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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviews the report of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
  against Women 

1 November 2018

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the sixth periodic report of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Presenting the report, Mila Carovska, Minister of Labour and Social Policy of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, noted that gender equality presented a common obligation and priority for the Government, and a commitment stemming from the Sustainable Development Goals.  The Government was carrying out a policy of promoting women’s rights and of increasing their participation in political, economic and public life.  For that purpose, it would establish a special body for gender equality to work on the integration of a gender perspective in policy-making processes and budgeting, which was currently done by the Equal Opportunities Department within the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy.  Elaborating on the results achieved by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy in 2017 and 2018, the Minister highlighted the gender-responsive budgeting project, the appointment of a legal representative to identify cases of unequal treatment of women and men, the new Law on Termination of Pregnancy, which was in the final stage of adoption, and the decrease in the new born mortality rate from 26 to 17 per cent in the first six months of 2018.  As for violence against women, the country had finally ratified the Istanbul Convention in October 2018, and it had adopted the action plan for its implementation until 2023.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts expressed satisfaction that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had expressed a clear political will to safeguard women’s rights at a time when the world was witnessing many retrograde tendencies against women’s rights.  The Experts noted that rural women, Roma women, sex workers, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex women often faced discrimination, and asked whether the State party planned to develop a system of easily accessible legal assistance for those vulnerable groups.  While recognizing the State party’s progress in developing an effective gender equality machinery, the Experts pointed out that it remained poorly funded.  They further inquired about training on international conventions for judges and lawyers, direct implementation of the Convention by the courts, awareness of citizens about the Convention, gender-based violence, the involvement of civil society in decision-making, temporary special measures, combatting gender stereotypes, trafficking in women and girls, prostitution, women’s political representation, intersectional discrimination of Roma women, inclusive education for minorities, employment of women and the persisting gender pay gap, abortion, fostering of female entrepreneurship, measures to reduce youth unemployment, early marriages, and the marital property regime.

In her concluding remarks, Ms. Carovska thanked the Committee Experts for all the questions, noting that the Government firmly believed that discrimination against women should be a thing of the past.

Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, Committee Vice-Chairperson, commended the State party for its efforts to implement the Convention.  She informed that the Committee would select several recommendations for immediate follow-up.

The delegation of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Economy, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the National Parliament, and of the Permanent Mission of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.  

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 2 November, at 10 a.m. to consider the combined eighth and ninth periodic report of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (CEDAW/C/LAO/8-9).

Report

The sixth periodic report of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia can be read here: CEDAW/C/MKD/6.

Presentation of the Report

MILA CAROVSKA, Minister of Labour and Social Policy of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, noted that gender equality presented a common obligation and priority for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and as such it was part of the Programme of the Government 2017-2020, and a commitment stemming from the Sustainable Development Goals.  The Government was carrying out a policy of promoting women’s rights and of increasing their participation in political, economic and public life.  For that purpose, the Government would establish a special body for gender equality to work on the integration of a gender perspective in policy-making processes and budgeting, which was currently being done by the Equal Opportunities Department within the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy.  The details of that plan were contained in the 2018 National Action Plan for Gender Equality 2018-2020.  Elaborating on the results achieved by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy in 2017 and 2018, the Minister highlighted the gender-responsive budgeting project, the appointment of a legal representative to identify cases of unequal treatment of women and men, the new Law on Termination of Pregnancy, which was in the final stage of adoption, and the decrease in the new born mortality rate from 26 to 17 per cent in the first six months of 2018.  In cooperation with UN Women, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy had discussed and agreed on the need to open a regional centre for gender-responsive budgeting and knowledge sharing.  With the support of the World Bank, in 2019, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy would start implementing a project for the economic empowerment of women through amending legislation on property rights, and improving the situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.

As for violence against women, the country had finally ratified the Istanbul Convention in October 2018, and it had adopted the action plan for its implementation until 2023.  Amendments to the Law on Social Protection were underway.  In order to eradicate child poverty, easier access to child allowance would be provided by making the entitlement accessible to low-income families with children.  Another novelty was the introduction of the educational allowance for children who regularly attended classes in primary and secondary schools, hence preventing school dropout.  The reformed social protection system provided enhanced activation of guaranteed minimum assistance benefits.

