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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women considers report of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
Against Women

19 July 2013

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined fourth and fifth periodic report of Bosnia and Herzegovina on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report, Samra Filipovic-Hadziabdic, Director of the Agency for Gender Equality of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that the country counted with a complex and decentralised constitutional and institutional structure, with federal, entity, and municipal levels.  The law on gender equality was the main implementing legislation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  Training on the Convention had been provided to legal professionals; cooperation with civil society was good and funding had been allocated for the national action plan on gender equality.  Specific policies and actions had been adopted on domestic violence, rural women, Security Council resolution 1325, and on gender-responsible budgeting. 
The new gender action plan recognised the need for further investment in a coordinated and multi-institutional approach.

Committee Experts raised several issues of concern including the complexity of the various systems of governance and the need to harmonise laws along different levels.  Gaps in the data provided were pointed out and questions raised about the methodology for future data collection exercises.  Concern was also expressed about negative stereotypes and efforts to combat their reproduction through educational and social measures.  Experts noted the low employment rates and asked about efforts to promote female entrepreneurship, as well as the participation of minorities and persons with disabilities in the labour market.  The status of victims of violence during the armed conflict and their access to justice and reparations were also discussed. 

In concluding remarks, Ms. Filipovic-Hadziabdic hoped that the Committee’s concluding remarks and observations would help with future work and that gender mainstreaming would be recognised in the European integration processes.  Ms. Filipovic-Hadziabdic also hoped that the Committee would do more to push the European Commission to increase the importance of women’s rights in membership negotiations. 

Also in concluding remarks, Ismat Jahan, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for the responses provided and the constructive dialogue.  The Committee called on Bosnia and Herzegovina to take all necessary measures to implement the recommendations.

The delegation of Bosnia and Herzegovina included representatives from the Agency for Gender Equality, the Permanent Mission of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the United Nations Office at Geneva, the Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees, the Parliamentary Assembly, and the Gender Centre. 

The Committee will next meet in public on Thursday, 25 July, at 11:30 a.m., to hold a panel discussion on HIV/AIDS.  The Committee will conclude its session on Friday, 26 July.

Report of Bosnia and Herzegovina

The combined fourth and fifth periodic report of Bosnia and Herzegovina is available here (CEDAW/C/BIH/4-5).

Presentation of the Report

SAMRA FILIPOVIC-HADZIABDIC, Director of the Agency for Gender Equality of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that the war that had broken out in 1992 had had a huge impact on the demography of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Bosnia and Herzegovina had a complex and decentralised constitutional and institutional structure; and a network of institutional mechanisms for gender issues at all levels of legislative and executive powers had been established.  There were three institutional mechanisms to achieve gender equality, and the Agency for Gender Equality and the Gender Centres were the main drivers of initiatives.  The law on Gender Equality was seen as the main implementing legislation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and there was an action plan in place to define activities and deadlines for all relevant actors.  Training on the Convention was provided to judges, prosecutors, police officers, members of the armed forces, and civil servants, among others. 

Civil society organizations had been consulted in the preparation of this report, which had also been adopted by the Council of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly.  Specific policies had been adopted, among other issues, on domestic violence, rural women, Security Council resolution 1325, and on gender-responsible budgeting.  A financial mechanism for the implementation of the action plan had been created and was recognised as a model of good practice regarding local ownership, funds had also been secured for the next five years.  Relevant material and procedural legislation contained provisions relating to discrimination and victims could seek redress through disciplinary, civil and criminal procedures depending on the type of discrimination faced.  Clear guidance had been provided at all levels of government regarding the adoption of temporary special measures, which were expected to regulate specific areas of social life where there was evidence of gender inequalities.  An action plan and coordination body for action on Security Council resolution 1325 had been established, and this had led to an increased number of women in the police and armed forces. 

Gender mainstreaming regarding the position of rural women had been introduced through an action plan.  Domestic violence had long been seen as a private issue but the intensity of interventions had increased in the last decade.  Protection laws had been harmonised to the best possible extent and a strategy based on a holistic approach included a multi-disciplinary response and prevention activities.  There were 10 safe houses and two help lines and the Istanbul Convention would be ratified soon; however, violence was still prevalent and a recent study showed that just under half of all women had been exposed to some form of violence in the last 12 months.  The highest prevalence of these cases involved current or previous partners and it was thought that this situation stemmed from prevailing systemic gender inequality in both public and private spheres.  With regards to sexual violence during the conflict in the 1990s, although the judiciary had made progress to end impunity, more needed to be done to ensure that all cases were processed and that victims received redress.  A programme had been drafted to emphasise the State’s responsibility to improve victims’ access to reparations and legal assistance. 

