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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women considers the reports of Germany

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination   against Women

21 February 2017

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined seventh and eighth periodic reports of Germany on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the reports, Elke Ferner, Parliamentary State Secretary, Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth of Germany, stressed that Germany aimed to achieve comprehensive de facto equality between women and men in all areas and at all levels.  An independent Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency supported the achievement of goals contained in the General Act on Equal Treatment of 2006, and its overall budget had been increased from €2.64 million in 2011 to €4.32 million in 2017.  It was expected that the law ratifying the Istanbul Convention would be adopted in the coming months.  The legislative reform on sexual offences was another milestone, with the embedding of the principle of “no means no” in the criminal law and a woman’s consensus now being the deciding factor.  Sexual harassment had been introduced as a new punishable offence, and female genital mutilation had been a prosecutable offence since 2013.  In the past year, some 240,000 women and girls had applied for asylum; their protection from violence was a fundamental human right.  Germany was in the process of appointing anti-violence coordinators in refugee institutions to improve the safety and security of children, youth and women.

In the dialogue that followed, Committee Experts welcomed the measures taken to advance effective gender equality, and commended the leadership of Chancellor Merkel and Germany’s generous policy of opening its doors and offering protection to one million refugees.  The Experts were concerned, however, that access to Germany and to the protected status had become more restricted since spring 2016, including for family reunification purposes.  Experts urged Germany to widen the mandate of its anti-discrimination agency and give it the right to file discrimination complaints in the courts.  Although the age of marriage was set at 18, the law allowed marriage at the age of 16 and over with parental consent – however, this was contradictory with the stated intention to combat early marriage.  In 2016, the gender pay gap stood at 21 per cent and the gender pension gap at 42 per cent – the concern was that because the draft law on transparency of pay would not apply to companies under 200 workers - where most women were employed – it would not apply to the majority of women in the country.  Germany was asked to explain what was being done to prohibit the practice of intersex genital mutilation on infants – still carried on some 1,700 children every year - and postpone this irreversible surgery until the child was old enough to give consent. 

In concluding remarks, Ms. Ferner said that the dialogue was an incentive to make faster progress on women’s rights and equality.  The discussions around the review provided opportunities at the national level to discuss gender-related issues and raise awareness on the Convention.

The delegation of Germany included representatives of the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, Federal Foreign Office, Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection, Standing Conference on Education and Cultural Affairs of the Federal States, Berlin Senate, and the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will reconvene in public on Wednesday, 22 February, at 10 a.m. to consider the eighth periodic report of Sri Lanka (CEDAW/C/LKA/8).

Reports

The combined seventh and eighth periodic reports of Germany can be read here: (CEDAW/C/DEU/7-8).
 
Presentation of the Reports

ELKE FERNER, Parliamentary State Secretary, Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth of Germany, at the outset stressed that the aim of the current gender equality policy in Germany was to achieve comprehensive de facto equality between women and men in all areas and at all levels.  This called for good enabling conditions and not least for comprehensive protection from violence.  The biggest gender inequalities still in place included the gender time gap and the difference in the amount of working hours, the gender pay gap in equal pay for equal and equally valued work, the gender care gap and the uneven distribution of unpaid care duties, the gender leader gap in the participation of women in leadership positions, and the gender gap in pensions.  Since the causes of gender inequalities were diverse, a whole package of measures, including targeted women promotion, was needed, which must be accompanied with good instruments and monitoring processes to accelerate de facto gender equality.  To aid this process, broad-based frameworks were in place at both national and Länder (State) levels, while the principle of gender mainstreaming had long been an integral component and an underlying principle of policy action at the Federal and State level. 

