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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women examines the situation of women's rights in Cyprus

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination      
  against Women 

4 July 2018

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the eighth periodic report of Cyprus on the implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Presenting the report, Leda Koursoumba, Law Commissioner of Cyprus, outlined the considerable progress made in the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, highlighting in particular the Strategic Action Plan on Gender Equality 2014-2017 as the most significant achievement in policy formation, which incorporated administrative reform, improvement of the legislative framework, balance in decision-making posts, combating violence against women, women’s economic empowerment, and elimination of social stereotypes and prejudices.  In the last five years, the financial crisis had slowed progress in some areas, but the major efforts to promote equality continued in the context of Cyprus’ accession to the European Union in 2004.  Combating violence against women was a high priority, she said, noting that efforts in that area had been strengthened with the ratification of the Istanbul Convention and the adoption of an action plan against domestic violence.  In closing, the Commissioner underlined the critical importance of tackling violence against women and traditional perceptions of gender roles in achieving gender equality, particularly in political and economic spheres.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts recognized the significant progress Cyprus had made in many areas, and recalled the exceptional geographical situation of the country on three continents, and which also forced it to respond to a number of challenges, including migration.  In fact, Experts voiced their concerns about gaps in support and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers, expressing hope that more resources would be provided to Cyprus internationally and regionally.  Concerns were raised over the effects on women of the political situation in the country, with over a third of the territory not under Government control.  Experts took positive note of achievements in the education of women and girls, and wondered why those educational outcomes did not translate into greater progress in women’s political participation, number of women in positions of leadership in the public and private sector, and greater representation of women in science and technology fields.  Given that lag, much discussion was devoted to temporary special measures, the use of which had been proposed, but had been struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

In concluding remarks, Ms. Koursoumba affirmed that the Committee’s recommendations were an important tool for further advancement of women’s equality in Cyprus and hoped to report significant progress in her delegation’s next appearance before the Committee.

Dalia Leinarte, Committe Chairperson, encouraged Cyprus to address the various recommendations to be provided by the Committee for the benefit of all women and girls in the country.

The delegation of Cyprus was made up of representatives from the Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Justice and Public Order, Ministry of Education and Culture, Ministry of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance, the Cyprus Police, as well as the Permanent Mission of Cyprus to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings will be available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Thursday, 5 July, to consider the fifth periodic report of Liechtenstein (CEDAW/C/LIE/5).


The Committee is considering the eighth periodic report of Cyprus (CEDAW/C/CYP/8).

Presentation of the Report

LEDA KOURSOUMBA, Law Commissioner of Cyprus, affirmed her country’s commitment to the Convention and its goals, noting that Cyprus had made considerable progress in the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.  Although the financial crisis in the past five years had slowed progress in some areas, major efforts to promote gender equality continued in the context of Cyprus’ accession to the European Union.  The Strategic Action Plan on Gender Equality 2014-2017 was the most significant achievement in policy formation, incorporating a holistic approach that included administrative reform, improvement of the legislative framework, balance in decision-making posts, combating violence against women, economic empowerment of women, and elimination of social stereotypes and prejudices.  The Action Plan for the period 2018-2021, which was currently being drafted, incorporated more European commitments and added focus on combating stereotypes, and protecting and empowering vulnerable groups.  In terms of institutional development, the Equality Unit of the Ministry of Justice and Public Order, the Commissioner for Gender Equality and the National Mechanism for Women’s Rights continued to play leading roles in law reform, awareness raising, support of civil society groups, and the promotion of gender mainstreaming.  

