18 August 2006
Deputy Minister Tells Anti-Discrimination Committee of Stepped up Efforts to Protect Women against Violence, Trafficking, Workplace Exploitation
Experts Laud Initiatives, but Express Concern over Sexual Stereotypes
NEW YORK, 17 August (UN Headquarters) -- The Czech Republic was stepping up its legal and public information efforts to better protect and promote the rights of women, particularly against domestic violence, trafficking for sexual exploitation and workplace discrimination, the expert Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women heard today as it considered the Central European country's fourth periodic report.
Cestmir Sajda, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, said changes to the Criminal Code in 2004 had created greater protection for women in the home and stiffer penalties for those who abused them. The definition of domestic violence had been expanded to include the physical or psychological battering of a person living in the same dwelling as his/her abuser.
Another representative of the 10-member Czech delegation said that, under the new anti-domestic violence law -- set to take effect in January -- police could issue immediate restraining orders against offenders, place them in custody and establish the physical distance that offenders must maintain from their victims. The law also mandated emergency assistance for the abused. A public information campaign launched in 2003 aimed to teach young people in particular basic facts about domestic violence and how to recognize it early in a relationship.
Regarding trafficking in human beings, another delegate said that a 2004 amendment to the Criminal Code had placed the offence on the country's list of "most serious crimes" warranting special investigation and prosecution. Violators -- mainly Russian- and Bulgarian-speaking gangs that exploited women and children of the same ethnicity -- faced severe penalties for procuring the trafficked persons for sex. A specially trained police unit was working to break up any "cosy" arrangements between local police and club owners and/or pimps.
Similarly, the 2006 Labour Code expanded the country's ban on gender discrimination, while the Employment Act allowed for affirmative action measures to support equal treatment of men and women, the Committee heard. A national public awareness campaign sought to erase gender stereotypes and promote more women to senior posts in both the public and private sectors.
While lauding such initiatives, Committee experts expressed concern over the continued prevalence of sexual stereotypes in Czech society, the factors behind the small percentage of women in upper management and in the Ministry of Justice, and the marginalization of women and children belonging to the minority Roma population. They also pressed the delegation for clarification on laws governing voluntary sterilization and the definition of rape.
In response, a delegate noted that one of the provisions of a pending health-care bill would clarify the guidelines on informed consent for cases of voluntary sterilization. They had been developed in consultation with the Governing Council on Human Rights and an Ombudsman report after reports from non-governmental organizations had indicated that sterilizations had occurred without proper consent. Another delegate said Czech law defined rape as an act entailing sexual violence, the threat of sexual violence, or disability on the victim's part.
Experts participating in the meeting included: Hanna Beate Schöpp-Schilling (Germany) as Chairperson; Dubravka Šimonović (Croatia); Dorcas Coker-Appiah (Ghana), Françoise Gaspard (France); Huguette Bokpe Gnacadja (Benin); Krisztina Morvai (Hungary); Fumiko Saiga (Japan); Glenda Simms (Jamaica); Anamah Tan (Singapore); and Zou Xiaoqiao (China).
Chamber A of the Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Friday, 18 August, to consider the combined first through sixth periodic reports of Cape Verde.
Before the Committee was the third periodic report of the Czech Republic (document CEDAW/C/CZE/3), which outlines that country's efforts to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women during the period from 1 July 1999 to 31 December 2003. It describes legal and administrative measures to end discrimination, the progress made in achieving gender parity and plans to erase remaining obstacles to the involvement of women in political, economic and cultural life.
Noting that the Committee had expressed concern over the lack of data on Roma women, the report states that the Czech Republic's Act on Members of National Minorities prohibits the maintenance of public records on members of such minorities. However, certain data on Roma women obtained from various studies is included in the document.
According to the report, the Czech Republic signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention in December 1999 and the Chamber of Deputies approved its ratification on 25 October 2000. On 22 November, the Senate approved the agreement as an international treaty on human rights and fundamental freedoms pursuant to the Convention's article 10. The Optional Protocol entered into force under the Convention's article 16 (1) on 22 December 2000 and under article 16 (2) on 26 May 2001.
The report says that, on 4 November 2000, Czech officials signed the twelfth Protocol on the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and, in 2002, the Protocol on the Prevention, Elimination and Punishment of Human Trafficking, particularly the trafficking of women and children. However, it cannot ratify the latter because the country is not a signatory to the corresponding Convention on the Elimination of International Organized Crime. Officials are preparing a bill to ratify both treaties.
