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

12 November 2015

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Slovakia on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report, Fedor Rosocha, Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, stated that the prohibition of discrimination was extensively covered by the so-called Anti-Discrimination Act adopted in 2004. Discrimination was prohibited on the grounds of sex, religion or belief, race, nationality or ethnic origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, marital and family status, colour, language, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, and whistleblowing. The Government had also reformed its national mechanism for the implementation of gender equality policies, and it had adopted measures to promote gender equality in the areas of employment, health, and education.

Committee Experts highlighted the prevalence of resistance to gender equality in Slovakia, and multiple discrimination against Roma women. They noted that the stagnation in the political representation of women was worrying and they recommended that the State party consider the adoption of quotas, especially for Roma women. They also asked the Government to address the pay gap between men and women. Experts drew attention to the segregation of Roma children in schools, lack of access to employment opportunities by Roma, and the cases of forced sterilization of Roma women.

In concluding remarks, Mr. Rosocha thanked the Committee for the comments and questions. The delegation appreciated the constructive criticism and fruitful discussions on the provisions of the Convention. Slovakia would carefully consider the Committee’s recommendations and observations in order to improve the rights of women in the country.

In her concluding remarks, Yoko Hayashi, Chairperson of the Committee, commended the State party for its efforts and encouraged it to take into consideration the measures suggested by the Committee.

The delegation of Slovakia included representatives from the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family, the Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport, the Ministry of Justice, and the Permanent Mission of Slovakia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 20 November, at 5 p.m. to close its sixty-second session.

Report

The fifth and sixth combined periodic report of Slovakia (CEDAW/C/SVK/5-6) is available here.

Presentation of the Report

FEDOR ROSOCHA, Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that in addition to the Constitution, the prohibition of discrimination was extensively covered by the so-called Anti-Discrimination Act, which had been adopted in 2004. Discrimination was prohibited on the grounds of sex, religion or belief, race, nationality or ethnic origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, marital and family status, colour, language, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, and whistleblowing. According to the Anti-Discrimination Act, gender discrimination also referred to discrimination on grounds of pregnancy or maternity, as well as on grounds of sexual or gender identification. The Government had adopted the evaluation of the implementation of the National Action Plan for Gender Equality 2010-2013, and proclaimed the creation of the National Gender Equality Strategy and Action Plan for Gender Equality 2014-2019. Their specific activities and measures had been prepared and discussed in cooperation with non-governmental organizations and the Government Council for Human Rights, National Minorities and Gender Equality. The measures proposed concerned six areas: economic empowerment and independence, decision-making, education, dignity, institutional mechanisms, and international cooperation. The strategy and the related action plan stemmed from the basic strategic documents of the European Union and the Council of Europe.

Since 2010 the agenda of gender equality had been discussed and covered in the framework of the Committee of the National Council for Human Rights and National Minorities of Parliament. In 2011 the reconstruction process of the constructive bodies had resulted in the creation of a new institutional mechanism – the Governmental Council for Human Rights, National Minorities and Gender Equality. That body was a permanent professional, advisory, coordinating and consultative body of the Government responsible for promoting the principle of equal treatment and equality, including gender equality. The Council consisted of several specific committees. In September 2012, Parliament had approved the bill amending and supplementing the Act on the Organization of the Activity of the Government and on the Organization of the Central State Administration, whereby the gender equality and equal opportunities agenda had become the competence of the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family. Since then the Department of Gender Equality and Equal Opportunities had been responsible for the coordination of national policy in the area and it had ensured the cross-departmental implementation of gender equality within the Ministry and beyond.

The Government had adopted the National Action Plan for the Prevention and Elimination of Violence against Women for the period 2014-2019. One of the crucial projects was the establishment of the Coordination Methodological Centre for the Prevention and Elimination of Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, in accordance with Article 10 of the Istanbul Convention. The Centre had officially been established in April 2015. A team of experts was responsible for the scientific coordination and supervision of the implementation of the system of prevention and intervention, victim support and services. Training for law enforcement agencies, including police officers, investigators, prosecutors, judges and health care professionals on gender-based and domestic violence represented one of the key activities of the Centre. The Centre would also provide analysis of the current legislation on violence against women and domestic violence. The Ministry of Labour had launched the project entitled “Family and Work” in 2015, using affirmative action to support the employment of mothers of young children, which remained far below the employment of men in the same age group. The Ministry of Labour supported the employment of mothers of pre-school children by reimbursing 90 per cent of the total labour costs (salary plus social and health insurance) when a mother was employed on a newly created working place with flexible working arrangements. The Ministry also provided for the establishment of flexible child care facilities. In order to prevent uninformed health choices and procedures of Roma women, as well as women from poor communities, the Ministry of Health implemented the project “Healthy Communities,” financed from European Union structural funds. Some 190 health workers monitored segregated Roma settlements and localities, ensuring an elementary health education in 259 such settlements.