Addressing the problems of vulnerable groups of women, Ms. Koursoumba said that new legislation provided for civil partnerships of the same or mixed sex couples, ensuring equality in all social areas with the exception of adoptions.  The authorities had set up a mechanism to quickly establish the needs of asylum-seeking women through trained female officers who undertook evaluation of claims, and had come up with an action plan on healthcare for vulnerable groups, providing nursing care at home for women with mobility problems over the age of 63.  Another priority was a systematic development of gender-disaggregated statistics in employment, education, health, quality of life, violence and other areas.  Efforts to mainstream women’s rights in all areas of employment had resulted in a significant decrease of the gender pay gap, from 16.8 per cent in 2010 to 13.9 per cent in 2016.  Combating violence against women was another high priority for Cyprus, Ms. Koursoumba said.  Efforts in that area had been strengthened with the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, adoption of an action plan against domestic violence, launching of awareness campaigns, systematic training of relevant professionals, strengthening of relevant police offices, and improvement of data collection and promotion of research.  

The Government had developed new, comprehensive tools to combat trafficking in persons, including action plans, legislation, awareness-raising, support to non-governmental organizations, training for shelter staff, and the strengthening of the relevant police office.  Despite targeted programs to increase the participation of women in public and political life, they remained underrepresented at decision-making levels, even though present at the highest level of the Government, including as ministers, commissioners and heads of authorities.  Women constituted 50 per cent of judges, including five of the 13 Supreme Court justices, and filled 38.5 per cent of senior posts in the civil service.  At the same time, women filled in only 17.8 per cent of seats in the Parliament, and only 10.3 per cent of mayors were women.  The same underrepresentation existed in business leadership, with only 10.8 per cent of women in leadership positions in the largest public-listed companies.  

Turning to education, The Commissioner said that the percentage of women graduates of tertiary education stood at 34.6 and was higher than that of men, with a high concentration of women in sciences and statistics, while girls performed better than boys in basic skills.   In the health field, women could access all services, including free human papilloma virus vaccination and oral contraceptives.  Abortion up to the twelfth week of pregnancy had been decriminalized.  The reform of the Family Law was underway with seven bills under discussion, aimed at safeguarding the rights of both women and men.  Equality in consent over major resources and other economic measures concerning divorce would particularly benefit women, said Ms. Koursoumba, concluding by acknowledging that traditional perceptions of gender roles had to be better tackled.

Questions by Committee Experts

At the beginning of the interactive dialogue with the delegation of Cyprus, Committee Experts inquired about the problems posed by the political division of Cyprus and asked for clarifications on the constitutional provisions that might have bearing on temporary special measures.  Turning to vulnerable groups, they remarked that there was not enough information on the rights of migrants and refugees.  Noting that gaps still existed in support for refugees and migrants, acknowledged the shortage of resources, expressing hope that more would be provided internationally and regionally, Experts inquired about the international and regional support provided to Cyprus to address the current influx of refugees.  How were the rights of stateless refugees protected?

Was the Parliamentary Commission involved with the report to the Committee and its follow-up, and how did civil society participate in the process?  What was the effect of tax evasion on social programmes and on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals?  

Referring to the Women, Peace and Security agenda, one Expert noted that women were underrepresented in the formal peace process for Cyprus.  She asked for more information in that area, particularly about the efforts to protect women in all of the territory of the country, including those not under Government control, the number of women participating in peace processes, and how the plan would ensure that women’s needs were taken into account in any such plan.

Responses by the Delegation

Speaking of the political division of Cyprus, the delegation acknowledged that 36.7 per cent of the country’s territory was occupied and not under Government’s control.  The rights of the residents in that territory were violated, but the legitimate Government had no means to ameliorate their situation.  Persons coming into Government-controlled areas from the occupied zone enjoyed all rights.  

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was considered part of the national law and its provisions could be enforced by domestic courts.  The national Constitution itself prohibited gender discrimination and provided equal rights for all.  As for the involvement of the Parliamentary Commission in the preparation of the report, the delegation explained that the Committee’s concluding observations had been disseminated to the Commission, which had then started a process to develop a relevant action plan.  

There was an ongoing effort to draft a national action plan on the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security resolution, expected to be adopted by the end of August 2018.  The Convention on Statelessness had been signed by the country and was now before Parliament and should be adopted by the end of the year, a delegate said.  Another delegate explained the progress of the peace process and, noting calls for more participation of women in the talks, referred to the establishment of a Technical Committee on gender equality and the participation of women’s organisations in the process.

On migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, a delegate described the asylum application and adjudication process, in which vulnerable persons were identified as early as possible, providing support where appropriate.  Many efforts were being conducted to better identify victims of gender-related persecution, she said.  The Convention on Statelessness had been signed by the country and was now before Parliament and should be adopted by the end of the year.

On temporary special measures, a delegate said that a quota scheme to increase women’s leadership had been rejected by the courts as unconstitutional.  As a result, other efforts to promote women’s participation in leadership had been intensified.

Questions by Committee Experts

With regards to the national gender machinery, a Committee Expert asked for an assessment of the effects of the appointment of a Commissioner for Gender Equality, how the various Governmental units were working together, if there were plans to strengthen the national mechanism and how the mechanism worked together with other agencies.  

Noting the rejection of temporary special measures to achieve women’s equal role in political, public and economic life, the Expert asked whether any new efforts were being made to propose such measures.

Replies by the Delegation

The decision of the court on temporary special measures was a setback, a delegate acknowledged, but had to be abided by.  One could not pass legislation that contradicted court decisions.  Awareness of the importance of the measures was being enhanced in civil society to provide political momentum to overcome the obstacles in that area.  

A delegate described the work to empower the Commissioner of Gender Equality, including through consolidation of the national machinery for women’s equality.

It was not very easy to change a constitution to incorporate temporary special measures, however, interpretations could change over time.  As the political will to find a solution was there, efforts in that vein would continue.  In addition, there would eventually be a revised constitution that would ensure compliance with all international obligations.  

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert asked about awareness campaigns to counter harmful practices and stereotypes.  She also asked for more details about legislation countering violence against women, including the definition of such violence and measures to protect women at risk.

Details on the protection of women’s rights defenders was also requested, as well as on access to justice.  What were the criteria of eligibility for legal aid for migrant women, and how problematic traditional attitudes were being dealt with in the cases of migrants?

On trafficking in persons, an Expert asked why it seemed to be difficult to assess measures to counter that scourge.  Noting the withdrawal of some non-governmental organizations from the action plan on the issue, she asked how efforts would be strengthened, how data was being collected on the victims, how shelter for victims could be provided for longer periods, and how labour trafficking was being countered.

A Committee Expert questioned the successfulness of the assessment of anti-trafficking efforts, the use of trafficked women as birth surrogates, and efforts to address the violations found in the labour agencies.

Replies by the Delegation 

A delegate said that many departments were involved in efforts to change harmful attitudes and stereotypes.  The educational system was fully involved and materials and toolkits had been developed, including on health issues, sexuality, respect for diversity in all its forms and related issues.  Two bills were in process to require training of judges in gender equality issues, and trainings were being instituted for prosecutors and others involved in the justice system as well.  Legal aid for access to justice was provided equally to women and men.

Another delegate described the shelters available to victims of violence, more of which would operate shortly, affirming that staff was trained to provide support.  The victims were allowed to decide on their next steps and their rights were clearly explained.  The limit on shelters stays was meant to stave off institutionalization, but there were means to extend them if needed.  Budgetary support for such programs had been increased.  

Violence against women was high on the agenda of the police services, and trainings, including a protocol on assessment of risk for domestic violence, had been developed, and multicultural sensitivity training had also been instituted.  There was a special police unit that targeted sexual abuse of children.  New legislation on violence against women, as well as stalking and harassment, further refined the criminalization of such acts.

Private employment agencies were being trained in issues involved with trafficking in persons for labour exploitation, and were now being regularly inspected, and to date no trafficking issues had been identified.  There were cases of convictions for sexual exploitation of women, which involved trafficking in persons as well.

Shelter for victims of trafficking could be extended if needed and other support was provided; victims were eligible for social services, could apply for legitimate employment and could be referred to a range of agencies and non-governmental organizations.  The delegation stressed that suspected victims of trafficking were presumed to be genuine victims during the process in which information was gathered.