With the aim of creating equal opportunities for women, a new loan of $ 33.4 million had been approved by the World Bank for the purpose of developing social protection and early childhood development care.  The project would be implemented by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, in close cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Science, and the Ministry of Finance.  In April 2018, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy had issued a public call to all persons who were not registered at birth to submit applications for belated registration by the end of October 2018.  Since the publication of the call, some 650 persons had been registered.  Equal opportunities for women were enshrined in the national Constitution, whereas numerous laws contained provisions prohibiting sex-based discrimination.  New amendments to the Law for Equal Opportunities for Women and Men were planned to be made in 2019.  The new draft Law on Prevention and Protection against Discrimination had been in parliamentary procedure since July 2018 and it was expected to be adopted by the end of the year.  In cooperation with UN Women, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy had implemented a project to develop a module for gender mainstreaming for civil servants and its integration into the training programme of the Ministry of Information Society and Administration.  The Law on Prevention, Combatting and Protection against Domestic Violence had been adopted in 2013.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy annually provided funds to support projects of civil society associations for the protection of victims of domestic violence.  In order to prevent psychological and sexual harassment at the workplace, the Government had adopted the Law on Protection against Harassment at Workplace in 2013, regulating the rights, obligations and responsibilities of employers and employees in terms of prevention and procedures.  With respect to trafficking in persons, the Government had a comprehensive policy with coordinated actions of all relevant institutions.  In compliance with the Law on Free Legal Aid, victims of trafficking were entitled to free-of-charge legal protection.  In 2018, mobile teams for early warning and identification of potential victims of trafficking had been set up in five cities in the country.

Questions by the Committee Experts

Were ordinary people in the country aware of and familiar with the Convention?  Why was it so rare that the Convention was invoked by national courts?  Did lawyers receive training on international conventions?  Was judicial training mandatory?

When would the new draft Law on Prevention and Protection against Discrimination be adopted?  Would the gender machinery be dependent on donor support or would it have its own separate budget line?  Would the newly envisaged special body for gender equality be implicated in the highest level of decision-making?

The Experts noted the lack of gender sensitivity on the part of the Office of the Ombudsperson.  Was there a plan to amend the Law on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men to explicitly include a provision on gender-based violence?

Rural women, Roma women, sex workers, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex women often faced discrimination.  Did the State party plan to develop a system of easily accessible legal assistance for those vulnerable groups?  Would the Government amend the Law on Free Legal Assistance?

Replies by the Delegation

The plan was for the new draft Law on Prevention and Protection against Discrimination to be adopted by the end of the year, the delegation said.  As proposed by the draft law, the newly established Committee for Protection against Discrimination would have a wider authority to act on discrimination issues than the Office of the Ombudsperson, but the two institutions would also work jointly.  A new law on gender-based violence would be adopted by the end of 2019.

In terms of the direct implementation of the Convention by the courts and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, continuous education for judges and prosecutors contained modules on the application of United Nations and European Union conventions, as well as of decisions of the European Court for Human Rights.  The authorities were not satisfied with the level of application of the Convention by the courts in practice.

Turning to the alleged insufficient gender sensitivity of the Office of the Ombudsperson, the delegation stressed that the Office had made important contributions in the field of gender equality in the form of research and recommendations for the improvement of legislation.  Nevertheless, there was room for improvement in the Office’s gender sensitivity.

On the vulnerability of Roma, the delegation stated that some 5,000 Roma did not have identity documents, which was why the Government had issued a public call in April 2018 to those persons to approach registrar offices.  State mobile units had identified that currently there were about 700 persons without any identification.

The amendments to the Law on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men had not been postponed.  The authorities were currently carrying out a regional-level analysis, as well as comparison with relevant European Union laws.  Gender policies had also been followed up with fiscal implications.  

The new Law on Free Legal Assistance would remove any access barriers for vulnerable groups with the aim of reaching a greater number of people.  The structure of free legal assistance in the country consisted of 329 lawyers.  Training of lawyers was conducted by the Lawyers’ Chamber.  As for continuous education, it as mandatory for judges and prosecutors.
 
MILA CAROVSKA, Minister of Labour and Social Policy of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, explained that the Government was establishing new posts to work with special groups of citizens on a pilot basis.

Questions by the Committee Experts

The Experts recognized the State party’s progress in developing an effective gender equality machinery.  However, that machinery remained poorly funded.  What was the annual budget granted to the sector of equal opportunities?  In 2016, only 54 per cent of the municipalities had submitted reports for the previous years on equal opportunities.

