11 October 2012
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined third and fourth periodic report of Turkmenistan on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Introducing the report, Yazdursun Gurbannazarova, Director of the Turkmen National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights under the President of Turkmenistan, said since independence in 1991 Turkmenistan had headed for systematic reforms in many areas of societal life to create benchmarks for a decent standard of living for all citizens without exception. Laws to support equality were in place and different groups in society were involved in the development and implementation of legislation. Women were involved in education, society and family life without hindrance and work was being done to improve opportunities in employment and education. Health services were also developing as was access to finance. The Family Code introduced this year protected from forced marriage and allowed provisions for divorce.
During the discussion Committee Experts asked about the existence of gender-based non-governmental organizations in the country and their operation, the application of CEDAW recommendations in national law, the extent of consideration of civil rights, the issue of prison overcrowding and the extent of sexual stereotypes. Issues were raised in relation to data collection and reporting, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, reporting and prevention of violence, stigma in divorce, the requirement of a dress code and steps to tackle human trafficking.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Gurbannazarova thanked the Committee and said that all of their constructive suggestions would be scrupulously analyzed and studied, before being put into practice. The strengthening of collaboration with international organizations was a priority for Turkmenistan.
The delegation of Turkmenistan also consisted of representatives of the Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms of the Parliament of Turkmenistan, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Healthcare and Health Industry, and the Permanent Mission of Turkmenistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public on Tuesday, 16 October at 3 p.m. for a joint meeting with the Human Rights Committee. It will then meet in public at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 18 October when it will hold a high-level panel on promoting and protecting women's rights in situations of conflict and post conflict: the case of French-speaking Africa, to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Committee. The public closing of the session will be held on Friday, 19 November at 12 p.m. after the Committee adopts its concluding observations and recommendations for all countries reviewed: Chile, Togo, Equatorial Guinea, the Comoros and Turkmenistan.
The combined third and fourth periodic reports of Turkmenistan can be seen at the following link (CEDAW/C/TKM/3-4).
Presentation of the Report
YAZDURSUN GURBANNAZAROVA, Director of the Turkmen National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights under the President of Turkmenistan, said a focus on women and improvement of women’s status was one of the priorities of the country’s President and the high social status of a Turkmen woman was tied to the democratic fundamentals which had historically been built into Turkmen society. The Government created all conditions required for the free life and productive work of women so that they could receive education and rear their children at the level required today.
Furthermore, the Committee’s previous recommendations such as a consultative mechanism to ensure cooperation in preparing the report had been realised. In addition, a committee had been formed to ensure that the country’s international human rights obligations had been met and implemented and this included a wide spectrum of government and civil society representatives.
The constitutional provision which guaranteed the elimination of discrimination had also been amended to include issues raised by the Committee in previous recommendations. The country also reflected these provisions in their national law, such as legal protection for gender rights and the right to express them. Any gender-based violation of equality entailed prosecution.
Women were able to successfully combine family, social and business roles and were seen in elected and public offices with 25 per cent of the most senior roles in the country held by females. Women were also seen in the judiciary as judges, lawyers and barristers and as representatives at international levels. A high level of education and economic activity among women was seen in all spheres of the economy.
To address the challenges of educating for development and future economic success there had been a reform of the education policy; the amount of time spent in education had increased and new facilities had been provided. Learning materials were also improved and 40 per cent of those entering secondary school in 2011/12 were girls. Thousands of students had also travelled abroad to continue their studies.
On employment, the amount of employed women was increasing, with women prevailing among informal sector employment. Work was being done to improve the employment and training situation in general.
A high level of disease prevention and a significant reduction in the burden of diseases had been seen in the health sector and the updates of the higher education sector had increased the number of highly specialised health specialists. Measures had been implemented to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria and the birth rate, and the number of women giving birth in health facilities had increased.
Women in the rural areas were given equal access with men to special agricultural loans and an establishment of privileges to exempt farmers from taxes had encouraged women to start businesses and improved their quality of life, with 26.0 per cent of women seen involved in entrepreneurship. Government programmes were also in place for infrastructure, industrial and social development to 2020 and hoped to provide living standards as close to those in urban areas as possible for those in rural territory.
The Family Code adopted last year established the right to marry and stated a situation of equal rights in relation to both joining and dissolving the union. Religious marriage did not have any legal significance. The minimum age of marriage was 18 years old.
The measures described were the true confirmation that Turkmenistan was on its road to socio-economic reforms and placed special emphasis on the provision and protection of social, economic and cultural rights of people, including the human rights of women and girls.
