26 May 2006
Cyprus Delegation Tells Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee About Sweeping Legal Changes Aimed at Achieving de Facto Gender Equality
Experts Question Delegates about "Glass Ceiling Effect" in Political Life, Asylum Rights, Education Programmes Targeting Women
NEW YORK, 25 May (UN Headquarters) -- As part of its European Union accession process over the last decade, Cyprus had made sweeping legislative changes to achieve legal and de facto gender equality, Leda Koursoumba, Law Commissioner of Cyprus told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today, as it continued its thirty-fifth session.
Introducing the country's combined third, fourth and fifth periodic reports, Ms. Koursoumba said Cyprus had moved swiftly since 1998 to harmonize national legislation in line with European Union standards, passing laws and creating administrative structures to improve safeguards for women's rights in the workplace, in the family and in the criminal justice system.
She said that a new comprehensive legal framework guaranteed women equal pay for equal work, equal treatment in employment and job training, as well as equal rights to social security, maternity benefits and parental leave. Institutional mechanisms had been set up to promote the economic empowerment of women and to track their progress. Thanks to those efforts, the salary gap between women and men had narrowed to 25 per cent in 2004, down from 33 per cent a decade earlier.
Cyprus had ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 2002, she said, adding that, two years earlier, it had withdrawn its reservation to paragraph 2 of the Convention's article 9. By reforming its citizenship law, the Government had eliminated legislative gender-based discrimination on citizenship. In 2001, officials had abolished legal discrimination against self-employed rural women, granting them full social security benefits and the same access to public health care and education as urban women.
In addition, a legal framework to end trafficking in and sexual exploitation of women, in line with European Union standards, was currently under review, she said. The Government had also expanded the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate gender-discrimination complaints and devised financing schemes to support women's entrepreneurship, agro-tourism and alternative farming.
She said that the National Machinery for Women's Rights played a key role in coordinating and monitoring implementation of the Government's various gender equality and gender mainstreaming programmes. Its beefed up budget -- up from $57,000 in 2005, to $1.2 million in 2006 -- had enabled the National Machinery to fund projects run by non-governmental organization, as well as private-sector and academic research to advance the status of women. But, while the National Machinery had been a unifying force that had empowered the women's movement throughout the country, much more remained to be done in terms of levelling the playing field between the sexes.
In their day-long dialogue with the delegation, expert members of the Committee raised questions about the glass ceiling for women in the political life of Cyprus, the large gap between the numbers of working-age women and men in the labour market, the difficulty faced by women in re-entering the workplace, the process for granting asylum and the rights of asylum seekers, as well as education and training programmes specifically targeting women.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Friday 26 May, to consider Romania's sixth periodic report.
The Committee had before it the combined third, fourth and fifth periodic reports of Cyprus (document CEDAW/C/CYP/3-5), which highlights the island nation's efforts to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, from 1994 to 2003. It details the strategies, policies and legislation, as well as the progress made, future plans and stakeholders involved in the implementation of each of the Convention's 16 articles. Cyprus ratified the Convention in 1985, withdrawing its single reservation, on paragraph 2 of article 9, in 2000.
Prepared by the Law Commissioner, with the involvement of the Ministry of Justice and Public Order, through the National Machinery for Women's Rights, and with information provided by non-governmental organizations, the report was subsequently submitted to the National Institution for the Protection of Human Rights, non-governmental organizations involved in human rights, professional associations, the Press Council, the University of Cyprus and women's organizations. It would be translated into the national official languages and widely disseminated.
According to the report, the Convention provides the most important legal framework for Government policies and measures to advance the status of women and achieve real gender equality. Despite the progress achieved and the constant increase in the participation of women in all walks of life, much remains to be done on the way to achieving full gender equity.
Since the Committee examined the country's combined initial and second reports in 1996, three major factors have played a catalytic role in advancing implementation of the Convention, the report says. The Beijing Platform for Action has given new impetus, strengthened political will and intensified efforts to achieve legal and de facto gender equality. As part of its European Union accession process, Cyprus has been harmonizing important legislation in accordance with that regional body's standards, including legislation giving women equal treatment and conditions at work and the necessary administrative infrastructure to implement relevant legislation and policies.
The report states that the United Nations Secretary-General's latest initiatives for a peaceful settlement of the Cyprus question, along with the Cypriot Government's efforts to reunify the island, have led to greater involvement by women in creating a culture of peace. While traditional social prejudices and stereotyped attitudes still impede women's gains, their status has improved since the submission of the previous report, due to strong economic growth.