Questions by Experts

An Expert observed that the Anti-Discrimination Act did not seem to cover all the grounds for discrimination under the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Could the delegation elaborate on the application of the Convention in Slovakia’s jurisprudence? Statistical data provided highlighted scarce activity in the area of gender equality. What kinds of measures were being taken in that respect?

As for access to justice, Slovakian courts remained reluctant to provide financial compensation to victims of discrimination and tended to downplay the seriousness of discrimination, especially its impact on human dignity. What measures were being taken to offset that trend, particularly in the case of rural women? What measures were being taken to fully implement the Gender Equality Strategy? What specific support did the Centre for Human Rights provide to women to access justice?

Answers by the Delegation

The Anti-Discrimination Act applied to social services, employment, health, education and other areas defined by the Constitution. There were difficulties with its implementation in court due to the fact that it was fairly new legislation. The Ministry of Justice had pledged to reform the Centre and provide better funding for it. The Government planned to amend the Anti-Discrimination Act in 2016, and it would address the fact that courts did not grant financial compensation to victims of discrimination. The new Code of Civil Procedure, coming into effect in the summer of 2016, was supposed to shorten the length of procedures. A new Action Plan against All Forms of Discrimination would focus on education, institutional support, training in ministries and courts, and data collection. That plan would further strengthen the institutional framework to combat discrimination. The Legal Aid Centre provided legal assistance to vulnerable women, especially to Roma women.

In Slovakia it was more common to refer to domestic anti-discrimination legislation than the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. However, arguments did rely on the recommendations made by the Committee. There was a wide complaint mechanism, involving various inspectorates, in addition to the Council for Human Rights, National Minorities and Gender Equality. There was also a possibility of filing a complaint with the Public Defender of Rights. The last Eurobarometer showed that gender discrimination was not the most common form of discrimination in Slovakia. There were more cases of discrimination on grounds of ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity. By using European Union structural funds, Slovakia could enhance the application of anti-discrimination legislation in its jurisprudence.

Follow-up Questions by Experts

An Expert stated that it could not be argued that gender equality in Slovakia existed, which was precisely why the Anti-Discrimination Act was not sufficient. Where was the political will to implement the principle of equality?

Inter-sectional discrimination remained a big issue in Slovakia and gender figured in it to a great extent. Did the Slovak National Centre for Human Rights issue periodic reports on women’s rights? Was the Centre for Human Rights in line with the Paris Principles? Did this have anything to do with the extent of its independence? How was its budget negotiated and was there a procedure to ensure the complete political independence of the staff?

As for discrimination against Roma women, they suffered multiple discrimination on grounds of gender and ethnicity. Discrimination against Roma was a huge issue in Slovakia. What was being done to eradicate it?

Answers by the Delegation

Mediation was not applied in cases of violence against women and domestic violence. Intersectional discrimination indeed existed in Slovakia. Very particular groups of women, such as Roma, single women and women with disabilities, experienced multiple forms of discrimination. The Government was preparing new projects focusing on those vulnerable groups.

The Act on the National Centre for Human Rights obliged courts and institutions to provide the Council with information on human rights and equal treatment. The Council had status B. Its budget was semi-fixed and it depended on donations from the Ministry of Finance. The Managing Board of the Centre had nine members from the Government administration, university and civil society sector. Thus, it was difficult to completely limit the political influence of that body.

Regarding the multiple discrimination of Roma women, in 2012 the National Roma Integration Strategy had been adopted, along with the Action Plan 2011-2015. The Action Plan partially solved the issue of multiple discrimination against Roma women. It focused on access to education, employment, housing and health. There was also a commitment to prepare a plan for cross-cutting areas and non-discrimination.

Questions by Experts

What was the role of the new Department of Gender Equality and Equal Opportunities within the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family, and of the Committee on Gender Equality in promoting gender equality? Which institutional authority would be in charge of that task?

