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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women considers report of Serbia

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination 
Against Women

18 July 2013

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined second and third periodic report of Serbia on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report, Brankica Jankovic, State Secretary at the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Policy of Serbia, said that laws on gender equality and anti-discrimination were in place, and amendments to the criminal code on violence against women were underway.  A variety of bodies had been created which considered the exercise and protection of human rights, inter-sectoral implementation of these plans, and the process with regard to Security Council resolution 1325 respectively.  The situation of women with disabilities as a vulnerable group had not improved much and Roma women still had low levels of education, though health mediators were improving their access to services.  Cooperation with civil society had improved and data on Kosovo had not been provided by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo for the purposes of the examination before the Committee. 

Committee Experts raised several issues of concern and asked for clarification regarding the ability of persons to bring claims of multiple discrimination and whether the State party would reconsider its reservations to the Convention.  The delegation was asked whether the Ombudsman counted with sufficient resources, considering austerity measures, to properly fulfil the remit of the office.  Monitoring and indicators were also addressed, and Experts asked about processes for understanding the outcomes of Serbia’s many strategies and action plans.  Experts requested data on the number of attacks against women and concerning the representation of women in the judiciary, education, diplomacy and security sectors.  Abortion and contraception were discussed, alongside more general questions about access to health and education by Roma women and women with disabilities. 

In concluding remarks, Ms. Jankovic thanked the Committee and said that Serbia was resolved to improve the situation of women and the implementation of the Convention.  The problems in the country were not small and there were limited resources due to the financial situation. 

Also in concluding remarks, Nicole Ameline, Committee Chairperson, thanked Serbia for its efforts, and encouraged the Government to take all necessary measures put forward to them.  The next periodic report would be awaited with interest.

The delegation of Serbia included representatives from the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Policy; the Committee on Human and Minority Rights and Gender Equality of the National Assembly; the Office for Human and Minority Rights; the Permanent Mission of Serbia to the United Nations Office at Geneva; the Multi-Sectoral Coordinating Body for the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325; the Ministry of Interior; the Ministry of Health; and the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration. 

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday 19 July, at 10 a.m. to consider the combined fourth and fifth periodic report of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CEDAW/C/BIH/4-5).

Report of Serbia

The combined second and third periodic report of Serbia is available here: (CEDAW/C/SRB/2-3)

Presentation of the Report

BRANKICA JANKOVIC, State Secretary at the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Policy of Serbia, presenting the report (CEDAW/C/SRB/2-3), said that a law on gender equality had been adopted in 2009 and was used together with Serbia’s anti-discrimination law in a number of areas.  Amendments to the criminal code regarding violence against women were underway and a hate crime offence had been created.  An action plan on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 had been applied since 2010 and included gender equality planning and implementation mechanisms.  Cooperation with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had been established.  A strategy for protection and prevention against discrimination had been adopted, which aimed at improving the status of nine vulnerable groups.  Electoral lists allowed for some balance in gender representation and, for the first time, these had been used in provincial, city and municipal assemblies in May 2012.  A third of the members of the National Assembly were women and a woman headed the National Bank of Serbia. 

A Committee for Human and Minority Rights and Gender Equality considered bills and other legal acts related to the exercise and protection of human rights and freedoms.  The Council for Gender Equality looked at the improvement of gender equality from the point of view of inter-sectoral cooperation.  Governments and local authorities had to designate gender equality staff to conduct activities aimed at achieving equal opportunities.  The Commissioner for the Protection of Equality was authorised to take preventive measures to combat gender-based discrimination and to assist victims of discrimination.  Serbia had signed the Istanbul Convention, ratification was underway, and special protocols had been adopted to this end.  A special organization had been created to provide protection against violence and help lines were available for the reporting of violations of rights, discrimination or violence.  In 2012, 140 social care centres had provided assistance to 9,500 victims.  Most violence occurred in the family.  Efforts had been made to provide training for the competent authorities and rehabilitation programmes for offenders had been created. 