Upon joining the European Union in May 2004, the report says, national law became subordinate to European Union treaties and regulations containing specific provisions to ensure full equality between men and women. Numerous European Union directives that Cyprus is required to implement emphasize the right to equal pay for work of equal value, access to employment conditions at work, special advantages for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and social security benefits. Positive action to ensure de facto gender equality in accordance with European Union treaties is becoming a reality and Government, Parliament and civil society alike are determined to ensure that Cyprus operates by the standards of the regional body at all levels and in all areas.
According to the report, the Government has been unable to ensure the enjoyment of the rights that the Convention provides for in areas under Turkish military occupation. Due to that situation, no reliable information or data are available regarding the enjoyment of the relevant rights by the Cypriot population living in areas not controlled by the Government. For that reason, the present report includes information and data about Government-controlled areas only.
Presentation of Reports
LEDA KOURSOUMBA, Law Commissioner of Cyprus and head of the seven-member delegation, introduced the combined third, fourth and fifth periodic reports, and her fellow delegates, who included Andreas Mavroyiannis, Permanent Representative of Cyprus to the United Nations; Maro Varnavidou, Senior Officer of the Ministry of Justice and Public Order, Secretary-General for the National Machinery for Women's Rights, and Vice-Chairwoman of the Advisory Committee on Violence in the Family; Penelope Erotokritou, First Secretary at the Permanent Mission of Cyprus; Angela Droushiotou, First Planning Officer responsible for women's rights, Directorate for Macroeconomic Policy, Research and Studies of the Planning Bureau, and Secretary, Cyprus Society of Family Therapy; Kyriaki Lambrianidou, Inspector Criminologist and Head of the Human Rights Office, Cyprus Police; Natasa Economou, Administrative Officer responsible for women's rights, Ministry of the Interior and Secretary, Inter-ministerial Committee on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings; and Katerina Aristodemou, Labour Officer responsible for developments in the labour market and employment policies, Department of Labour, Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance.
Stressing the critical importance of the Committee's review process for her country's efforts to improve the status of women, she apologized for the delay in submitting the combined reports, and said that the limited national resources had been devoted to other United Nations processes for assessing progress in gender equality, such as Beijing +5 and Beijing +10. Cyprus had made enormous strides to accede to the European Union, including harmonizing national laws with European Union standards and creating the necessary administrative infrastructure to promote gender equality.
Since the submission of its last country reports, the Beijing Platform of Action had given new impetus, strengthened political will and intensified efforts to achieving legal and de facto gender equality. As part of its European Union accession process, Cyprus had moved swiftly, since 1998, to harmonize with the acquis communautaire (the body of European Union legislation that candidate countries must adopt to become members), resulting in the passage of legislation and the creation of administrative structures to guarantee women equal treatment and conditions in the workplace. The Government's commitment and strong political will to achieve gender equality was evidenced by its ratification of international legal instruments on women's rights, including the Convention's Optional Protocol, which Cyprus had ratified in 2002. The delegation had submitted to the Committee a full list of international human rights instruments, to which Cyprus was a signatory.
She said that, based on the Convention's provisions, the Beijing Platform for Action and European Union laws and policies, the National Machinery for Women's Rights had created a national action plan covering national gender-equality priorities. Gender-specific goals and measures had also been integrated in recent years into the Strategic Development Plans, the National Action Plan on Employment, the National Action Plan on Social Inclusion and the Plan of Action on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings. While much remained to be done in levelling the playing field between the sexes, progress had been achieved in many areas.
Regarding legal reform, she said there had been significant changes in family, labour and criminal laws to further safeguard women's rights. In 2000, Cyprus had withdrawn its reservation to paragraph 2 of the Convention's article 9 and, through reform of its citizenship law, eliminated legislative gender-based discrimination on citizenship. A 2003 law had allowed, for the first time, civil marriages between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, thus breaking down centuries-old legal and societal barriers. Raising public awareness of women's rights, gender issues and relevant laws was a top priority. The National Machinery for Women's Rights, women's organizations, social partners, research and academic institutions, and relevant Government ministries and departments had conducted seminars, launched campaigns, published leaflets, created websites and conducted training programmes in that regard. New privately owned and operated radio and television stations had opened new platforms for women and gender equality.
