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

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
Against Women

9 July 2014

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the fifth periodic report of Lithuania on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
 
Introducing the report, Gintaras Klimavicius, Vice-Minister, Ministry of Social Security and Labour, said that Lithuania had been a full member of the European Union since 2004 and its legislation had been harmonized with the European Union’s progressive gender equality law.  The Third National Programme on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men 2010-2014 ensured the dynamic promotion of gender equality in all areas; long-term attention to women’s issues and work on eliminating inequalities had led to a high percentage of well-educated women, a small gap between employment rates of women and men, a significant decrease in the pay gap and almost 40 per cent representation of women managers in the public sector. 
 
Committee Members commended Lithuania for passing a number of important legislative initiatives to ensure gender equality and address violence against women, including domestic violence, but expressed concern that the de facto equality between women and men had still not been achieved.  Despite the efforts undertaken by the Government, trafficking in persons remained a concern and Lithuania continued to be a country of origin, transit and destination.  Other issues raised during the discussion included statelessness and nationality, the situation of rural women and the participation of Roma in decision-making.

The delegation of Lithuania included representatives of the Ministry of Social Security and Labour, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior, Education Development Centre, the Statistics Department, and the Permanent Mission of Lithuania to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

Mr. Klimavicius, in his concluding remarks said that Lithuania was actively taking steps to implement the provisions of the Convention and it was striving for substantial and de facto equality between women and men.  Further efforts were needed to implement certain provisions of the Convention and the Committee’s concluding observations.
 
Violeta Neubauer, Committee Vice-Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, commended Lithuania for its efforts and encouraged it to take steps to address the concluding observations for a more comprehensive implementation of the Convention throughout its entire territory.

The Committee will reconvene in public on Thursday, 10 July at 10 a.m. to consider the combined initial and second periodic reports of Swaziland (CEDAW/C/SWZ/1-2).
 
Report

The fifth periodic report of Lithuania can be read here: CEDAW/C/LTU/5.


Presentation of the Report
 
GINTARAS KLIMAVICIUS, Vice-Minister, Ministry of Social Security and Labour of Lithuania, said that in 2013 Lithuania had signed the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and discrimination against women, and was in the process of forming a Working Group which would be in charge of examining the ratification possibilities.  The amendments to the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedures would render the fight against the sexual abuse of children more effective, and a Help Centre for child victims of sexual abuse would be established by the end of 2016.  Lithuania had also ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.  Lithuania had been a full member of the European Union since 2004 and its legislation had been harmonized with its progressive gender equality law; the European Institute for Gender Equality, the only specialised European agency on gender equality issues, had been located in Vilnius since 2007.  During its Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2013, Lithuania had prioritized the effectiveness of institutional mechanisms for the acceleration of women’s advancement and gender equality, the prevention of domestic violence, and anti-discrimination and Roma issues. 
 
The 2012 and 2013 amendments to the Law on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men introduced the obligation of public institutions to ensure equal treatment of women and men when providing administrative and public services, defined actions that represented violations of equal rights, and introduced the obligation of gender mainstreaming in all policy areas and on the municipal level in particular.  The Law on State-Guaranteed Legal Aid, which came into force in January 2014, broadened the opportunities for persons to choose legal counsellors and introduced the one-stop shop principle for persons applying for legal aid.  The Third National Programme on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men 2010-2014 ensured the dynamic promotion of gender equality in all areas, while well developed gender equality statistics helped in identifying gender gaps and ensured better targeted decisions; this programme was to be independently evaluated this year.  The implementation of this programme was monitored and coordinated by the Commission of Equal Opportunities for Women and Men.  Long-term attention to women’s issues and work on eliminating inequalities had led to a high percentage of well-educated women, a small gap between employment rates of women and men, a significant decrease in the pay gap and almost 40 per cent representation of women managers in the public sector.  An Inter-institutional Working Group on the coordination of protection from domestic violence had been established in 2013, while amendments to the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure ensured effective protection against repeated violence and enabled the competent and immediate provision of specialized integrated support for the victims.  The 2014 amendments to the Law on Protection against Domestic Violence improved the protection of victims and their children and imposed the duty of the police to inform specialized assistance centres about all victims of domestic violence.
 
Questions from the Experts
 
A Committee Expert commended Lithuania for passing a number of important legislative initiatives to ensure gender equality and address violence, including domestic violence; however, de facto equality between women and men was still not achieved.  The Expert asked about the extent of the knowledge about the provisions of the Convention among law enforcement officials and the judiciary; constitutional amendments and if they would include the definition of multiple discrimination and the definition of the family; access to justice for women; and the mandate and resources of the Ombudsman’s office.
 