What was the mandate of the Office of the Ombudsperson and of the Committee for Protection against Discrimination?  In which manner had the State incorporated the recommendations of the Committee and other human rights bodies?  How was the involvement of civil society in decision-making ensured?

The Committee expressed concern that temporary special measures had not been used in all areas to ensure substantive equality of women and men.  Why had the Government withdrawn temporary special measures for rural development?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that the gender equality machinery comprised of coordinators and deputy coordinators for equal opportunities at all ministries and municipalities, with a term of office for four years.  The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy coordinated gender sensitive budgeting at the ministerial and local municipality level.  In the period from 2007 to 2015, there were funds only for the salaries of employees in the gender equality machinery.

On temporary special measures, all institutions should incorporate them in their secondary legislation and align them with the principle of equal opportunities.  The authorities had prepared a law for the inclusion of Roma women.  The 2016 amendments to the Law on the Ombudsperson aligned the Office of the Ombudsperson with the Paris Principles and strengthened its financial independence.  Any report of the Ombudsperson should contain recommendations for situations requiring remedy.  In 2018 the budget for the Office of the Ombudsperson had increased by 4.2 per cent, compared with the funds for 2017.

The number of women employed in agriculture was on the rise, but the authorities needed to work on a national strategy to encourage women not to leave rural areas.  It was true that the Government had suspended temporary special measures for rural development.  Representatives of rural women would be consulted in the designing of gender streaming programmes for rural development, particularly with respect to land ownership, which had been identified as one of the barriers to equal opportunities.

MILA CAROVSKA, Minister of Labour and Social Policy of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, clarified that the intention was to have the secretariat for gender issues as part of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet.  The Minister noted that in its examination the Committee should not just follow the budget lines for gender issues per se, but also take a look at the funds allocated to social protection mechanisms, namely those dealing with children.

Questions by the Committee Experts

What concrete action had the State party taken to address patriarchal attitudes, traditional values and stereotypes about gender roles?  What steps had been taken to address discriminatory attitudes online, such as sexist hate speech?  Had the State party been active in creating a social and political base to modify the prevalent social attitudes?

Did the State party intend to amend legislation to protect women from all forms of violence?  For example, current legislation contained a very narrow definition of rape.  Much remained to be done to improve the services for victims of gender-based violence.  What was the number of shelters exclusively dedicated to victims of gender-based violence?

Turning to trafficking in women and girls, the Experts noted that the country’s legal framework mostly complied with international and regional standards.  National mechanisms and policies were in place, as well as international and regional cooperation.  However, there was a very low number of convictions and identified victims.  In the reporting period, labour inspectors had issued only two fines for labour market violations, which was rather strange in a country that recently had had to deal with an unimaginable burden of migrant influx.

As for prostitution, the Experts inquired whether the State party would adopt the so-called Swedish model and criminalize those who purchased prostitution services.

An Expert expressed satisfaction that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had expressed a clear political will to safeguard women’s rights at a time when the world was witnessing many retrograde tendencies against women’s rights.

Replies by the Delegation

There were four regional centres for assisting women and children victims of domestic violence, accommodating 29 victims who could stay there for a year and receive psychological and social support.  The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy provided funds to non-governmental organizations to support victims of domestic violence.  The authorities had developed standard operation guidelines for the officials providing assistance to victims.  

In November 2017, the authorities had stopped sexist hate speech disseminated by three radio stations.  The Agency for Audio and Audio-visual Services had prepared awareness raising clips on combatting gender stereotypes.  The Agency also researched the treatment of gender issues, the way women and men were depicted by national television stations, and gender in television programmes.

The definition of rape in the Criminal Code was not in line with the Istanbul Convention and it did not correspond to the jurisprudence of the European Court for Human Rights.  The Government would adjust that definition soon.  Victims of gender-based violence had the right to receive compensation from either the perpetrator or the State.  Health professionals received training to identify domestic violence.

On trafficking in persons, the delegation explained that social poverty was the most important cause of that problem.  The current situation in the country confirmed a trend of underage victims coming from a poor background.  Acknowledging the lack of efficient prosecution of perpetrators, the delegation noted that stricter sentences and more training for judges and prosecutors was needed.  In 2018, mobile teams for early warning and identification of potential victims of trafficking had been set up in five cities in the country.