As for temporary special measures, the Committee had recommended to Slovakia to use those measures to achieve gender equality in all the fields and to sensitize political parties and the general public on the importance of those measures. However, the application of the Anti-Discrimination Act did not cover all areas of the Convention. In certain areas the affirmative measures did not correspond to the temporary special measures under the Convention and did not necessary contribute to substantive equality between men and women. Was there a concrete strategy to expand those measures to all areas under the Convention? Did the State party evaluate the impact of such measures on the de facto equality of men and women? There were no legal measures to promote equal representation of women in political life. Did the State party foresee to introduce temporary measures in political representation of women?

Answers by the Delegation

The Department of Gender Equality and Equal Opportunities was established in 1999. In 2012 it was assigned to the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family. However, its competence remained cross-cutting. There was a close connection between the Department and the Committee on Gender Equality, which was part of the Council for Human Rights, National Minorities and Gender Equality. The Committee on Gender Equality had 16 members, half of whom were from civil society. Any complaint on gender issues was dealt with by the Department of Gender Equality and Equal Opportunities. The Department had organized several roundtables to clarify the concepts of gender equality, against the backdrop of a backlash against gender equality, which was led mostly by Christian based organizations.

The scope of the Anti-Discrimination Act was already bigger than in many European countries so there were no plans to enlarge it. As for the temporary special measures, it was possible for the State party to adopt them directly based on the Convention.

Follow-up Questions by Experts

Clear and strong political will for gender equality should transform the situation in Slovakia. Why were there decreased transfers of the budget to non-governmental organizations? An Expert observed that there had been no clear statement by the Government that citizens’ platforms against gender equality in fact limited women’s rights.

What was the scope of temporary special measures and their diversity? In spite of the fact that the Convention was above national legislation, the best way to promote it was to transpose its provisions into national legislation.


Answers by the Delegation

It was clarified that temporary special measures could be adopted in a number of areas and they could focus on eliminating social and economic disadvantages, and on creating equality in terms of access to basic services. Such measures had to be proportionate and necessary to achieve the stated goal. Actors who could adopt them were all public institutions, as well as civil society and commercial companies. There were currently no plans to adopt quotas for female participation in political life, as they were controversial in Slovakia.

It was not usual for the Government to comment on civil society initiatives, such as the “March for Life” held in 2013 and 2015. The best way to respond to attacks on gender equality was through the adoption of various gender equality strategies and action plans.

Questions by Experts

What were the results of roundtables and training sessions held with respect to gender equality? Were social attitudes and understanding related to gender equality changing? Only one third of the population thought that there was gender discrimination in the country. Was there an understanding of what the concept of equality meant?

As for violence against women, how many shelters existed and was there any training for the judiciary? Was the inherent link between gender equality and violence against women stressed in training sessions? Did the policy ascribe to a gender neutral notion of domestic violence, or did it stress the gender-based component?

Regarding trafficking of women and girls and sexual exploitation, the statistical data provided by the State party was not precise. What concrete results were achieved through the national anti-trafficking programmes? There was a lack of disaggregated data on victims of trafficking. What kind of analysis was carried out? Were there shelters available for victims of trafficking, and was there any budget support from the State? Roma women were particularly vulnerable to trafficking. What kinds of measures were being developed to protect them? Prostitution was considered immoral, yet, it was not criminalized. What was being done to decrease the demand for prostitution?

Answers by the Delegation

Regarding combatting negative gender stereotypes, there had been changes in social attitudes. Ten years ago more than half of the population in Slovakia believed that the family suffered if the woman worked. Today, about a third of the population held that view. The “male breadwinner” model of the family was ideal for only 10 per cent of Slovak citizens. Some men were taking parental leave.

The Government had elaborated a legal proposal on gender-based violence in order to define violence against women in line with the Istanbul Convention. The guidelines provided by the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women were strictly followed in the development of gender equality policies and measures. Under law, the second act of domestic violence by the same perpetrator would be prosecuted as a criminal act. The National Action Plan on Violence against Women and Domestic Violence 2014-2019 aimed to strengthen prevention and intervention, victim support services, and training for police, investigators, prosecutors, judges and health professionals. The number of women who wished to resolve their situation had doubled, according to the helpline information. Seven new shelters for victims of violence would open by the end of 2016.

The Programme for the Support and Protection of Victims of Trafficking in Human Beings was financed by the Government. Trafficking of women was considered part of violence against women. Victims came mostly from the Košice region and from marginalized Roma communities. Projects were implemented to improve awareness in socially excluded Roma communities, as well as to elaborate methodological guidelines for the identification of victims in Roma communities. A national helpline for victims of trafficking had been established.