Teacher training programmes addressed both violence against women and gender equality issues, and the Ministry of Health had engaged 75 women as health mediators in 59 health care centres.  Women with disabilities were one of the most vulnerable groups and their status had not changed much, but in 2012 41 companies had implemented wage subsidies for vocational rehabilitation and the promotion of employment of persons with disabilities.  Many Roma women had neither primary nor secondary education.  Serbia hoped to improve cooperation with civil society to assist victims of multiple discrimination.  Data collection, the provision of documentation, and the fight against trafficking had improved. 

Serbia had not been able to implement the provisions of the Convention in Kosovo, which was currently entrusted to the United Nations.  Despite requests made, information had not been received regarding Kosovo and the Committee would have to contact the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) for details.  A draft law had been submitted to the National Assembly for the ratification of Article 20 of the Convention.  While efforts had been made to implement gender equality as a continuous process, it was accepted that the process needed to be improved and developed.

Questions by Experts

Committee Experts said the Convention had not been invoked in national cases and asked what steps were being taken to further the education of legal professionals and others to remedy this situation?  What funding was provided to civil society organizations working on the implementation of the Convention?  Was specific information available on how the National Assembly was using the Convention as a reference when creating laws?  How did the new strategy adopted in 2013 protect the groups which had not been specifically identified?  What provisions were in place for tackling instances of multiple discrimination?  Did Serbia intend to review its reservations to the Convention?  What was the timeframe for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention?  Had members of the legal profession received any training regarding the Convention and its provisions?  What resources were allocated for the implementation and what was the system for monitoring?  Did measures in place appropriately cater for the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325? 

Response by the Delegation

In response to these questions and comments and others, the delegation said that the courts in Serbia were required to submit details of gender equality cases to the relevant Ministry.  Since 2011, only two such cases had been recorded and both had been brought by the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality.  A competition was launched annually to offer funding to NGOs.  The rules of procedure had been amended in order to facilitate the passing of laws from the executive branch, which required better cooperation with civil society, and a dialogue was ongoing.  Family disputes were dealt with by specialist judges who had been trained in all sources of law, including the Conventions.  A manual had been produced to assist the judiciary in dealing with these cases.

A conference on inter-sectoral cooperation on the issues of violence against women had been held and its conclusions had provided an opportunity to improve such cooperation.  Concerning the drafting of reports, the delegation indicated that a working group integrated by representatives from Government Ministries and civil society produced a draft, which was then agreed by both parties and submitted to the United Nations and the report currently under discussion by the Committee had followed this process. 

Draft laws were reviewed by the European Integration Office to ensure they met European Union laws and then passed through the Parliament’s European Integration Committee.  Round tables had been held on a number of topics and the Women’s Parliamentary Network had been set up, allowing members to work together on common concerns.  A working group on the national strategy on the nine vulnerable groups had been set-up and received input from civil society.  Work was being carried out on an action plan for the implementation of the strategy, and would look at specific activities, timelines and budgets.  It was necessary to deal with the question of multiple discrimination. 

It was hoped that the Istanbul Convention would be ratified within the next two sessions of the National Assembly and a conference had been held to discuss the related topics.  Ratification would significantly improve Serbia’s capacity to tackle violence against women.  The judiciary and police academies were tasked with the training of legal professionals and the Office of Human and Minority Rights also offered training against discrimination.  Since the last visit of the High Commissioner human rights indicators had been put in place.  Funding for civil society had been envisioned within certain budgets and it might increase in coming years if the economy stabilised. 

Questions from the Experts

Experts inquired about the monitoring for action plans.  Were there measures for interim reports?  What was the situation of women with disabilities?  What was to be done to fight discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons? Were there plans to introduce a registered partnership to give legal recognition to same-sex couples?  Was there a timeframe for the adoption of a draft law on free legal aid?  What actions had been taken to foster knowledge of the Convention among the general public to allow individuals to effectively claim their rights?  Did the Ombudsman count with adequate resources to fulfil the extensive competencies of the office?  Why had it been noted that there was only one male member in the working group on Security Council’s resolution 1325, and how did the working group affect implementation on the ground?  How did the national mechanism for gender equality continue its dialogue with civil society? 

