During the sessions in February and March 2020, the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (UN CEDAW) addressed its recommendations to Moldova and asked the authorities of Ukraine and Azerbaijan about measures to ensure equality in the labor sphere, protection from gender discrimination and combating violation of the rights of vulnerable groups of women.
Moldova received final recommendations of the UN CEDAW on the country’s 6th periodic report. The Committee has noted the deficiencies of legislative definition of discrimination against women and recommended that particular forms of discrimination (intersectional, direct and indirect) and the scope of it (public and private) be specified.
While noting with regret the continued existence of patriarchal views on gender roles in the family and society and the related discriminatory stereotypes, the Committee recommended that Moldova raise awareness of their negative impact, ensure prohibition of sexist statements in the public sphere and the media, review school curriculum and textbooks in order to eliminate discriminatory gender stereotypes, as well as stop their dissemination by teachers.
UN CEDAW encouraged girls to be educated in “non-traditional” fields, informing parents and community leaders about the importance of education for girls and women, reducing the number of girls expelled from schools and implementing educational programs for those who had dropped out, especially in rural areas and Roma communities.
Following the discussions about implementation of women’s rights in the labor sphere, experts noted positive changes in the Labor Code with regard to guarantees for working pregnant women, those who gave birth recently and lactating mothers, which had been reported by the Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial” in its report. Given the persisting horizontal and vertical gender segregation in the labor market, the Committee recommended abolition of any professional restrictions for women and the improvement of working conditions in all sectors. Over the course of the last three years, ADC Memorial has called for the abolition of all gender-related bans in the field of employment during its #Alljobs4allwomen campaign. Human rights activists consider it necessary to conduct information campaigns among potential workers and employers in order to ensure actual access for women to professional occupations, which were previously forbidden for them. Committee members noted the disproportionately low pension benefits for women, which increased the risk of poverty, and called for improved access to social protection for vulnerable groups, in particular for women in rural areas and Roma women. CEDAW called for strengthening social protection for self-employed women and ensuring equal access to maternity benefits, promoting equal sharing of family and household responsibilities between women and men, and ensuring that the principle of equal pay for work is observed in order to reduce the existing gender gap in salaries.
UN CEDAW recommended to ratify the recently adopted ILO Convention No. 190 against Violence and Harassment at Work and to harmonize Moldova’s national laws concerning sexual harassment with the international standards. While paying attention to the problem of gender-based violence, CEDAW called on Moldova to remove barriers and stigma that prevented women from reporting incidents of violence to the competent authorities, and to allocate sufficient resources for effectively preventing gender-based and domestic violence. Moldova will have to report on ratification of the Istanbul Convention in two years.
Experts called on the Moldovan authorities to ensure access to health services, including those related to sexual and reproductive health, for vulnerable groups, to raise awareness among women and men, girls and boys about modern contraceptive methods to prevent unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions and to introduce comprehensive education on sexual and reproductive health at all levels of school curriculum, including training on responsible sexual behavior and family planning. UN CEDAW emphasized the need to eliminate discrimination and stigma of women living with HIV, to develop HIV prevention and control programs among disadvantaged women, especially transgender women.
Members of the Committee also recommended improving the assessment and monitoring of the Action Plan for Support of Roma people in the Republic of Moldova for 2016–2020 in order to promote social integration of Roma women. CEDAW noted with concern the widespread prevalence of early marriages in Roma communities, as well as the possibility of reducing the minimum age of marriage from 18 to 16 years, which was provided by the Family Code, and invited the Moldovan authorities to amend this rule, as well as to abolish mandatory mediation requirements when divorce proceedings involve cases of family violence. Experts called for raising the awareness of Roma communities about the negative effects of child marriages on health and well-being of women and girls, and their access to education and employment.
Noting the absence of an existing body on gender equality in the Cabinet of Ministers following the suspension of the work of the governmental Committee on Equality between Women and Men, UN CEDAW recommended that the latter resume its activities immediately or the government should consider establishing another such body and report on the adopted measures in March 2022. In its report ADC Memorial pointed out non-implementation of the recommendations of the Council of the Republic of Moldova concerning prevention and elimination of discrimination and ensuring equality through introduction of feminitives in the classifiers of professional occupations.
During the 77th pre-session of UN CEDAW, the experts also addressed their questions about the situation of women to the authorities of Ukraine and Azerbaijan.
The Committee requested information on the harmonization of Ukrainian anti-discrimination legislation with international standards and also requested statistical data on criminal and administrative cases concerning discrimination against women.
The Committee will consider the compliance of the existing Labor Code of Ukraine with international standards regarding women’s work and gender equality in the labor market. Welcoming the cancellation of the list of professions prohibited for women, which had been achieved following the campaign #Alljobs4allwomen, UN experts inquired about measures to combat horizontal and vertical professional segregation, including informing potential employees and employers about the cancellation the list of professions prohibited for women. UN CEDAW addressed the problem of concentration of women in lower-paid jobs, including economy’s informal sector, about women’s access to full employment in the formal sector, support for single mothers, Roma women, women from the eastern regions of Ukraine and internally-displaced persons (IDPs).