MILA CAROVSKA, Minister of Labour and Social Policy of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, informed that the authorities would adopt a new law on domestic violence because a gender perspective was missing from the current law.  A debate was needed in society on how to regulate prostitution.  As for the monitoring of the implementation of anti-trafficking measures, the Minister stressed that the Office of the Ombudsperson was now invited to all relevant meetings.

Questions by the Committee Experts

Speaking of women’s political representation, the Experts reminded that only 41 women had been elected at the 2016 parliamentary elections, making up some 31 per cent.  Women were underrepresented in the areas of defence and security, and more concentrated in the areas of health and education.

Did the State party envisage to expand the quota in the electoral law?  What kind of awareness campaigns and training had been provided to women who ran in elections for the first time?  How would the State party ensure the equal participation of women in decision-making, especially of Roma women, rural women, and women with disabilities?
 
Experts inquired about the State party’s measures to reduce statelessness and improve birth registration, particularly among Roma women, which posed barriers to accessing healthcare services and employment.  In what ways did the State party plan to address intersectional discrimination of Roma women?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation confirmed that in the parliamentary elections of 2016, 41 women had been elected to Parliament, which consisted of 120 deputies.  Out of 15 female candidates at the municipal level, six had been elected as mayors.  There were four female ministers in the executive branch in charge of justice, defence, labour and social policy, and foreign investment.  The deputy speaker of Parliament was a woman, while seven women chaired parliamentary committees.  Women made up 8.85 per cent of the armed forces.  The Ministry of Defence had adopted a policy of equal opportunities.

Quotas were a good beginning for increasing the participation of women in political life.  What mattered more was educating and training women to stand as candidates and boosting their confidence that they could take up jobs that men usually performed.  Whereas it was true that there was low political participation of Roma women, the delegation noted that were many educated Roma women who were active in ministries.

All children, even those without identity papers, were included in elementary-level education.  The authorities were trying to change laws to resolve the issue of the remaining persons without identity documents.

Questions by the Committee Experts

There was a lack of continuity in school attendance by girls, an Expert observed.  Why had the State party not addressed that problem with respect to Roma girls and girls from rural areas?  How far had the State party gotten in terms of inclusive education for minorities?  How did the education system contribute to the eradication of sexist attitudes?  What was the role of women in higher education?

As for employment, the Experts highlighted women’s unfavourable situation in the labour market.  The gender pay gap persisted and no concrete measures had been taken to address it.  The Law on Labour Relations stipulated that employers had to create equal conditions for the employment of women and men, and for their equal remuneration and treatment.

Nine months of paid maternity leave was guaranteed only to women in formal employment.  How did the State party deal with women in informal employment?  Would the State party consider increasing the paternity leave from seven to 21 days?  Only two thirds of municipalities had childcare facilities.  What was the price of kindergartens?

The retirement age for women was 65 and for men 67, which was discriminatory because it led to women having fewer years of service.

The Experts inquired about the health problems specific to women, such as cervical cancer, and about sexual and reproductive health services.  Did teachers and health practitioners receive relevant training?  What were the root causes for the delayed adoption of the Law on Abortion?  How could women benefit from the roll out of new health strategies?  How could lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons enjoy access to healthcare services without stigma?

Some 47 per cent of rural women performed unpaid work in family farms and they lacked pension benefits, the Experts noted.

Replies by the Delegation

With respect to the integration of Roma children and youth in pre-school, primary, secondary, and higher education, the country had the best figures in the region; 150 Roma worked in the ministries.  Roma children attended mainstream schools and the authorities hired Roma teacher assistants at schools.  Elementary and secondary education were mandatory in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.  In order to keep Roma children in school, the Government granted them stipends.  In higher education, 90 scholarships had been granted to Roma students in 2017.  The school dropout rate in 2015 and 2016 was lower for girls than for boys.  

The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy was committed to provide education to children from vulnerable groups, namely from families that benefited from social welfare.  Child allowance was granted to all families whose income was below a certain level.  The authorities had worked to extend the range of childcare facilities in order to support the inclusion of women in the labour market.  Investment in kindergartens was worthwhile in terms of early child development.  There was a proposal that fathers mandatorily use their paternity leave of 45 days up until the child was nine months old.  One of the parents could also use a three-month leave when the child was three years old.