With respect to harmful cultural practices among migrants, a study of girls at risk for female genital mutilation had been conducted which showed worrying rates but a decline over time after migration.  Cyprus’ penal code prohibited the practice by residents even if it was done outside of the country.  A delegate also described training for teachers on dealing with stereotypes of migrants.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert asked what obstacles to women reaching substantive equality in Cyprus, suggesting that patriarchy was a major element, as women and men were not on an equal footing.  It was an issue of concern that Cyprus had not instituted gender mainstreaming nor gender budgeting.  Time-limited quotas were, she maintained, the best route to stopping patriarchy, and achieving parity and fair participation.  

Recalling the obligations of State parties to the Convention, the Expert stressed that Cyprus had an obligation to provide a Constitution that would be interpreted in a non-discrimination way, and help the legislative and the judiciary to implementation the Convention in a proper way.

The delegation was asked about the system in place to ensure the systematic collection of data on the implementation of the Convention, particularly in relation to the elimination of discrimination against women in public and political life, measures to eliminate multiple forms of discrimination, and efforts to encourage the political parties to increase the number of women as political candidates.  What was the plan to stop the drastic decrease of number of women standing for elections, and women’s distrust of police and courts caused by patriarchal stereotypes?

What were the prospects for the ratification of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness?  In this context, an Expert remarked on the reluctance of undocumented migrant women to register their new born children, and about plans to facilitate registration of migrant children to ensure they all had birth certificates.

Replies by the Delegation

A delegate said that there was reason to believe that the issue of the two conventions on statelessness would be resolved by the end of the year.

All births in the country must be registered, the delegate insisted, recognizing that there had been cases in which undocumented migrants had been reluctant to register the children for fear that it would reveal their undocumented status.  The Ministry of Interior was taking measures to address the issue and facilitate registration of migrant children.  

With regards to hate speech, the delegation said that data on hate crimes and crimes with hate motives were available on the police website for the period 2005 to 2017.  Out of all relevant cases during the period, 72 per cent had resulted with convention, which was an evidence of an efficient action to eliminate hate crimes.  The delegate explained that hate crime fell in the area of criminality, which has not always the case for hate speech, which must be approached carefully.

The national action plan on gender equality acknowledged the urgent need to eliminate negative gender stereotypes and it incorporated better use of media for fighting gender stereotypes, including through adopting a code of conduct in mass media, promoting positive images of women, establishment annual prize for journalist who promote a culture of gender equality, and a serious of actions to promote the role of women in the digital world.

Questions by Committee Experts

Addressing issues in education, a Committee Expert commended the country on the performance of girls in elementary and higher education, but expressed concern that the achievements did not translate into achievements in the economy and politics.  Women also veered away from education in technology and other fields traditionally dominated by men.  What measures were in place to rectify this situation?

The Expert also asked about monitoring of sexual violence and harassment in schools, and then addressed the question of language and other obstacles to access to education for migrants and minorities.  What were the effects of religious education on women?

Another Expert, noting many gaps in women’s equality in employment, asked what targeted measures were in place to address the issue in rural situations and informal labour markets, as well as in prominent companies.  What actions were taken to address the non-compliance of companies with current regulations?  The Expert also asked how the rights of women returning to work from maternity leave were assured, the safeguards in place for access to employment for migrant women, and the system in place to protect migrant domestic workers from abuse.

On health care, an Expert asked what was being done to ensure that vulnerable groups did not encounter additional obstacles when the new health system would be introduced in 2019, and how gender perspectives had been considered at its creation.  Was sexual and reproductive health education for girls was coordinated with the health services, and what was the access of adolescents to contraception?

The Expert asked the delegation to provide an update on the process of decriminalization of abortion, and how available abortion services were, particularly for poor women.  Details on programs to counter HIV/AIDS and other diseases were requested, along with support available for transsexual and other diverse sexualities.  

Replies by the Delegation

A delegate said that quotas could not force women to choose certain education or careers; a change in attitudes was necessary for that.  In terms of language barriers to education, she outlined issues that involved Turkish and Roma speakers, and said that services were available to deal with them.  Accommodations were also being made on religious education to provide alternate classes for children of different traditions who did not want to attend certain courses.