Questions by the Experts
An Expert asked about the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and if gender-orientated groups were consulted in forming the report. What requirements were in place with regards to regulations for their funding? No alternative information had been received from NGOs in relation to this report. She also asked about the Women’s Union, supposedly one of the largest NGOs in the country. But did it qualify as an NGO when its membership included those from ministries? It was noted that the head of the delegation was not a government representative and this was unusual.
On data collection, the report lacked statistics in many areas covered by the Convention with regard to the majority of disadvantaged groups in the country. Why was this the case? It was also not clear what constituted the main piece of machinery for developing non-discriminatory policy in the country. What were the appropriate structures? Furthermore, was the Convention directly applicable in the legal system? Were there cases where it had been applied? Why were only civil rights mentioned in relation to Article 20? What about other rights? Was the report sent to Parliament or any committee related to human rights and would the conclusions of this meeting be sent to Parliament?
Another Expert worried that not all rights, such as freedom of assembly were effectively exercised to build a thriving open society. The case of an overcrowded prison in the north of the country was also raised as a concern as was previous information received which suggested a high number of deaths of those incarcerated. On the issue of divorce it was stated that it had been reported that women would often remain with abusive husbands for the fear of losing their social status. Gay women were the victim of deep-rooted sexual stereotypes, it was believed, and the recommendation of decriminalising the act had not been acted on. What was the current situation?
Response by the Delegation
The delegation said the inter-disciplinary committee mentioned played an active role in society and before reports were submitted to United Nations treaty bodies they were also shared with a number of groups in the country, such as, on this occasion, a disability group and a confederation of businesses.
An action plan was currently being compiled to ensure NGO involvement in the implementation of recommendations made to the country on various issues. With regards to registration, there was a special law on this and the Ministry of Justice would review any application based on set criteria. Difficulties in registration did occur, she explained, though only if the organization did not meet the set standards. There was a system of complaints in place, and none had been received.
On foreign financing, such a project was currently underway which provided education on human rights and better information for the population. Further centres were to be opened in the coming months. The independent member of the delegation was attending as she had expressed an interest in offering her own views on the implementation of human rights, and as such was not a representative of the Government.
On the direct implementation of international conventions, a delegate noted the primacy of international law over national legislation. In Turkmenistan courts worked on a monthly basis on how to implement these provisions though it was admitted that no case law existed yet as judges had not encountered problems in this area.
When drafting treaty body reports or dealing with recommendations, the suggested or received text was circulated through parliamentary committees and feedback on the contents was passed to the inter-agency committee for review. For example, recent recommendations with regards to the elimination of torture were passed into law following a suggestion at the international level.
Regarding the women’s camps in Dashoguz, mentioned by an Expert, no specific information was in hand though all international standards were met and the International Committee of the Red Cross had been consulted about its construction. A monitoring committee was set up in 2011 to check on ensuring the observance of the rights of persons in detention and to help them to reintegrate on release.
Divorced women were not disadvantaged in Turkmen society, and were in fact, protected by provisions in law, said a member of the delegation. Society in general was positive towards women that made this decision and sought to support them.
On gender equality in civil rights, the constitution stated that there was a need to protect the inalienable rights of all citizens and these should not be limited. The main thrust of the State’s policy was non-discrimination, re-establishment of women’s rights if they had been eroded, and the prohibition of overt and covert discrimination.
Questions by the Experts
The Experts responded by saying that it had not actually been stated which women’s rights organizations were in place in the country. Also, alternative reports seemed to suggest there was no atmosphere in the country for the building of civil society. Again, which national machinery was responsible for implementing gender-equality policies and overseeing CEDAW recommendations in action? Further, was there a dualist legal system? What were the provisions in relation to political and social rights? What was the current status of the decriminalisation of homosexuality?
Response by the Delegation
The delegation said that the responsible body for putting CEDAW recommendations in place was the Committee on International Obligations which had a plan of action on work to be done at this time. As previously explained all rights were covered in the Constitution. On the question of homosexuality laws, it had not been accepted by the community to rescind these, though they would be looked at again in the future.
Questions by the Experts
An Expert asked about the application in practice of gender equality. There seemed to be a need to promote transparency and openness. In terms of temporary special measures, how would these be stepped up? In employment, change could be accelerated for women, such as improved access to finance.