A 40 per cent quota for women in elections to legislative bodies had been established as a special measure.  The number of women directly elected to the Parliamentary Assembly had doubled and there had been a small increase in local representation.  Activities to promote female candidates had also been undertaken.  Women were under-represented in the legislature and they lacked a critical mass to influence decisions to confirm proposed members of the Government.  Women made up 51 per cent of all civil servants, 56 per cent of the members of the judiciary, and 48.5 per cent of prosecutors.

As a result of the financial crisis, employment rates were in constant decline and this had contributed to a decrease in the budget allocated for full employment policies.    However, public institutions had undertaken activities to stimulate women’s employment.  There was no data suggesting that women were paid less for work of equal value, but men dominated the labour market despite the fact that women were better educated than men.  Bosnia and Herzegovina’s complex structure meant that women did not enjoy equal protection and services in all parts of the country.  Additional funding would ideally be available to the Agency and Gender Centres responsible for implementing necessary actions in all areas of the country.  Human resources remained an issue and civil servants acting as ministries’ gender focal points took on an additional burden as part of this role.  The new gender action plan, to be adopted in a few weeks, recognised the need for further investment in a coordinated and multi-institutional approach. 

Questions by the Experts

Experts inquired about the direct application of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, noting there had been only one case when it had been invoked.  What was the reason for this, would case law be included in training for legal professionals?  How easy was operating between Bosnia and Herzegovina’s complex institutional structures and were there plans to review the Constitution to improve institutional efficacy? 

Response by Delegation

Following the reception of the last recommendations from the Committee a thematic discussion had been held and these had also been discussed in Parliament.  All laws needed to be in harmony with laws on equality.  The provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women were transmitted down to the national level through this law.  Limited resources meant it was easier to negotiate with some institutional structures than others, it was more difficult to sensitize cantonal and municipal levels on gender issues, though cooperation with non-governmental organizations was sought.  Cases involving the use of the Optional Protocol served as the basis of training for the judiciary, civil servants and academia.  There had not been a great number of complaints brought for contraventions of the equality law.  Awareness raising activities were underway to make persons conscious of their rights. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina had been the first country to count a coordination board to monitor the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325, which included representatives from non-governmental organizations, the Department of Defence, the border police, demining groups and others.  Not all members of Parliament considered women and gender issues to be important, but the Agency for Gender Equality was working hard to ensure their compliance on policy.  The European Convention for Human Rights was the only instrument which was directly applied and superseded national law.  Judges were expected to consider and apply the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Convention in their judgments on gender issues.  The complex system meant that Gender Centres were held responsible by their own government within the Federation.  Examples of best practice were shared.  The Agency for Gender Equality had asked for amendments to the various constitutions at the federal level so that persons could not bring cases claiming that special measures were discriminatory.  Bosnia and Herzegovina was in a difficult financial position and, in terms of achieving gender mainstreaming, related programmes across different departmental budgets would be encouraged. 

Questions from Experts

Experts asked if the Agency for Gender Equality was able to offer legal assistance to persons referred to the courts to file claims for instances of discrimination?  What mechanisms were employed in effort to harmonise laws? 

Did the Agency have the power to implement the gender equality action plan?  Were there plans in place to improve data collection and dissemination?  Experts also inquired about efforts to integrate gender equality into constitutional law? 

Response by the Delegation

Responding, the delegation said the Agency for Gender Equality could not provide assistance to victims, given the strict division between the judiciary and executive, but free legal aid was available.  The Parliament had adopted a rule which established that the Agency had to be consulted with regards to legislation and this would now require a change in the by-laws of the Council of Ministers.  The Agency did have the mandate to coordinate the implementation of the gender action plan and other legal documents. 

Problems were faced in relation to statistical data and a census would soon be competed.  A number of organizations should cooperate and coordinate their working methodologies.  There were already anti-discrimination provisions in the constitutions and, additionally, equality between men and women would be introduced through amendments.

Questions from Experts

Experts inquired about cultural barriers preventing women’s participation in politics, even when the level of education was so high.  Could the needs of minorities be better addressed through special measures and what could be done to integrate women with disabilities?  What provisions were there for rural women and what was the role of teachers and clerics in breaking down stereotypes?

