11 August 2006
Economic, Social, Political Problems, Tense Geopolitical Situation in Region Impede Uzbekistan's Implementation of Women's Anti-Discrimination Convention
Despite Obstacles, Some Impressive Gains in Legislative Reform, Access to Education, Employment, Politics
NEW YORK, 10 August (UN Headquarters) -- Uzbekistan's serious economic, social and political problems since its independence in 1991, as well as the tense geopolitical situation in the region and the threat of terrorism and religious extremism, had slowed the country's ability to meet the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Chairman of Uzbekistan's National Human Rights Centre acknowledged today.
Introducing his country's combined second and third periodic report at United Nations Headquarters to the expert Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which monitors compliance with the 1979 Convention, Akmal Saidov said that expanding women's rights and ensuring gender equality was fundamental to Uzbekistan's quest to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. His Government's work to implement the provisions of the Convention and protect women's rights focused on five principal areas: legislation; institutions; information and education; the Parliament; and international issues.
Uzbekistan, in particular, had prioritized the development of women's non-governmental organizations, and the country now had about 200 of them, he said. Those groups worked in three primary areas: promoting women's involvement in the country's evolving market economy and improving their situation in the employment market, ensuring equal access to education and job skills through educational programmes; protecting women's health and strengthening family planning practices; and protecting the interests of the mother and child.
Among some of the gains made since Uzbekistan joined the Convention in 1995 were initiatives aimed at encouraging girls to pursue their education, its delegation noted. A presidential award that included educational funding had been given to talented girls in all regions of the nation, and a recently created centre was helping to generate interest among girls in information and technology careers. Already, some 500 girls were studying there, and additional branches were being set up around the country. A mass-media campaign was also encouraging girls to select from a wide range of careers, and the Government had launched a school programme, which advocated gender parity as a basis for morality.
In the ensuing dialogue, experts commended the country for those achievements. Some noted the increased numbers of women in the Senate and legislative chamber, as well as in the judicial system, but sought Uzbek women greater participation in politics. Particularly impressive had been the way the country had handled the Committee's concluding comments following the presentation of its first report. Uzbekistan had modelled its National Plan of Action for women's improved status on the Committee's recommendations, and 25 of 28 of them had already been implemented. That should serve as an example for other States.
While the experts acknowledged certain reforms, such as the adoption of legislative changes to ensure quotas in the workplace for women with children, and the revision of the election laws to enhance women's participation, some closely scrutinized the relationship between the Government and the country's growing number of non-governmental organizations. In particular, the experts' questions centred on the degree of State financing and State influence.
Mr. Saidov, in turn, asked whether a non-governmental organization must always be an adversary of the State in which it operated. Uzbekistan had a partnership with such organizations, he said, but that did not mean the Government was controlling or funding them. A decade ago, the Government did not even take into account the opinions of non-governmental organizations. He categorically opposed an adversarial relationship between the State and non-governmental organizations, which seemed to be the Western standard.
Responding to the experts' concern about the emphasis in the report on maternity and childhood, and the absence of any discussion about fatherhood, a country representative replied that, unlike perceptions in some Western countries, women in Eastern countries were, first and foremost, mothers and tasked with raising the children. A woman could be a "mother hero", as well as a vibrant member of society. Uzbekistan would not accept any perceptions thrust upon it by the West, as the country had its own understanding of women's role.
For its part, the Government's job was to enhance the role of women in the family and in society, he said. And, to change the role and place of women in society, the Government would have to work to change the consciousness of people, so that everyone was regarded equally. To shift perceptions among men, gender issues were occupying larger segments of the Government's human rights programmes.
As for the influence of the "makhallyas", or neighbourhood councils, members of the Uzbek delegation explained that the makhallya was a women's committee that included consultants who worked with families in crisis. They provided counsel on moral issues and were often seen as a stabilizing factor. For example, in cases of divorce, the makhallyas often recommended that spouses not act in haste. As family was the primary unit in Uzbek society, the role of the makhallya was to preserve the family. There were about 10,000 makhallya consultants and nearly all were women. The consultants received training from the State and attended regional seminars on gender parity. They were, indeed, well respected by the community.
