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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviews the situation of Women in Croatia

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination 
  against Women

14 July 2015

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

Helena Štimac Radin, Head of the Office for Gender Equality of Croatia, informed that her Office coordinated the process with various Ministries in preparation of the reports and printed and disseminated the most important international and national documents in the area of gender equality, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  The national gender equality legislation had been aligned with the European Union acquis.  Discrimination on the basis of gender was defined as de facto inequality in all the forms it took, in line with the definition in the Convention.  Violence against women was the most severe form of violation of their human rights.  A criminal act of domestic violence was now defined as an independent crime, distinguishing it clearly from a misdemeanour.  In the presidential election in January 2015, a female President of the country had been elected for the first time.  Employment remained a critical problem for women in Croatia.  The gender pay gap stood at about 10 per cent and women were confined to less lucrative jobs. 

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts acknowledged the existence of comprehensive and modern legislation in Croatia, but raised questions about the degree of the implementation of various measures.  Dissemination of the recommendations of the Committee and the ratification of the Istanbul Conventions were raised.  Experts wanted to know more about the access to justice and reparations for women victims of sexual violence in the war of the 1990s, as well as about the treatment of victims of trafficking in persons, including foreign women.  While the election of the first female President was praised, regret was expressed at the still low representation of women in Parliament, the Government and State-run companies.  The definition of rape was also discussed.  Other issues raised by Experts included the criminalization of prostitution, vocational training of women with disabilities, low percentage of girls in vocational and science schools, access to abortion, the role of the Catholic Church in society and the promotion and protection of rural women.

In concluding remarks, Ms. Štimac Radin thanked the Committee for the constructive debate.  There had not been sufficient time for questions and answers.  Croatia was committed to cooperating with the Committee, all with the goal of achieving gender equality.

The delegation of Croatia included representatives of the Office for Gender Equality, Office for Human Rights and the Rights of National Minorities, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Crafts, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Science, Education and Sports, Ministry of Labour and Pension Reform, Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, Ministry of Social Policy and Youth, Ministry of the Interior, Croatian Employment Service and the Permanent Mission of Croatia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 16 July when it will discuss the combined fourth and fifth periodic reports of Namibia (CEDAW/C/NAM/4-5).

Reports

The combined fourth and fifth periodic reports of Croatia can be read here: CEDAW/C/HRV/4-5.
 
Presentation of the Reports
 
HELENA ŠTIMAC RADIN, Director of the Governmental Office for Gender Equality of Croatia, informed that the reporting process of the combined fourth and fifth periodic reports and the preparation of replies to a list of additional questions had included all relevant Ministries and other State administrative bodies.  The Office for Gender Equality, which coordinated the process, printed and disseminated the most important international and national documents in the area of gender equality, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The most significant social circumstances that had marked Croatia in the previous 10 years had been the long-lasting negotiations on accession to the European Union, which had significantly influenced the course of the implementation and promotion of the gender equality policy.  The national gender equality legislation had been aligned with the European Union acquis.  Discrimination on the basis of gender was defined as de facto inequality in all the forms it took, in line with the definition in the Convention.  All forms of gender discrimination were prohibited by the Anti-Discrimination Act, which had come into force in 2009.

About 58 per cent of citizens of Croatia believed that women and men were not equal, according to an empirical research conducted in 2009.  Widespread violence against women and their less favourable position in the labour marker were among the most important indicators of gender equality.  This year, the Office for Gender Equality, in a wide consultative process, would start drafting the fifth National Policy for Gender Equality for 2016-2020.  The current National Policy included measures on promoting human rights and gender equality, creating equal opportunities on the labour market, improving the introduction of gender-sensitive education and training, advocating a more balanced participation of women and men in political and public decision-making, eliminating all forms of violence against women, promoting international co-operation and further strengthening institutional mechanisms and methods of implementation.  The majority of measures had been implemented within the set deadlines. 

Violence against women was the most severe form of violation of human rights of women.  Important strategies and legal amendments had been introduced, while numerous campaigns had taken place.  A criminal act of domestic violence was now defined as an independent crime, distinguishing it clearly from a misdemeanour.  Sexual violence in the Homeland War regulated the rights of victims of that form of violence.  The national preventive campaign “Living Life Free of Violence” had been continuously implemented. 

In the presidential election in January 2015, Croat voters had for the first time elected a female president, making her one of only 11 female State Presidents in the world.  Between 2009 and 2011, a woman had served as the Prime Minister.  Twenty-six per cent of the members of the Croatian Parliament were female.  The 2012 Local Elections Act provided for the obligation of parties to take into account the gender balance on lists of candidates in accordance with the Gender Equality Act; similar amendments had been adopted for the parliamentary elections.  Despite the progress, the low share of women at the local government levels was still a great concern which warranted attention.