Experts took up the national gender equality machinery and noting that the Division for gender equality was not sufficiently staffed and resourced, asked about concrete measures to be undertaken to ensure that it had the necessary resources to function properly.  The Committee sought de facto equality in addition to equality in the law, stressed Experts and expressed concern about the lack of special measures to accelerate de facto equality. 


Responses by the Delegation
 
The Convention had not been invoked in courts many times, agreed the delegation and drew attention to the 2013 decision by the Supreme Court which used the provisions of the Convention to justify its ruling in an anti-discrimination case.  The courts did have the knowledge about the Convention and relied on it in their rulings. The provisions of the Convention and the Committee’s Concluding Observations were included in the National Programme on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men 2010-2014. 
 
The definition of multiple discrimination was not contained in the law; however, the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson took into consideration different grounds of discrimination if they were raised in the complaint.  The Ombudsman did not have precise information about the regional distribution of complaints of sex based discrimination; 53 per cent of discrimination complaints were on grounds of social status, 14 per cents on grounds of gender, and 12 per cent on grounds of disability.  Long-term experience had shown that administrative sanctions were not effective and usually did not stop discriminatory actions in the future; repealing discriminatory provisions was effective and had an immediate impact on the person who filed the complaint and also stopped future discriminatory action.  The long-serving Ombudsperson who had served since 1998 was no longer there; the functions were discharged by the Child Ombudsperson.  The Parliament would appoint a new Ombudsperson.
 
The law on legal assistance came into force in January 2014 and ensured access to State-guaranteed legal aid to women from disadvantaged backgrounds, and also to women involved in criminal cases.  The decision had been taken to establish a national human rights institution and the draft law had been prepared and discussed with the civil society stakeholders, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and national human rights institutions from several countries.  This project unfortunately coincided with the economic recession; still in 2013, a human rights division had been established in the Office of the Ombudsman which was already discharging the functions of the future national human rights institution.  It was hoped that the draft law would be thoroughly discussed in the autumn session of the Parliament. 
 
The delegation explained how the national gender equality machinery worked at the national level and said that since October 2013 municipalities were obliged to include gender equality in their strategies.  In 2013, a project had been initiated to promote gender mainstreaming at the municipal level, which aimed to increase the capacity of municipal officials through training and awareness raising.
 
With regard to cooperation with non-governmental organizations, the delegation said they participated directly in the Commission on Equality between Women and Men.  Non-governmental organizations in Lithuania had several opportunities for funding, including competitions for grants under different programmes such as gender equality, violence, or disability.  The Ministry of Social Security and Labour proposed the establishment of the Civil Society Foundation which would be one of the channels for funding.  Last year, the Law on Non-governmental Organizations had been adopted, together with the Law on Voluntary Work, which opened the way for non-governmental organizations to pay some of the costs of their volunteers.
 
The Third National Programme on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men 2010-2014 was coming to an end and the Government had decided to prepare the new long-term programme, whose priorities would be equal pay and economic equality and the continuation of gender mainstreaming in different areas, particularly in health.
 
Special temporary measures were ensured in the Law on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, but needed to be specified in relevant laws; binding quotas were not established by the law.  Equal Opportunities Ombudsman’s Offices published recommendations on the application of temporary special measures, and suggested liberal measures, binding quotas established by the law and voluntary quotas.  The recommendations emphasized that prior to introducing special temporary measures, a preparatory period was necessary which would include education and awareness raising within the society about the goals and purpose of such measures.


Questions from the Experts
 
The Committee Experts noted the recent adoption of the national programme for the prevention of domestic violence and asked about the timeframe for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, the monitoring mechanism for the implementation of the 2006 strategy combating domestic violence and violence against women, and the creation and funding of a responsible body for the implementation of policies and measures to combat all forms of violence against women.  Did the new programme for equal opportunities include measures to combat gender stereotypes?  Was sexual harassment in any context subject to criminal or other sanctions?
 
Trafficking in persons remained of concern in Lithuania which despite the efforts continued to be a country of origin, transit and destination, both internally and internationally.  Children, particularly adolescent girls living in boarding schools, orphanages and other State-run institutions, were particularly vulnerable to trafficking, while poor and rural women were trafficked for sexual purposes.  What measures were in place to protect women and girls from trafficking and sexual exploitation, and what support was available for victims of trafficking?  Women in prostitution should not be seen as criminals: there must be a determined effort to reduce the demand and criminalize the activities of pimps. 
 