Experts participating in this meeting were, as Chairperson, Hanna Beate Schöpp-Schilling (Germany), along with Dorcas Coker-Appiah (Ghana); Françoise Gaspard (France); Huguette Bokpe Gnacadja (Benin); Krisztina Morvai (Hungary); Fumiko Saiga (Japan); Glenda P. Simms (Jamaica); Dubravka Šimonović (Croatia); Anamah Tan (Singapore); and Zou Xiaoqiao (China).
Chamber A of the Committee will meet again tomorrow at 10 a.m. to consider the third, fourth and fifth period reports of Mauritius.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had before it Uzbekistan's combined second and third periodic reports (document CEDAW/C/UZB/2-3) on the country's implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The report covers the period between January 2001 and August 2004.
Uzbekistan became a party to the Convention on 6 May 1995 and began to move towards protecting the rights of women and expanding their participation in all aspects of life in the nation. On 29 June 2004, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted an ordinance on a programme of measures to ensure the implementation of a presidential decree issued on 25 May 2004. That decree outlined additional measures to support the activities of the Women's Committee of Uzbekistan.
The report notes that the Uzbek Government continues to devote attention to women's issues, despite the country's economic difficulties and the region's tense geopolitical situation. In recent years, women's non-governmental organizations have flourished and their work has been integral to the democratic transformation, including dialogues with the Government. Two examples of non-governmental organizations' entrepreneurial activities were the creation of the Mekhr Women's Association and the Business Women's Association of Uzbekistan.
The Government, especially through the Social Protection of the Family, Mothers and Children Complex and the Women's Committee of Uzbekistan, plays an active role in moving society towards true gender equality.
The prevention of violence against women is a priority of central and local government officials, as well as of non-governmental organizations, and it is one of the 10 priorities of the National Plan of Action, which aims to improve the status of women in Uzbekistan. State organizations and other public, non-governmental and international organizations hold seminars, round tables and meetings to raise women's knowledge of the laws and increase general awareness in civil society on issues of violence against women.
Ways to prevent gender-based violence have included the establishment of telephone support lines and crisis centres have been created in the provincial centres and towns. The Ministry of Internal Affairs has investigated violations of women's rights and, in 2003, it recorded 42 cases of polygamy, 228 cases of domestically-related pre-meditated murder, 576 cases of rape, 78 "instances of persons being driven to suicide", and 27 cases of forced marriage or of women having been prevented from marrying.
In an effort to continually enhance the role of women in the nation's social and political life, and to protect their rights, the Government is studying the possibility of acceding to the Optional Protocol to the Convention. It is also preparing an addendum, for inclusion in the country's election law, that would set a 30 per cent quota for women nominated as candidates from political parties to Government posts.
Introduction of Report
The delegation from Uzbekistan consisted of: Akmal Saidov, head of the delegation and Chairman of the National Human Rights Centre of Uzbekistan; Alisher Vohidov, the country's Permanent Representative to the United Nations; Tanzila Norboeva, Senior Expert of the Cabinet of Ministries of Uzbekistan; and Farhod Arziev, Second Secretary of the Permanent Mission to the United Nations.
Introducing the report, AKMAL SAIDOV, Chairman of the National Human Rights Centre of the Republic of Uzbekistan, said 20 governmental bodies and 10 non-governmental bodies had produced the report. He also stressed the Government's close cooperation with non-governmental organizations in the preparation of reports to United Nations treaty bodies, as well as the implementation of the treaties, themselves.
Mr. Saidov said that the Government's work to implement provisions of the Convention and protect women's rights focused on five principal areas: legislation; institutions; information and education; the Parliament; and international issues.
Uzbekistan prioritized the development of women's non-governmental organizations and the country now had about 200 of them, he said. Those groups worked in three primary areas: promoting women's involvement in the country's evolving market economy and improving their situation in the employment market, ensuring equal access to education and job skills through educational programmes; protecting women's health, strengthening family planning practices; and protecting the interests of the mother and child.
He noted that Uzbekistan had held its first elections to the bicameral Parliament in 2004. Before the elections, the Government had revised its elections laws to advance women's status. Today, women made up 15 per cent of the Senate, 18 per cent of the legislative chamber, and 20 percent of the judicial system.