The Supreme Court had ruled that both women and men could continue working until they were 67.  It was true that the position of women in the labour market was problematic, but they could access all State employment support services.  A new Law on Labour Relations was expected to enter into force in January 2019, and it was expected to strengthen maternity and paternity leave.  As for the gender pay gap, many women in the processing industry had been excluded from the minimum wage rules.  In 2019, the Government planned to increase wages in the sector of childcare and social care, where women made up most of the employees.  Some 18,000 labour inspections were planned in the future to ensure that workers’ rights were implemented on the ground.

As for healthcare, the delegation informed that more than 1,000 young medical doctors had left the country in the past several years and the dilapidated medical infrastructure had resulted in poor medical treatment, especially for vulnerable groups.  There was a lack of oncologists and gynaecologists, and of relevant equipment.  Accordingly, the new Government had launched an analysis of the current medical expertise in the country, and it had launched infrastructure revitalization.  Some of the healthcare reforms would be carried out in cooperation with the World Bank and the European Union.

The previous Law on Abortion was seriously discriminatory and accordingly, the Government had worked on a new law in cooperation with civil society.  The new law prioritized the will of the woman.  The Ministry of Health had initiated several measures to improve access to healthcare, namely for Roma women and women from vulnerable groups, and it was working to have more comprehensive sexuality education at school.  The national action plan for sexual and reproductive health services was in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Questions by the Committee Experts

An Expert complimented the Government for pursuing the equality of women and men within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals.  What investment policy did the State party intend to implement to empower women in farming entrepreneurship?  Was there a targeted approach for the development of female entrepreneurship?  Was the private sector a proactive part of that approach?  Youth unemployment remained a serious concern.

As for refugees and migrants, the Experts asked about the plans of the State party to provide legal humanitarian solutions for women in shelters.  What obstacles did the authorities face in providing those solutions?

Replies by the Delegation 

The Government cooperated with organizations that defended the rights of rural women to provide them with equal opportunities and enable them to be active in the workforce.  There were grant programmes of the Ministry of Finance to foster female entrepreneurship.  A minimum of grants had to be allocated to women.  The Government had started a pilot programme for young persons (the Youth Guarantee Programme) who were neither employed nor in education in three municipalities in order to provide them with training and capacity-building.  Some 313 beneficiaries of the Youth Guarantee Programme were Roma.

MILA CAROVSKA, Minister of Labour and Social Policy of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, said that her country was a transit country for migrants and refugees, and the authorities provided them with all the necessary services and processed asylum requests.  At the moment, there were not many persons who wanted to stay in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Questions by the Committee Experts

Early marriage affected the Roma community more than other communities in the country.  Even though the legal framework was strong, its practical application was problematic.  Had the State party considered making marriage registration mandatory?  How many criminal proceedings had taken place with respect to early marriage?  Was the State party aware of the phenomenon of paying for brides, which could be a form of trafficking?

The marital property regime in the country stipulated that both spouses were eligible to a share of the property accumulated during marriage.  What kind of property and benefits did that include?  What was the interplay between child custody and domestic violence?

Replies by the Delegation

Early marriage in the Roma community was mostly motivated by poverty and social exclusion, but no practice was above the law.  The Criminal Code stipulated a criminal liability for an adult living in an extramarital union with a child below the age of 16.  The intention of the Government was not to allow child marriages and to prevent abuse by parents and the community.  The Family Law thus explicitly stipulated that the minimum age of marriage was 18.

In terms of property ownership, there were still prevalent patriarchal views that women should relinquish their property rights in favour of men.  While laws granted women and men equal inheritance and property rights through the re-registration of property, the mentalities needed to be changed.  After divorce, spouses did not have the right to the pension benefits of the other spouse.  In child custody cases, judges had to bear in mind whether domestic violence had taken place, but most of all they were guided by the best interest of the child.

Concluding Remarks

MILA CAROVSKA, Minister of Labour and Social Policy of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, thanked the Committee Experts for all the questions.  The Government firmly believed that discrimination against women should be a thing of the past.  Ms. Carovska expressed hope that in the next review the Government would show how much it had achieved.

RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, Committee Vice-Chairperson, commended the State party for its efforts to implement the Convention.  She informed that the Committee would select several recommendations for immediate follow-up.
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