According to the report, the Ombudsman's office, set up in 2000, provides recourse against discriminatory behaviour by State ministries and other administrative bodies. The Government Council for Equal Opportunities for Men and Women, created in 2001, serves as an advisory body to Government offices and drafts proposals to promote gender equality. It recommends gender-equity promotion policies, sets priorities for ministry projects aimed at closing the gender gap, identifies gender inequity concerns in society and assesses effectiveness in implementing equality principles.
From 1998 to 2000, Czech Republic officials created the basic legal framework to improve implementation of the Convention and in 2001 and 2002, amended and approved legislation to promote gender equity, the report states. The 2000 Act on Regions requires gender equity in the recruitment of managerial personnel at all levels of regional government.
The report also provides a breakdown of measures to implement each of the Convention's 16 articles. Regarding efforts to comply with article 1 -- on the applicability of the definition of discrimination contained in the Convention -- officials amended the Act on Employment and Powers of Authorities of the Czech Republic in the Employment Sphere in 2002 to set a legal framework for affirmative action. The 2004 amendment to the Labour Code introduced legal definitions for harassment and sexual harassment, both of which are considered to be forms of sexual discrimination. Concerning article 2 -- on administrative and legislative anti-discrimination measures -- officials submitted a bill in February 2004 on the right to protection against discrimination on grounds of race, ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, age and other grounds. The bill would define direct and indirect discrimination, classify harassment and victimization as forms of discrimination and set rules for equal treatment and positive action.
Introduction of Report
Headed by Cestmir Sajda, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Affairs, the Czech delegation also included Vit Schorm, Government Agent to the European Court for Human Rights, Ministry of Justice; Lucie Otahalova, Secretary, Committee for Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Government Council for Human Rights; Radim Bures, Deputy Director, Department for Prevention of Crime, Ministry of Interior; Hana Zdrazilova, Desk Officer, Department of Equality of Men and Women, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs; Jarmila Hanslova, Desk Officer, Department of Equality of Men and Women, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs; Jana Svecova, Desk Officer, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports; Jitka Krukova, Desk Officer, Department of Human Rights, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Petra Ali Dolakova, Third Secretary, Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic to the United Nations; and Petra Dunne, Adviser, Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic.
Introducing the report, CESTMIR SAJDA, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Affairs of the Czech Republic, said his country had affirmed its commitment to democracy, freedom, human rights and gender equality by signing the Convention and adopting its Optional Protocol. The 1998 Priorities and Procedures of the Government in promoting Equality of Women and Men had established an annual national action plan to implement the Convention and the Beijing Platform of Action. The Czech Government annually assessed the nation's progress in promoting gender equality in Government policy, providing legal guarantees and raising the legal-awareness level, improving women's social status, ensuring their reproductive rights, combating violence against them and monitoring the effectiveness of strategies to create gender equality. The 2006 action plan included two new measures: analysis of migration and integration policies as they concerned gender equality, and inclusion of the principle of gender equality in development cooperation strategies.
He said several Government entities contributed to gender equality, among them the Gender Equality Unit of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, gender focal points in various ministries and the Ombudsman, as well as two advisory bodies, the Government Council for Human Rights and the Government Council for Equal Opportunities for Women and Men. The Government was also interested in setting up in Prague the headquarters for the new European Union Institute for Gender Equality, an institution that would boast efficiency in promoting gender equality in the European Union and beyond.
Important reforms to labour and criminal laws had taken place since the Czech Republic's submission of its third periodic report, he said. The 2004 Employment Act prohibited employers from directly or indirectly discriminating against potential employees on multiple grounds, including gender, and allowed for affirmative action measures to support the equal treatment of men and women. A 2001 amendment to the Labour Code explicitly prohibited gender discrimination and the 2006 Labour Code further expanded that ban.
He said important changes to the Criminal Code had created greater protections against domestic violence and trafficking in human beings. Before 2004, domestic violence had incurred the same penalties as such general criminal offences as assault and battery, blackmail and homicide. In 2004, the Code had been amended to include a definition of domestic violence as the physical or psychological battering of a person living in the same dwelling as his/her abuser. A 2006 act, due to enter into force on 1 January 2007, would legalize the immediate removal of the abuser from the dwelling and mandate emergency assistance at an intervention centre for the person at risk. A 2004 amendment to the Criminal Code expanded the definition of cross-border trafficking in human beings for sexual intercourse purposes to include trafficking for other purposes, as well as trafficking within the country. It also placed such trafficking on its list of "most serious crimes" warranting special investigation and prosecution.