In order to address the priority of expanding women's economic power, she said, the Government had: enacted and implemented a comprehensive legal framework safeguarding equal pay for equal work, equal treatment in employment and training, equality in social insurance, maternity benefits and parental leave; expanded childcare facilities; created institutional mechanisms to monitor progress; conducted vocational training for women; and supported women's entrepreneurship. Thanks to those efforts, the employment rate among women had risen to 58.4 per cent in 2005 and the pay gap between women and men had dropped from 33 per cent in 1994 to 25 per cent in 2004. The unemployment rate among women was low, at 6.5 per cent in 2005, whereas the European Union average was 10 per cent.
She said that the National Machinery for Women's Rights had implemented a European Union programme on women's entrepreneurship and, in 2002, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism had introduced a special scheme to enhance female entrepreneurial activity that provided grants for women to start businesses. In 2001, the Women's Cooperative Bank had been set up to support entrepreneurship among women, and efforts by the Federation of Business and Professional Women (FBPW) had led to a jump in the number of women-owned businesses, from 12 per cent of all businesses in 2001, to 21 per cent in 2005.
Turning to the prevention and eradication of violence against women, she said that, in 1994, Cyprus had become one of the first countries in the world to introduce a special law on family violence and, in 2002, Cypriot officials had revised the law, on the basis of lessons learned from implementation of the initial legislation. The Government had worked hard to raise public awareness about domestic violence, by training police and other professionals to handle such cases and promote interdepartmental collaboration. Non-governmental organizations, in particular, had provided valuable protection and assistance to victims.
An appropriate legal framework to end trafficking and sexual exploitation of women, in line with European Union standards, was currently under review for further improvement, she said. Cyprus had also adopted a comprehensive action plan on trafficking in human beings, set up a multisectoral committee under the Ministry of the Interior to monitor its implementation, as well as that of relevant legislation, and created a coordinating unit for trafficking at police headquarters. Further, Cyprus aimed to encourage and support women's participation in political life, by conducting training programmes, launching campaigns to support women candidates for public office and supporting the appointment of women to high-ranking political posts. Women candidates had constituted 23.2 per cent of the 487 candidates running for office in the recent parliamentary elections, and 14.3 per cent of the 56 candidates elected. A Turkish-Cypriot woman had been among the candidates for the first time. The first woman Supreme Court judge had been appointed in 2004.
The National Machinery for Women's Rights had played a key role in coordinating, monitoring and implementing Government policy on gender equality and gender mainstreaming in the public sector, she said. Its budget had increased from $57,000 in 2005, to $1.2 million in 2006, a vast expansion that had increased funding opportunities for non-governmental organization projects and for private-sector and academic research, publications, events and implementation of European Union programmes. The National Machinery had also unified the women's movement and empowered non-governmental organizations active in gender equality. Since 2004, two Turkish-Cypriot organizations had become members of the Council of the National Machinery.
She said Cyprus had also set up new human rights mechanisms and equality bodies to promote gender equality, including the National Institution for the Protection of Human Rights, which followed the operational guidelines of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Ombudsman's Office had been expanded to investigate gender discrimination complaints. Moreover, public and private-sector infrastructure and services for education and health had been expanded to address the specific needs of women. There had also been progress towards improving the status of rural women. In 2001, the Government had eliminated legal discrimination against self-employed rural women, granting them full social security benefits, and they now enjoyed the same access to public health care and education as urban women. Moreover, Government schemes had been set up to support women's entrepreneurship, agro-tourism, and alternative farming.
Cyprus had set several priorities in its continuing efforts to achieve de facto gender equality in all walks of life, she said. They included educational strategies to change social attitudes towards gender equality; improving the implementation of legislation through awareness-raising programmes, specialized training and stronger institutional mechanisms to track progress; gender mainstreaming and gender budgeting of all Government policies; and further closing the pay gap, increasing the employment rate of women, promoting women's participation in economic decision-making, and expanding childcare facilities.
She said that other priorities included supporting the special needs of disadvantaged groups of women, such as migrants and foreign women, as well as preventing and combating violence against women, including domestic violence and trafficking in human beings, through training for law enforcement professionals and better enforcement of laws to protect victims. Officials planned to adopt a national action plan on domestic violence, begin a pilot project for the counselling of abusers, and to systematically collect and evaluate data on the project. The Government had also set up a shelter for victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. School teaching personnel were being trained to conduct sex education and promote gender equality, and the University of Cyprus planned to introduce a gender studies programme.
