gap, which was close to 35 per cent.  There seemed to be an increase in sexual harassment in the workplace.  There was also a need to closely monitor the privatization of health services, including Caesareans by private clinics.

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