An independent Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency supported the achievement of goals contained in the General Act on Equal Treatment of 2006, and its overall budget had been increased from €2.64 million in 2011 to €4.32 million in 2017.  Another important instrument of gender equality policy was the National Gender Equality Reports, developed by a commission of highly regarded gender experts – the second such report had been submitted just a few weeks ago and it analysed gender equality from a life-cycle perspective.  One central area was combatting all forms of violence.  Germany had taken a range of measures to ratify the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention; the ratification legislation was expected to be adopted in the coming months.  The national violence against women hotline had been introduced in 2013: it could be reached free of charge, 24/7, in 17 different languages, including a sign language.  The helpline was also one of the key points of contact for women refugees, women migrants and women with disabilities.  The legislative reform on sexual offences was another milestone, and Germany had embedded the principle of “no means no” in its criminal law relating to sexual offences, with a woman’s consensus now being the deciding factor.  Sexual harassment had been introduced as a new punishable offence, and female genital mutilation had been a prosecutable offence since 2013.

In the past year, some 240,000 women and girls had applied for asylum in Germany and Germany deemed that their protection from violence was their fundamental human right.  In December 2015, an initiative to protect women and children living in refugee accommodation had been launched together with the United Nations Children’s Fund and other partners.  In order to improve the safety and security of children, youth and women, 25 anti-violence coordinators had been appointed in institutions in 2016, and their number would be increasing to 100 in 2017, while minimum anti-violence standards in refugee accommodation nationwide were being developed.  Traditional role models were starting to change, although the gender division of roles persisted: women and men were equally qualified but from the moment a child was born, career development paths tended to drift apart.  Germany believed that measures to reconcile work and private life should target both women and men, and it took measures to improve the enabling conditions for an equal distribution of responsibility for work and family life with a triangular approach that focused on time, infrastructure and money.  This included the parental allowance introduced in 2007, while parental allowance plus introduced in 2015 offered further incentives for couples to equally distribute responsibilities and for an earlier return to work.  The Federal Government was supporting regional governments and municipal administrations to expand childcare services with funding amounting to €8.26 billion for the period 2009 to 2018, and in 2013 a legal right to a child care place had been introduced for children from the age of one.

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert welcomed the new measures that Germany was taking to advance effective gender equality, and acknowledged the leading role of Chancellor Merkel with the generous policy of opening Germany’s doors and offering protection to one million refugees, which reminded Europe of her core values.  However, access to Germany and to protected status had become more restricted since spring 2016, including for family reunification.

It seemed that the General Act on Equal Treatment of 2006 needed improvements, including giving the right to file complaints to the anti-discrimination agency, extending the deadline for discrimination complaints from two to at least six months, and the position of article 9 that permitted differential treatment on the grounds of religion or beliefs.

The law guaranteeing protection from sexual harassment applied to the sector of employment.  Would the protection be extended to other sectors, for example health and education?

Referring to the decision by the Federal Constitutional Court concerning the headscarf ban for teachers, the Expert asked what could be done to ensure that no other Länder introduced a similar law?

What measures would be taken, including gender analysis of arms sale, to ensure that arms were not sold to countries which used them to inflict gender-based violence?

What was being done to curb human rights violations abroad by German companies and their subsidiaries, and to offer effective access to justice and remedies to victims, especially in view of the huge power imbalance between the corporations and victims?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation recognized that the refugee reception process was far from being controversial and that the issue of family reunification was currently being discussed by the Government.

The General Act on Equal Treatment of 2006 was currently being discussed by the Government and as soon as the decision was made, the Committee would be informed.  At the moment, there was a trial at the European Court of Justice on differential treatment on the grounds of religion or beliefs, and this verdict would give a direction in which the legislation should be amended.

The protection against sexual harassment law applied to all areas of life, and it was a punishable offence in the criminal court.  

It was the responsibility of each Länder to enforce the decision by the Federal Constitutional Court on the headscarf ban.

The National Action Plan on Human Rights and Economy 2016 had been developed to implement the guiding principles by the United Nations Special Representative, John Ruggie, on businesses and human rights, and it addressed issues such as human rights, due diligence, supply chains, and others.  Germany was the eleventh country in the world which had submitted such a plan.  In addition, there was an ongoing dialogue with the industry about their corporate responsibilities. 

The Federal Government made arms sale decisions on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with the European Union Directives and the Arms Trade Treaty.  The impact on human rights violations, including gender-based violence, was a part of the risk assessment which was an essential part of the decision-making.