The National Machinery for Women's Rights and the Minister for Justice and Public Order were developing a comprehensive national action plan on gender mainstreaming, she said, adding that all Government departments, non-governmental organizations, local authorities, academic institutions, human rights groups and other bodies were involved in preparing it. The plan covered the advancement of women in the economy and employment, education and training, science and research, participation in decision-making, violence against and trafficking in women, social rights, social stereotyping and the role of the media. The National Machinery would play a central role in monitoring implementation of the plan. Cyprus would continue to seek and secure European Union funding to implement its gender equality projects and strategies.
Experts' Comments and Questions
CEES FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, harked back to 1996, when the Committee had expressed concern over the exclusion of women from the military, and asked where Cyprus currently stood on that issue? Also, since the withdrawal of the reservation on article 9 of the Convention, how many males born between 1960 and 1999 had made use of the option to change their citizenship, so as to avoid compulsory military service? Did women born in the same period have the same option? In light of the reformed laws, did children born to Cypriot mothers after 1999 automatically acquire Cypriot citizenship?
He also asked how familiar the judiciary was with the Convention, and whether the Government had taken full responsibility for the report's contents, since the Law Commission was an independent body.
HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, noted that the budget for the National Machinery for Women had increased three-fold since the last report, with no commensurate increase in the number of staff, and asked whether there were plans to change that. When did Cyprus intend to adopt the national action plan for women, and had its formulation been transparent? Had non-governmental organizations that did not belong to the Council for Women been able to participate in the process?
HANNA BEATE SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked whether the Government intended to introduce special measures -- which the Committee defined as preferential treatment to women and not merely "taking positive action" -- to include an appropriate number of women in peace talks. Was the private sector being encouraged to adopt such measures?
The head of the delegation explained that it was not compulsory for women to serve in the military and, therefore, they rarely made use of the new citizenship law. It was true that a generation of male offspring born to Cypriot women between 1960 and 1999 had found themselves automatically liable for military service. In the interest of fairness, they had been given the option of choosing to serve immediately, or at a later date.
Regarding the Convention's status in Cyprus, she said individuals could invoke it in court, which would be obliged to enforce its provisions. However, that did not happen often. The independence of the judiciary was heavily safeguarded, making it difficult to influence judges to refer to the Convention in their judgements. The majority of training courses dealt mostly with European Union law and did not touch upon the Convention.
On whether the report was binding on the Government, she said the Law Commissioner was appointed by the President of the Republic, for a fixed six-year term, to suggest reform in all areas, including in relation to human rights instruments. Because the Law Commissioner reported directly to the President, the Government was bound by whatever reports it released.
Another delegation member said that carrying out the broad agenda of the National Action Plan for Women required much work. To strengthen the National Machinery, expertise was out-sourced for research projects, event-planning and implementing gender equality programmes generally. The National Machinery would soon take up monitoring responsibilities, and a European Union expert had been invited as an adviser in that area.
She said that, in order to mobilize the entire country in pursuit of gender mainstreaming, it would be necessary to strengthen intergovernmental collaboration and widen the network with community groups. While an open invitation had been extended to non-governmental organizations and Turkish Cypriot bodies to join the National Machinery (whose membership currently stood at 15), problems could be expected if the membership became too large. Also, institutions that performed relevant work, but were not members, such as trade unions, were invited to express their views on the new action plan on gender mainstreaming.
Regarding temporary measures, she said that integrating with the European Union necessitated legal harmonization within specified time limits and it was in that context that gender mainstreaming, or "positive action", had been taken up. While it was true that Cyprus had started with a peripheral European legal order or instrument, whose ambit might be considered too narrow to deal with women's rights, especially when compared to the Convention, it was still useful as a stepping stone to pave the way for further measures. The term "positive action" referred to special measures enabling the less represented sex to take part in public life.
Returning to the action plan, another delegate said it would be approved by the end of the year, and would cover the period up to 2013. On special measures to accelerate equality, the use of quotas had been discussed frequently, especially during the past election period. However, the establishment tended to resist the concept and, interestingly, studies by the National Machinery on the glass ceiling in banking and semi-governmental organizations had found that not all women supported affirmative action. Most were satisfied with their progress and saw no need for special measures. Indeed, the Council of Europe's recommendation, requiring that at least 40 per cent of each sex participate at all levels of society, was seen as a loose target, rather than a strict requirement calling for more action in that area.
On the participation on women in peace talks, the head of the delegation said that a woman had headed the Foreign Ministry section dealing with the Cyprus question. Similarly, the first Minister for Justice and General Adviser to the President was a woman, as was the current Constitutional Adviser and Chief Legal Adviser. Women were also represented in great numbers in the Attorney-General's Chambers.