Follow-up Questions by Experts

There was some information on hate crimes against Roma and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex women, as well as on hate discourse made by police, politicians and media. How were such crimes addressed? An Expert urged the State party to keep the reference to women in the title of the national strategy for the elimination of gender-based violence.

How did the anti-trafficking system work in general? Who monitored the implementation of the anti-trafficking programme? There was no response on prostitution. Who was the typical prostitute in Slovakia?

Answers by the Delegation

Prostitution was not criminalized, whereas pimping was. There were some non-governmental organizations working on the issue of prostitution and could perhaps provide more information on a typical prostitute in Slovakia.

As for hate speech against Roma and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex women, continuous training sessions for police officers were held, in cooperation with the Council of Europe.

Questions by Experts

The stagnation in the political representation of women was worrying. There were no women in the current Government, and women made up only 16 per cent of members of Parliament. Was there contemplation of introducing at least incentives for political parties? There was some improvement in female representation on boards. No woman had ever led a self-governing region. What was the breakdown of female participation in the judiciary? What could be done to represent Roma women? Why was it that out of 45 per cent of women in diplomatic posts at home, only 11 per cent were in diplomatic missions abroad?

Answers by the Delegation

Regarding the political participation of women, the delegation noted that this was still a challenge. However, there were several campaigns encouraging women to participate and urging political parties to put women on their electoral lists. Political participation of Slovak women at the European level was encouraging and it stood at approximately 38 per cent. At the local level there were positive developments in the number of independent female candidates. Women opted to join civil society organizations rather than political parties. Women outnumbered men in the positions within the Government related to family affairs. There were male politicians who were much more sensitive to gender equality than certain female conservative politicians. The judiciary was a very positive example of female participation. There were four female judges among the five highest positions.

As for women in diplomacy, the overall number of women employed in the foreign service was higher than the number of men. It was true that in political leadership of ministries there were no women. Women were not interested in taking up posts abroad, due to the unwillingness of their partners to abandon their careers at home. There were incentives to support families of diplomats abroad, but not to an extent that would cover financial loss at home due to diplomatic service abroad, the delegation explained.

Follow-up Questions by Experts

Did the State party analyse the lack of measures to increase the political representation of women, particularly of Roma women? As for the introduction of quotas, the Committee did not intend for the country to go against democratic processes. However, the Committee suggested that it was worthwhile looking at such measures?

Democracy was about much more than the majority rule. Among them gender equality was an essential component. Perhaps it was time for the Slovak system to look into the quota system in order to improve its democracy, an Expert observed.

Answers by the Delegation

The delegation clarified that in a democratic country it was difficult to impose measures that would be accepted by Parliament. Parliament opposed the introduction of quotas for women. As for the political representation of Roma women, it was difficult to establish who was Roma. The Government was not allowed to collect data on the proportion of Roma in certain professions. Since the Velvet Revolution in 1989, there had been three Roma representatives in Parliament.

Questions by Experts

An Expert raised the issue of segregation of Roma children in schools. How did the State party deal with institutional and multiple discrimination of Roma girls? They were placed in separate classrooms or schools, which was contrary to the Anti-Discrimination Act. Would the separation of Roma children really help build the Slovak social model? How did the Government address the issue of children with disabilities?

As for employment, the gender pay gap remained high in the private sector. Reconciliation of family and working life was a challenge. Was there any intention to introduce paternal leave and sanction employers who discriminated against mothers with young children? There was a high incidence of sexual harassment of women in the labour market. There was limited access of Roma people to employment due to poor education and persisting discrimination. Roma women were highly marginalized in the labour market. What was being done to address that problem?

Regarding health, what were the obstacles to adopting a national programme on sexual and reproductive health education? Was there an intention to conduct an investigation of all cases of sterilization? In 2014 there was a very low level of the use of contraceptives by women in the reproductive age. What was being done to eliminate problems affecting access to modern contraceptives? As for abortion, could the delegation elaborate on the new procedural requirement introduced in 2009 on mandatory consultation on abortion.

Answers by the Delegation

The main goal of the Ministry of Education was to maintain equal access to education, and to encourage tolerance for other peoples and cultures. In September 2014, sexual education entitled “Marriage and Parenthood Education” had been added to the compulsory cross-cutting subjects. It dealt with issues such as relationships, responsible approach to sexuality, development and parenthood, bodily changes during puberty, negative impact of drug addiction to one’s sexuality, and the principles of safe behaviour.