Regarding complaints, was the Government working to genuinely open up the system and access to justice? Another Expert addressed suggestions that prejudices remained in the country, such that women should be in the home. What was the exact role of the involvement mechanism for women? What was the role of government bodies in supporting this?
The Expert then welcomed the family law introduced recently, but why was there no law specifically addressing violence against women? On the rebuttal by a delegate with regards to the stigma of divorced women, the Expert counter-claimed that reports of this were regularly heard from other sources. Also, would women or girls face punishment for not wearing traditional dress?
Another Expert followed up on a similar point, asking if research was to be done about domestic violence? Were there ideas about promoting communities free from violence? Would statistics be compiled on incidents of violence? It was further mentioned that there was a lack of data in the report, particularly gender-segregated data, which blocked an understanding of implementation.
Information on strong gender stereotypes was seen in both the report and outside sources. However information was lacking about topics such as polygamy which may be connected. What were the “legitimate rights of women” in the quote of the Turkmen President included in the presentation? The dress code of modesty in place seemed to show community control of women, was this the case? What was the logic behind it? Were there cases where women were asked to leave their studies or employment due to contravening the dress code?
Trafficking was a recognised problem for Turkmenistan, yet the report contained no details on this, noted another Expert. Efforts had been taken to tackle the issue, yet more needed to be done on identification of crimes and victim assistance. Were there sufficient resources and gender-sensitive policies? Was it correct that there were certain countries that women could not travel to without a chaperone to try and prevent trafficking? Could this law be repealed in favour of improving national prevention? Another Expert suggested that the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking be invited to visit the country and offer advice.
Response by the Delegation
The delegation said temporary special measures included funding for overseas education, and payments to the widows of World War II servicemen on an annual basis as well as those for women that had finished a period in jail.
On the topic of violence, there was no specific gender-based legislation though this was covered by the criminal code. However, specific training on the issues of gender and domestic violence was given to police, the judiciary, the security services and officials in the regions. Support and help for victims through support centres was also available. A survey on the incidence of violence was to take place later this year. In addition, a plan of action for women’s rights was being prepared which would cover the violence issue.
The number of women approaching the courts for divorces was increasing, showing there were no barriers to dissolving marriage, said a member of the delegation. Further, divorced women were seen in high-level positions which reinforced the lack of discrimination in this regard. In terms of breaking down gender stereotypes, steps were being taken to eliminate the practice of believing that women were less important than men, and the female population was shrugging off the idea that they should remain only in the home and entering the professions successfully.
These changes in social, political and economic life were reflected in laws, such as the provision in retirement for women employed in military organizations. Additionally leave for those raising children had been codified in labour laws and frameworks for child custody had been put in place to break down negative views of women in society.
On trafficking, work was being done between the prosecutor’s office and NGOs. This included cooperation with the International Organization for Migration and community organizations. Law enforcement bodies, the immigration service and the Home Office were also involved in educating officials on human trafficking issues. A hotline had been established for citizens to use and consultants had been appointed to further the work done on tackling the issue, which was one of the most important tasks facing the State.
Referring to the dress code it was stated that there were no legal provisions regarding this and women could wear whatever they wished. There were no norms or obligations about dress. If information on specific cases where this was the contrary could be provided then investigations would take place.
Questions by the Experts
Did the Government envisage launching a comprehensive National Action Plan for Trafficking, rather than incorporating the issue into any other women’s rights action plan? The report was not clear on whether prostitution was illegal or not, although prostitution was on the rise, particularly in the more rural provinces. The Administrative Code established both an administrative penalty and criminal liability for engaging in prostitution. Furthermore, there were incidences of young girls being sent away to be ‘mail order brides’, which in fact was a form of being trafficked or even sexual slavery.
Women’s participation in public life and society was a critical component of democracy, an Expert stated. That women represented 18 per cent of members of Parliament was not an adequate representation of the 52 per cent of the population that was women, nor did it reach the Committee’s recommended 30 per cent recommendation, although gender parity was the ideal. What barriers held women back from political representation, particularly from elected posts? Although some women held high positions general progress was slow; had the Government considered adopting quotas or temporary special measures? Turkmenistan’s adoption of a law on the equal right of women and men to establish political parties was commended by an Expert who requested information on the conditions linked to it.