To expand women's opportunities in the work force, the Government has adopted regional programmes for 2005-2007, he continued. Those programmes sought to expand women's place in the labour market through a range of activities, such as the creation of new workplaces for women throughout the country, the provision of favourable credits to small businesses headed by women or to those with a large number of women employees, and adoption of legislative changes to ensure quotas in workplaces for women with children.
He added that the country's serious economic, social and political problems since its independence had especially hurt the vulnerable groups in society. Those problems slowed the country's ability to meet the provisions of the Convention. He also noted the tense geopolitical situation in the region and the threat of terrorism and religious extremism, which also tended to generate instability.
Expanding women's rights and opportunities and ensuring gender equality played a fundamental role in Uzbekistan's quest to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, he said. A recent report, prepared by nine specialized United Nations agencies on the implementation of the Goals, found that Uzbekistan had been more successful than most Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries in maintaining human development indicators, especially since the second half of the 1990s.
As was the usual practice, the Committee's experts started the dialogue with the country's delegation on issues covered by articles 1 through 6 of the Convention: discrimination; policy measures; guarantee of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms; special measures, sex role stereotyping and prejudice; and prostitution.
DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, commended Uzbekistan on the way it had relied on the Committee as it drew up a national action plan based on the Committee's recommendations, following the first report. That was an example to be followed. Of 28 recommendations, 25 had been fully implemented. One recommendation that had not yet been implemented related to the prohibition of discrimination, in accordance with article 1. In that regard, she asked about the status of a draft law on equal rights and opportunities.
Other experts' questions focused on the applicability of the Convention to national law and in the courts, as well as statistics on court cases regarding discrimination, violence against women, and trafficking. Experts also asked about the dissemination of the Committee's recommendations in the Uzbek language, as well as about the work of the National Human Rights Centre, women's organizations and the Consultative Analytical Council. Temporary special measures were another area of focus. With so much emphasis placed on women's education and awareness-raising, experts asked if there were any similarly informative educational programmes for men.
A country representative said that delays in the adoption of a draft law on equality had been due to Parliament's restructuring; the legislature had moved from a one-chamber to a two-chamber system. The Optional Protocol to the Convention was, at the moment, under consideration by the Government. A recommendation to Parliament in that regard had not yet been made. As for the applicability of the Convention in national law, he said that the courts settled matters only on the basis of national law but could refer to international treaties. In Uzbekistan, international law had supremacy over domestic law. In principle, international law was implemented through national law. He could not give specific examples of court cases that had considered gender equality issues in connection to an international treaty.
He said that domestic violence was a big problem in Uzbekistan. The Committee's recommendation on the issue had been taken into account in different spheres of domestic life, and non-governmental organizations had been very active in that regard. After the draft law on gender equality was adopted, a law on domestic violence could be drafted.
The Constitution was discriminatory, insofar as it addressed maternity and children but did not mention fatherhood, he acknowledged. Changes in the Constitution were being considered, but that was a complex process. Fatherhood had been included in the Family Code, and the Committee's advice on educational programmes for men would be positively taken into account.
It was hard to provide figures and statistics on court cases, as had been requested, because accounting and statistical systems were still based on indicators stemming from the Soviet era, and those were now being revised. The new statistics would be submitted in written form. He went on to describe the work of the Consultative Analytical Council and the Ombudsman.
Another country representative said that the National Plan of Action based on the Committee's recommendations had been approved as a special decision of the Cabinet of Ministries. The recommendations had been translated into the Uzbek language and had been distributed among governmental and non-governmental bodies and territorial administrations. As for legal assistance to women, she said there was a special programme to increase the social activities for women, one section of which was devoted to enhancing women's legal, economic and social knowledge. Women could get assistance and support in cases of domestic violence in so-called adaptation centres. Nearly 2,000 women had visited special lawyers. Some women's organizations had carried out work on gender equality among men, she replied to another question.
Experts wanted more information about the status, funding and general perception of the Uzbekistan Women's Committee and the Government's steps to deal with the traditions and customs that discriminated against women and perpetuated a patriarchal society. One expert sought information about the Government efforts to investigate incidents of polygamy, which was illegal.