Employment remained a critical problem for women in Croatia.  The gender pay gap stood at about 10 per cent, but women were confined to less lucrative occupations, in which they constituted the majority.  Croatia was one of the few countries with a special strategy for female entrepreneurship.  The Croatian Employment Service had introduced this year a special package of measures for women.  Gender mainstreaming had been introduced in all foreign policy activities within the participation in international and regional organizations and fora, and in development aid to third countries provided by Croatia.  Croatia was aware that there was still a lot of room for improvement.

Articles 1 and 2: Defining Discrimination and Obligations of States Parties
 
Questions from the Experts

An Expert expressed regret over the delay of the report submission, which had been due in 2009, but had been submitted only in 2013.  Croatia was commended on the broad scope of legislation and activities undertaken, but concern was expressed over the level of implementation.

Croatia identified itself as a secular State, but there seemed to be growing influence of the Catholic Church.  What was the Government doing to ensure that no concordat with the Holy See superseded Croatia’s laws on gender equality?  How was it ensured that women’s rights were not being neglected?

The Expert raised the issue of the visibility of the Convention and the Optional Protocol.  Had they been shared, and the Committee’s concluding observations translated and disseminated? Were they being taught in law faculties? 

Was Croatia considering including discrimination based on gender identity in its legislation?

Another Expert asked about the provisions for the victims of sexual violence during the war in Croatia to accede justice and remedies.  Civil society ought to be involved in the measures for reparation, the Expert commented.  How did the State party see the situation of women refugees in Croatia?

Could the delegation provide more information about the human rights institutions in Croatia?  Was Croatia planning to ratify the Istanbul Convention?
 
Responses by the Delegation
 
The delegation reiterated that the Convention had been translated and widely promoted in Croatia and was well known as a result.  A number of conferences had been organized on various occasions.  Concluding comments and recommendations had been included in the National Policy. 

The report was indeed late, but replies to the list of issues covered some recent developments.  The delay of the report had been caused by numerous demands on the Office in the process of the accession to the European Union. 

Croatia was a secular country, the delegation stressed.  The Catholic Church and other organizations often provided their opinions on social issues, which was legitimate.  The delegation did not believe that the Church significantly affected the adoption of laws.

Gender-related terminology had been introduced and the State party’s legislation on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues had been improved, including a law on civil partnerships.  Recently, a lesbian couple had been allowed to adopt a child.

One month earlier, an act had been ratified on the rights of victims of sexual assaults during the war.  The effect of the act was yet to be seen.  The exact number of women victims of sexual abuse was not yet known. 

The Office for Gender Equality was actively advocating the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, which had been translated to Croatian.  A conference on sexual violence against women would soon be organized by a non-governmental organization. 

Follow-up Questions
 
An Expert wanted to know about the translation of the Committee’s general recommendations – its jurisprudence – and whether future jurists were exposed to it. 

How did the delegation explain the lack of proceedings under the Optional Protocol?

Had civil society been involved in the preparation of the report?

When was it expected that Croatia would ratify the Istanbul Convention?

Responses by the Delegation
 
The delegation said it could not at this stage confirm the timeline for the Istanbul Convention’s ratification.  The recommendations related to violence against women had been translated.  Many European Union and Council of Europe documents had also been translated. 

Non-governmental organizations had not been consulted during the drafting of the current report since they had announced that they would deliver their own shadow reports, the delegation said. 

Croatia did not currently have many refugees, but was expecting more because of the European Union quotas.  People returning to Croatia could easily regulate their status and receive permanent residence. 

There are no female Members of Parliament coming from national minorities.   

Articles 3 and 4: Appropriate Measures and Temporary Special Measures to Combat Discrimination

Questions from the Experts


An Expert said that the real challenge for Croatia was moving from de jure to de facto implementation of the otherwise excellent legislation.  The State party was facing a daunting task in changing the dominant mentality.  The Office for Gender Equality had only six persons employed.  Could more clarity be provided on responsibilities and levels of the Office, the Ombudsman and the gender-quality body of the Parliament? How was Croatia planning to receive more project funding and better analyse the data relevant to the work of the existing machinery?

Another Expert noted that parental benefits were not perceived as a special temporary measure.  Were such measures employed in other areas?