While discussing the consequences of the troubled situation in the east of Ukraine, experts asked about the situation of women in conflict-affected areas, women from the areas of Donetsk and Lugansk regions, which are outside of Ukrainian government’s control, IDP women and Crimean Tatar women in terms of their access to health services, education, food, housing, unrestricted mobility, registration, social benefits, sustainable employment opportunities and justice, as well as measures to simplify the registration process at the place of their current residence.
Paying particular attention to the problem of domestic violence, UN CEDAW asked about the work of mobile groups, provision of social and psychological assistance to victims of domestic violence, measures to prevent violence against women and access to protection and compensation.
Members of the Committee drew particular attention to the situation of women from vulnerable groups: women living in rural areas and Roma settlements, IDPs, LBTI and women living with HIV. Questions were raised about measures to inform these women about their rights, about temporary special measures to improve their situation, about providing them with quality medical services, including those related to reproductive health.
Given the difficult situation of Roma women, members of the Committee asked to explain how the strategy for the protection and integration of Roma until 2020 had improved their situation and what had been done to ensure that Roma are protected from discrimination and other barriers to access to identity documentation, participation in political and public life, education and training, employment, healthcare, housing and social benefits. In a report submitted for the pre-session, ADC Memorial had pointed out the many difficulties faced by Roma women and girls in all of these areas, emphasizing that internally displaced persons from the eastern regions of Ukraine were subjected to multiple discrimination. CEDAW requested information on cases of hate speech and hate crimes against Roma and the measures adopted to prevent such incidents. The issue of the lack of proper response on the part of the authorities to the hate speech and manifestations of racism was raised earlier by lawyer Andrei Leshchenko.
Given the harmful practices of early marriages and its consequences, experts inquired about measures to observe the minimum age of marriage, especially for Roma women and girls. Recalling the problem of expulsion Roma girls from schools, experts asked about measures aimed at supporting their continuing education, reducing expulsions from schools, providing quality education and abolition of any segregation.
The Committee seeked to clarify whether LBTI women were protected by the anti-discrimination laws, whether the latter prevented hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). Experts asked about measures taken to train law enforcement officers in non-discrimination and protection of LBTI women, especially during public events, and to prosecute any acts of hatred and violence aimed against LBTI women. Lawyer Oksana Guz reported on the practice of holding aggressors accountable in such cases. After the human rights defenders reported on the difficult situation of intersex people to the UN CEDAW pre-session, the Committee members asked the Ukrainian authorities to provide details concerning introduction of changes of sex in personal documents and the measures to prevent any intrusive medical or surgical intervention without prior, free and informed consent.
Ukraine will have to provide report on temporary special measures to increase women’s representation in elected and appointed political and public positions at all levels, including the top positions, as well as on raising awareness among the politicians, media, teachers and the general public of the importance of women’s participation, especially women facing intersectional discrimination in political life. Earlier, Yevgenia Lutsenko, director of the Center for Social and Gender Studies “New Life”, told ADC Memorial about women’s participation in political life in Ukraine. The Committee asked the Ukrainian authorities to provide information on the impact of the activities of the commissioner and coordinator on gender equality on the improvements in this area.
UN CEDAW experts asked Azerbaijan to report on the country’s plans to amend or abolish discriminatory norms and to supplement its legislation with a comprehensive definition of discrimination against women, which would include direct and indirect discrimination in private and public spheres and intersectional forms of discrimination.
In full agreement with the appeal of ADC’s campaign #Alljobs4allwomen, members of the Committee asked to provide information on measures adopted to cancel the list of professions prohibited for women and to ensure equal access to work for women and men. In Azerbaijan, female employees are twice as little as male, and women are concentrated in lower-paid spheres (education, healthcare and social services). There exists gender segregation and wage gap, which is why the Committee’s experts inquired whether the state had increased professional training for women, whether it had facilitated their employment, whether there were restrictions for women and girls in entering universities, located outside their communities, what measures have been taken to reduce the school dropout rate for girls. UN CEDAW asked for clarification on what temporary special measures have been adopted or planned in order to accelerate the achievement of de facto equality between women and men in spheres where women were disadvantaged or underrepresented, including education and employment.
In order to eliminate gender stereotypes, the Committee asked for information on the results of the revision of school textbooks and the addition of special courses on gender equality and women’s rights into school curriculum. UN CEDAW asked about measures adopted to ensure women’s access to modern types of contraception, as well as inclusion of obligatory education on sexual and reproductive health in school curriculum.
Noting with regret the prevalence of gender stereotypes in the media, despite projects and programs to combat them, the Committee asked about the outreach to the general public and the media on gender equality issues and promotion of equal division of domestic and family responsibilities. Experts asked about measures to prevent harassment in the workplace and regular inspections in order to monitor the working conditions of women.
Regarding the fight against various forms of multiple discrimination faced by women from ethnic minorities and LBT women, UN experts inquired about measures to respect their rights and achieve gender equality.
Raising the issue of early marriages, UN CEDAW asked about the investigation of such cases and prosecution of parents, as well as about the efforts made by the country’s authorities to ban unregistered religious marriages and to protect the rights of women and children in such partnerships.
Human rights defenders supported the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and now hope to receive meaningful responses from the states, as well as to ensure implementation of effective measures aimed at improving the situation of women and girls in these countries.