13 July 2005
Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee Voices Concern about Inequalities among Ethnic Groups, as It Takes up Israel’s Report
Noting Israel’s Passage of New Laws to Empower Women, Committee Members Say More Effort Needed to Combat Domestic Violence
NEW YORK, 6 July (UN Headquarters) -- While Israel had passed several new laws and had taken other important steps to empower women, significant effort was still needed to address inequalities among the country’s ethnic groups, combat violence against women, and guarantee equal political representation, members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women stressed today as they considered Israel’s third report.
Acting in their personal capacities, the Committee’s 23 expert members monitor compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, often referred to as an “international bill of rights for women”.
According to Israel’s report, which was introduced by Shavit Matias, Deputy Attorney General of the Israeli Ministry of Justice, the country had passed impressive new legislation targeting violence and sexual offences. The 1998 Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law made sexual harassment both a criminal and civil offence; the 1998 amendment to the Penal Law laid down a minimum punishment for those convicted of rape, indecent acts and sex crimes against family members; and the 2001 Victims of Offences Rights Law granted a long list of rights to victims.
Such laws may exist in theory, but experts expressed grave concern about implementation of the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, questioning whether real equality existed between Jewish and non-Jewish women in Israel. Several underscored the need for more adequate measures to eliminate discrimination for such women in the areas of education, employment and participation in the country’s political life.
Others lamented conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where Palestinian women –- for security concerns -- were treated like second-class citizens, often losing their houses and living without water or electricity. One expert noted that 254 female judges in Israel were Jewish, but there were only 5 Palestinian female judges. Moreover, some 64.4 per cent of Israel’s civil servants were Jewish, but less than 2 per cent were Palestinian. Was that because of security concerns? Would the Palestinian female judges blow up the courts?
Several experts urged Israel to drop its reservations to articles 7(b) and 16 of the Convention, reservations which the country attributed to the “very fabric of Israeli society, comprised of many religions, each with varying degrees of autonomy with regards to certain religious practices”. Israel was not the only country where different religions lived side by side, and such reasoning failed to warrant non-compliance with the Convention, the experts emphasized.
[Article 7(b) relates to women’s equitable participation in government policy, public office, and public functions at all levels of government, while article 16 refers to gender equality in all matters relating to marriage and family relations.]
Responding to those and other concerns about the situation of Palestinian women, Shavit Matias, Deputy Attorney General of the Israeli Ministry of Justice, who had introduced the country’s report, said that jurisdiction of the Convention extended only to Israel. Most articles in the Convention were under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, which had been receiving almost $1 billion a year from the international community for health, education and other sectors. Israel had no control over what they did, for example, within their educational system.
Regarding Israel’s reservation for article 16 concerning personal law, a member of the Israeli delegation said the country could not change its law in that field due to its political structure. Religious law included some discrimination against women, and legislation had been introduced to make that less problematic, especially for marriage and divorce.
Speakers also focused on Israeli efforts to address violence against women, with one expert highlighting a recent study of 1,000 domestic violence cases, in which only 14.5 per cent of suspects had been put to trial, and 6 per cent convicted. Others noted that the country had 48 shelters for victims of violence, but only two served Arab women. Experts also noted that about 3,000 to 5,000 women per year were trafficked into the country to work as prostitutes, pointing to serious violations of those women’s rights, including rape and debt bondage.
Addressing sexual harassment cases, an Israeli representative said 188 such investigations had been opened, and 141 closed due to lack of evidence or knowledge of the offender since the last report. Stressing that such complaints were immediately addressed by the police, she said that only about 50 per cent of files were investigated in 1995, while this year 93 per cent were. As for conviction, it was not always possible to prove cases of sexual violence beyond a reasonable doubt.
On trafficking, Israeli representatives agreed that the country was a trafficking destination for several countries, including Uzbekistan and the Republic of Moldova, emphasizing that the country had made significant efforts to prevent trafficking in people and prosecute and convict those guilty of the crime. Adding that holding a person in bondage was prohibited under Israel’s law, one expert stressed that Israel had made every effort to prevent trafficking in persons for prostitution, to protect victims of trafficking and prosecute the perpetrators.
On political representation for women, experts agreed that progress had been made to ensure gender equality, but that there were still inequalities between men
and women. The representation of women within the higher ranks of the civil service was far from adequate, and their rate of success remained low. Another expert noted that 28 seats in the Knesset were occupied by religious parties, which were “almost by definition” closed to women.
Ms. Matias responded that women’s representation in Israeli political life had progressed in all fields, although a gap still existed between males and females in certain areas. There were now 18 female members in Israeli Parliament (the Knesset), making up 15 per cent of its members -- the highest rate ever. A woman served as Deputy Knesset Speaker, four as heads of Knesset Committees and two as subcommittee heads. In Government, three women served as ministers in the Ministries of Justice, Education and Communications, while four women served as deputy ministers.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 7 July, to consider the combined initial, second and third reports of Benin.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to consider the third periodic report from Israel (CEDAW/C/ISR/3), which covers compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women since the country’s combined initial and second report in 1997. The report reviews the situation of women in such areas as legislation, violence against women, political representation, education, employment, poverty, and rural women.