Not much had been done to support victims of sexual violence after the conflict and there had been a low level of convictions, why hadn’t legislation been amended to deal with this as a war crime?  What process was foreseen for the development of the methodology mentioned?  Experts suggested that the Agency’s involvement in cases of domestic violence would show the Bosnia and Herzegovina’s commitment to tackling this difficult issue.

Could the delegation explain the gender dimension of measures targeting trafficking?  The trafficking of human beings was not a criminal offence at the entity level, could the Delegation comment on this and provide information regarding the mandate of the national coordinator against trafficking?  What training was offered to law enforcement staff?  How were cases of underground women sex workers being addressed? 

Response by the Delegation

In response to these questions and comments and others, the delegation said there were certainly cultural barriers to female participation in politics, related to the reconciliation of professional and family life, and it was hoped that this would improve in following generations.  Services such as childcare had been interrupted by the war and the complex political situation was also an issue; political processes were sometimes too complicated for women to want to participate.  Political parties also had a male mindset.  Quotas were in place but a critical mass at the highest level was sill needed.

A survey had shown that women were not well represented in the media and work was being done to raise awareness on this issue.  The Agency had tried to intervene to address stereotypes in textbooks, a master’s degree in gender studies had been created to get gender experts into both the education system and the field. 

Not enough had been done to assist the victims of the civil war, but there were programmes that recognised their right to support.  A system of reparations did not exist and there were no specific programmes for economic empowerment of these women.  Religious figures had become more aware about domestic violence and gender issues, and some small-scale activities on gender equality had taken place.  There were sustainable models of training for police staff.  The Istanbul Convention had been ratified yesterday and preparations had been long underway to meet its provisions. 

A comparative analysis of data collection methods had been completed, which took into account existing data and institutions.  Non-governmental organizations received support to provide safe houses for victims of trafficking.  Laws on trafficking had been harmonised, a gender perspective had been integrated, and prostitution was illegal.  Victims of trafficking were mostly displaced persons from female-headed households.  The Agency and Gender Centres did not form part of the approach to tackling trafficking, but their role was to raise awareness concerning risks among society and young girls. 

Questions from Experts

Experts asked if emergency protection for victims was available.  Were other forms of violence, such as forced marriage and stalking, penalised under law?  Did shelters and safe houses assist all female victims of violence, or only victims of domestic violence?  Was legislation on trafficking harmonised at the entity level?  How many countries had victim witnesses of trafficking been resettled to?  How did the Delegation view the prosecution of instances of sexual violence in conflict? 

There were issues regarding the harmonisation of State and entity laws in relation to domestic violence, and prison sentences were only put forward in 16 per cent of the cases.  How were trafficking and prostitution prosecuted if laws were still not harmonised, and how many successful prosecutions had there been?  Were there plans in place to bring laws in line with the Istanbul Convention?  How many safe houses were there and how were they funded?  How many cases of femicide had there been registered?  Experts also requested more information regarding the improvement of support provided to victims of conflict.  How were domestic traffickers dealt with? 

Response by the Delegation

There were not enough prosecutions for cases of sexual violence in conflict due to stigma.  While victims could be registered through non-governmental organizations, stigma meant that victims did not even want their families to know what had happened to them.  It was sometimes useful for victims to count with support from other victims and groups that could facilitate this had received funding.  A programme to better attend to the needs of victims had been proposed and was awaiting adoption.  Emergency protection orders were available under the law, and forced marriage, harassment, and stalking were all considered crimes. 

There were 10 shelters for victims of violence open to all victims.  Trafficking was dealt with at State level courts, State and entity laws had been harmonised, and there had been 23 cases in 2008 and 12 in 2009.  Entity courts dealt with prostitution cases and no data was available on the number of victims resettled to their countries.  Trafficking prosecutions were dealt with at the State level regardless of whether trafficked persons had been taken either within or outside Bosnia and Herzegovina.  

Questions from Experts

The current coalition Government would replace open electoral lists with closed electoral lists to improve female political participation, what was the latest update on this?  The visibility of women in pre-electoral campaigns should be taken into account.  Did the Government intend to encourage the broadcasting service to consider gender representation in their internal rules?  Had regulations considering gender balance and geography in programming content been considered? 