Responses by the Delegation
 
Financing for the Office had indeed been reduced, as a result of the recession, and there were currently five employees.  Each Ministry had a gender equality coordinator, who worked closely with the Office; most Ministries had already adopted action plans for gender equality.  Resources had been identified for educating judges and other legal officers.  There was cooperation on various issues between the Office, the Ombudsman and the Parliament.  Commissions at the county level had also been established, but needed to be further strengthened. 

There was an awareness of gender inequality among citizens of Croatia, the delegation stated, based on which programmes were developed.  The majority of Croatian citizens were still not familiar with anti-discriminatory laws, particularly in rural areas.  Campaigns needed to be continued. 

Special temporary measures had been introduced in the areas of entrepreneurship, and 40 per cent quotas now existed for all political party lists participating in elections.  Parties not respecting the quota would not be able to take part in elections.  Targeted measures were undertaken for empowering unemployed women.

Follow-up Questions
 
What was the executive authority of the Office for Gender Equality, an Expert inquired.

Another Expert wanted to know more about the 2013-2014 special temporary measures to promote equality in entry of girls into high schools, which had since been repealed.
Responses by the Delegation
 
Two extra points had indeed been added at entry exams to the underrepresented sex, but the measure had been removed after being deemed ineffective. 

The authority of the Office included drafting national strategies and influencing amendments on a number of existing acts.  The Office approved Ministries’ action plans, asked for changes and amendments, conducted public awareness campaigns, and collected statistics on gender representation.

Articles 5 and 6: Modifying Social and Cultural Patterns and Suppressing Exploitation of Women

Questions from the Experts


Had the Government been engaged in the very comprehensive set of recommendations issued by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women? Forms of violence ought to be differentiated, and law enforcement officers trained to better identify and arrest the aggressor and not the victim.  There still seemed to be the tendency to pursue misdemeanour cases rather than more serious criminal prosecution.

Were there plans to increase the number of shelters? Concern was expressed over the lowering of the definition of rape.

Another Expert referred to the media scene and the prevailing images of women there.  Media were obliged to produce gender-sensitive media content, which had been largely practiced between 2006 and 2010.  What were measures to eliminate stereotypes in advertising?

The issue of human trafficking was raised by an Expert, who wanted to know whether the Government was planning to take proactive measures so that officials were aware of the problem and not confuse it with prostitution.  How many shelters were available for victims of trafficking?

On prostitution, the Expert asked what measures were taken by the State party to help women leave prostitution.  Was enough being done to reduce the demand side?

Responses by the Delegation
 
The delegation explained that a working group had been established to deal with the complex issue of protecting victims and prosecuting perpetrators of domestic violence. Different types of violence were listed in the legislation and penalties were decided on a case-by-case basis. 

Dual arrests were isolated cases, the number of which was negligible.  The contribution of each party to the conflict was considered, and accordingly police officers proposed the type of penalty.  In police schools and academies, domestic violence and gender-based violence were included in training topics.

State authorities were cooperating with local government units and civil sector on providing shelters for victims of violence.  There were 19 shelters managed by civil society or religious organizations, 19 by the State and one by the City of Zagreb.  Minimum standards were in place in the shelters for providing social services.  Counselling centres were also in place for women and children victims of domestic violence.

Regarding trafficking in human beings, the delegation said that a number of State bodies, civil sector and international organizations were involved in combatting that scourge.  A coordinating committee, chaired by the female Deputy Prime Minister, met twice a year.  A number of relevant protocols were in place.  Special training was held for a wide array of staff involved, including those working in transportation and tourist sectors.  Croatia did not prosecute victims of trafficking.  Particular attention was paid to the training of police officers, judges and attorneys to better understand gender-specific aspects of trafficking.   Victims could be only exceptionally questioned about their private lives when that was deemed necessary to avoid re-victimization.  The data on identified victims of trafficking were provided so that their privacy was protected. 

Two shelters for victims of trafficking were financed from the State budget.  Individualized programmes adopted to each victim’s needs were prepared.  Croatia was still predominantly a transit country.  The Government was conducting a series of campaigns to raise general awareness on trafficking in human beings. 

On the issue of the media, the delegation stated that the stereotypes there, including the Internet, were still a large problem and almost impossible to curtail.  The State party was not sure how to best cope with that challenge.  Additional points were awarded to radio and TV stations for producing gender-sensitive programmes. 

Follow-up Questions
 
An Expert asked if domestic violence protection regulations covered unmarried intimate partners or those without children.  The majority of the orders seemed to have been treatment orders for the perpetrators rather than protective orders to guarantee protection of the victims.  Was new data available?

Criminalization of women engaged in prostitution was not the right way to abolish prostitution, another Expert noted.  What was being done to address the demand side?