Another expert wanted to know whether the National Human Rights Centre, whose chairman had presented the report today, was an independent body and whether the Government was placing more women in decision-making positions in the media.
ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, wanted statistics on domestic violence and whether the Uzbek Government was continuing its work with other nations to curb violence against women, such as recent programmes to train judges and law enforcement officials. She also sought more information about efforts in the school system to raise awareness about the need to reduce domestic violence. Regarding trafficking and prostitution, an expert wanted to know how the Government was rehabilitating prostitutes and trafficked persons in a culture that regarded those women as "damaged goods".
In response, Mr. SAIDOV said that, unlike perceptions in some Western countries, women in Eastern countries were, first and foremost, mothers and tasked with raising the children. He said the roles and rights assumed by men and women were a way of life in Uzbekistan, and a woman could be a "mother hero", as well as a vibrant member of society. Uzbekistan would not accept any perceptions thrust upon it by the West, as the country had its own understanding of women's role. The Government's place was to enhance the role of women in the family and in society. And, to change the role and place of women in society, the Government would have to work to change the consciousness of people, so that everyone was regarded equally. To questions about polygamy, he said there had been 22 criminal cases related to polygamy over the last one to two years. There had been an increase in incidents over the past few years, as the report had stated.
Like previous country representatives, Mr. Saidov questioned whether a non-governmental organization must always be against the State. Uzbekistan had a partnership with non-governmental organizations, but that did not mean the Government was controlling or funding those organizations. A decade ago, the Government did not even absorb the opinions of non-governmental organizations.
The National Human Rights Centre was an independent body, which coordinated the various State bodies' work in women's rights. The Centre prepared and presented reports to United Nations agencies, he explained.
Another country representative said that the Uzbek Women's Committee was a social institution with 65 members from all regions of the country. It was not a Government body. It reflected the interests of women throughout the country, with branches that worked with educational institutions, industries and makhallyas.
In an effort to curb domestic violence against women, the Government was conducting a detailed survey of violent incidents, a speaker said. For the first six months of this year, there were 1,316 criminal cases before the courts. There were 142 criminal cases of trafficking during the same period, and 110 involved women. Government officials and the Women's Committee were working to combat all forms of trafficking. There were rehabilitation centres that offered psychological and physical care for victims. Treatment had been provided for 197 people and about 30 had been given legal assistance. There were also hotlines and shelters. It was the responsibility of both the State and non-governmental organizations to fight prostitution and trafficking.
He acknowledged that Uzbekistan had a serious problem, both as a supplier and recipient of prostitutes. Even though prostitutes were criticized in Uzbekistan, they should still be treated as equal citizens. Measures had been designed to protect prostitutes and to offer them rehabilitation.
Answering follow-up questions, the country representative said that the report had been completed in December 2003 and that other information provided stemmed from a later date, reflecting more current trends of the situation of women in the country. The report had been based on material from non-governmental organizations. In addition, the draft had been discussed within State organizations and non-governmental organizations.
Clarifying earlier remarks on Western and Eastern standards, he said he categorically opposed an adversarial relationship between the State and non-governmental organizations, which seemed to be the Western standard. Non-governmental organizations should not be obliged to criticize the Government; however, in his country, non-governmental organizations cooperated with the Government. State and non-governmental organizations should move ahead hand in hand.
In monitoring activities, the Consultative and Analytical Council used various methods, including questionnaires, he said. Monitoring was done on a regional basis. Last year, there had been 18 cases of discrimination in the labour sector brought before the court, of which 10 had been decided in favour of the woman complainant.
Another country representative explained the role of the Deputy Prime Minister as head of the Women's Committee, saying that that structure enabled the Committee to give direct orders to State and local organs. The State, through local authorities, provided housing and created conditions for the adaptation and crisis centres to work. It also provided specialists, such as medical workers and psychologists. Thirteen thousand cases of domestic violence had been reported. The "consultants" did not fall under the structure of the Committee on Women. They were financed through the State budget only and carried out their work with women on moral and religious matters, aimed at preventing women's prostitution and trafficking.