In follow-up questions, Committee Experts asked about civil legislation on sexual harassment.  They congratulated Germany for adopting the first-ever integration law and asked about its effects and impact, and the specific structures in place to support the integration of refugee and migrant women in the labour market, particularly in jobs involving modern technologies.

The delegation confirmed that indeed there was a civil law on sexual harassment, in addition to the criminal one.  The law on integration had sent a very strong political signal that it was about human rights, and the right of migrants and refugees to attend language courses, which were a prerequisite to successful integration.  In order to ensure the participation of refugee and migrant women, efforts were ongoing to provide child care places to enable women to attend, there were women only language classes, and mentorship programmes to support entrepreneurship by refugee women.  Migrant women were also given an opportunity to re-enter the labour market.  The aim of the law was to do away with the mistakes committed in the 1970s and 1980s, when the focus was on the integration of men, and to focus on women and children, who were key to integration. 

Germany observed human rights through its representatives abroad, and the principle of arms sale was based on the principle of single individual decisions, and human rights were always taken into account through risk assessment.  If there was a risk that human rights might be violated, the decision would not be approved.

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert commended the position of Germany on the issue of refugees and welcomed the important increases in the budgeting for national gender machinery and the measures in the areas of increasing child care places, integration in the labour market and others.

However, the independent Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency did not have the mandate to receive complaints and to file discrimination complaints.  What was the coordination system between Länder and various ministerial conferences in the matters of the implementation of the Convention?  What was the situation with gender budgeting?

The Committee recognized the efforts of Germany on promoting gender equality in its international cooperation and asked how gender mainstreaming would be used in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals?

The Expert acknowledged the excellent work of the National Human Rights Institution and asked how it could be formally entrusted with the monitoring of the implementation of all human rights treaties, including the Convention.  How did the Institution relate to human rights bodies in Länder in the matters of gender equality?

Another Expert recognized the application of temporary special measures by Germany in line with the recommendations of the Committee and asked for additional information on temporary special measures taken to increase the participation of women in sectors in which they were under-represented, and the situation of disadvantaged groups of women such as women with disabilities, transgender women, refugee and migrant women, and others.

Responses by the Delegation

Germany would have preferred an all-European solution to the question of refugees, which had not happened yet.  There were special measures for refugees to aid integration through language training, while programmes were in place to support the learning of the German language by children of migrant backgrounds.

The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency was independent and its mandate had been defined by the law.  It was not in its mandate to file court cases on discrimination, but anti discrimination organizations could support plaintiffs in court.

There were Länder gender equality laws which provided for an election of gender equality officers.  In an effort to reconcile family and work life, a draft law was being discussed to allow persons who had reduced working hours or part time hours to return to full time work, who were mostly women.

Gender mainstreaming in international cooperation was a policy in Germany which welcomed the inclusion of a stand-alone goal on gender equality in the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Standing Conference on Education had dealt with cases of sexual harassment in schools and had issued a guidance on the matter, including the obligation to report and to adopt a code of conduct in schools.

Gender equality officers could be appointed full time as well, depending on the size of the agency.  The gender equality officers were also responsible to support measures to reconcile family and professional life for both women and men, such as part time work, work from home, and others.

The administrative make up of Germany was such that each Federal Ministry had its counterpart in Länder, or there was a conference of ministers as a counterpart.  Once a treaty was ratified it was the responsibility of each Land to harmonize the legislation, or to do it prior to the ratification as was the practice at the Federal level.

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert addressed the issue of violence against women and commended recent measures to strengthen the legal framework, including the amendments to the social offences act and the criminalization of female genital mutilation.

The ratification of the Istanbul Convention was only the first step, as it was its implementation that counted.  What were the plans with regards to lifting the reservations to Article 59 of the Istanbul Convention related to violence against refugee women?  Was there a systematic training of judges, prosecutors, police forces and social workers to ensure that the new provisions were implemented?

How was the long-standing confusion related to the division of the roles between the Federal Government and Länder in funding shelters for victims of violence being resolved?  Were there particular groups of women who did not have full access to those shelters and what was being done to address the issue?

