Header image for news printout

In dialogue with Lithuania, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women calls for the full implementation of the Istanbul Convention and improvements to gender equality legislation

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
against Women

31 October 2019

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the sixth periodic report of Lithuania on how it implements the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  Experts urged the State party to fully implement the Istanbul Convention, and seize this opportunity to improve legislation on gender equality. 

Committee Experts said the adherence to the Convention was not fully used to the advantage of women.  The Lithuanian human rights and gender equality institutions did not function to their full potential.  Barriers to the realization of the rights of women, notably those from vulnerable groups, remained in both legislation and policies, as well as in practice.  It seemed self-evident that a country like Lithuania would ratify the Istanbul Convention.  The State party should seize this opportunity to reinforce the law on equality? 

The delegation of Lithuania explained that various factors impeded the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, including a wariness of the introduction of non-stereotypical gender roles as well as the fear that such non-stereotypical gender roles would lead to the introduction of same-sex marriage.  While the Istanbul Convention had been submitted for ratification in 2018, there was no political will to ratify it.  The Parliament’s Human Rights Committee was therefore seeking to enact parts of it by putting forward motions to transpose some of its provisions in domestic legislation, as separate pieces of legislation.  For instance, a law criminalizing stalking was before Parliament, where it had gone through the first adoption steps.

In his concluding remarks, Eitvydas Bingelis, Vice-minister of Social Security and Labour of Lithuania and Chair of the Commission on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, thanked the Experts.  The Committee’s insight would serve as a compass.  It had been a constructive dialogue.

Hilary Gbedemah, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue. 

The delegation of Lithuania was comprised of representatives of the Ministry of Social Security and Labour, Ministry of Health, the Parliament, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Criminal Police Bureau, the State Labour Inspectorate, the National Agency for Education, and the Permanent Mission of Lithuania to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public in the afternoon on Friday, 8 November to close its sixty-fourth session.

Report

The Committee is considering the sixth periodic report of Lithuania (CEDAW/C/LTU/6).

Presentation of the Report

EITVYDAS BINGELIS, Vice-minister of Social Security and Labour of Lithuania and Chair of the Commission on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, said Lithuania was an active advocate for achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.  Ensuring the full enjoyment of all human rights by all women and girls had long been one of Lithuania’s top priorities in the national and international human rights agenda.  Lithuania’s activities in ensuring the human rights of women and gender equality were widely recognized: Lithuania had been, for instance, elected to the UN Women Executive Board and would start its three-year membership next year. 

Equal opportunities for all to participate and equal access to quality services were amongst the top four horizontal principles of the National Development Programme for 2021–2030, the main strategic planning document at the national level.  Therefore, all central government institutions were obliged to consider the principle of equal opportunities when developing public policies or drafting regulations.  This would also strengthen the role of the Ministry of Social Security and Labour as the coordinating institution of the national gender equality policy.  The Equal Opportunities, Equality between Women and Men Unit had been established to implement a horizontal integration of gender equality into other national policy areas, such as youth, migrants, refugees and domestic violence.  Lithuania had made significant changes in addressing domestic violence such as signing the Istanbul Convention.

Lithuania was firmly committed to the implementation of the women, peace and security agenda and was currently working on the Second National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.  Lithuania was actively involved in the process of the adoption of the International Labour Organization Convention concerning the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work and its accompanying recommendation to combat violence and harassment in the world of work. 

Turning to domestic violence, Mr. Bingelis remarked that this year an inter-sectoral working group was established by the Government of Lithuania, which included not only governmental institutions but non-governmental organizations as well.  This working group elaborated proposals for the renewal of the Action Plan for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Provision of Assistance to Victims for 2017–2020.  Combatting domestic violence also meant responding more effectively to offenses against human life.  Priority was given to the prevention of these crimes through general and individual prevention measures.  Emphasis was placed on the protection of persons who may be or were at risk of becoming victims of crime, establishing safe neighbourhood groups, and cooperating with non-governmental organizations in providing assistance and support to victims of domestic violence and child victims of crimes against human life and health.

Lithuania continued to strengthen its efforts in the fight against human trafficking, especially women and girls.  Lithuanian authorities planned to take additional measures to improve the proactive identification of victims of human trafficking through the provision of specialized training for staff of the Reception Centre for Refugees and Asylum Seekers.

Gender equality was a complex and horizontal policy area which required strong involvement of the whole society and synergy between different stakeholders to ensure appropriate elaboration, implementation, coordination and monitoring of gender equality policy.  The Lithuanian Government was doing its best to integrate gender equality issues into all policy areas.  It was strongly committed to further strengthening the role of women in society, decision-making processes, public life, foreign and security policy, development of cooperation as well as in building and maintaining international peace.