Did foreign victims of trafficking need to cooperate with the police in order to have their stay in Croatia extended?
 
Responses by the Delegation
 
The delegation explained that foreign women victims of trafficking could stay in the country regardless of their cooperation with the police.

Victims of domestic violence had the right to protection and medical and socio-psychological assistance.  They were also informed of the outcome of the proceedings.  The definition of domestic violence had changed to ensure that there was no overlap with misdemeanours.  Definitions of family members had been changed in line with the Criminal Code; extramarital communities were now equal with marriages.  Novelties included modernization of protective measures, whose purpose was to remove conditions that would enable repetition of the act.

The delegation informed that the Criminal Code defined rape as a qualified form of sexual intercourse without consent.  The sentences regarding rape were coordinated with sentences for other forms of sexual intercourse without consent.

Articles 7 to 9: Equality in Political and Public Life at the National and International Levels and Equality in Nationality Laws

Questions from the Experts


Only 26 per cent of Members of the Parliament were female, which was a far cry from the 40 per cent specified in the national legislation, an Expert noted.  What was the impact of the system of preferred voting on gender quotas?  Would Croatia consider having a reserved quota of parliamentary seats?  Only 15 per cent of Ministers and 23 per cent of Ambassadors were women.  What measures were in place to facilitate women’s progression in State-owned companies and diplomatic service?  Female diplomats were reportedly not entitled to regular maternity leave – what was being done to correct that anomaly?

Responses by the Delegation
 
The delegation reiterated that a new act on the elections for the Parliament stipulated that all electoral lists needed to include at least 40 per cent of the lesser represented gender, in order to be accepted.  The effect of that measure, as well as of the preferential vote system, would be seen in the forthcoming parliamentary election.  The short-term objective was to reach at least 30 per cent of women Members of the Parliament.  Percentages of women in high positions in State bodies were indeed low, the delegation conceded.

At the level of the European Union and the Parliament, discussions were underway on introducing quotas for company board membership.
 
Women prevailed in managerial and mid-level positions at the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, including the Minister herself.  There had been 27 per cent of female Ambassadors in 2014, which was a result of continuous progress.  It was now ensured that female diplomats could use maternity leave.

Articles 10 to 14: Equality in Education, in Employment and Labour Rights, and in Access to Health Facilities, Finance and Social Security, and Rural Women

Questions from the Experts

 
Education was the main means of transforming patriarchal norms, an Expert noted.  There did not seem to exist a problem with the number of women in the educational system in Croatia.  What was being done to address the inequalities which followed graduation?

How did the overrepresentation of girls in arts and general secondary education affect their career prospects afterwards? 

There seemed to be reluctance to include gender equality in the curricula – could the delegation comment?  Sexual and reproductive health education was allocated only two hours per year, which seemed difficult to believe; even then, teachers were often reluctant to lecture on those topics.

Another Expert asked what had been done to reduce the gender pay gap.

Croatian laws prohibited employers from asking questions about women’s plans to have children and terminating work contracts because of the female employee’s pregnancy.  What measures were being taken to encourage fathers to take paternal leave?

The Expert asked what measures were being taken to promote vocational training of women with disabilities.  How about the promotion of employment for Roma women?

Was Croatia supporting European Union proposals to introduce mandatory quotas of 40 per cent for female membership on company boards?

The Committee was concerned about the right to abortion being denied by certain hospitals on the ground of conscientious objection.  What complementary measures were foreseen to remove all barriers to access to abortion, an Expert asked.

A low percentage of women had access to contraception.  How did the State party plan to increase that access to modern contraception at low cost or no cost, especially for the most vulnerable groups, such as migrant women and women from the Roma community? Were mobile health care services operational?

Another Expert wanted to hear more about the changes in the social protection system following the economic crisis.  Was a social pension being envisioned, especially for women who had never worked?

How many women owners of farms were successful?  How could State services provided to rural women be progressively improved?  Almost 80 per cent of rural women were reported to have completed elementary school at least.

Lesbian women seemed to be discriminated against by the police, judges and even the Supreme Court.  What actions were planned to protect women against discrimination on the ground of their sexual orientation?

Responses by the Delegation
 
Education was equally accessible to everyone, a delegate responded.  Pupils chose their affiliations based on their own interests; it was true that many girls went for general secondary education, but their percentage in vocational schools was on the increase.  There was no difference in the curricula taught to boys and girls.  As far as graduates in higher institutions were concerned, there was an increasing number of women, also in professions traditionally deemed as male.