As for legislation, Israel has passed several new laws targeting violence and sexual offences, including the 1998 Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law making sexual harassment both a criminal and civil offence. In addition, the 1998 amendment to the Penal Law lays down a minimum punishment for those convicted of rape, indecent acts and sex crimes against family members, while the 2001 Victims of Offences Rights Law grants a long list of rights to victims.
According to the report, the JDC-Brookdale Institute 2000 survey shows that 2 per cent of adult women (34,000) in the country have been victims of rape, 4 per cent (68,000) of sexual violence, and 8 per cent (136,000) of physical violence. Approximately 200,000 women (11 per cent of the adult population of women) have been victims of domestic violence at least once by their spouse, and about 67,000 (4 per cent of the adult population of women) have been victims of domestic violence during the year prior to the survey.
The report quotes a 1998 study showing a 61 per cent increase in initiation of criminal proceedings against offenders of sexual crimes from 1995-98, from 50 per cent of all complaints in 1995 to over 78 per cent of all complaints in 1998. However, out of 1000 cases analysed, only 14.5 per cent of suspects were actually put to trial, only 6 per cent were convicted, and only 1.2 per cent of the total was sent to jail. The study further revealed that only 57 per cent of police workers surveyed for the research stated they were well versed with laws in this area, and 84 per cent were interested in obtaining more information.
Among leading causes for non-satisfactory police handling of spousal violence were lack of knowledge of relevant laws and regulations, and overall neglect in dealing with cases. No victims’ testimonies were found in 6 per cent of cases, and in 61 per cent no certification of the complaint was filed. More alarming is the partial legitimization towards wife battery, with some 7.7 per cent of police personnel agreeing that “sometimes the woman deserved to be beaten”, 9.3 believing that “a man is allowed to beat his wife only if she cheats on him”, 17 per cent believing that “a woman who keeps quiet, will forestall beatings from herself”, and 26 per cent believing that “sometimes, the woman causes the man to beat her”.
Looking at political life, the report notes that most women succeeding in Israeli politics have families and children -- 94 per cent elected in the 1998 local elections had children, and 82 per cent were married. As for representation, 14 women (11.6 per cent of its members), including for the first time an Arab woman, were elected to the Knesset in 1999. In the 1996-99 cabinet, only one of 18 ministers was a woman, and three women held the position of general-direction of a government ministry. The number of women judges continues to increase, with 200 female judges out of a total 459 judges in office in January 2001, while women serving in the political section of the foreign service’s diplomatic wing came to 20 per cent in 2000.
Turning to employment, the report quotes the Central Bureau of Statistics in noting that 7.9 per cent of all working men were managers in 1998, but only 2.9 per cent of women. According to a 1997 Forum of Women Managers in Industry study, some 45 per cent of industries do not employ women in managerial positions at all, 34 per cent employ only one, 16 per cent employ between two and four, and only 5 per cent employ more than four.
Salary gaps between men and women, according to the report, continue to characterize the Israeli labour market, although to a somewhat lesser extent. Female employees’ average monthly income in 1998 was about 61 per cent of their male counterparts, compared to 58 per cent in 1992-93. Close inspection of the data reveals a large gap in the average income per hour as well, which was 1.21 times higher for men, a slight decrease from the 1.25 index in 1992-93.
The number of Arab women in the labour force remains low, although it is slowly rising, with the proportion of employed Israeli Arab women among all Israeli Arab workers increasing from 21 per cent in 1995 to 24 per cent in 1999. Low unemployment among Arab women is mainly due to the traditional attitudes on women’s role, and lack of support from husbands and families. Moreover, 90 per cent of small workplaces are far from Arab settlements and services for working women, such as transportation, day care, and kindergartens, are lacking.
As for women’s health, significant steps have been taken to improve women’s health care, such as placing it on the national agenda, appointing a counsellor to the Minister of Health on women’s issues, and establishing a National Council on Women’s Health, but many women’s health needs and concerns remain unanswered, and gaps on the relative situation of men and women in health indicators -- to the detriment of women -- are still found.
Only 8 per cent of Arab women are treated by female doctors, the report notes, compared to 49 per cent of Jewish women. About 22 per cent of Arab women feel uncomfortable talking to their family doctors about health issues, generally express a relatively low level of appreciation for their doctors, and visit them less often than Jewish women.
On poverty, the report states that the majority of single-parent families are headed by women, and poverty among single-parent families is much higher than within general society. In 1997, 28.5 per cent of single-parent families were below the poverty line, compared to 16.5 per cent of two-parent families, marking an increase from 25.3 per cent in 1996. The incidence of poverty among children of single-parent families is even higher at 35.5 per cent in 1997, an increase from 28.4 per cent in 1996.
As for rural women, the report notes that Bedouin women in the Negev suffer from low education rates, with 6 out of 10 dropping out of school and only 2 per 1,000 gaining university degrees. Since most parents cannot afford academic studies, programmes to encourage Bedouin women to continue their studies have been developed, and the number of Bedouin women graduates from Ben Gurion University is increasing annually from one graduate in 1977 to 18 in 1998.