Another delegate added that women were also vice-presidents and deputy presidents of political parties.
Experts' Comments and Questions
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, underscoring the need to sensitize judges, without interfering with their independence, asked whether non-governmental organizations participating in the National Machinery were truly independent of the Government.
She also asked whether there was a comprehensive national programme to eliminate sex-role stereotyping, while remarking on the lengthy adoption process for the plans on gender mainstreaming, combating trafficking and others. Were they waiting for the adoption of the national plan before making further moves? Finally, why were "special visas" issued to women cabaret and nightclub artists? Why was part-time work "more popular among women"? Was that not evidence of sex-role stereotyping at work?
VICTORIA POPESCU, expert from Romania, noting the report's citing of "stereotypes and prejudice" as a major obstacle for women, asked what role the media might play in reducing stereotypes, what the Government had done to influence the media in that respect, and whether those efforts had been assessed. Had the country's regulatory body for media identified instances of discrimination? Also, had anything been done to give women candidates better coverage in elections? Finally, had teachers been given gender equality training?
Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked whether, with respect to sensitizing the judiciary and the people of Cyprus more generally, the Law Commissioner had considered holding a public forum with line ministries, important civil society figures from both men's and women's groups, and the media, among others.
On special visas issued to women entertainers, she asked where else they were employed, besides cabarets and nightclubs. Were there plans to conduct studies on the sex industry and men's attitudes towards it? Had studies been carried out on violence against women, including rape and domestic violence, and on its physical, emotional and psychological effects? Were the police trained to mediate domestic violence?
Regarding stereotypes, the head of the delegation assured the Committee that the media's portrayal of women had changed and that radio and television authorities could penalize stations for violating the principles of gender equality. The island-wide Radio Athina provided a fair projection of women and carried special daily programmes for them.
With respect to sensitizing judges, another delegation member described a conference held under the theme "Role of Men in Gender Equality", where a male family court judge had participated on a panel. Judges would soon be trained on domestic violence issues.
Conceding that most non-governmental organizations were affiliated with political parties, she said the same was true for traditional women's organizations, and their agendas tended to be broad. Nevertheless, they were the prime drivers behind the women's movement and some of their members had been elected to Parliament.
On raising awareness to eliminate sex-role stereotypes, she said work in that respect was constantly going on, regardless of whether the Government had officially adopted the national plan for gender mainstreaming. However, no work had been conducted in a systematic way, which was why a national plan was needed in the first place. On the gender-sensitization of teachers, textbooks had been reviewed but more work was needed in that regard. Achieving gender equality was one of the seven goals of education reform.
Another delegate said that people from certain third countries required work visas and that the new law would abolish all special visas, including those for so-called artists. A unified visa would be issued, depending on the kind of employment a person undertook. Some 4,000 work permits had already been issued. Artists given work permits did not have to enter into prostitution. The Government valued their work and was aware that they may be exploited by employers. Artists were issued three-month visas and could work for a maximum period of six months.
Not all cabarets exploited women for sexual purposes, but when there was reasonable suspicion that a cabaret owner or operator was doing so, he or she was prosecuted, she said. Convicted employers had their business licences revoked and they were prohibited from employing foreign artists in the future. Immigration statistics showed that the vast majority of foreign artists working in Cyprus returned to their own countries.
She said the Attorney-General's Office had set up a system requiring people to report all suspected cases of domestic violence. Parliament would take up a bill on that issue when it reconvened in September. A law regulating employment agencies that employed all foreign workers was in the drafting stage, and it would eventually be part and parcel of the immigration law. The new sexual harassment law would also address sexual exploitation of foreign workers.
Another delegate said rape had always been covered under the Criminal Code, including marital rape, which was considered a severe offence, subject to harsh penalties. Legislation governing female genital mutilation had been introduced recently.
Concerning the role of police in addressing domestic violence, she said the Police Academy was conducting training and had published a law-enforcement manual. The Attorney-General's Office was preparing and analyzing statistics on domestic violence cases.
Another delegate said that 374 of the 939 domestic violence cases reported had resulted in criminal investigations and/or trials, but the results of those investigations would likely not be available until next year. In 2004, 42 of 91 investigations of sexual exploitation had been reported as having occurred in high-risk places like nightclubs and cabarets.
