19 February 2013
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the seventh periodic report of Greece on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Introducing the report, Zetta Makri, Secretary-General for Gender Equality at the Ministry of the Interior, said that Greece had been focusing on achieving both de jure and de facto equality and had broadened the scope of implementation of its framework of gender equality and non-discrimination to cover new needs arising from developments in the labour market, in family life and in society. The global financial crisis had exacerbated existing problems and brought up new ones, and the social fabric of the country was straining under the weight of unemployment, ensuing inequalities and the violence erupting in the private sphere. Greece was in the process of creating 14 Counselling Centres across the country which constituted front line services for the provision of immediate assistance to women victims of violence and implemented prevention and awareness raising actions at all levels.
During the discussion Committee Experts raised several issues of concern, which included the lack of participation of non-governmental organizations in the preparation of the report, access to justice particularly for poor and migrant women, the impact of budget cuts on the socio-economic rights of citizens, and lack of progress made in the application of temporary special measures to expedite de facto equality of women and to assist in the protection of socially vulnerable groups. Experts noted that the times of crises, however critical, offered an opportunity for ground-breaking actions in combating entrenched stereotypes. Taking up the issue of domestic violence, they underlined the importance of having legislation in place and wondered about the impact of the economic crisis on violence, particularly domestic violence.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Makri said that Greece was fully aware of the impact of the crisis which had affected particularly the vulnerable groups and reiterated the commitment of the State to further enhance the situation of women in political and public life and to the full implementation of the legislation.
Also in concluding remarks, Nicole Ameline, Committee Chairperson, commended Greece for the efforts it continued to carry out in a very difficult environment and emphasized the importance of the Convention as an essential tool in the period of crisis, not only to preserve and uphold women’s rights, but also to safeguard the rights of minorities.
The delegation of Greece consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Permanent Mission of Greece to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 20 February at 10 a.m. when it will start its consideration of the sixth periodic report of Angola (CEDAW/C/AGO/6).
The seventh periodic report of Greece can be read here: (CEDAW/C/GRC/7).
Presentation of the Report
ZETTA MAKRI, Secretary-General for Gender Equality, Ministry of the Interior of Greece, said that Greece had been focusing on achieving both de jure and de facto equality and had broadened the scope of implementation of its framework of gender equality and non-discrimination to cover new needs arising from developments in the labour market, in family life and in society. Greece had passed several new laws on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment for men and women, including in self employment, in matters of work and employment and in access to goods and services. In 2010, the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its three protocols had been ratified. Greece had been one of first countries to sign the European Convention for the Prevention and Elimination of Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence and was now in the process of its ratification. The Gender Equality Department of the Greek Ombudsman, active since May 2008, monitored the application of the principle of equal treatment of men and women in employment and occupation and could investigate cases of gender discrimination associated with the conditions of service of employees in the civil service. The global financial crisis had hit Greece more than other countries and had exacerbated the existing problems and brought up new ones. The social fabric of Greece was straining under the weight of unemployment, social protection and health care deficits and the ensuing inequalities as well as violence erupting in the private sphere. Illegal immigration constituted a problem of tremendous proportions and multiple discriminations were harder to tackle.
Greece had taken action to combat the persistence of gender stereotypes through measures in the field of mass media, reconciliation of family life and in education. It had created Counselling Centres to provide legal information and representation of women victims of violence. Parliament had ratified the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Human Beings, especially Women and Children, and had extended the existing law to all foreign victims of trafficking, victims of labour exploitation and victims of trafficking among migrants. Participation of women in decision-making and in public and political life was being promoted through programmes for their empowerment and for combating stereotypes. A variety of programmes and actions to improve the position of women in the labour market, including affirmative action, were being implemented. Greece had a dual approach to the promotion of gender equality; on one hand, it designed and implemented specialized equality policies to promote and empower the participation of women in sectors in which they were under-represented, and on the other, it performed cross-cutting interventions to tackle gender-based discrimination in every field of policy implementation. New policies in gender equality stressed equal female participation in the labour market, the prevention and elimination of all forms of gender-based violence, gender mainstreaming in social protection and health, promotion of women’s participation in decision-making and public life, and gender mainstreaming in all areas of policy. Greece was in the process of creating 14 Counselling Centres across the country aiming to combat gender-based violence of all sorts and support women suffering or threatened by violence. Those Centres constituted front line services for the provision of immediate assistance to women victims of violence, but also implemented prevention and awareness raising actions at all levels.