Bedouin women experience high unemployment, with almost six times the national rate on income support benefits, and women’s salaries are only 50 per cent of an Israeli female employee. Infant mortality is high, with 12.1 deaths per 1,000 in 1996, compared to 4.5 among the Negev’s Jewish population, although infant and children immunization has been increasing from year to year. As for Bedouin women’s health in general, a recent survey has revealed higher rates of repetitive unitary infections, anaemia, respiratory disorders, and higher rates of family violence.
With respect to Ethiopian women, the report notes that the majority of Ethiopian Jews received no schooling in Ethiopia, and most over 18 have no formal education. Younger women participate in various educational institutions, although their dropout rate is higher than among the Israel population. Female immigrants are less aware of contraceptives and pregnancy tests, as well as preventive testing such as breast cancer detection. Further, due to secrecy on issues concerning sexually transmitted disease, they are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
Presentation of Report by Israel
SHAVIT MATIAS, Deputy Attorney General, Ministry of Justice, Israel, said that Israel had taken a wide range of measures to promote gender equality and abolish discrimination against women, using affirmative action when change was slow.
Israeli courts, led by the Supreme Court, had continued to play a vital role in anchoring women’s rights and promoting women throughout Israeli society. The Government had also taken measures to assist in eliminating discrimination against women, establishing educational programmes on affirmative action for women, and introducing a special programme to integrate single parents into the labour market, granting its participants incentives designed to increase their income.
Advancing gender equality in the country required the combined efforts of all relevant bodies, including the legislative, judicial and executive branches of Government, as well as civil society. The judicial, law enforcement and welfare authorities had all taken serious steps to combat trafficking in women. In 2000, the legislature had amended the Penal Code to include a specific prohibition against trafficking in persons for the purpose of prostitution, with a maximum punishment of 16 years imprisonment, or 20 years when the victim was a child. At the executive level, police efforts to enforce and prosecute traffickers had been steadily rising, and the judiciary had been handing down increasingly more severe sentences. At the welfare level, commitment to alleviate the suffering of trafficked women had led to the establishment of a shelter extending medical and psychosocial treatment. Victims were also provided with free legal aid to pursue civil suits against traffickers, as well as assistance to return to their countries of origin.
She then turned to specific concerns the Committee had raised in the past about gender equality in Israeli society.
Beginning with the unequal distribution of women and men in senior positions of the country’s armed forces, she said more positions had been opening to women over the past decade, accompanied by changes in attitudes and norms on women’s role in the military. That had led to a growing number of female soldiers in prestigious positions and a smaller number in low-ranking, administrative positions. As of 2004, 81 per cent of all positions in the military were open to women, compared to only 56 per cent two decades ago. Female officers made up 26 per cent of officers in the regular forces and 18 per cent of the career service, and there had been a dramatic increase in the number of female officers in field positions in recent years.
As for the country’s overall plan to implement the Convention and Beijing Platform for Action, she noted that the 1998 Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women Law made recommendations to the Government on policies designed to advance the status of women, promote gender equality, eliminate discrimination against women and prevent domestic violence targeted against women. One of the Authority’s main functions was to serve as a coordinator between governmental and non-governmental actors, overseeing their operation, composing overall plans and policies, and processing women’s complaints. The Knesset Committee on the Status of Women had also played a pivotal role as a focal point for women’s issues, serving as an important public forum where concerns were examined, discussed and treated.
Regarding the low number of women in political decision-making, she said women’s representation in Israeli political life had progressed in all fields, although a gap still existed between male and female in certain areas. There were now 18 female members in Israeli Parliament (the Knesset), making up 15 per cent of its members -- the highest rate ever. A woman served as Deputy Knesset Speaker, four as heads of Knesset Committees and two as subcommittee heads. In Government, three women served as ministers in the Ministries of Justice, Education and Communications, while four women served as deputy ministers.
As for the large number of advertisements for sex services in daily newspapers, she said that had been addressed by an amendment to the Penal Law in 1998, prohibiting the advertisement of prostitution. In 2005, the Tel Aviv Magistrates Court had convicted the head of a newspaper network, the director of the newspaper and the director of the newspaper’s advertisement section of violating that prohibition.
With respect to the gap in numbers between Arab and Jewish schools, and the higher dropout rate among Arab and Bedouin young women, she noted that the State had taken steps to increase the percentage of students in the Bedouin sector taking matriculation exams (from 19.7 per cent in 1998 to 53.8 per cent in 2002), and a rise in the percentage of students entitled to a baccalaureate (from 15.5 per cent in 1998 to 42.8 per cent in 2002). As for higher education, there were currently more Bedouin women studying for their bachelor’s degree than men, and there were three colleges in Be’er Sheva where the majority of students were Bedouins. Moreover, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport granted higher education scholarships to Bedouin students, mostly women, and had taken steps to increase attendance and prevent dropouts in all sectors.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
As the Committee began its detailed consideration of Israel’s report, several experts referred to the Committee’s previous concluding comment that “the Government of Israel should ensure that the Convention was implemented throughout the territory under its jurisdiction” and recommended that the country remove its reservations to the Convention.
One of the Committee’s members who expressed concern about the implementation of the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territories was Silvia Pimentel, an expert from Brazil, who questioned the existence of real equality between Jewish and non-Jewish women in Israel, noting that specific vulnerabilities of Palestinian women were not being taken into account.