Response by the Delegation

The adoption of the strategy for the prevention against discrimination marked the first time that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons had been recognised as a group that needed to be protected.  Training and seminars had been conducted and cooperation with NGOs had increased.  Discussions about the possibility of holding a Pride March in Belgrade this autumn were ongoing.  Discussions with representatives had covered housing, education, health and a number of other priority topics.  A model law on same-sex partnerships was to be discussed among the Serbian public and relevant ministries.  Experts from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community were working with the Government to improve the situation of the group, and training programmes to sensitise workers in social centres regarding these issues were underway.  The National Assembly had adopted a strategy for the reform of the judiciary and had, among its objectives, access to justice and the protection of human and minority rights. 

The development of indicators to improve reporting to treaty bodies and monitoring was underway and a participatory process on this would be launched.  Many initiatives had been launched thanks to the work of NGOs.  An office had set up to serve as a direct link between civil society and the Government.  The budget had allocated funds for the proper functioning of the Ombudsman this year and this may be increased in following years.  The Commission on resolution 1325 was in direct communication to monitor implementation and to provide information on its activities, and indicators for monitoring had been created.  The Council for Gender Equality had been created to put forward initiatives in this field; it included representatives of different ministries, civil society and human rights defenders.  They could influence gender equality policy.  Roma women as a group were exposed to discrimination, though substantial progress had been made through better registration, allowing access to services.  More Roma children were in school and infant mortality had fallen, although it remained high.  A mobile team for Roma communities would be created to improve access to services and housing would also be addressed. 

Questions from the Experts

Experts asked when Serbia would adopt the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.  Data was sparse in places, what targeted measures were in place to empower women?  Did the Government intend to work better with civil society to provide better information and outreach concerning measures in place?  How were stereotypes in relation to the Roma being tackled?  It was perceived that NGOs and human rights defenders were working for foreign interests, how was this being dealt with?  A tendency towards traditional gender roles in Serbian society had been reported and women were being increasingly tasked with care and home responsibilities, while men had more decision-making powers; what was the Government’s position regarding the family?

How many women had been killed by intimate partners in recent years and was this data analysed?  How did the judiciary collect statistical data?  Could the police issue immediate protection orders and, if not, what was the timeframe?  Was information available on the situation of victims of war violence and were services available to handle their specific care needs?  Did additional awareness-raising regarding trafficking was needed among magistrates?  What was the mandate of the centre on trafficking; what obstacles were there for the creation of further plans to support and assist victims of trafficking; and how was Serbia looking at the root causes of trafficking? 

Response by the Delegation

Stereotypes regarding the role of men and women had been recognised as an issue.  Awareness raising targeted the general public through the use of the media and civil society organisations.  A guide for gender-sensitive media reporting had been created, and a competition to find associations that could promote gender equality and a six-episode documentary on the national plan had been implemented.  Training on the perception of women in public communication was available and an information campaign on women entrepreneurs was in place to increase the number of female-run businesses and to recognise the capacity of women in this role. 

Addressing stereotypes took time.  The national employment action plan identified that women were difficult to employ and constituted a vulnerable group.  Training, internships, functional adult education, job search assistance and job fairs, were among the assistance provided.  Women received additional points in the consideration for self-employment subsidies and persons with disabilities benefitted from a special call for subsidies.  The law on social entrepreneurship was currently being considered and its primary beneficiaries would be Roma women and persons with disabilities. 

Women accounted for nine State secretaries, nine deputy ministers, four ministers and two speakers in the National Assembly.  From next year new rules sought to improve the representation of women in public authorities.  From 2010 to 2012, 24 women had been killed by their husbands and seven by their former husbands.  Pro-active steps had been taken to consider the Istanbul Convention.  Police officers had received instructions on how best to deal with victims of violence.  Statistical data was recorded through courts and the Ministry of Justice received data on the crimes, penalties, and convictions.  Public prosecutors had their own records about charges and investigations.  Special protocols adopted would require that social care centres as guardian authorities complete agreements with health and education partners responsible for care provision of women sufferers of violence.  Stakeholders involved in responding to violence in communities were to be trained and a central record of their responses would be created. 