A public information campaign launched in 2003 placed special emphasis on teaching young people basic facts about domestic violence and how to recognize it early in a relationship, he said. It also sought to erase gender stereotypes, particularly in employment, family life and public administration by promoting women to senior posts at work, more balanced family roles for both women and men and more women in decision-making and management positions in Government offices.
He said that, in order to address discrimination against Roma women on the grounds of sex and ethnic origin, Czech authorities were participating in the 2005-2010 Decade of Roma Inclusion, an international initiative involving job training and gender mainstreaming.
Concerning wage differentials, he said women earned 25 per cent less than men on average due to their low participation in decision-making processes and the Ministry was working to close that gap. Women made up just 12.3 per cent of the Senate membership, 15.5 per cent of the newly-elected Chamber of Deputies and 22.7 per cent of local governments.
Referring to yesterday's nomination of a new Prime Minister following recent Czech elections, Mr. SAJDA said he did not expect the change in leadership to affect the country's policy on women.
Experts asked about Government steps to ensure that judicial and legal officials were familiar with the Convention and its Optional Protocol. One expert noted that the country report had been adopted by the Government, but not sent to Parliament and urged the delegation to do so in order to increase the Convention's visibility. Experts also sought more information regarding the working methods, functions and membership of the Government Council on Human Rights and the Government Council for Equal Opportunities for Women and Men.
Other experts wanted information on whether the Committee's concluding comments would be discussed in Parliament and reviewed by the Foreign Ministry; on mechanisms to insure equal opportunity at the regional and local levels; and on whether gender training for Government officials was an ongoing exercise.
Mr. SAJDA said the Government Council for Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, comprising 23 men and women of deputy ministerial rank, was charged with ensuring equality as it created Government strategy, coordinated policy among the various ministries, identified problems and created projects. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, which was responsible for its budget, could provide more money for special projects.
Another country representative said the Government Council on Human Rights was an advisory body created by decree, with its own working methods. Chaired by the Government Commissioner for Human Rights, half of its 20 members were representatives of Government ministries and the other half were experts, independent members and representatives of non-governmental organizations. It did not have its own budget.
Mr. SAJDA said the Government had an ongoing system for gender training of ministers and other senior officials, which was expected to continue under the new Government. Another delegate said there had not been much demand among legal groups for workshops outlining the principles of the Convention. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs took the lead on gender equality issues. The Convention and Optional Protocol had been published in the nation's compendium of international law. Other international instruments that the country could use in dealing with gender equality issues included the European Union Human Rights Convention.
A delegate said that a new Penal Code provision on domestic violence had helped lead to 108 investigations in 2004, 41 convictions and one sentencing. Last year, there had been more than 420 investigations from which 368 convictions and 134 sentences had been handed down. Until June this year, there had been 263 investigations. Information about the Convention has been circulated to the regional level.
Experts asked for more information regarding the focal points responsible for gender equality in the various ministries; the use of special temporary measures, such as goals or targets with certain timetables; and the use of special temporary measures in the private sector.
Regarding focal points, Mr. SAJDA said every ministry had one person charged with gender equality who reported to the Deputy Minister. Another representative said the Ministry of Interior issued its own regulations and set measures to create gender equality. All civil servants and police officials in the ministry were trained in women's rights. Those policies had led to an increase in the number of female police officers. One of the five deputy ministers in the Interior Ministry was a woman and there were five female directors, including the finance director.
Mr. SAJDA said the Convention's principles were being implemented in the Labour, Employment, and Criminal Codes.
With respect to sexual stereotypes, experts asked about strategies to end rape of women by their husbands, remove gender stereotyping of the roles of men and women from school textbooks and help women balance their personal and professional lives.
One expert, stressing that the courts should be user-friendly for victims of domestic violence, asked what criteria were used to determine the need for restraining orders against aggressors and the duration for which they could be issued. Another expert asked which ethnic groups were involved in the trafficking of women and children, particularly for sexual exploitation, how many arrests had been made in such cases and whether law enforcement officials spoke the language and understood the culture of trafficking victims.
Mr. SAJDA said rape was considered as a crime and prosecuted as such under all circumstances, including within marriage.
Another country representative said the Government had two public information campaigns aimed at countering sexual stereotypes: an educational game to discourage domestic violence; and a nationwide mass media campaign to counter stereotypical roles and perceptions of men and women.