Responses by the Delegation
 
Gender stereotypes would be addressed in the action plan for the newly adopted programme to combat domestic violence and assist the victims of domestic violence; measures foreseen included awareness raising on gender stereotypes and the change of attitudes towards domestic violence and violence against women.  A Working Group would be established to analyse the possibilities of ratification of the Istanbul Convention.  The means to combat domestic violence had been increased more than threefold over the past several years.  The evaluation of the strategy to combat violence against women 2007-2009 had been conducted; its conclusion was the formulation of the new law on domestic violence and the adoption of a programme on assistance to victims of domestic violence which contained criteria that would enable the better evaluation of results.
 
Stereotypes were one of the root causes of inequality and discrimination against women, including violence; measures to combat stereotypes were included in the National Programme on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, while the future national programme would prioritize combating gender stereotypes.  A number of programmes were conducted in schools to ensure early education about stereotypes and so early prevention of violence.
 
Complaints about domestic violence were registered by the police and not the victim herself; if the perpetrator of violence lived in the same household, the police proceeded to his immediate removal from the place of residence.  The police officer had the obligation to inform the victim of violence about the available assistance and informed the centre of specialized assistance which in turn contacted the victim.  The true model for the mediation process in the court on criminal issues did not exist at the moment; a special law should be adopted in order to enforce the mandatory process of mediation and reconciliation.
 
All victims of violence could approach centres for specialized assistance irrespective of contacting the police.  Health care specialists, including gynaecologists and forensic medicine specialists, worked with the police and psychologists on the guidelines to define the procedure and function of health care specialists providing care to victims of sexual violence. 
 
Regional programmes were in place to address trafficking in persons for purposes of forced labour and police had implemented a number of other measures to prevent trafficking in human beings.
 
Police had implemented a number of measures to prevent trafficking in human beings; they held meetings in communities, disseminated leaflets and posters on the subject, organized art competitions on trafficking in persons, educated society on trafficking, and others.  The international day of missing children had been celebrated, attracting a lot of attention from the public.  Judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers received training in trafficking in persons.  Lithuania was aware of the European ban on the purchase of prostitution services and said that the discussion on the subject was ongoing in the country.
 
Questions from the Experts
 
The delegation was asked to clarify the meaning of the “traditional family values”, describe the measures to combat negative stereotypes about women politicians in education and in the Parliament, and provide information about the activities and results achieved by women’s groups in the Parliament.  There were about 4,000 stateless persons in Lithuania; statelessness had a disproportionate impact on women and children; stateless persons were considered as aliens by the law, while the provisions of the Law on Citizenship did not extend to children born to stateless parents without permanent residence.  What measures were being taken to address statelessness of Roma women and children and the issue of fake marriages for purposes of nationality?
 
Responses by the Delegation
 
The Ministry of Social Security and Labour promoted a project of non-governmental organizations aiming at positive parenting, constructive resolution of family conflicts and better relations in the family.  More than 85 per cent of teachers were women, and the national strategy of education prioritized more involvement of men. 
 
A group of women Parliamentarians were involved in drafting of legislation and their main priority was to block legislation which was not gender sensitive; they did not have a binding obligation to intervene in the reporting under the Convention.  However, the group was very active in monitoring the implementation of the Committee’s concluding observations.
 
There were no cases of fake marriages in the country.  According to the census data, there were less than one per cent of stateless persons in the country, last year a little bit more than 4,000; after the amendment of the citizenship law, the number was reduced to about 3,800 this year. 
 
Questions from the Experts
 
On education, the delegation was asked about the Back to School programme which had been on hold since 2008 for technical reasons, measures to gather data disaggregated by sex and ethnicity which could be used for policy making, the involvement of Roma girls in mainstream schools and not schools for special needs, age-appropriate education on sexual and reproductive health in schools, education of girls in rural areas, and access of women to life-long education.
 
Concerning employment, Experts commended Lithuania for efforts to close the pay gap and increase women’s employment and said that the labour market was still segmented with women holding most jobs in sectors such as health and education.  Experts noted the recent entry of women in non-traditional sectors such as finance and insurance and said that the gender pay gap was widest in those sectors; incentives should be stepped up to encourage men to take parental leave.  Preschool had issues with regard to availability, affordability and adaptability of women’s working hours, they said, and asked about measures to ensure that the Committee’s concluding observations were integrated in the revision and amendment of laws.
 
Responses by the Delegation
 
There were 48 adult education schools in addition to the University of Third Age.  Only one per cent or less of students dropped out.  There were 27 multifunctional centres which also provided education for adults in the rural areas.  An inter-ministerial programme for the integration of Roma was in place and in municipalities with a large presence of Roma, discussions were held about the participation of Roma in decision-making in education. 
 