ZOU XIAOQIAO, an expert from China, asked what measures had been taken to eliminate discrimination against Arab and Palestinian women in such areas as education, employment and participation in the country’s political life.
HEISOO SHIN, an expert from the Republic of Korea, said that in its answers to the questions posed by the pre-session working group, the Government had provided explanations that the Convention did not apply “beyond its territory, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, for several reasons, ranging from legal considerations to practical reality”. Such a situation was not satisfactory. She was worried that it had never been the intention of the Israeli Government to implement the Convention in the Occupied Territories. Also, at the time of previous examination of Israel’s reports in 1997, that fact had never been mentioned. The activities of the Israeli military were affecting the lives of Palestinian women in every sense, and she hoped that situation would change.
FRANÇOISE GASPARD, an expert from France, focused on the country’s reservations to articles 7(b) and 16 of the Convention. According to Israel’s responses to the questions, those reservations were “related to the very fabric of the Israeli society, comprised of many religions, each with varying degrees of autonomy with regards to certain religious practices”. However, Israel was not the only country where people of different religions lived side by side. That did not warrant non-compliance with the Convention. She wondered if there was an ongoing debate in the country to make the laws more secular and ensure that rights of all women were finally equal to the rights of men. The Convention developed the premise that without civil equality it was difficult to achieve de facto equality. She also wondered about the status of the country’s mechanism for advancement of the rights of women in the administrative hierarchy.
Ms. SHIN agreed that the issue of reservations was critical. The Beijing Programme for Action also recommended lifting reservations to the Convention. She hoped discussions on the lifting of reservations would start soon.
ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, asked about the role that the Authority for the Advancement of Women had played in preparing the country’s report and monitoring the implementation of the Convention.
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, an expert from Portugal, had several questions regarding violence against women in Israel, including the estimated number of cases and the danger of pressure on women to withdraw complaints. As for trafficking in women, according to a report of the Parliamentary committee on trafficking, about 3,000 to 5,000 women were brought into the country annually to take part in prostitution. Other sources spoke of serious violations of those women’s rights, including rape and debt bondage. Some information also referred to commercial exploitation of women. For example, there were reports of Ethiopian women being trafficked to serve as slaves in families.
Regarding violence against women, Ms. SHIN referred to a recent study of 1,000 domestic violence cases, according to which, only 14.5 per cent of suspects had been put to trial and only 6 per cent convicted. She also took note of recent legislative change in granting pardon to offenders. SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, wanted to know what measures were being taken to address harassment in the workplace.
DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, an expert from Croatia, referred to the Committee’s previous recommendation that rights to equality and prohibition of both direct and indirect discrimination be reflected in national laws. She wanted to know what specific provisions had been introduced in Israel’s domestic legislation to reflect the Convention’s definition of discrimination against women.
On the same issue, NAELA MOHAMED GABR, expert from Egypt, insisted that the definition of discrimination was very important, for it was the basis for the implementation of the Convention by a State party. Regretfully, looking at all the activities related to education, health care and employment, she found discrimination against women. The country’s report referred to some measures undertaken by certain administrative organs, but those were not sufficient.
The Israeli delegation consisted of Shavit Matias, Deputy Attorney General; Dana Briskman Gomelski of the State Attorney’s Office; Hila Tene of the Ministry of Justice; Hana Vinnik of the Ministry of Education; Nurit Ziv, Superintendent of the Israeli police and a member of the Authority for the Advancement of Women; and Ada Pliel-Trossman, of the Ministry for Social Affairs.
Responding to the question on gender equality in the country’s laws, a representative said Israeli law did not actually define equality as a right, although it did refer to the right to dignity, which was interpreted by the Supreme Count as the right of equality. That right included the notions of gender equality and the prohibition of gender-based discrimination. The Israeli Knesset Committee for Law, Justice and the Constitution was working on drafts for laws that would include the right of equality, but it was presently impossible to know how those would develop, and when or if they would be enacted.
Regarding Israel’s reservation for article 16 concerning personal law, a representative said Israel could not change its law in the personal field, due to the country’s political structure. Religious law included some discrimination against women, and legislation had been introduced to make that less problematic, especially for marriage and divorce.
As for the country’s definition of trafficking, another representative said it focused on trafficking for prostitution, but bills were in progress attempting to broaden that definition, which could be enacted within the next few months.
Addressing the question on sexual harassment cases, a representative said victims were generally interviewed by a female police investigator. The complainant was informed of that right, and every effort was made to accommodate her choice. During the investigation, the questioner would stick to relevant points with due respect to privacy and dignity. Since the last report, some 188 investigations had been opened, and 141 closed due to lack of evidence or knowledge of the offender. In some cases, sexual harassment or violence had occurred in a public place, and the woman had no knowledge of the offender.
Regarding trafficking in women, a representative said that legal services allowed women to institute various proceedings, including compensation suits, during their stay in the shelter. The shelter was operated by a non-profit association, and a steering committee made decisions on policy and practice. The Ministry of Public Security was responsible for security, protecting the women and accompanying them to court. Most women were between 18 and 27 years of age. The facility was open, and women could come and go at will.