Shelters were foreseen as a local service, funded at the local level, and cooperation was needed to ensure that every municipality had a shelter.  Roma women were treated in the same way as other women in need of assistance.  A coordinator had been appointed to tackle trafficking and a multi-disciplinary team had been formed to provide advice.  A centre on trafficking identified risks and threats for victims and coordinated activities with social work centres, and there was room to improve cooperation with civil society.  Potential victims of trafficking were receiving preventative advice and accommodation facilities had been made available.  The media and other actors also contributed to preventative measures.  Women made up 28 per cent of the employees in the Ministry of Interior and rules regarding seniority and promotions had been amended to take into account pregnancy breaks.  New staff plans and human resources management in the Ministry of Interior took better account of the gender perspective.  Women were well represented in the judiciary.

Questions from the Experts

Little information or context had been provided in the list of issues and replies.  There was no reason to have provisions if they were not enforced.  How many employers had needed to pay a fine due to their lack of record-keeping in relation to the employment of women?  Women were not well-represented at the local level, what was being planned to remedy this?  What was the impact of the gender quota in the National Minority Council?  Why were women’s organizations not consulted in the European Union-monitored negotiations on Kosovo?  The number of female ambassadors was very low, were measures being taken in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to remedy this? 

Regarding the dissemination of information on special measures, how were these made known to target groups?  What were the new targets in the action plan for Roma women and what was its budget?  Why had the status of women with disabilities not changed much?  What were the gaps in services for this group and how would they be addressed?  What were the provisions regarding protection orders?  Alternative sources suggested that mandatory treatment for alcoholism was to be introduced, was this the case?  It had also been suggested that an educational eligibility criteria for service providers might rule out a number of highly competent groups from continuing their work, was this also the case?  Experts requested concrete examples of steps to tackle stereotypes in the family.

Response by the Delegation

Changes were indeed planned to the election process for the National Minority Council, a working group had been tasked to do this, and it was hoped that a better representation of women would be achieved following the next round of elections.  The law on gender equality envisaged that political parties would develop plans with special measures to improve gender equality in parliamentary parties.  These plans had been created and they had to be posted on their websites; however, there were often removed.

While some political parties had advertised their action plans on gender equality online, the trade unions had not.  There were women heading 15 foreign missions, a female deputy minister of foreign affairs, and 11 female ambassadors.  The position of women in local government required more commitment in the future.  Disaggregated data on the achievement of gender equality was monitored by a working group within the national provider of statistics.  Funding for parity programmes had not been confirmed given the economic crisis, but some activities would continue.  An action plan in place considered the protection of Roma women, changing stereotypes around them, as well as the provision of better health services.  Much had been done regarding social protection and education for women with disabilities, but there was still much was left to do on the issue of accessibility; concerning employment, the situation was much better. 

Protective measures for female victims of violence included orders for a person to leave the family home, restraining orders and orders to prevent further harassment.  In 2012, 639 such proposals had been put forward and a multi-sectoral approach was applied.  Workers in social centres could act on behalf of women in these situations.  Under the new litigation proceedings code, there was scope to instigate urgent proceedings where needed and the entire Civil Code was being reformed on an area-by-area basis.  A draft of law on family relations included a provision for the mandatory treatment of alcoholics and drug addicts to prevent domestic violence, but it was no certain that it would be adopted.  All service providers that met minimum service provision standards could continue their work.  Work in the social care system was introducing family counsellors and better risk assessment by doctors.  Educational reform and financial support reform were underway. 

Questions from Experts

Did the Government have any mechanism to prevent Roma children from failing to enrol or dropping out of school?  What kind of support was provided for refugee and internally displaced families?  What kind of actions had the Government taken to change gender stereotypes presented in school textbooks and teaching materials?  What was the concrete policy for increasing the representation of women in non-traditional subjects of study, and how could the role of women in making decisions in education be improved?  Experts also requested further information on the implementation of anti-discrimination legislation.

How was the Government working to improve the situation of women with regards to pay and unemployment?  Were there programmes to sensitize healthcare workers to minority women?  How would sustainable financing for the care of the elderly be ensured?  How many abortions were carried out each year, were they paid for by the State?  Was there a problem on family planning counselling services and what about improving the provision of contraceptive services?  There were fewer pre-natal visits and attended births among Roma women.  Were there plans to introduce second generation retroviral drugs for the treatment of HIV?  It was reported that HIV patients and persons with disabilities had problems asserting their sexual and reproductive rights, what were the delegation’s thoughts on this? 