Turning to education, an Expert said the Committee commended the progress made by the State party, notably a 2007 decree on improving salaries for teachers and a 2009 Act on Citizen’s Right to Education. However, there was a lack of specific gender disaggregated data, for example on drop-out rates and their causes, and on enrolment at primary and secondary school levels. That was very basic data that should be collected and collated on an annual basis: why had that not been done? Further, compulsory education had recently been reduced from 11 years to nine years. An impact assessment on that reform had been carried out: what were the results? The report stated that there was no problem with drop-out from school, so no data had been collected on it. Furthermore, no data had been collected on rural girls and their access to education, which was surprising as rural girls were usually a key group that dropped out from education – a situation that was replicated in Turkmenistan according to alternative sources. Could the delegation please comment?
Regarding the labour market, an Expert asked how the State party addressed occupational segregation to ensure that women were not stuck in the lowest paying jobs and sectors, and how it helped women enter better paid labour sectors, such as science, and oil and gas extraction? The gender pay gap was a concern: how did the State party ensure men and women received equal pay for work of equal value? What measures were planned to support women working in the informal sector?
There were considerable omissions in the report regarding healthcare, as well as confusing and even conflicting information, an Expert said. She had hoped to receive much more specific and up-to-date information on the health of women in general, but saw that women’s health was considered mainly in terms of procreation and their role as mothers, and not in general terms of morbidity and mortality. In fact the female mortality rate was slightly higher than men’s, despite the State party being a well-resourced country. The rates of cancers specific to women – such as uterine and breast cancer – were high and increasing. Updated World Health Organization data revealed a different mortality rate to the report: it was difficult to see the full picture, especially for rural populations and ethnic minorities.
The cost of healthcare had also increased – patients had to bring their own medicines and medical supplies when they stayed in hospital - while the quality of care had fallen. There was also a problem with corruption in the healthcare system which meant many patients were forced to pay bribes for medical services.
Confusingly the report cited the birth rate as 35 per cent, but the Head of the Delegation had referred to an 80 per cent birth rate, which would be an enormous increase, an Expert said. Today 51 per cent of the population was younger than 25 years and 31 per cent of families had over seven members, while overall the State party had a relatively young population. In which case, why was the State encouraging a higher birth rate by giving a financial ‘prize’ to a mother for every baby she had, in addition to an annual pay-out for each child? Such financial incentives would indeed persuade women to have more children, but could prevent them from entering the workplace, improving their standard of living and could endanger their health. Abortion, and mortality as a result of abortion, was raised by an Expert, who wanted to know if the Government collected data on the issue and also what measures it was taking to reduce maternal mortality. Could the delegation provide more information on the use of contraceptives?
HIV/AIDS was a serious public health issue, the Expert said, and commended the State party on its awareness-raising campaigns, although it regretted the lack of data. In 2009 the French non-governmental organizations Médicins Sans Frontières left Turkmenistan giving the reason that HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases such as tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases were not taken seriously by the Government. The organization further said that doctors who diagnosed those conditions were often subject to official scrutiny simply because the Government wanted to believe that cases of HIV/AIDS did not exist – contrary to regional statistics.
Polygamy was illegal in Turkmenistan, an Expert noted, but said independent sources claimed polygamy was still widely practices, particularly in rural areas. What measures were being taken to protect women in polygamous relationships and to educate communities on the issue? How was the law enforced, and what penalties were given to those who practiced polygamy?
An Expert commended Turkmenistan on its new Family Code, but raised a discrepancy in the report that said the age for marriage was 16, although elsewhere it was cited at 18 years. Could the delegation please clarify that discrepancy?
Response from the Delegation
The delegation said a further five non-governmental organizations had recently registered in Turkmenistan.
There was no prohibition on women leaving Turkmenistan, a delegate confirmed. Minors used to be restricted from leaving the country as they had to be accompanied by their parents or guardians, but a new law had overturned that and today a notarized letter from a parent or guardian would suffice even to allow a minor to leave Turkmenistan.
The Committee’s recommendation to have a targeted plan of action on trafficking would be taken on board, a delegate said. She added that the Committee’s recommendation to have a stand alone law criminalizing violence against women was also welcomed.
Explaining the difference between administrative and criminal proceedings for prostitution, a delegate first confirmed that liability under the law for engaging in prostitution did not apply to victims of human trafficking or exploitation. In those cases the woman was a victim of human trafficking and not punishable for prostitution. On the contrary, if women had been trafficked for the purposes of prostitution that was a mitigating circumstance but it carried a greater penalty for the perpetrator. Systematically engaging in prostitution itself was an administration violation and a woman would be answerable under the Administrative Code and could be subject to a fine or an administrative arrest for a period of up to 15 days. A repeat offence within a year of engaging in prostitution would lead to criminal liability under the Criminal Code, and the penalty for engaging in prostitution as a repeat offence was two years of corrective labour or two years of detention. The Criminal Code also had a separate offence for a person who brought another person into prostitution. In the last year only two persons had sought refuge in the shelters that existed for victims of trafficking.