The Expert recognized efforts taken to respond to the protection needs of refugee and asylum seeking women in refugee shelters and asked for the timeframe for the implementation of those measures.

Under the law, marriage was possible for individuals under the age of 18, with parental consent, which was contradictory with the stated intention to combat early marriage.

Another Expert raised concern about the continued practice of intersex genital mutilation on infants, which could not be justified and must be postponed until the child was old enough to express his or her wishes.  This procedure was carried on some 1,700 intersex children every year. 

Who decided the best interest of the child in such cases?  Germany should adopt the provision which would authorise only life-saving procedures until the child was old enough, and also consider the use of the mechanism of the child advocate.

It was difficult to gauge the scale of human trafficking in Germany, but available data indicated that trafficking of women was an issue of grave concern.  Germany had adopted anti-trafficking legislation and put in place coordination structures at the Federal and Länder levels.  What were the intentions to adopt a comprehensive anti-trafficking strategy which would be human rights based and not only be seen from the criminal law perspective?  Would Germany completely transpose in its law the European Union Directive on Trafficking, including the provisions related to support and rehabilitation of victims?

Germany had taken important measures to prosecute sex traffickers, however, the sanctions were not commensurate with the gravity of the crime, while sentences for first time offenders were often suspended.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation explained that because the law at the Federal level had been changed prior to the ratification, the Istanbul Convention had been practically implemented.  What remained now was to train professionals to determine whether a woman was a victim of violence and to establish the working mechanisms for the implementation of the Convention.  Judges were independent and the Federal Government could not require them to participate in such training, but from previous experience with other treaties, judges took care of being informed about new legislation.

Access to women’s shelters was guaranteed, and a measure had been taken to ensure that refugee women who were victims of violence could access shelters in another areas without incurring the charge for the violation of a residency permit.  Operators of refugee shelters had an obligation to develop a protective environment and the Government was offering them advice and training in this regard.

The age of marriage was set at 18 years of age; marriage at the age of 16 onwards required the consent of parents and the Family Court.  Discussions were ongoing about adopting the absolute age of marriage at 18, and one of the issues was what to do with persons coming from abroad who had been married before the age of 18.  Solutions that took into account international law must be taken into account.

Small steps forward had been taken in relation to the practice of intersex genital mutilation.  The care guidance had been issued which prohibited all irreversible medical interventions prior to the child coming of an age to express consent.  The exception was a life-saving procedure, or the best interest of the child, for example if a child was suicidal. 

The residence act had been amended so women victims of trafficking had to take part in the legal process as witnesses for example, so that perpetrators were identified, and they would receive residency permits.  Sex workers were allowed to work, but the prostitution industry was not regulated; the new law adopted in July 2016 now required operators of brothels to register the establishments and comply with the regulations.  There were regular controls and inspections, just like any other trade that required license.

In follow-up questions, the delegation was asked about efforts to reduce the demand for prostitution and whether the new law of July 2016 allowed sex workers to group themselves into smaller units for protection for example, or was that devised only for big businesses.  What programmes were in place to combat stereotypes – racial, gender, and others?

The delegation said that there were interpretative differences in connection to the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, and said that Germany was unable to withdraw the reservation to article 59 at the moment.  As for addressing the demand for prostitution, Germany was not in favour of banning the demand as it forced prostitution underground; Germany preferred to regulate legal prostitution and the working conditions of sex workers who were in the profession freely, while it invested efforts in well demarking forced prostitution and addressing this issue through criminal law. 

Germany had increased funding for organizations addressing radicalism, stereotypes, racism and xenophobia from €30 million to more than €100 million and had also changed the modality of funding from supporting projects to providing permanent or longer-term funding for democratic centres in Länder and for civil society.

Questions from the Experts

On women’s participation in political life, a Committee Expert expressed appreciation for the improvements in the number of women holding political positions and the adoption of voluntary measures for the representation of women in electoral lists by some political parties.