The shelter’s main aim, she said, was to help women deal with trauma in a secure environment that would promote healing. Since women mainly resorted to prostitution due to poverty in their countries of origin, the shelter offered training for various types of employment, and assisted women to obtain work permits and jobs. The shelters were run by non-governmental organizations.
Regarding police pressure on trafficked women to sign confessions, a representative said they exerted no such pressure. As for discrepancies between police and Knesset Committee reports, she said the police only submitted reports of women known to be trafficked, while the Knesset also had input from non-governmental organizations. Non-governmental organizations had provided information for the country’s report, and had contributed to follow-up.
Regarding the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, that body had become involved with the financial empowerment of women, and had published a 36-page booklet on women’s rights in the workplace. It had also circulated a leaflet on assistance in cases of domestic violence, and had collaborated with women in other organizations. Further, it had organized seminars and conferences to widen the participation of women in Israel, promoted issues related to women’s health, and made special efforts to improve conditions for women in the Arab sector. It also received regular appeals from women and forwarded them to the relevant authorities.
Responding to the question on the applicability of the Convention to the West Bank and Gaza, she said the jurisdiction of the Convention extended only to Israel. Most articles in the Convention were under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, which had been receiving almost $1 billion a year from the international community for health, education and other sectors. Israel had no control over what they did, for example, within their educational system.
She added that all parties should be pleased about the disengagement plan to evacuate all Israelis from the Gaza strip, which would give the Palestinians full control over the area. A few months from now, they would see no Israelis in the Gaza. Hopefully, their quality of life would substantially improve, and the new Palestinian leadership would direct funds from the international community to the proper areas.
Regarding another question on domestic violence, a representative said such complaints were to be immediately addressed by the police. In 1995, only about 50 per cent of files were investigated, while this year 93 per cent were investigated. Sometimes, it was difficult to prove what had happened beyond a reasonable doubt.
MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, an expert from Malaysia, returned to the issue of jurisdiction in the Occupied Territories. She was pleased to hear that the State had not given up all its responsibilities for the implementation of the Convention in the Occupied Territories, but that was in contrast with the written answers provided by the Government, according to which the law of armed conflict was the only applicable regime there.
Indeed, the responsibility had been handed over to the Palestinian Authority by a bilateral agreement, she continued. However, it was the State of Israel that was the party to the Convention, so it still needed to answer for what happened in the Gaza strip and the West Bank. What did the bilateral agreement say about the obligations of the Palestinian Authority and how did the Government of Israel monitor the implementation of the Convention in the Occupied Territories? From a humanitarian perspective, she wanted to know about the impact of the restrictions of the movement of people across boundaries on the Palestinian women.
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, an expert from the Netherlands, focused on the issue of direct applicability of the Women’s Convention within the State of Israel, which was a typical example of a dualistic legal system. One of the dangers of such a system was that the Convention could become invisible. It was very important for all State organs to be fully aware of the country’s obligations under the Convention. Was any parliamentary body monitoring the inclusion of the Convention’s provisions in the domestic law? Were judges allowed to interpret the national legislation in the light of the Convention? Were there any training courses for the judiciary in that respect?
He added that one way of making the Convention more visible would be ratification of the Optional Protocol. What were the reasons why the Government was not yet prepared to do so? As an international lawyer, he also regretted the Government’s position regarding the implementation of the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, an expert from Ghana, said that the report described a number of legal and administrative measures to combat violence against women. However, those efforts needed to be backed by the will to implement them. Out of the country’s 48 shelters for victims of violence, only two served Arab women. According to the information she had, the only State-funded shelter for those women had been closed, and she wanted to know about the reasons for the closing. Had alternative options been made available to the victims? What was the basis for allocating resources to shelters to ensure that support was provided to both Jewish and Arab women?
PRAMILA PATTEN, an expert from Mauritius, asked about the actual impact and the application of the 2000 amendment to women’s equal rights law, including in the area of domestic violence. Also, what measures were being envisaged to accelerate de facto equality and improve adequate representation of women? Her other questions related to the role of religious courts and the system of legal aid in Israel.
HUGUETTE BOKPE GNACADJA, an expert from Benin, congratulated the country for its efforts to improve gender equality. However, it was the State of Israel that was responsible for the implementation of the Convention. Despite the delegation’s description of the place that the Convention occupied in the domestic legislation, she wanted to know how it was applied. She also asked about the work of the Knesset commission on the constitution and the remaining discriminatory provisions in domestic law.
Turning to the issue of reservations, she added that Israel was not the only country that had a very complex community texture, and it was important to remember that such differences could in no way justify the failure to implement the Convention.
KRISZTINA MORVAI, an expert from Hungary, said that it was obvious that Palestinian women had a second-class status compared with Jewish women in Israel. The Government justified such treatment of Palestinian women without Israeli citizenship with security reasons, but what about almost 20 per cent of Israel’s citizens who were Palestinian? What was the justification for treating them as second-class citizens? Palestinians’ houses were demolished, and often they had no water or electricity, while several blocks away, Jewish families were provided with both.
She also wondered about the statistics available to the Committee, according to which there were 254 Jewish female judges in Israel and only 5 Palestinian female judges. Some 64.4 per cent of Israel’s civil servants were Jewish, and less than 2 per cent Palestinian. Was that because of security concerns? Would the Palestinian female judges blow up the courts, or was that a double standard? Or did the Government think that Palestinian women were not talented or “just not good enough”?