Regarding political and public life, FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, asked whether sanctions were placed on political parties that did not meet the 30 per cent quota set for female candidates during the election. She also questioned the location of female candidates' names on the ballot.
Another expert sought clarification about a national competition in which non-governmental organizations could apply for Government funding. She questioned whether that mechanism was meant to replace the funding non-governmental organizations had lost after a 2004 Government decree restricted foreign funding for Uzbek non-governmental organizations. Other questions focused on the number of women represented in the country's Foreign Affairs Ministry, and whether nationality laws discriminated against women.
Mr. SAIDOV said Uzbekistan did not allow for dual citizenship. All five political parties with candidates in the last election had met the 30 per cent quota for women. The new quota did produce results, as the share of women in the Legislative Chamber was now 18 per cent, or double the 9 per cent of the prior election.
He added that the Government had set up a financing fund for non-governmental organizations in the summer of 2005 and had held a competition once a year to award financing for specific projects. The community of non-governmental organization was becoming more active in Uzbekistan. For example, in 2001, there were 2,300 non-governmental organizations, and, now there were 3,000. Five years ago, there were 100 women's non-governmental organizations, and, now, there were 200, a twofold increase. He would provide information on the number of women in foreign diplomatic posts in several days, as the information was not now available.
Experts then turned to issues under articles 10 through 14 regarding: education; employment; health; economic and social benefits; and rural women.
Questions were asked about education at the tertiary level, as gender equality in lower levels had been achieved. The difference in choice of area of education between girls and boys was also addressed. Experts also questioned the focus on morality education for girls and wondered if boys should not be included in that, as otherwise, women would be the sole guardians of morality.
Other problems raised concerned the significant gap in earnings between men and women. Suggestions were made to raise the pay level of the more traditionally female sector jobs, such as in health and education, and to look at what other countries had done to address the problem. Concern was expressed that discrimination was more severe in the more traditional areas, where more than 60 per cent of Uzbek women lived.
Further questions concerned the reform of the health system, specifically whether old-fashioned regional hospitals would be substituted by primary health care units. Experts were worried that rural women would not get the emergency care and emergency obstetric care necessary. One expert also asked about the progress made for rural women since adoption in 1999 of the national sustainable development strategy. The delegation was also asked for more information about HIV and AIDS in the country, specifically about heterosexual transmission, as polygamy was increasing.
Responding to experts' questions, Mr. SAIDOV acknowledged that all the Millennium Development Goals were linked to gender issues. The country was working successfully to reduce discrepancies between girls and boys in the educational system and would meet the Goals in that area by 2015. New methods of teaching, new technologies and cooperation with international partners, such as the Asian Development Bank, to create new textbooks, were contributing to the progress. Government credits, for example, were helping to bring more women into the higher educational system.
To shift perceptions among men, gender issues were occupying larger segments of the Government's human rights programmes, he said. On the wage front, the Government would investigate discrepancies between the sexes. The Government had recently issued a special decree to encourage more women to take on paid work while working at home as caretakers and mothers. The Government wanted more women working at home to earn better pay and receive social benefits.
Replying to questions about rural women, Mr. Saidov acknowledged that the report had not devoted much attention to the distinction between gender issues in rural and urban areas. But, the Government had focused attention on women's issues in rural areas, where most of the Uzbek population resided. Each village had its own health-care unit. The Government declared 2006 the year of health and health workers, and had introduced a State programme to support health care and health-care workers, who were mostly women. As part of that programme, wages in the health sector had been increased. And, with the help of international groups, the Government was endeavouring to fight HIV and AIDS in rural and urban areas.
Another country representative said that, in order to further encourage girls in the educational system, a presidential award that includes educational funding has been given to talented girls in all regions of the nation. A recently created centre was helping to generate interest among girls in information and technology careers, and 500 girls were now studying there. Branches were being set up around the country. A mass media campaign was also encouraging girls to select a wide range of careers, and the Government had established a programme in the schools to advocate gender parity as a basis for morality. Non-governmental organizations were holding round tables and meetings on the same issue.