Another delegate said that comprehensive sexual education conformed to international and regional standards, with a training programme for teachers to be put in place next year after a survey had been conducted to determine the needs in that area.  

A ministerial decision had directed a reshaping of higher education to better encourage women to enter technical fields, explained the delegation, adding that plans to combat sexual harassment in those fields were incorporated in the new action plan.  Stereotypical roles would also be addressed through campaigns to encourage boys to perform household tasks.

A delegate, addressing employment issues, noted a significant lowering of the gender pay gap due to long-term programs that should cause the momentum to continue.  An Equal Pay Day was observed every year, along with awareness campaigns on equal pay provisions of the law and extensive legal monitoring of companies and public authorities.  

The labour rights of migrant workers were safeguarded through a requirement of written contracts along with grievance mechanisms, in addition to being covered by national fair employment and safety legislation.  Migrant workers could join unions, but wages were calculated differently from other workers because housing and travel benefits were included.  The delegation explained that, in the current climate, it would be hard to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.  There were extensive awareness campaigns against sexual harassment, along with policies that encouraged migrant workers to report violations.  

The delegation confirmed that there was no minimum wage in Cyprus.  

The new health system would cover everyone in Cyprus, with vulnerable groups covered by the State.  The system now provided for contraception however, entry of products was determined by the free market.  There was a dedicated clinic which provided free, high quality services to all HIV-positive people.  

Prior to the adoption of the new health law, there was a widening of exceptions for abortion by private practitioners; with the new law, abortion was decriminalized so all health providers, including public services, could perform the procedure during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert asked if tax policy could be examined in the light of gender equality issues, and if there were plans to get rid of discriminatory provisions of insurance policies.   He asked if further measures to increase women’s membership on corporate boards had been considered, as well as plans to garner more women’s participation in sports.

One Expert asked if there were any plans to mitigate the effects of climate change on women, and if agricultural assistance for women living in rural areas was envisioned.  She also asked about gender-related considerations in the refugee law.

Replies by the Delegation

Questions on tax and insurance policy would be submitted to the appropriate Government departments, a delegate said.  Sports was another issue in which the Government was being pressed to use its available money equitably for girls and boys in schools.

On climate change, a delegate said that disaster resiliency was being built with a high participation of women through Cyprus Civil Defence; vulnerable groups were being considered in such plans.

Questions by Committee Experts

On family law, an Expert asked for clarification on the difference between the rights of women in civil unions and those in de facto marriage, and for any efforts to ensure that women in same-sex civil unions had parental rights to the child of their partners.   She asked how and when property division in divorce would reach 50 per cent as indicated.

An Expert urged the delegation to consider increased earning potential in determining resources to be shared by divorced spouses, and to call on the courts to refrain from shared custody whenever there is risk of domestic violence.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that it was too early for Cyprus to allow transfer of parental rights in civil unions, because problems related to the rights of the child had not yet been worked out. That also explained why those in civil unions could not adopt.  Under the new family law, property acquired during the marriage would be divided fully half and half.  

The delegates thanked the Expert for her suggestions on family law.  A delegate added that rural women were supported in the rural development program to increase their income and quality of life, through funding and training.  The rights of migrant women married to Cypriots were being strengthened to conform to the standards of the European Union.

Concluding Remarks

LEDA KOURSOUMBA, Law Commissioner of Cyprus, thanked the Committee for its valuable work, expressing high appreciation for the process since its recommendations were an important tool for further advancement of women’s equality in Cyprus.  With such guidance in hand, she hoped to report significant progress in her delegation’s next appearance before the Committee.

DALIA LEINARTE, Committed Chairperson, thanked the delegation for its engagement with the Committee and commended the State party for its progress in the implementation of the Convention.  The Chair encouraged Cyprus to address the various recommendations to be provided by the Committee for the benefit of all women and girls in the country, inviting particular attention to recommendations prioritized for immediate action.  

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