Questions from the Experts

Experts recalled that Lithuania was one of the first countries in Europe to have gender equality laws and a Gender Equality Ombudsperson.  Despite advancements, there were challenges that posed a risk to the progress made, threatening to hamper the further inclusion of Lithuanian women in the democratic process and equal sharing of resources.  The adherence to the Convention was not fully used for the advantage of women.  The Lithuanian human rights and gender equality institutions did not function to their full potential.  Barriers to the realization of the rights of women, notably those from vulnerable groups, remained in both legislation and policies, as well as in practice.

How were laws, policies and practices monitored by the Government as required by article 2 of the Convention?  Lithuania had two status A national human rights institutions.  How did the Government envision to strengthen them?  When would it reconsider the gender-neutrality trend and establish specialized and gender-sensitive units in both institutions?  What means and mechanisms did the Government intend to deploy to ensure the full access to justice for vulnerable groups of women, including minority women, women with disabilities, women with diverse sexual orientations, as well as migrant, and elderly women?

Ratifying the Istanbul Convention seemed self-evident for a country like Lithuania.  The State party should seize this opportunity to reinforce the law on equality?  From a legislative standpoint, how did the Government implement the Convention and the Sustainable Development Goals in a coherent, harmonized manner?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said the Convention was deemed highly important and its provisions were taken into account by the Government in drafting laws and policies.

On monitoring, delegates said that while Parliament did not yet have a body tasked with overseeing the implementation of the Convention, its Human Rights Committee exercised parliamentary control, in collaboration with non-governmental organizations.  In that regard, it improved the enactment of laws by scrutinizing the Government’s actions.  It met with Government officials in that context.  Parliament was considering rescinding the legal provision that prevented the law on equality from being applied to family matters.

Most female members of Parliament were active in one of the two parliamentary groups that dealt with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Delegates thanked the Committee for the suggestion that the law on equal opportunity be revised in light of the adoption of the Istanbul Convention.  A working group had started considering this matter, as well as the harmonization of other laws with the Istanbul Convention.  It should also be noted that parts of the Istanbul Convention had already been integrated in domestic legislation.  Work was underway to continue this integration process.  For instance, a law criminalizing stalking was before Parliament, where it had gone through the first adoption steps.

On access to justice, the delegation said more favourable conditions had been established since January 2019 to facilitate access to secondary legal aid.  The new measures benefitted vulnerable persons, including victims of hate crime.  Such individuals now had access to secondary legal aid – that is representation in court, in addition to legal advice, which was provided to everyone – free of charge, regardless of their financial situation. 

Lithuania was changing its approach to strategic planning.  It would define core strategies, from which all other plans and strategies would stem.  Gender equality would be part of the core strategy.

The Government sought to make training on gender-based violence systematic for judicial officials. 

On the gender-neutral trend, a debate was ongoing in the Government, as well as in society, regarding the implementation of temporary special measures.  The Government was considering this possibility rather positively, and now the legislative branch would have to be involved.  It would be important to establish legal grounds for the deployment of such measures. 

Questions by Committee Experts

Experts recalled that the Committee had recommended the strengthening of the gender machinery.  They requested information on the involvement of civil society organizations.

Did the Lithuanian social model uphold the temporary special measures approach outlined in the Convention?  They requested information on the impact of the law on employment support, and the role of women in defence in that regard.

The application of temporary special measures was not about tokenism, but rather breaching historical and other gaps.  According to alternative sources of information, the State party seemed to consider that temporary special measures amounted to “reverse discrimination”. 

Responses by the Delegation

There was no one-size-fits-all solution to achieve gender equality, the delegation remarked, responding to questions on the gender machinery.  It was not easy to integrate gender equality in the management of all of the Government’s portfolios.   The Government was reviewing the Commission on Equal Opportunities, which would be comprised of deputy ministers. 

The funds allocated to non-governmental organizations had been doubled this year.  It was important for the State to consult such organizations in the process of policymaking.  Non-governmental organizations had been very actively involved in the drafting process of important pieces of legislation, such as the law on domestic violence.  Their role had really been crucial. 

The representation of women in political life was slowly improving.  During the last European Union elections, 27 per cent of Lithuanians elected to the European Parliament were women.  There was a voluntary quota system in place in the State party, and only one party had implemented quotas.  Various political parties, however, had female leadership programmes. 

While the State party did not have temporary special measures, private companies had put in place various female leadership programmes, and organized conferences on this matter.  This approach had proven successful.