There was a progressive increase of sexual and reproductive health education, taking into consideration the age of children.  Some teachers felt that they were not properly trained for such subjects.  Civic education had existed in Croatia for a while; an interdisciplinary programme including gender equality was in place.

The Labour Code, in line with the European Union legislation, prescribed that the employer had to pay the same salary to men and women.  Still, women on the average had a lower salary then men.  Any employee could report their employer if there were any breaches of the Labour Code.

The economic crisis had affected salaries and levels of employment, the delegation said.  Increasing numbers of persons with disabilities were being employed, which was something fostered by the Government.

There were programmes financing Roma employment.  Between 2010 and 2014, the number of Roma women participating in motivational workshops had increased four times.  The share of women in active policy measures stood at 40 per cent.

The delegation said that five health institutions did not offer abortion services based on conscientious objections.  Hospitals had been asked to prepare protocols on proceeding in such situations.  The Ministry of Health did not have information on illegal abortions.  Most gynaecological practices offered services to women with disabilities.

A number of oral and hormonal contraceptives were offered for minimal payment.

Regarding social pensions, the delegation said that such a category did not exist in Croatia, but a possibility of introducing it had been recently announced. 

Women were owners of companies at micro and medium levels, it was stated.  Giving of loans was monitored by the Office.  The share of women managers was 3 per cent lower than the European average.

The Government was working on improving the conditions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.  A new act on registered partnerships was also in place. 

The Government had a strategy in place to combat poverty and social exclusion, the delegation informed.  Youth, the elderly and those with disabilities were the priority categories. 

The National Strategy for Roma Inclusion did not explicitly mention Roma women.  The tradition of Roma in general was at the root of a number of practices, including early marriages and leaving school early, which the Government was working to change.

Articles 15 and 16: Equality in Legal and Civil Matters and in Family Law
 
Questions from the Experts

An Expert stressed that the experience from other countries showed the friendly parent provisions, which were in place in Croatia, prevented women from alleging violence against them.  Joint mediation sometimes appeared mandatory. 

Were intangible assets considered as part of the property to be equally divided?  Were future earnings taken into consideration?

Responses by the Delegation
 
The Constitutional Court had determined that any actions under the 2014 Family Act be suspended until further notice. 

Since then, excessive provisions had been removed from the Act, a delegate said.  Two new instruments had been introduced: mandatory consultation before proceeding to divorce and family mediation, the process which presupposed the equality of both parties.  It was not implemented in the cases of violence.

The Family Act stipulated responsibilities of the parent dwelling with the child to actively encourage the child to pursue a relationship with the other parent.

The delegation informed that partners had the same right to property earned during the marriage.  They had the right to arrange their relationship differently.

Further Questions from the Experts
 
An Expert said that sometimes unnecessary medical procedures were performed at baby deliveries, and there were no provisions for home deliveries.  Some women reported being brutally handled by hospital staff.

Were there controls by pharmacists over selling contraception in place? 

Single women or women in lesbian relationships were excluded from access to artificial insemination.  Were there any plans to change it in the future?

On marital property, the Expert asked if a person had worked full time and accrued full pension rights and the other had not, was that pension considered as part of the joint property.

Another Expert said satisfactory information had not been provided on the de facto level to induce changes in educational sphere and, for example, entice more girls to technical spheres.

Responses by the Delegation
 
The State party had conducted research and held round tables, marked the International Day of Women in ICT (information and communication technologies), all with the view of promoting engineering and information technology among girls.  In all other spheres, girls and women were well represented.  Leaflets promoting women and men in non-traditional jobs had been printed and distributed.

The cost of abortion and the part of contraception costs were borne by the woman, a delegate confirmed.  Parental consent was necessary for abortions on minors, and the same was the case for emergency contraceptives.

There was no possibility at the moment for midwives to visit homes.  Maternity hospitals were regularly reviewed to ensure good treatment of patients.

The delegation stated that there was no positive legislation that would give women diplomats maternity leave while on a mandate abroad.  At the moment, they had the option of taking maternity leave upon their return to the capital.

The principle of equality was applied to marital property.  The fact of the unemployment of one of the partners did not affect his or her rights to marital property.  More details would be submitted in writing.

Concluding Remarks
 
YOKO HAYASHI, Committee Chairwoman, thanked the Experts for their questions and comments, and the State party for the answers provided.  The Committee commended the State party for its efforts and encouraged it to take efforts to implement the concluding observations.

HELENA ŠTIMAC RADIN, Head of the Office for Gender Equality, thanked the Committee for the constructive debate.  There had not been sufficient time for questions and answers.  Croatia was committed to cooperating with the Committee, all with the goal of achieving gender equality.

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