The Head of Delegation said she had already provided information on women’s participation in political life in her opening statement. However, the Committee must remember that there was an equal legislative basis for women’s representation in economic, social, cultural and political life. There were no obstacles to women’s participation: they were free to be active in all areas of life in Turkmenistan. There were no quotas for political parties established by law, rather they were done on a voluntary basis by the parties themselves. For example, in August 2012 a party of entrepreneurs was set up which included several women among its membership and a woman Deputy Chairperson. The issue of setting up quotas for election candidates had not been considered, but women had an equal right to stand for election as men. It was true that 18 per cent of parliamentarians were women, but the Head of the Parliament was a woman, as was her Deputy. That proved that the public had particular trust and confidence in the abilities of women to hold high public office.
The President was initiating reform in education, a delegate explained. The positive changes in the educational system began with new statistical figures. By the end of 2011 the number of girls enrolled in primary level school was 49.1 per cent of the total numbers of pupils, while around 33 per cent of girls were enrolled at secondary school. Vocational training schools had 51.2 per cent girls enrolled, while 41.3 per cent of students at professional schools were girls. It was compulsory for children to attend school from seven to 17 years of age – 10 years of schooling in total – which was free of charge. Girl students were treated with special attention to make sure they attended school but any pupil – boy or girl – who did not attend would be followed up. Teachers, schools and relevant organizations worked together to ensure that drop-out did not happen. In fact, girls were keen to learn, and had recently benefitted from the distribution of free laptops to pupils.
Regarding women’s participation in other labour sectors, a delegate referred to a new institute of oil and gas which recently opened for 400 students to learn about the industry. Twenty-four per cent of those students were girls. A new institute of architectural construction, which took over 500 students, boasted nearly 30 per cent girls. The institute of international affairs, linked to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in 2012 had an intake of over 50 per cent of girls to its first year. There was a new trend of girls embarking on tertiary education.
Protections for women in the workforce laid out in the Labour Code included restrictions for women from working in hazardous, harmful or arduous conditions. Women with children up to three years of age were restricted from working at night or during holidays, and could not be sent out of their duty station unless they agreed in writing. However, the Government was currently considering reform to the Labour Code, particularly the provisions on shift work for women.
Women’s health was a priority and was not seen solely in reproductive terms, a delegate said. With help from the World Health Organization many improvements had been made, including a draft new programme to reform maternal health care. In 2012 a United Nations Children’s Fund-backed study was completed that highlighted key areas and vulnerable groups so the Government could ensure that the population received adequate healthcare.
Reproductive healthcare was both centrally and regionally available, as there were seven regional centres which operated with the support of the United Nations Population Fund across the country. Those health centres serviced not just women but also men, and provided family planning. They also monitored contraceptive use. Women did mostly use only uterine and hormonal contraception, but since 2005 there had been a three per cent increase in the use of more modern forms of contraception. That had also led to a dramatic decrease in the number of abortions.
The Government was conducting a programme to end tuberculosis by 2015, and together with the Global Fund to end tuberculosis and AIDS was taking measures in accordance with international standards and a 2012 decree had been issued along those lines. A lot of work in the field was conducted within the prison system.
A delegate confirmed that the Government was working to raise awareness about the new Family Code – as they did with every new law – particularly through the mass media and public events. The new code set out the marriageable age as 18 years old, the delegate also confirmed.
It was true that there was polygamy in rural areas, the Head of the Delegation said, but as it was now criminalized penalties were applied in practice. In 2011 the courts considered five cases of polygamy, and found five persons guilty. In 2012 there were six cases of polygamy brought to court, and six persons were found guilty. Most cases were in rural areas, although three cases were in Ashkhabad, the capital city. Every person found guilty was sentenced and punished according to the law.
YAZDURSUN GURBANNAZAROVA, Director of the Turkmen National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights, thanked the Committee and said that all of the constructive suggestions made by the international experts would be scrupulously analyzed and studied. A follow-up system would then be put in place to put the recommendations in practice. The strengthening of collaboration with international organizations was a priority of Turkmenistan, and at present its relationship with the United Nations was centred on developing productive partnerships enriched with new content.
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