Several measures in the rural development programme supported rural entrepreneurship and the shift from agricultural to non-agricultural activities.  Horizontal segregation of the labour market was persistent in the labour market in the country, including in health, culture or social sciences; men in those sectors usually held top positions.  Measures to address the gender segregated labour market were contained in the National Programme on Equal Opportunities of Women and Men; the exact impact of those measures would be known in autumn when the evaluation of the programme took place.  Lithuania had been successful in reducing the pay gap by almost half, but it still persisted; a methodology for reducing the pay gap had been developed and would be used by employers and employees to introduce gender sensitive provisions in collective agreements and ensure that the principle of equal pay for equal work applied.  Paternity leave was quite popular among young men which also showed that younger generations were more free from stereotypes; most measures undertaken to promote the use of parental leave were soft and involved campaigns and awareness raising. 
 
The Government was paying for four hours of preschool education for all children; 11,000 new preschool places had been opened last year.
 
Questions from the Experts
 
Lithuania had low access to contraceptives of choice and parental consent was required for young people to access contraceptives and information about sexual and reproductive health.  The new school materials promoted the role of chastity, warned girls of the harmful effects of contraceptives and related homosexuality to AIDS.  What was being done to ensure age-appropriate and scientifically based sexuality and reproductive health education of the youth?  In 2013, another abortion ban bill had been registered and it was currently pending before the Human Rights Committee; the criminalization of abortion was a real step backwards for human rights and the rights of women.
 
Concerning economic empowerment of disadvantaged women, including rural women, the delegation was asked about measures it had undertaken to empower those women in the context of the economic crisis, the methodology in place to assess the implementation of the non-discrimination plan, and the measures to promote the participation of disadvantaged women in decision-making in issues that concerned them.
 
Responses by the Delegation
 
All family planning services were provided by a family doctor or a midwife; hormonal contraceptives were given after a consultation with a gynaecologist, who issued the first prescription, which was then extended every six months by a family doctor.  The Government did not support the draft law on abortion ban and it deemed that women had the right to reproductive health, including abortion.  The draft law on assisted conception had been before the Parliament for 10 years.  The scope of user-friendly services was to avoid the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, and to improve sexual and reproductive health.
 
Abortions of pregnancies in case of persons deprived of legal capacity were regulated by the law and required the decision of a court.  The situation of rural women was improving and among the most favourable platforms were local action groups made up of representatives of the municipality, business and rural communities; those platforms were very influential and their activities were funded by the European Union’s rural development programme.  The local action groups were responsible for the implementation of local development strategies; the participation of women in those groups was significant.  The rural development network was another popular tool, which provided the exchange of information, experiences and lessons learned between various rural groups and communities.
 
Statistical data was not available on the participation of women with disabilities in decision-making, but steps were being carried out to ensure the inclusion of all women.  Since 2012, separate competitions had been organized to ensure capacity building and economic empowerment of Roma women; measures specific to Roma women would also be a part of the 2015-2020 programme for the integration of Roma.
 
Questions from the Experts
 
A Committee Expert spoke about the age of consent for marriage which could be reduced by the court on request of the person intending to marry if that person was aged between 16 and 18; the court could issue permission to marry to persons younger than 16 if the girl was pregnant.  On which grounds and using which criteria were those permissions granted or rejected?  The delegation was also asked to comment on the draft law on partnership, describe situations which qualified for partnerships and clarify whether non-traditional relationships qualified.
 
In a series of follow-up questions and comments, Committee Experts asked about the situation of elderly women who were particularly vulnerable to poverty, the nationality of Roma children, and the notion of family, including non-traditional forms.
 
Responses by the Delegation
 
The basis for the provision that courts could reduce the age of consent for marriage was that children should be born in the family and the only way was though this process.  The presumption of equal ownership of assets was just a starting point in the case of divorce; courts took into consideration all circumstances before making a final decision about the division of assets.  The draft law on equal partnerships had been presented to the Government last week and was now under consideration. 
 
The new action plan of demographic strategy had been adopted and it would support non-governmental organizations working in the field of family well-being.  Citizenship was conferred on a child born to stateless parents living in Lithuania; this included Roma children.  Partnership was defined as cohabitation between a man and woman while creating family relations without going into a marriage.
 
Concluding Remarks
 
GINTARAS KLIMAVICIUS, Vice-Minister, Ministry of Social Security and Labour of Lithuania, in his concluding remarks thanked the Committee Experts for the constructive and productive dialogue and said that Lithuania was actively taking steps to implement the provisions of the Convention and was striving for substantial and de facto equality between women and men.  The Government acknowledged that further efforts were needed to implement certain provisions of the Convention and the Committee’s concluding observations.
 
VIOLETA NEUBAUER, Committee Vice-Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue which provided further insight into the situation of women in Lithuania.  The Committee commended Lithuania for its efforts and encouraged it to take steps to address the concluding observations for the more comprehensive implementation of the Convention throughout its entire territory.
 
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