Adding to the response to the questions about the health sector, she said her Government was working to reform the health-care system and boost the health of young girls and boys. Girls of reproductive age, for example, were provided with free health examinations. With the help of various United Nations agencies, the Government was also providing contraceptives to all women and men. In addition, the Government was conducting research on the spread of HIV and AIDS from mothers to their children.
She noted that rural women made up 64 per cent of all women in the country and that many preferred to work at home. The Government had been encouraging those women to become entrepreneurs and set up home businesses through educational programmes and credits. As Mr. Saidov had said, the number of female farmers had increased significantly, and now totalled 10,000, up from 2,000 in 2001.
Answering follow-up questions, she said "in-house jobs" was a light industry, such as sewing, whereby corporations would provide equipment to the home. In principle, those jobs were meant for women with young children who wanted to work.
On another question, she said that abortion was officially permitted, but, in public campaigns, it was discouraged in favour of other means of birth control. Contraceptives were provided free of charge, and there had been a threefold reduction in the number of abortions during the past year.
Under articles 15 and 16, concerning law, marriage and family life, many questions were raised about polygamy, the age of marriage, property and inheritance rights, and the issue of forced marriage. The role of makhallyas or the neighbourhood council was also questioned.
FRANÇOISE GASPAR, expert from France, said she had dealt with the issue of forced marriage as mayor in a town with 92 nationalities. She and other experts stressed the importance of disseminating information to young women and girls about the law against forced marriage and about possibilities for counselling. Training of authorities to detect signs of forced marriage was also important.
A country delegate explained the historical roots of polygamy, stemming from the Muslim religion, even before the Russian era. The law defined polygamy as the joined cohabitation with two wives simultaneously. Last year, two such cases had come before the court.
As for the age of marriage -- currently 18 years for boys and 17 for girls -- he said that there was indeed a possibility for dispensation of one year for girls only. Such dispensation was usually granted only in cases of pregnancy of a 16-year-old girl, in the interest of the future child. The draft law on the issue would equalize the age of marriage for girls and boys, and it would not contain a dispensation clause. There was a gap, however, between law and real life. Last year, the average age of marriage for young people was 24.5 years old for men, and 22.5 years for women. One third of women married at the age of 19, while 56 per cent married between the ages of 22 and 24.
He said that religious marriage was not recognized by law; however, religious marriages often occurred after the official registration of a marriage by the State. Legislation had established gender parity at the time of divorce. Jointly held property was divided by the court on the basis of who had custody of children. There were also provisions for alimony payments, and there was complete full equality between men and women in terms of inheritance.
The makhallyas were often seen as a stabilizing factor, the speaker continued. Some, however, saw them as conservative. In cases of divorce, the makhallyas would often recommend that spouses not act in haste. Their organizations, however, were not an obstacle to divorce. Family was the primary unit in Uzbek society and the role of the makhallya was to preserve the family.
He said that the law defined forced marriage as a compulsion to conclude a marriage. The sentence was a fine of 25 times the minimum wage or six months imprisonment. A forced marriage was not legally recognized. Sixteen cases of forced marriage had come before the court last year. He did not know how effective the law was in cases of polygamy or forced marriage.
Regarding a question on the payment of dowries, the speaker noted that Uzbekistan was a multinational country with more than 100 ethnic groups although Uzbeks composed more than 70 per cent of the population. In certain regions, dowry payments were still made, as that tradition retained a ritualistic or symbolic character.
A representative said the makhallya was a women's committee that included consultants who worked with families in crisis and provided counsel on moral issues. Regarding a question on the kidnapping of brides, she said that a young couple could agree between themselves that the woman would be kidnapped. She added that the payment of any dowry was a symbolic sum and imposed no financial obligation on anyone.
Returning to the issue of the makhallyas, an expert sought more information about the role of the consultants and their backgrounds.
A country representative replied that there were about 10,000 makhallya consultants, and nearly all were women. The consultants received training from the State and attended regional seminars on gender parity. Most of them had completed higher levels of education and were well respected by the community. As such, they were chosen by their communities to provide counsel.
In closing, Mr. SAIDOV thanked the participants for their constructive and well-intentioned dialogue. The session had allowed the delegation to view its problems and inadequacies, and that information would be incorporated into its National Plan of Action.
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