MAGALYS AROCHA DOMÍNGUEZ, an expert from Cuba, also expressed concern over the situation of the Palestinian women. Occupation, demolitions, movement restrictions were all part of the occupation that had affected the lives of more than two generations of Palestinian women. Other human rights treaty bodies had expressed concern in that regard.
GLENDA P. SIMMS, an expert from Jamaica, returned to the issue of trafficking in women, saying that the Government seemed to focus on the “push factor” for cross-border trafficking in Russian and Ethiopian women, for example, but it was also necessary to look at the “pull factor” from Israel itself. There was also an issue of the slave-like position that household workers were placed in. It was important to educated women about their rights and put offenders in jail.
The Committee’s Chairperson, ROSARIO G. MANALO, an expert from the Philippines, asked if it was true that trafficked sex workers were not treated as victims, but were prosecuted as criminals for having violated the country’s entry laws. She also wondered what was being done to protect sex workers.
A representative agreed that Palestinian women deserved a better life, but the question was one of who was responsible. The Palestinians now had a parliament, ministries and funding, and clearly did not want Israel involved in their life, judicial proceedings, health or education. Responsibility for those concerns lay with the Palestinian Authority. Noting that the discussion had become a political one, she stressed that it should stick to articles of the Convention.
Regarding shelters for victims of violence, another representative said they were operated by non-governmental organizations. Women residing in shelters received legal aid and therapy, were informed about their rights, and given guidance and assistance. There was also a national hotline for battered women and children run by the Ministry of Social Affairs, which employed professionals, as well as volunteers. Currently, some 11 centres were in operation -- two for Arabs -- but all shelters received Arab women. The Government provided equal care for young women in distress, regardless of their religion.
With respect to police training, a representative said they attended a weekly preparatory course, which provided theoretical, as well as practical, knowledge about domestic violence, as well as seminars on domestic violence and sex offences workshops. The police had conducted a survey showing considerable improvement to police operations in the area in general, as well as in domestic violence and awareness of the rights of victims.
Regarding trafficking in women, it was said that Israel was a country of destination for trafficking from several countries, including Uzbekistan and the Republic of Moldova. Holding a person in bondage was prohibited under Israel’s law. Seminars for judges were held on the provisions of human rights conventions, including the women’s Convention, as well as such gender-related issues as trafficking in women, domestic violence and abuse. To another question, she said that Israel had no intention of ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention at this time.
A member of the delegation said that Israel had undertaken significant efforts to prevent trafficking in people and prosecute and convict those guilty of that crime. The issue was a matter of priority for the Government. In the past year, Israel had undertaken increased efforts to prevent trafficking in persons for prostitution, to protect victims of trafficking and to prosecute the perpetrators.
Regarding representation of Arab women, she said that there were currently three Christian female judges and one Muslim female judge in the Magistrate Courts. Six out of the Supreme Court’s 15 judges were female. In the Ministry of Justice, there were two Christian and two Muslim public defenders, one Christian and one Druze attorney and a Muslim legal intern. Over 200 women had been elected to the local authorities’ councils in the last elections -- a total of 10.3 per cent of the electives. Overall, women were chosen to councils in 87 out of the 158 local authorities. Thus, while women’s percentage in Jewish local authorities’ councils reached 14.2 per cent, Arab women comprised only 0.5 per cent. The Knesset Committee for the advancement of women was seeking ways to increase women’s participation.
As the Committee turned to its next round of questions, VICTORIA POPESCU, expert from Romania, focused on the political representation of women, which she called an important issue for women’s empowerment. Much progress had been achieved in Israel in that regard, yet there were still certain gaps between women and men. She requested clarification regarding those gaps and asked about the membership in the Knesset. Another point that was very important was the use of special temporary measures, and she was very thankful for the information provided by the delegation in that regard.
She was concerned about the efficiency of the application of recent amendments, however. For example, according to the report, it was still not clear how the civil service would adapt to the recent amendment of a Civil Service Law. The representation of women within the higher ranks of the civil service was far from adequate and the rate of their success in civil service tenders remained low. She also wanted to know if the political parties implemented quotas to increase women’s participation.
Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ said that according to the information provided by the delegation, 28 seats in the Knesset were occupied by religious parties. Those were “almost by definition” closed to women. She wanted to receive more information in that regard and asked if the country intended to initiate special temporary measures to increase women’s participation in the Knesset. Also, what was being done to accelerate women’s participation in the diplomatic field?
Ms. GASPARD said that political will was required to eliminate discrimination against women. While there had been an increase in the number of women elected to the Knesset, their percentage still remained low. Was there public financing of political parties in Israel? If there were, parties that did not have a minimum number of candidates of a certain gender could be penalized. What measures had been taken to promote representation of different communities and social groups? Also, stressing the importance of establishing the gender perspective at the local level, she recalled that the law of 2000 had introduced local advisers on the status of women. Was that position obligatory in all communities? Could a man be an adviser on the status of women and gender equality? Was that an elected or appointed position? It was very important to establish the gender perspective at the local level.