Cyprus was taking sexual exploitation very seriously, and the country had been removed from the Tier 2 Watch List of the Trafficking in Persons Report, prepared by the United States Department of State, she said. However, efforts to address trafficking in women for sexual exploitation were still in the early stages, and the Office to Combat Trafficking had only been operating at police headquarters for two years.
Another delegation member said that the Gender Institute and the National Machinery were conducting research on trafficking, including the scope of the problem and assistance provided to victims. More research was planned.
Experts' Comments and Questions
Ms. POPESCU, expert from Romania, asked for recent data on the number of women in decision-making positions, including civil service posts, the legislature, judiciary and the Cabinet. What had been done to sensitize the electorate and families on the need for more women in public life, not only for the sake of equal participation and representation, but also for the progress of the democratic society at large? Had the first Turkish Cypriot woman in Parliament won the election or had she merely been a candidate? What were the constitutional provisions regarding the rights of Turkish Cypriot women to be candidates and to be elected on an equal footing with Greek Cypriot women? What other obstacles to political life did Turkish Cypriot women face?
FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, asked whether the delegation would encourage the Government to disseminate information on the Convention to ensure that all communities promoted and encouraged its implementation.
A delegation member said in response that the Constitution did not prohibit Turkish Cypriots from participating in elections, but the political system was divided. The Greek Cypriots elected the President and the Turkish Cypriots the Vice-President. During elections, the Greek-Cypriot community was allowed to cast votes for 70 per cent of the parliamentary seats, while the Turkish-Cypriot community voted for the remaining 30 per cent. The Constitution mandated 80 seats in Parliament, of which 56 were reserved for Greek-Cypriot candidates and the other 24 seats for Turkish-Cypriot candidates.
However, those 24 seats had remained vacant since 1964, when the Turkish-Cypriot community had withdrawn from the Government, she continued. Thanks to the United Nations Secretary-General's recent reunification efforts, the two communities had rekindled ties and the Federal Government had made efforts to include Turkish Cypriots in parliamentary elections, including by allowing a Turkish Cypriot -- be it a man or a woman -- to run for one of the seats normally reserved exclusively for Greek Cypriots. Women were increasingly involved in the election process, in election debates and as candidates. Hopefully, that trend would continue. The question of quotas must be examined very seriously, and special temporary measures should also be taken to close the gender gap.
With respect to sensitizing the electorate, she recalled that, during the recent elections a private television station had aired the slogan "Remember to vote for women as well", adding that the first woman Supreme Court Judge had been appointed in 2004. Regarding dissemination of the Convention, it had been translated into Greek, as had its Optional Protocol.
On efforts to overcome obstacles to women's participation in public and political life, she said research showed that they did not traditionally have the support of the media, or even their own families, when they sought to engage in politics. Women candidates lacked good access to the media and the Justice Minister himself had met with non-governmental organizations, leaders of political parties and the media to change that. During those meetings, 50,000 copies of a campaign for positive action measures had been distributed. The campaign was intended to explain the benefits of balanced representation in political and public life and to shed light on the obstacles that still hindered women's progress in that regard. Research was under way to assess whether that campaign had influenced the outcome of the election on 21 May.
Professional women were becoming role models for other women, she said, noting that, since the report was prepared four years ago, more women had gained positions of power in Parliament and the Law Commission. More of them were being encouraged to get involved in politics. Local authorities should play a more active role in achieving gender parity in politics. A training programme to sensitize local authorities, to be funded partly by the European Union, was planned for the next local elections.
Returning to a question asked earlier regarding citizenship law, another delegate said that, by the terms of a 2002 amendment to the law addressing the rights of those born between 16 August 1960 and 1999, both male and female children born to Cypriot citizens during that period could decide on their own citizenship of preference.
Experts' Comments and Questions
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, noting that few women held decision-making posts in the field of education, asked whether the national action plan would consider adopting temporary special measures to increase that number. Why was it difficult for women educators to win promotion or participate in competitive research programmes? Also, with women tending to dominate in the arts and men in science and engineering, what strategies had the Government considered to reduce such forms of gender segregation? Since unemployed women and working mothers found it difficult to gain admission to institutions of higher learning due to a lack of qualifications, was there any intention to create open universities?
Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, challenged the validity of the report's conclusions that a drop in fertility was linked to the increased participation of women in the work force, and asked whether proper studies had been conducted to support that? Data from 2002 showed a 35 per cent gap in employment levels of males and females in the 25-54 year range, an apparent indication that a large group of women might want to re-enter the labour market. Did Cyprus have a re-entry programme to help them? Were there different types of pension benefits for men and women?
SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, noting that Cyprus had the highest gender segregation in the European Union in terms of employment, asked how the country intended to rectify that situation. The report contained disappointingly little on migrant workers, since Cyprus was known to have many foreign residents from the Russian Federation and Asian countries. What measures had been adopted to integrate them into the work force, and were their labour rights protected? Were there any attempts to harmonize their wages with those of Cypriot nationals? Could domestic workers file sexual harassment complaints?
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, noted that several ethnic groups, besides the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, lived in Cyprus, and asked whether they had equal access to education, work and social security, among other things? Were female refugees often employed in unskilled jobs despite being highly educated?
The head of the delegation explained that data was only collected on ethnic minorities who were in the country legally.
Regarding the number of women in the education field, another delegate said the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education was a woman, but acknowledged that very few women were teaching at the university level. However, they were active in carrying out sensitization programmes and conducting research on that subject, and had been instrumental in pushing for the inclusion of gender studies as a university discipline.
On encouraging female entrepreneurship, she said there had been an increase in women entrepreneurs (from 12 per cent when the report was prepared, to 21 per cent three years later), as a result of joint efforts by the National Machinery through conferences; the establishment of women's cooperative banks; and the provision of grants. Under one scheme, women were given grants covering 50 per cent of their start-up costs, provided they did not exceed $70,000. Initiatives in new technologies were particularly encouraged.
With respect to education, another delegation member explained that, under the new strategic plan, emphasis would be given to establishing an open university and to raising the number of women in research institutions.
The head of the delegation said that a recently enacted law (Law 215 of 2000) required equal treatment of men and women with regard to employment, promotion and working conditions. The law contained specific provisions on sexual harassments, reversing the burden of proof, so that it lay on the employer to prove that none had occurred.
Another delegate said that, in order to ease the re-entry of women into the labour market, policies had been put in place to promote flexible forms of employment, such as tele-work. In addition, a programme to create family-friendly working environments had been launched to help women reconcile work with family life. A job-placement programme for "inactive women", currently involving 600 participants, sought to place at least 200 of them in jobs upon completion. Public employment services were also available to help women draw up CVs, provide them with skills training and assist them with job searches. Vocational training was also provided to encourage young people, including girls, to enter vocational occupations.
Regarding the glass ceiling effect, she said a diagnostic survey would be undertaken during the year, after which the Government would develop a strategy to deal with that phenomenon. The proportion of high-ranking female civil servants had risen from 28.8 per cent in 2003, to 30 per cent in 2005, while that of female judges had increased from 26.4 per cent in 2003, to 32 per cent in 2005.
Another delegate, returning to the subject of childcare facilities, said the European Union target of covering 90 per cent of children between the ages of 3 and 6 years was close to being met, but it was common in Cyprus for the extended family to provide childcare. Returning also to education, she said that, while it was true that there were more women at the PhD level, the number of women at the post-graduate level was equal to that of men. Women did, indeed, tend to dominate in the education sector, which was remarkable, considering that education was a high-profile sector in Cyprus. However, women were not predominant at the top level.
The head of the delegation then addressed the question of asylum seekers and migrant workers, saying explaining that 99 per cent of their applications were not valid and that only 1 per cent would be approved. Of those approved, few experienced problems finding employment or gaining access to services. And of those remaining in the country illegally, language was often a barrier to full integration and it was they who tended to lodge complaints. During a mass protest of asylum seekers in Nicosia a week ago, the Red Cross had offered food, medical care and shelter until a new agreement could be struck and new accommodation found. Currently there was a backlog of 10,053 asylum seekers.
Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, stepped in at that juncture to refocus the discussion on women asylum seekers specifically, asking how many of them were in Cyprus illegally. Were women fleeing genital mutilation granted asylum? Were women dependent on their husbands to obtain asylum?
The head of the delegation said there were no gender-disaggregated data on asylum seekers, but confirmed that a woman could seek asylum independently of her husband.
Another delegate said asylum seekers had a right to remain in the country and to apply for work or welfare benefits, as well as a medical card, in order to gain access to public hospitals. A policy under development aimed to better integrate asylum seekers into society and the Government was working with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to identify their difficulties. The law gave them the right to free primary and secondary education, to scholarships giving them access to higher education, and to free language courses. At refugee centres, priority was given to single women or those with families.
On the definition of displaced persons, the head of the delegation said that the child of a displaced woman was not considered to be displaced, which enabled them to be registered in the electoral roll.