Improvements were needed in the executive branch, where women held only five out of 14 ministerial positions and only 24 per cent of the seats in municipal councils.  What were the intentions concerning the adoption of the legislation on gender parity in electoral lists for the Bundestag and the Länder and what would be the timeframe for its adoption?  What was being done to ensure that women had equal opportunities in promotion in the workplace?

Another Expert asked about the status of the draft law on nationality?  Trans persons could request a change of gender without going through physical change, and for which testimony by two experts was required – would this provision be changed in line with international standards?  There were reports stating that the fee for the change of gender in identity documents and passport was €8,000 – would this be changed?

Responses by the Delegation

Responding, the delegation said that there were seven women in ministerial positions, including the Chancellor, while the Federal Act on Gender Equality applied to Federal Ministries, obliging them to develop their own gender equality plans in order to reach gender parity among the staff.  Those plans must be public within each Ministry, and every year a gender equality index was developed as an indicator of progress. 

At the municipal levels, only 24 per cent of seats were held by women while the situation was even worse when it came to women in mayoral positions.  A nation-wide network of women in municipal politics was in place which Germany was supporting, and in some Länders there were mentorship programmes for young women politicians.  It would take time before tangible results would be obtained at the municipal levels.

On the participation of women in the Foreign Service and international organizations, the delegation explained that Germany applied a gender perspective in selecting candidates for United Nations positions and for diplomatic service.  A programme was in place to promote talent and young professionals in international organizations – in 2016 about 66 per cent of the participants in the programme were women. 

The law on dual nationality has abolished the formerly forced choice of a nationality by the age of 23 and despite some discussions and claims of a few politicians in the media to re-change this law again, this is not likely to happen in the soon ending electoral term.

There was a recommendation to simplify the gender change procedure.  It was true that expert opinions were very expensive and could cost up to €8,000 but the costs could be covered by legal aid.

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert addressed the situation of women in higher in education, and also addressed the issue of how schools affected the way girls and boys saw their gender roles, and asked whether Germany had undertaken a review of its textbooks to ensure that they used gender-sensitive language and images in order to overcome gender-specific stereotypes.  What was being done to sensitize teachers about the reality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students to overcome their own stereotypes and educate other children.

Were language and integration classes available only to asylum seeking and refugee children who had a possibility of remaining in the country, and what was being done in this regard with other refugee children?

Another Expert noted with concern that the gender pay gap remained at 21 per cent and welcomed the adoption of the new law on transparency of pay which would give the right to workers in companies with 200 or more employees to compare how their pay compared with that of a comparable group.  However, the concern was that the majority of women worked in small enterprises to which the act did not apply - how long would it take to adopt measures to adopt the legislation applicable to companies with fewer than 200 employees?

The gender pay gap extended to pensions as well, with men receiving 42 per cent more than women due to well-known reasons: differences in sectors and volume of employment and the absence of men from care duties.  What measures would be adopted to address the pension gap between women and men?

It was imperative to ensure that the refugees that Germany had so generously received entered work as soon as possible – what would be done to avoid the negative impact of the employment of male refugees in sectors that traditionally employed women and make women’s transition to full time work harder?

The delegation was asked to inform about the birth control programme piloted by Munich, whether the cost of abortion would be included in the primary health insurance, and whether the mandatory counselling prior to abortion would be repealed.

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to the questions and comments made by the Committee Experts, the delegation said that before the integration act, the rule was that only recognized asylum seekers could access language courses; the new act had changed this and stipulated that everyone who had a good perspective to stay could access language classes and integrative measures.  There were differences between Länder in terms of the provision of language integration classes for refugee children

Germany was aware that the gender pay gap was very high and stressed that it was not only one policy instrument that would address the problem.  The introduction of the minimum wage had reduced the gap by one per cent, while the expected additional increase in the minimum wage would further close this gap.  Part-time work, in which many women were engaged, was a career killer, which stopped women from professional development and advancement, and promotion to leadership positions.  A new law proposal guaranteeing a right to temporary part-time employment and return to the former working hours was presently drafted and would facilitate the return to full-time work for both women and men.  Additionally, there was a need to increase pay for jobs traditionally held by women, which were usually paid less than traditional jobs held by men.