Ms. GNACADJA, referring to Palestinian Arab women who were Israeli citizens but married to non-Israeli men from the Occupied Territories or other Arab countries, said they suffered from a depressed economic state because their husbands were unable to work. What measures had been taken to protect the family unit of Palestinian Israeli women married to men from the Occupied Territories or other Arab countries?
Ms. MATIASA said the delegation did not have answers to questions about statistics and data, but would send them to the Committee as soon as possible.
Another representative said there had been a growing number of Palestinian women carrying Israeli identity cards who were abusing their legal status since the outbreak of conflict in 2000. To prevent such abuses, the Government had decided to temporary halt granting them legal status, although that decision would not prevent Israeli citizens from uniting with their spouses.
The State had the right to control who entered its territory during a period of armed conflict, when people who came into the country could perform acts of violence, she said. The law on legal status had been invoked for one year in 2000, but had been continually extended and was now due to expire in August of this year. Palestinians had taken advantage of their marriages to Israeli citizens to pass into Israel and commit terrorist acts.
On women’s representation in peace negotiations, a country representative said that a bill had been recently presented to the Knesset, following a survey that showed that the majority of the public wanted women to be more involved in that regard. As to the religious parties, one of them had recently reserved a seat for a woman. As for the number of female ambassadors, the Foreign Ministry was working to increase their number. According to January data, there were 43 advisers in local communities. That was an administrative position.
“The suggestions of quotas were well worth taking home with us”, Ms. MATIAS said. As for another suggestion, a bill had been passed in the Knesset yesterday that envisioned funding incentives for the parties that would introduce quotas for women. However, elections were free and open, and the Government could not influence them to increase the number of women.
Ms. PIMENTEL said that there were gaps in education levels in Israel between Arab and Jewish women. Three times more money was spent on the education of Jewish women, and she wanted to receive information on the funding for Arab students. What measures were being taken to address the high dropout levels among Arab girls? She recognized the efforts to eradicate gender stereotypes in Jewish education. Nevertheless, she wanted to know what was being done to overcome such stereotypes in Arab schools.
Ms. KHAN said that it appeared that discrimination between men and women, as well as between Jewish and non-Jewish women, was quite visible in the field of employment. She asked about the number of women in decision-making positions and the measures to increase that number. A number of non-governmental organization reports also pointed to apparent discrimination against married and pregnant women in the labour market, and she wanted to receive information in that regard. Had any complaints been received under the 1998 law on sexual harassment from Arab and immigrant women?
ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, said that it appeared that there was still a high number of cases of female genital mutilation. No significant change had taken place in that area since the country’s second report. What was the current situation in that regard?
Ms. SIMMS spoke about Bedouin women and immigrants from Ethiopia, who were mentioned in the report as two of the country’s rural groups. In many cultures, the oppression of women was firmly rooted in theology, and culture could not be used as an excuse for discrimination. If primary education was compulsory, then the Government had to insist that Bedouins send their children to school. If immigrants did not send their children to school, it was the role of the State to rectify that situation. There had to be a value system. Of course, the efforts to achieve gender equality would meet with opposition, but it was necessary to try.
Ms. GABR said that, according to the country’s responses, Israel’s responsibilities for the advancement of women stopped at its frontiers. However, Arabs comprised 20 per cent of the population, and the State should guarantee all their privileges. She wanted to know about the impact of migrant laws on female Arab migrant workers. Her other questions related to education and training of Arab women to increase their participation in the labour market, as well as poverty among Arab women.
Ms. SHIN commended the Government for notable improvements it had achieved in the area of health. The national health insurance system had been established to cover all women, and most hospitals had advanced neonatal units. The infant mortality rate had been reduced by half, and maternal mortality remained low. However, there were great disparities between Jews and non-Jews in terms of life expectancy and infant mortality. What were the reasons for that gap? What efforts was the Government undertaking to bridge it? Many Palestinian women died or gave birth at checkpoints because of travel restrictions. With recent developments towards more peaceful conflict resolution, what was being done to improve that situation?
Ms. DAIRIAM noted that access to water and health-care facilities were inadequate in the Negev area, where almost half of the Bedouin population lived. Due to forced relocation, Bedouin women who had traditionally played central economic roles had suffered disproportionately. How did Israel monitor the lives of Bedouin and other women in the Negev as compared to Israeli women in such fields of mental health and mother, as well as infant, mortality? How was it analysing obstacles for such women, as well as disparities in education and employment? What measures had been taken to make public services more accessible to them? she asked.
Ms. PATTEN noted that the Israeli report said that Israeli women used credit and bank loans in an equal manner to men, but he was unsure whether that was actually the case, especially among Bedouin and Ethiopian women. How did the Government ensure lack of discrimination in that area? She requested more information on the rights and service access for Bedouin women, and questioned what kind of affirmative action was being planned with respect to employment for Arab and Bedouin women.
Ms. MORVAI, referring to article 14 of the Convention, questioned whether Palestinian or Arab women had the right to participate in the elaboration and implementation of development planning at all levels. Emphasizing that the Government had a responsibility to actively engage Bedouin and Arab women in those strategies, she asked how they were included. How did the Government comply with its obligations to Bedouin and other non-Jewish communities in rural areas?