Concerning education, another delegate noted that all grade school textbooks had been revised on the basis of equal opportunity. All new books must follow gender-sensitivity guidelines and be approved by the Ministry of Education, which cooperated closely with non-governmental organizations.
Another delegate said the new anti-domestic violence law, to take effect in January, was based on the Austrian and Luxembourg models. Under that law, police could issue immediate restraining orders against offenders, place them in custody and establish the physical distance that offenders must maintain from their victims. Restraining orders could be extended for up to one year.
Regarding human trafficking, there were severe penalties for pimping children and asking them for sexual services, the delegate said. A new national strategy was intended to expand penalties for all forms of violence against children. While prostitution was not Government-regulated, and, therefore, neither legal nor illegal, the procurement of prostitutes was punishable by law. A special unit to combat organized crime was staffed by police with particular knowledge of trafficking in humans. It also served to break up any "cosy" arrangements between local police and club owners and/or pimps.
The country representative said most trafficking in the Czech Republic was conducted by Russian- and Bulgarian-speaking gangs, which usually exploited women and children of the same ethnicity and, once inside the country, often teamed up with the Czech mafia. There were no real language barriers to communicating with such groups since many Czech police officers spoke Russian and Bulgarian, but few traffickers -- 12 in 2004 -- had been prosecuted. Vietnamese organized crime was also growing in the country.
Experts sought details on Government plans to boost the participation of women in political and public life; more data on the inclusion of women in high-level diplomatic posts; and quotas set for political parties. They noted the decline in the number of women in the Senate, as well as the absence of sufficient data in certain categories, such as ethnic women in public life. There were also questions about the use of special temporary measures and the Government's attitude towards quotas.
Mr. SAJDA noted that the report only included statistics up to 2003. The Czech Republic had many qualified women as more than 50 per cent of university students were females, as were 11 per cent of the country's ambassadors. Two of the five Deputy Ministers for Labour and Social Affairs were women.
He said the Government hoped that Senate and municipal elections scheduled for September would produce more women officials. The new Parliament would have to decide if the sensitive issue of quotas would be part of proposed changes to the Election Code. The Government wished to promote equal opportunities for women and men and was dealing with deeply rooted stereotypes that were not easy to remove. It was moving step by step and helping to create conditions for women to assume all types of jobs. Quotas were just a part of the solution to expanding women's participation.
Another delegate said that proposed revisions to the Election Code would have used financial incentives, paid by the Government to political parties, so as to encourage the placement of more female candidates on their ballots. That proposal would have to be reconsidered by the new Parliament as it had not been adopted by the previous Government.
Regarding the low representation of Roma women in Parliament, a delegate said the Government had launched a 10-year campaign last year to train more Roma women for political careers. Mr. SAJDA noted that Roma women were not excluded from political life but were simply not participating.
A delegate said the Justice Ministry was dedicated to creating a balance between women and men in decision-making positions.
Experts asked about Czech women in the educational system and the fields of study they selected; Government measures to stop students from dropping out; preferential measures for ethnic-minority or low-income students; and steps to attract girls to non-traditional subjects. One expert, noting that the Government did not collect data on the basis of race, said there was, nevertheless, a need for a system to identify children of ethnic minorities. What measures were in place to pull ethnic minorities into the educational system?
Other concerns focused on benefits for parental leave following the birth of a child; factors behind the low number of women at higher levels of decision-making and within the Justice Ministry; how the Government ensured that the private sector practised gender equality in employment; court verdicts on indirect discrimination in the private sector; the number of men taking parental leave; and studies on the wage gap between women and men.
Mr. SAJDA, noting that the Czech Republic was an old society with a new regime, said that, from the age of six years, boys and girls were provided with equal education and treatment. Czech law in that area applied to both the private and public sectors. Several thousand fathers remained at home on parental leave.
Another delegate said the Czech Republic did not distinguish on the grounds of sex and its laws were valid through all levels of the educational system. A new law aimed at socially disadvantaged children, such as those from the Roma community, had created programmes to help them gain access to education at all levels, from pre-kindergarten, through secondary school to higher education.
She said she had no statistics on the school dropout rate, but they were not believed to be severe. Young Czechs had a tendency to select studies chosen during previous years, but that attitude was changing and more girls were selecting non-traditional fields of study. Boys tended to choose the natural and technical sciences as girls opted for careers in cultural and health sectors. To change that trend required a long-term process.