Experts also requested additional information regarding gender representation in the diplomatic field.  Efforts were needed to facilitate access to citizenship for Roma persons living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, would the State be willing to designate a focal point to address this issue?  Steps were needed to improve access to birth registration, it had been reported that maternity wards did not refer births for registration when the mother could not afford to pay for delivery services.

Response by the Delegation

The recommendation from the Parliamentary Commission to close election lists had been rejected, as certain political parties had claimed that this was undemocratic and constituted a step back.  Other options were being considered.  Work on an amendment to the law on broadcasting was underway, as well as changes to the codex for journalists in relation to anti-discriminatory reporting.  Sanctions for broadcasting or press which portrayed men or women in a discriminatory manner were now in place, and this was clearly monitored.  Some municipal councils counted with women majorities, and men were showing themselves to be important actors for gender equality.

Women accounted for 24 per cent of the members of the diplomatic service, though this figure did not include one new appointment.  A large action plan to improve the situation of the Roma in many areas, including health, education and housing, was in place.  Roma women had access to child-delivery services free-of-charge, a vaccination programme was ongoing, and there were 364 housing units for the Roma population. 

The number of Roma girls leaving, or even attending, school was worrying, with only 2.5 per cent going into higher education.  Four in five of these women were unemployed.  Social inclusion was a priority and the gender action plan covered this group, Roma non-governmental organizations were funded whenever possible. 

Questions from Experts

The figures on school attendance rates for Roma children were inconsistent.  There seemed to be gender segregation in secondary education, with young people veering towards what were seen as sex-appropriate subjects, could the statistics on the male to female ratio of staff and management in higher education be provided? 

There was a legal provision regarding the equal appearance of men and women in public broadcasting, was this provision effectively used before elections?  Experts also requested clarification concerning the rates of Roma women married under 18 years of age.

Had a review on ethnically segregated education policies been planned, and was teacher training also segregated in this way? 

Response by the Delegation

Research had shown that it was more difficult for women to obtain high-level posts in education.  Funding for research was split 50/50 and this was skewed in favour of men as they were not as well represented.  More women would join university management systems as the levels of masters and doctoral theses increased.  The Ministry of Education had not been proactive in mainstreaming gender in their work, specifically referencing textbooks.

Research carried out by the United Nations Children's Fund on Roma families had produced figures on marriage under the age of 18.  A rulebook for the abolition of ethnically streamed schooling had been created.  National equality was more of a concern than gender equality.  Law schools covered human and gender rights.

Questions from Experts

High unemployment was a real obstacle for bringing women into the workplace, had measures to increase female employment been successful and what was being done to evaluate and improve these efforts?  Some of women’s rights were not sufficiently guaranteed and others were guaranteed though not well-implemented.  Women faced issues in relation to pregnancy and maternity, particularly those on fixed term contracts.  The right to compensation while on maternity leave did not seem to be well implemented across the entire country, what was being done to address this and were there legal rights and obligations for new fathers?  Roma women were almost entirely excluded from the labour market.  Was raising awareness enough and what additional measures could be taken? 

There were differences in access to healthcare between urban and rural areas and its provision was concentrated in cities, what steps had been taken to ensure women’s access to healthcare? What was the status of the strategy on sexual and reproductive health and what actions had been taken to improve access to contraception?  The number of cases of HIV had increased as a result of better diagnostics and increased risky behaviour.  Were measures in place to address stigma around HIV or strategies to reduce risky behaviour?  How many schools had been reached with messages about contraception?  What measures had been put in place to ensure the provision of health and social care at the entity level?  Was disaggregated data available regarding support offered to women affected by conflict?  Did lesbian women have access to fertility treatment?

Response by the Delegation

Several awareness programmes on sexual harassment had been completed, in 2011 there had been 11 new cases of sexual harassment.  The strategy for employment identified women as a vulnerable group and additional financial means and programmes were needed to target this group.  There was a problem with multiple discrimination and fixed-term contracts, and the labour inspectorate was addressing this issue though training.  Fewer Roma women were employed and this was connected to their level of education.  The responsibility for social issues was held at the cantonal level and sometimes the provision of social benefits depended on the level of support offered.  A new law with regards to maternity pay intended to unify the system. 