Ms. AROCHA DOMÍNGUEZ commented on the lack of indicators comparing women by age group and religious and ethnic minorities in rural areas.
Ms. MATIAS said that the question of the Bedouin society was not an easy one. The majority of that population lived in the southern part of the country, in the areas not owned by the Bedouins. It was impossible for any State to let the people live wherever they wanted to. Actually, the Israeli Government dealt with the same issue when dealing with illegal outposts. It was negotiating with the Bedouins to settle the question, proposing to build settlements for them. Of course, for cultural reasons, it was difficult for the Bedouin society to accept that notion.
On the issue of education, Ms. VINNIK said that fair opportunities were being presented to both male and female studies in all groups of society. The main objectives included bridging social gaps and education towards equal opportunities for the population groups with special needs. Changes in the budget system, promotion of self-management, establishment of standards and a core curriculum, provision of resources for the advancement of gender equality were among the measures undertaken. Under the new system, the budget would be allocated not per school, but per student. That would greatly increase the resources granted to the sector with lower economic income.
The Ministry of Education had granted resources to Arab speakers in order to bridge the existing gaps, she said. Since 2000, the country had had in place a five-year plan for training teachers and educational advisers for Arab communities, improvement of programmes and the infrastructure. Long-day learning was being introduced to increase classroom availability. There had been significant decreases in dropout rates among boys and girls, but the greatest change had taken place among Arab females. In the past three decades, the gap between Jewish and non-Jewish females had also been decreasing.
ZOU XIAOQIAO said that the third report had not provided the Committee with information regarding article 15 of the Convention. She wanted to know the reasons for the absence of that information.
Ms. KHAN asked about polygamy and inheritance rights of Muslim women. How did the laws of the Sharia correlate with Israel’s family law? Did Muslim women enjoy the same rights as men in dissolution of marriage? she asked.
Ms. TAN said that the answer that under age marriages took place in closed communities had given her the impression that nothing could be done to remedy the situation. It was important, however, to address that issue. What was the Government doing in that regard? Was the Government considering raising the age of marriage in the country on the whole? she asked.
Ms. GNACADJA noted that, according to the report, the reasons for marriage before the required age had been redefined. Had that been done to broaden or restrict exceptions? How was child custody shared in cases of divorce? She also wondered about the jurisdiction of State and religious courts in cases of divorce, alimony and child custody.
TIZIANA MAIOLO, expert from Italy, asked about the enforcement of family laws and laws prohibiting polygamy in Israel.
Responding to the question on polygamy, an Israeli representative noted that the Knesset had enacted legislation in 2004 stating that people previously married would be considered still married if they continued to cohabit. Bedouin men had been attempting to circumvent the country’s polygamy laws by divorcing their current wives, but continuing to live with them while taking other wives. The phenomenon was being condemned by society, and attempts were being made to eradicate it through education and the advancement of women’s status within Bedouin society.
Another representative noted that hundreds of female minors married in Israel, but many such marriages took place in closed communities and did not come to the knowledge of welfare services. The Government had taken steps to eradicate under age marriages through education and empowerment programmes.
Regarding alimony, if the petition for such support was filed in a religious court, jurisdiction continued in that court. If it was filed in family court, secular laws applied. Israel could not tell Muslims or any other denominations living in Israel how to marry or divorce, although inheritance and other issues were dealt with in secular courts.
In her closing statement, the Committee’s chairperson highlighted the main points of today’s discussion and welcomed all the measures taken by Israel in implementing the Convention. Among the welcome developments, she mentioned the creation of the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, and legislative measures to improve the situation of women. The absence of an explicit guarantee of equality and non-discrimination in the Constitution, however, was a failure to fulfil the country’s obligations under article 2 of the Convention. It was also necessary to define discrimination in accordance with article 1. The instrument should also be incorporated in the country’s domestic laws.
Trafficking had been discussed in detail during today’s meetings, she continued, and while much had been achieved, more needed to be done in that regard. She urged the Government to ratify all relevant international instruments and take additional measures to provide assistance to female victims of trafficking. The minority women, including Palestinian women, needed to be more represented in political life, including at the decision-making level. She also urged Israel to withdraw its reservations to the Convention.
In the area of education, much more remained to be done to eradicate gender stereotypes in books with respect of Arab women and girls. Additional measures in the area of education were needed to address such problems as high dropout rates among Arab and other minority girls. Child support, violence within the family, polygamy and early marriage age were among other issues that required attention. She regretted that the Government had no stated intention to ratify the Optional Protocol.
Returning to this morning’s discussion, she agreed with the head of the delegation that matters should not be politicized for the sake of politicization. However, as in the case of the responsibilities of the State of Israel to fulfil its obligations under the Convention, certain realities could not be ignored. They formed the context for the application of the Convention. With regard to the question of the application of the Convention in the Occupied Territories, it was the view of international human rights law experts, treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice that it did apply. The Committee shared that view, as well.
In concluding remarks, Ms. MATIAS stressed that substantial efforts were being made by Israel to assist women and eradicate discrimination in all ethnic groups. She regretted that the Committee did not have time to hear all the information about the country’s progress that the delegation had wanted to present to it. She also regretted that the delegation had not had the opportunity to address all the questions raised.
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