Three big national projects were aimed at the inclusion of marginalized Roma communities, improving their education and professional competences, and their inclusion into the labour market. As for segregated classes, amendments to the School Act had been adopted in September 2015 and they stipulated for inclusive education for marginalized communities. It was stipulated that children from socially disadvantaged environments could not attend special classes solely on that basis. The National Strategy for the Integration of Roma was focused on attracting Roma children to pre-primary education, which was attended by only 18 per cent of Roma children, and to keep them in secondary education and vocational schools.

As for the gender pay gap, the delegation acknowledged it was still a challenge. However, progress had been made in the past five to six years in the equal pay for work of equal value. More women tended to work in the public service, education and service sector, which were less paid positions. Women still earned about 30 per cent less than men. In terms of women’s participation in economic decision-making, few of them were in managerial positions, which was closely related to balancing of work and family life. In 2015 the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family started to implement the project entitled “Family and Work” using affirmative action to support the employment of mothers of pre-school children, and to promote child care facilities. Allowance for child care had been increased. Labour inspectors produced annual reports on different areas, including on equal pay and reconciliation of family and work life. In 2013 they found 44 cases of unequal pay, and 733 cases of breaches of the conditions for balancing family and work life. As for Roma women, efforts to increase their participation in the labour market were closely related to better access to education.

As for the cases of forced sterilization of Roma women, that issue was addressed at various international bodies. The Act on Health Care stipulated that medical practitioners had to inform and advise the patient about the consequences and risks of medical procedures. They had to do so in a manner that was comprehensible and considerate of the patient. The patient had the right to refuse a medical procedure. Informed consent was required for any sterilization and the patient had the right to withdraw consent at any time. The Ministry of Education had reviewed cases of sterilization in the past 10 years and all had been found to be legal. There was no evidence that the alleged cases of forced sterilization of Roma women were organized discriminatory practices.

The National Programme on Sexual and Reproductive Health had not been adopted yet, due to intense and controversial discussions about planned parenthood and abortion in the country. Contraceptives were widely available at affordable prices. Women of limited financial means could obtain them through insurance schemes. As for the provision of health services to marginalized Roma communities, that was done through the project “Healthy Communities.” Regarding conscientious objection of medical practitioners to provide abortion or sterilization, that issue had been very topical some 10 years ago. But, no cases of refusal to perform abortion had been reported recently. Abortion was allowed within 12 weeks upon written request of the pregnant woman. The procedure was to be performed with an obligatory 48-hour waiting period after counselling.

Questions by Experts

What was the gender profile of poverty? Did the State party envisage anti-poverty measures that were specifically aimed at women? Did it plan to take temporary special measures to promote female entrepreneurship? What was the kind of access that rural women had to decision-making, credit, resources and tertiary education? Could a comprehensive policy for Roma women be planned? What were measures being taken to combat racially motivated attacks on immigrant and asylum-seeking women and girls, as well as homophobic attacks and speech against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex women?

As for shared custody, a new measure was introduced in 2010 to allow for alternate custody by parents. That arrangement was the worst solution for children in high-conflict cases. What was the update on the process of preparing regulations for visitation in the context of domestic violence? Was business property and earning potential considered part of marital property? There was a lack of safeguarding economic rights of women in de facto unions.

Answers by the Delegation

Women were getting smaller pensions due to the gender pay gap. Since life expectancy for women was longer than for men, there were more women who received old-age pensions. Cooperation with Roma civil society organizations was carried out through the existing gender equality institutions. The Asylum Law was amended to provide protection measures for vulnerable migrant women. As for shared custody, and specifically alternate custody, it was adopted to observe the best interest of the child. In 85 per cent of cases, custody was given to mothers. Most cases of shared custody were made upon agreement of both parents. Violence against women was taken into account when granting custody.

Hate crimes and hate speech were extensively covered by the law. The Ministry of the Interior had a strategy to combat extremism. In October 2015, an action plan on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons had been opened for public discussion. Under the Civil Code, everything was part of marital property, except the property acquired before marriage, inherited property and gifts. Business property could be part of sharing of marital property, but it was not directly defined through the law. It depended on whether the business was started before or during the marriage.

Concluding Remarks

FEDOR ROSOCHA, Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee for the comments and questions. The delegation appreciated the constructive criticism and fruitful discussions on the provisions of the Convention. The delegation also thanked civil society organizations for their comments. Slovakia would carefully consider the Committee’s recommendations and observations in order to improve the rights of women in the country.

YOKO HAYASHI, Chairperson of the Committee, commended the State party for its efforts and encouraged it to take into consideration the measures suggested by the Committee.

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