Response by the Delegation

Legislation on the system of education had been changed to ensure that all children received schooling.  Health mediators played an important role; they had managed to achieve their position thanks to education and demonstrated the importance of education.  Enrolment and drop-out rates for Roma children in education had fluctuated, but participation had generally increased and a campaign had been launched to inform and educate people about educational enrolment procedures for children.  Good practice cases had been identified and lifelong learning and training were supported through adult education centres; and secondary school textbooks had been made more gender sensitive.   The Government was of the opinion that the selection of a profession was a basic human right, and there were no obstacles for women to enrol in traditionally male subjects.  There were more than 4,000 educational establishments in Serbia and scholarships were to be offered to Roma children. 

Measures aimed at increasing employability of Roma women and efforts had been made to encourage employers to provide jobs.  Fathers were able to exercise their right to parental leave and, although precise figures were not available, this was generally on the rise.  New legislation protected women against termination of employment during pregnancy, and the position of men and women in the labour market was equal.  Long-term unemployed persons were given preferential treatment in training and self-employment.  Funds had been provided for gynaecological hydraulic beds for women with disabilities and there were enough to meet the needs of the population.  Almost all health care institutions were accessible to persons with disabilities.  A strategy on the elderly was to be developed and would be followed by an action plan.  Thanks to health mediators, women’s pregnancies were followed by medical staff and screening for breast cancer and cervical cancer had also been facilitated. 

It was recognised that the high costs of abortion could not be borne by the health system and education was needed to ensure that contraception was better used.  Abortion was the legal right of every woman and it was not thought that the Ministry of Health would impose stricter conditions.  The health system was in part public and in part private and this created a difference in costs.  When these two were integrated, data availability on service provision would improve.  There was a low level of awareness regarding contraception, lack of funding placed limitations on its provision.  Centres for reproductive health were being developed on the basis of teams of medical professionals, as seen in Romania. 

Questions from Experts

An Expert asked if extended sex education was planned for schools, was sex education mandatory?  Were there programmes to target the enrolment of girls?  Why was a child allowance only paid up until the fourth child? 

The majority of households below the poverty line were headed by women, how did the Government seek to address this?  How was Serbia improving its data collection on internally displaced persons and refugees?  Was it the case that the family law was to be replaced and, if yes, why?  Were there any significant changes?  Were community-based agents of change engaged to reframe ideas on early marriage? 

Had a mechanism whereby the State paid for child support and reclaimed the expenses from the father been considered?  Was it the case that women brought a dowry into a marriage?

Response by the Delegation

The delegation noted the comments regarding the provision of anti-retrovirals and said that funding for such therapies constituted a great hurdle.  Sex education was covered by biology curricula from elementary school.  Health education was also offered and it was hoped that it would be available in all schools shortly.  A conference had been held regarding progress on the inclusion of Roma in the school system, which had been tackled together with the United Nations Children's Fund.  One third of management positions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were held by women. 

It was correct that child allowance was paid up until the fourth child.  The increase in the registration of unemployed Roma women showed progress in the engagement with this group.  According to the most recent data there were around 66,000 refugees and 36 collective centres.  Over 5,000 durable housing solutions had been offered to members of this group between 2008 and 2010.  Funding for such measures was needed.  The costs of accommodating asylum seekers were covered by the national budget.  Persons who could not register for permanent residence at the place they actually lived could register at local social care centre to gain access to personal identity documents.  The problem of fathers that did not pay for their children was currently under analysis and some kind of State assistance might be made available to such women in the future. 

Women brought goods or valuables into a marriage and a groom offered presents to the bride’s family.  If the police found that such an arrangement suggested human trafficking, through the sale of persons, then this was reported as a crime and the marriage annulled.  The child support mechanism suggested by the Expert was being considered

Concluding Remarks

BRANKICA JANKOVIC, State Secretary at the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Policy of Serbia, thanked the Committee for their concern about the situation of women in Serbia.  It was hoped that a new picture had been offered.  Serbia had received a new impetus and several ideas to solve problems, and was resolved to improve the situation of women and the implementation of the Convention.  The problems in the country were not small and there were limited resources due to the financial situation. 

NICOLE AMELINE, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the Serbia for its efforts, and encouraged the Government to take all necessary measures put forward to them. The next periodic report from the Serbia would be awaited with interest.


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