Experts' Comments and Questions
Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, asked the delegation to include, in the next report, information on the process for granting asylum, particularly whether asylum was granted to women fleeing violence. On marriage and family, did the law recognize common law unions, and what were the rights of either partner in case one of them died?
Ms. KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, asked for a definition of the poverty line in Cyprus. With 30 per cent of the population engaged in agriculture, did women in that sector enjoy the same income level as those in other sectors? Were ethnic minorities governed by the same laws, since Cyprus had a religious code?
The head of the delegation said that foreign domestic employees complaining of sexual harassment before a special committee were given permission to work for another employer until the dispute was settled. If the complaint was justified, the employee was permanently released from the employer, who could not hire any more foreign domestic workers.
She said that people in common-law unions were not assigned any rights. The civil marriage law recognized marriages between Orthodox Christians, but not Muslim marriages. Matters of marriage and family life were governed by civil law.
Another delegate addressed questions relating to poverty, saying that recent research by the welfare department had shown that single parents, elderly people, and women with disabilities were among the most vulnerable. A programme had been established to provide them with skills training in an effort to promote their social inclusion.
Self-employed farmers were entitled to insurance coverage, she said, adding that social pension benefits covered the elderly who lacked employment opportunities. The minimum age for such benefits was 65. There were also initiatives to help women engage in income-generating activities. The poverty line was calculated by the European Union standard of 60 per cent below the median income.
Experts' Comments and Questions
Ms. KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, asked whether migrant workers were really discriminated against, and whether their salaries were harmonized with national minimum-wage legislation. Were their employment contracts drafted by the Ministry of Labour?
ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, asked whether the 2001 social insurance amendment for self-employed women also applied to women working in family enterprises without payment. Were they entitled to social insurance, and when had that law taken effect? Was it part of the social benefits issued by the State? How many women had benefited from the agro-tourism financing programme of the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and the Environment? Had the benefits paid to rural women under the 2005-2006 agro-tourism plan been assessed?
Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked for statistics on disabled women.
ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, requested the delegation to include more statistics on rural women in the country report. Paragraph 182 of the present report contained information on a subsidized loan project that encouraged young people to stay in the rural areas. Why had so few people taken advantage of that scheme? Was it because all young people had moved to the urban areas? Were similar policies in place at the local, district and township levels as well?
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked whether all laws and policies governing employment and social inclusion were monitored for their impact.
What was meant by the integration of a gender dimension into national actions plans and policies, and what approach was taken in that regard?
With respect to pay scales for migrant domestic workers, a delegate said the Government paid the social insurance benefits of all Cypriot domestic workers, and half of those for foreign workers.
She said that any statistics not provided in the current report would be included in forthcoming reports. The delegation would make a special request to the relevant Government authorities to include disaggregated data on women.
Another delegate said that no evaluation of the agro-tourism project was available, but other development schemes for women, such as a programme to promote female entrepreneurship, had proven attractive.
She said that, while the Government did its best to inform rural women about opportunities for advancement, Cyprus had no district or local offices for that purpose, but rural organizations belonging to the National Machinery were involved in awareness-raising activities.
Regarding vulnerable members of society, she said that the Government had general programmes for disabled persons, but no specific programmes for disabled women. Indeed, more information was needed on gender-mainstreaming efforts, particularly for disadvantaged women and other socially excluded groups. The written responses provided to the Committee contained information on rural women's access to health care. There were few discrepancies between access for rural women and their urban counterparts.
Another delegation member said that the Centre for Vocational Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons provided vocational guidance, training and financing to reimburse training, self-employment and business start-up costs.
Regarding the rural development plan, another delegate said it offered financing for handicraft activities and agro-processing, which were performed mainly by women. A total of 10 women, four couples and one man had received support for handicraft projects, while 25 women and 10 men had received support for agro-processing. Subsidies were also provided for the reconstruction of traditional homes in rural villages.
With respect to the incorporation of a gender perspective in national development plans, she said that, in the past, the country's Charter on Equality of the Sexes had been isolated from the Government's other development priorities. The 2005-2006 plan considered gender equality a horizontal policy and most programmes under it were evaluated from a gender perspective with gender-disaggregated statistics. The plan's medium-term strategy was to introduce gender budgeting.
Another delegate returned to the issue of pension rights, saying that rural women and men received the same pension benefits, once they reached age 65.
Experts' Questions and Comments
Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked the delegation to include in the next report information on domestic violence against disabled women.
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