Mr. SAJDA said the Government was teaching students, as well as teachers, to break through sexual stereotypes. Concerning maternity leave, another delegate said a woman was entitled to 28 weeks of maternity leave, as well as a maternity allowance. That leave could not begin before six weeks prior to the birth. A man could draw the maternity allowance, instead of the woman, for up to 20 weeks and, after the leave, parents were entitled to leave lasting until the child was four years old. Employers must reserve the workplace position for the parent until the child's fourth year, but the allowance could be drawn only through the third year. The number of fathers taking parental leave was increasing.
Another delegate said that a Government programme initiated three years ago had helped women set up their own small businesses. It provided information and helped women returning to the workforce to gain the social skills required to start a business.
Mr. SAJDA said women held about 50 per cent of the top managing positions in ministries. A top position would be, for example, director of a department. Another delegate said there were no available statistics on court cases regarding indirect discrimination in the private sector.
Experts asked whether men who impregnated underage girls were prosecuted, if Government agencies had set goals and timetables for placing women in positions with greater decision-making powers in the labour market, and whether employers or the Government paid employees' maternity benefits and parental leave. Others asked if the Government was funding domestic violence shelters, if the new anti-domestic violence law would be in compliance with the Committee's general recommendation number 19, and whether the definition of rape covered only the use of force or lack of consent as well.
A country representative said rape was defined as any type of involuntary sexual situation involving the use of force.
Another delegate said health insurance covered maternity benefits while social security covered parental leave. Under a special provision of the Penal Code, sex with a minor under 15 years of age was punishable by law. Also, the teenage pregnancy rate was dropping, and most teenage girls were impregnated by teenage boys.
Mr. SAJDA said municipal governments were independent and the Federal Government could not dictate their specific equal-opportunity programmes. However, the Employment Act required the public sector to implement equal opportunity strategies.
Turning to articles 12 through 14 on health, economic and social benefits and rural women, experts asked if there were plans to clarify laws on voluntary sterilization, whether the Government had evaluated the impact of its most recent national action plan on HIV/AIDS, if disclosure of a person's HIV/AIDS status to his or her partner was mandatory and if antiretroviral drugs were freely available to pregnant women in order to prevent mother-to-child transmission. They also requested statistics on infection rates.
An expert also asked for information on the unemployment rate in rural areas and initiatives to improve the rate for rural and Roma women, including continued education programmes.
Experts sought information on possible Government plans to set up a user-friendly family court; how the contribution of spouses working within the home was assessed during divorce proceedings; how the law protected children during divorce; and the legal marriage age.
A delegate said the Government's national action plan on health -- "Health for the 21st Century" -- discussed the problem of HIV and methods to prevent communicable diseases, including sexually transmitted diseases. It also dealt with drug addiction and included targets to reduce illicit drug use. The country had special clinics to help pregnant drug users.
One of the provisions of a pending health-care bill would clarify the guidelines on informed consent in cases of voluntary sterilization, another delegate said. The bill had been stalled in several Parliamentary committees, not because of the provision on voluntary sterilization, but rather because the new guidelines had been developed in consultation with the Governing Council on Human Rights and an Ombudsman report. That action had been taken after reports by non-governmental organizations had indicated that cases of sterilization had occurred without proper consent.
Mr. SAJDA said the country of 10 million people did not have vast differences between infrastructure found in cities and that of rural areas. Computer usage was prevalent in rural areas as there were computer cafés throughout the Czech Republic. The Roma population was concentrated in urban areas. Any higher unemployment rates in villages were attributable to the fact that people usually lived in their own homes and kept gardens for fruit, vegetables and basic foods. They did not have the same motivation to seek employment as urban dwellers.
Another delegate said divorce proceedings were codified in codes that handled everything from custody of children to alimony. Local district courts handled family issues for which there were specialized judges. When a marriage was dissolved, common property was usually divided equally between the two spouses and, in most cases, the woman retained custody of the children. The legal age for marriage was 18 years of age, although a court could allow marriage at age 16 under exceptional circumstances.
Asked for clarification regarding what constituted marital rape, a delegate said Czech law defined rape as a sexual act entailing violence, the threat of violence, or a victim's disability. It was up to a judge to determine the existence of a threat of violence. The 2001 amendment to the rape law had expanded the definition of rape from vaginal penetration to all forms of sexual activity.
Committee Chairperson HANNA BEATE SCHÖPP-SCHILLING thanked the Czech delegation for their extensive answers and said the Committee would issue a number of recommendations. The delegation should be aware that their country's fourth report was due this year and follow the new reporting guidelines adopted this summer.
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