In the Lithuanian domestic system, introducing temporary special measures amounted to limiting the human rights of some individuals not benefitting directly for such measures – something which required legislation.

Questions by Committee Experts

Experts said that despite efforts made by the State party, they were concerned about the prevalence and persistence of gender stereotypes, as well as that of discriminatory, patriarchal and sexist messages and calls to traditional roles and values.

The mandate of the Law on Equal Opportunities seemed limited in its capacity to combat this.  What broader legislative and policy measures did the State party envisage to counter more effectively gender stereotyping and sexism at all levels and in all spheres?

Experts requested information on the Law on Strengthening Families of 2017.  Was respect, protection and fulfilment of women’s human rights at its core?

Turning to violence against women, Experts asked about the timeframe for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention.

Did the Government have training programmes for police officers on the identification of victims of trafficking? 

Responses by the Delegation

Delegates said there was a platform for teachers where material was available to address gender stereotyping.  The new school curriculum would incorporate human rights, as the Government was seeking to combat all forms of discrimination.

The Law on Strengthening Families restated the absolute unacceptability of violence within the family.  It tried to improve coordination between institutions and make the policy implementation more systematic as well as ensure a continuum in policy implementation.

Regarding the role of the media vis-à-vis gender stereotypes, delegates highlighted the role played by the national broadcaster of Lithuania.  It had adopted rules on equal opportunity: all employees were subject to the same rules and regulations.  There were also measures protecting employees making a complaint related to discrimination.  In the last five years, it had also broadcast programmes and films that contributed to awareness-raising on gender equality.  It was monitoring the number of female guests and participants in its information programmes and TV shows, aiming to achieve a balanced ratio.

The Government would provide training on human trafficking, including on identification, to police officers in four Lithuanian cities. 

Allocations to non-governmental organizations working in the field of combatting human trafficking had been increasing.  In 2019, the total amount granted stood at 165,000 euros.  The Government was planning to increase it to 245,000 euros in 2020.

On the Istanbul Convention, delegates explained that amongst factors impeding its ratification, there was a wariness of the introduction of non-stereotypical gender roles as well as the fear that such non-stereotypical gender roles would lead to the introduction of same-sex marriage. 

On the timeline for the adoption of the Istanbul Convention, delegates said that it had been submitted for ratification in 2018.  There was no political will to ratify it, however.  That was why the Parliament’s Human Rights Committee was seeking to enact parts of the Convention by putting forward motions to transpose provisions of the Istanbul Convention in domestic legislation, as separate pieces of legislation.

Delegates acknowledged that the Law on Strengthening Families did nothing to strengthen the role of women outside of family contexts.  However, it had been considerably modified during parliamentary debates: patriarchal elements that were in the initial draft had been removed.

Questions by Committee Experts

Experts, drawing the attention of the delegates to horizontal and vertical discrepancies, pointed out that there was only one female minister.

What measures had been put in place to increase the level of participation of women in decision-making processes and prepare women to occupy leadership positions?

Experts also requested information on the representation of women amongst prosecutors, judges and diplomats, inter alia.  They inquired about the career paths of female ambassadors.  Were they career diplomats?

Were there women in the armed forces?  To what degree were they welcomed and allowed to participate?

The Experts requested information on gender training provided to governmental officials enacting governmental policies on nationality.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegations said that at the deputy minister level, the percentage of women stood at 42 per cent.  At the beginning of the term, there had been three female ministers out of a total of 14 ministers.  Then that number went down to zero, before increasing to one.  In other words, it had been fluctuating, which was normal.  It should be kept in mind that a woman had held the position of President of Lithuania for a period of 10 years.  The barriers preventing women’s access to decision-making positions were decreasing, contrary to what the Experts had said.  Not as fast as the Government wished, but they were certainly decreasing.

On the role of women in international affairs, one of the six leadership positions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was held by a woman, and 30 per cent of heads of diplomatic representation and consular missions were women.  Women represented 59 per cent of this Ministry’s personnel.

The Government had adopted measures to foster the participation of women in political life, such as the organization of events on female leadership, supporting life-work balance initiatives, and promoting a women-friendly work environment.  It had also organized a conference on women leadership which notably dealt with women’s participation in business.

In the Lithuanian armed forces, women represented 11.5 per cent of the staff.  There was a high share of women in the joint-support services, including the medical services and logistical support units.

There were 69 Lithuanian experts employed in international organizations, 45 per cent of whom were women.