Health insurance covered the cost of contraceptives up to the age of 21, after which women were required to pay themselves.  There was a long debate in Germany about the abortion law, which required consultations prior to abortion as a way around the prohibition of abortion.  There were non-governmental organizations which conducted consultations in an open-minded manner, leaving a woman to make up her mind.  Abortion with consultation was legal up to 12 weeks.  No women had to go abroad for abortion, and the cost of abortion was reimbursed to women with low incomes.

In terms of overcoming stereotypes in a choice of profession, there were various programmes in different Länder which encouraged girls to choose professions in science, technology, engineering and mechanic fields.  Guidelines for gender education had been adopted which looked at removing gender stereotypes from curricula, proposed teaching tools for classes, and demanded gender perspective in purchasing books.  In terms of sexual diversity, all Länder had reviewed their policies and some had developed action plans which focused on curricula and teacher training.

The draft act on transparency of pay was still being finalized, said the delegation, and confirmed that it would be observed also in companies with less than 200 employees; there was an obligation to report every four years, and social partners would be involved in monitoring.

Questions from the Experts

Committee Experts commended the improvements in the reconciliation between family and professional life and noted that the insufficient provision of full day child care and schooling continued to pose barriers to the full-time employment of women. 

Would Germany continue with the impressive expansion in the childcare facilities and when would the full coverage for children aged one to three and above three years of age be achieved?

Did Germany intend to abolish tax disincentives that pushed women to part-time jobs and would it develop child supplement benefits in its policies to fight poverty?

There were almost 500,000 persons engaged in agriculture and the delegation was asked about measures in favour of rural women, including encouraging women to take up farming.  The Experts welcomed the adoption of the national action plan on persons with disabilities and asked about specific measure taken to support women with disabilities.

Responses by the Delegation

Germany would continue to increase childcare capacities as the demand was constantly growing, said the delegation, noting that it was a legal obligation as well, since each child over the age of one had a legal right to a place in a child care institution.  The Federal Government was providing financial and technical support to municipalities in delivering on their legal obligation.  It was difficult to say when the full coverage would be reached, it would depend on the demand.  More progress was needed in providing full-day schooling and after school care, and the situation in this regard varied widely between Länder. 

The national action plan 2.0 on persons with disabilities had been adopted concurrently to the adoption of the law on the inclusion of persons with disabilities, with the aim of ensuring the full participation of persons with disabilities by removing barriers.  Länder also adopted action plans for their areas of responsibility in this regard.

Questions from the Experts

In the final round of questions, the delegation was asked to clarify the current formulation of the law with regard to shared child custody, and the special measures to monitor custody of children from families marred by domestic violence, even if the children themselves were not the victims. 

On the economic welfare of divorced women and their children, the Expert noted that 42 per cent of single parent families were at risk of poverty and that 75 per cent of children entitled to child maintenance did not receive the full amount or received no maintenance at all.

When would the fund for the payment of child maintenance become operational?

How were the assets to be distributed after a divorce defined, did they include the future earning capacity of the husband and the increased human potential of husbands’ careers which were not impacted by care duty in a manner that women’s were?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that Germany was still discussing whether to establish a fund for the compensation of victims of intersex genital mutilation.

Shared custody was a standard form of child custody as it was assumed that it was in the best interest of the child, but it did not mean that it was split 50-50 between the parents.  It meant that both parents had an equal say in specific questions, for example education, or medical intervention. 

The maintenance fund currently paid maintenance for children up to the age of 12 and for a period of six years; the imminent changes to the rules would see the payment of maintenance to all children up to the age of 18 and for as long as the father failed to pay.

Concluding Remarks

ELKE FERNER, Parliamentary State Secretary, Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth of Germany, said that the dialogue was an incentive to make faster progress on women’s rights and equality.  The discussions around the review provided opportunities at the national level to discuss gender-related issues and raise awareness on the Convention. 

DALIA LEINARTE, Committee Chairperson, commended Germany for its efforts and encouraged it to address various recommendations which the Committee would issue with the purpose of the more comprehensive implementation of the Convention throughout the State party.

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