Women in rural areas faced reduced access to services but the strategy and action plan sought to improve this situation, particularly in relation to health services.  New contraception methods were not fully in use, though lessons in the classroom were addressing this issue.  There was no special strategy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) groups and they were not recognised in the health system, due to a lack of demand.  Groups were given support to raise awareness on HIV issues and Bosnia and Herzegovina remained a low-risk country. 

Questions from Experts

Experts wondered what percentage of Roma women were covered by health insurance?  How much support was offered to women victims of conflict?  It seemed that employers often did not want to cover maternity payments, were there measures in place to stop this practice? 

Roma women often worked in the grey economy and lacked access to health coverage, was the State doing anything to deal with this?  How would the State monitor whether long periods of maternity pay prevented employers from hiring women?  Was it the case that commercial sex workers were mentioned in legislation as “salesgirls of love,” allowing them to sell sex even though prostitution was illegal?  Once again, what was the availability and uptake of modern contraceptives? 

Response by the Delegation

An institutional fund had been established to ensure that all women received maternity payments.  Sex workers were not treated as employed and were considered as a vulnerable group.  There was a low prevalence of HIV, with around 150 cases, and several educational programmes and regional conferences on gender awareness and HIV/AIDS had been held.  Bosnia and Herzegovina played a leading role regionally.  Education on contraception was being delivered to young people but there was no data on teenage pregnancy, only estimations provided by religious organizations.  A basic health insurance package was available to Roma persons.

Questions from Experts

What was being done to encourage female entrepreneurship and what was being done to help single mothers without access to health care?  Special agencies were addressing the needs of rural women, did the national plan for women cover rural women and how were they included in relation to the delivery of services and support?  Rural women faced particular barriers and data on elderly women had not been included in the report. 

There were a large number of internally displaced persons but there was no flexibility in the approach to deal with them, what was being done about this and what was being done with regards to training for women with disabilities?  Women with disabilities did not obtain the custody of their children? Could Roma women and women with disabilities benefit from special measures?  Experts also inquired whether the general recommendation concerning older persons and their rights had been included into national provisions. 

Response by the Delegation

A new programme to offer psychological support for the victims of conflict was in place.  The new gender action plan would prioritise the situation of women in the economy, focusing on self-employment for young women and vulnerable women and the provision of low-interest credit would be part of this.  Individuals registered as unemployed and vulnerable groups received basic healthcare coverage. 

The national action plan included rural women and a special plan had been created after a gender-budget analysis revealed that a very small number of rural women received subsidies.  The plan sought to improve the economic status, living conditions, access to public services, and to increase the awareness of the public regarding the contribution made by rural women.  A trade fair for rural women was held annually and the mobility of rural women had also been considered in proposals for improvement. 

There were not many groups working with older persons and geriatric healthcare needed to be developed.  Persons seeking custody of children were subject to psychological assessments and had to meet certain criteria, but this did not mean that persons with disabilities were automatically disqualified. 

Questions from Experts

Had there been any progress towards the recognition of same-sex partnerships?  Was it possible for partners to a de facto union to protect their property after separation?  Experts asked the Delegation to comment on the fact that single women could not adopt children?

Experts also inquired about steps taken to tackle child marriage among Roma and how was data collected in this regard?  What efforts had been made to support female victims of conflict?

Response by the Delegation

Same-sex persons could not marry and this was not under discussion.  De facto relationships were not considered under family law, though a civil contract could be made and recognised.  However, persons who had lived together for one year had their rights recognised in the same way as a married couple.  It was possible for single persons to adopt children, although the process was longer than for a couple. 

Civilian victims of war were given access to social and health services, and some could also receive financial benefits.  The United Nations Children's Fund had gathered data from a survey of 1,700 Roma families, which showed that half of all women in the community had married under the age of 18.  It was hoped that increasing access to education for girls would eliminate this practice.  Guidelines on the implementation of the Istanbul Convention had also been disseminated. 

Concluding Remarks

ISMAT JAHAN, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for the responses provided and the constructive dialogue that had ensued.  The Committee called on the Bosnia and Herzegovina to take all necessary measures to implement the recommendations that would be communicated following this examination. 

SAMRA FILIPOVIC-HADZIABDIC, Director of the Agency for Gender Equality of Bosnia and Herzegovina, hoped that the concluding remarks and observations would help with future work and that gender mainstreaming would be recognised in the European integration processes.  Ms. Filipovic-Hadziabdic also hoped that the Committee would do more to push the European Commission to increase the importance of women’s rights in membership negotiations. 
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