Questions from the Experts

Experts asked about the pay gap and the percentage of women in high-income positions, notably in the finance sector.  They requested information on women’s access to pensions and sought clarification on changes made recently to the legislation on this matter.

They inquired about measures to address discrimination in employment faced by women with disabilities. 

Experts also expressed concerns regarding youth’s access to contraception and abortion.  Would the Government implement a law on the termination of pregnancy, legalizing it in line with the Committee’s jurisprudence?

Studies had shown that only some segments of the population were fully apprised of the available mode of contraception.  Would it be possible to expand Government support for contraceptives to all forms of contraceptives for vulnerable women?

Would it be possible to put an end to early marriages in law and in practice?

Responses by the Delegation

The gender pay stood at 13 per cent in 2018, which was 1.2 per cent lower compared to 2017.  The gender pay gap had been decreasing for all age groups.  The narrowing of the pay gap was in part due to the obligation on the part of employers to provide employees with information on remuneration of the staff.

There was a two-month non-transferable parental leave for men.  The number of men availing themselves of this possibility had been increasing rapidly.  The employment rate of women stood at 71.6 per cent; it had been increasing, and currently was the highest rate in the European Union.

Turning to women with disabilities, the Labour Code forbade discrimination on the basis of disabilities.  Employees who believed their rights had been violated could file a complaint with Labour Dispute Committees.  The Government had carried out 60 special inspections related to equal rights in 2018 and was aiming to conduct 139 such inspections in 2019.

The Government had organized several consultations – by phone, through social media platforms, etc.  – on the labour law and the Labour Code.  Amendments had been proposed to the Lithuanian legislation to provide services to persons with disabilities, aiming to assist them in finding a job and acquiring skills that suited them.

An HPV vaccination programme targeting girls aged 11 years had been launched in 2016.  The participation rate was 55 per cent.  The Government was planning to update the regulations on the termination of pregnancy in 2020.  There were 48 Public Health Bureaus that discharged a broad mandate, in collaboration with non-governmental organizations, communities and families.  They promoted healthy lifestyles and addressed municipalities’ specific health issues, including suicide prevention.

When women entered the workforce, their salaries were the same as that of men, overall.  Over time, however, gender salary gaps appeared and widened.  This was in part due to the generous parental leave scheme in Lithuania: women were allowed to take up to three years’ leave, during which their salaries were of course frozen.  One mean of addressing this issue was the non-transferable parental leaves.  Further, the law had been amended recently to allow grandmothers and grandfathers to take parental leave, which provided women, and parents, more flexibility.

Questions from the Experts

Experts recommended that the Government improved their approach to buttress girls’ ability to make decisions for themselves.  They asked about their involvement in the elaboration of textbooks, and flagged issues related to career counselling.  What proactive measures would the Government take to encourage women to study in science and participate in startups and the digital economy.  They stressed the importance of ensuring that girls could pursue any studies and any career without any form of discrimination. 

Experts pointed out that while Lithuania was one of the fastest growing economies in the European Union, the gains resulting from the rapid economic development had not been equally shared.

They requested information on the pension system and asked at what age could a woman have access to a pension.

Responses by the Delegation

Experts said efforts were being deployed to revise the textbooks and reorganize the curricula.  A general programme had been developed on stereotypes for pupils enrolled in grades 1 to 12.  In that context, training had been provided to over 1,000 teachers.  The new programme focused on means to foster a tolerant and democratic society.  Seminars on gender equality had been offered to people who developed schoolbooks, as well as to the officials who were in charge of the evaluation of teaching materials. 

Questions from the Experts

Experts flagged the lack of resources available to rural women, as well the lower level of education in rural areas, notably that of women.  What particular attention was paid to older women and other vulnerable groups in that regard?

They requested information about civil unions for gay couples.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that the Government’s plan on gender equality aimed to support women in rural and remote areas who wished to start businesses by improving their financial literacy. 

In 2019, a national project called Quality Basket was established to address the gap between the grades of boys and girls.  This programme provided support to schools, through targeted funding, to increase the number of children with high achievement levels, while addressing the needs of children with low achievement levels. 

On civil partnerships, the public opinion was largely unfavourable, but it had been steadily improving.  In the foreseeable future, a law allowing civil partnerships for both same-sex and heterosexual partners would make its way back to Parliament.

Concluding Remarks

EITVYDAS BINGELIS, Vice-Minister of Social Security and Labour of Lithuania and Chair of the Commission on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, thanked the Committee Experts.  The Committee’s insight would serve as a compass.  It had been a constructive dialogue.

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue.

___________

For use of the information media; not an official record

Follow UNIS Geneva on: Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube |Flickr