Questions by Experts
A Committee Expert noted that Greece had suffered significantly from the effects of recent global economic and financial crises and said that many decisions taken in Greece recently had been imposed by the Troika of the European Central Bank, which did not always give priority to the implementation of the provisions of the Convention. The Committee was concerned about the participation of non-governmental organizations in the preparation of the report and about the weak presence of women non-governmental organizations in the Committee’s proceedings, and asked about the situation of women non-governmental organizations in Greece. Was the Convention invoked in the country, were judges trained in its provisions and was it available to the public in the Greek language? The Committee was also concerned about access to justice, particularly for poor and migrant women, and asked about the practice of payment of fees to the police in order to ensure their cases were considered, and whether free legal aid was available. Could the delegation explain the national human rights machinery in place to deal with the issues and how it functioned?
The Committee was dealing with the outdated report which lacked information about measures and laws in the country and there was the impression that many laws passed in Greece were principally general family laws rather than laws addressing issues of gender equality. What human and financial resources were available to the Office of the Ombudsmen, what were the results of the work of this institution and would its resources be increased in view of the greater need for this mechanism in the crisis situation? Had the Observatory for Human Rights been established and if so, what resources did it have at its disposal?
Response by Delegation
In response to these questions and comments, the delegation said that the General Secretariat existed as a distinct body which enjoyed the political will of the Ministry of Interior for the continuation of its existence, but the decision would depend on Parliament. The financial situation in Greece was dire and the country could not pay for non-governmental organizations to come to Geneva and participate in the proceedings of the Committee. The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had been ratified in 1993 and had been translated in Greek; judges were aware of its provisions, which had also been disseminated among the general public by non-governmental organizations.
The delegation confirmed that access to justice in Greece was not expensive and went on to describe measures in the area of ensuring this access, such as provisions of legal aid for all lower-income Greeks and the European Union citizens residing in Greece. According to the 2004 and 2006 laws against violence, women victims of violence did not have to pay fees to access justice. The 14 Counselling Centres currently being established in the country provided free legal assistance to women victims of violence. A few years ago, the Research Centre for Equality had signed an agreement with the bar associations of several towns for the provision of free legal aid. Help lines were available for victims of violence; since May 2011, about 8,000 calls had been registered by women from various backgrounds.
Concerning the Observatory for Human Rights, the delegation said that it had the budget of over two million Euros and even though it had not started its operation yet, its mandate was clear in terms of gender equality. One of the aims was to examine research and reports in the domain and disseminate their results, and to support non-governmental organizations with policy work on gender equality and gender mainstreaming in those policies.
The Office of the Ombudsmen and its Gender Equality Department had started work in 2008 and had received over 10,000 complaints in 2011. Over 30 per cent of the legislative propositions of the Ombudsmen towards the administration had been accepted. It was probably not going to be possible to increase the resources, to the contrary, a reduction was expected because of the crisis. The same was true for the General Secretariat for Gender Equality within the Ministry of Interior.
There was ongoing close cooperation between international bodies and the national human rights machinery, particularly the Office of the Ombudsman. The reports by those bodies were examined by the National Commission for Human Rights, a Status A institution according to the Paris Principles. There were a number of associations of judicial officials which were very vocal about wage cuts due to austerity measures.
Follow-up Questions and Responses
In a series of follow-up questions and comments, Committee Experts raised the issue of the budget cuts and the respect for the obligations of Greece to respect the social and economic rights of its citizens. How would Greece make sure that reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which should soon be prepared by the Observatory for Human Rights, remained Government reports?
It was encouraging to hear the delegation describing free legal aid for some groups, noted an Expert, and asked how many individuals had actually benefitted from this possibility.
The Committee had earlier reiterated the need for the existence of civil society organizations concerned with women issues and asked the delegation to comment on the restrictions in Greece that prevented the creation of Muslim women organizations and the prohibition of the creation of organization based on race or ethnicity.
Responding, the delegation said that European funds allowed Greece to design and implement programmes it otherwise would not be able to because of budgetary cuts. The Observatory did not do the work that the General Secretariat normally did; it engaged in social dialogue with non-governmental organizations and participated in the drafting of the reports with other ministries. The drafting of the reports was the responsibility of the Secretariat, in cooperation with ministries and non-governmental organizations.
Concerning the right to freedom of association, the delegation said that a large number of organizations in Thrace, where the Muslim minority lived, had been properly registered. There were more than 19 women organizations in Thrace which were organized as a federation and a platform of non-governmental organizations. There were other women organizations that promoted the interest of other women groups in Greece. There was a case of an organization in Thrace that had been dissolved by court and had been re-established by the European court for Human Rights; Greece was now looking into the ways of implementing this European decision.
Greece was aware that a crisis of the magnitude suffered by the country was bound to exacerbate inequalities and Greece was doing the best it could with European funds to protect the situation of women.
Questions by Experts
Experts said it was hard to see the progress that Greece had made in the application of temporary special measures to expedite de facto equality of women and to assist in the protection of socially vulnerable groups. Those measures enabled the acceleration of the implementation of the provisions of the Convention; were European and special funds being used to assist women who were in very vulnerable situations? How were they involved in political and economical decision-making?
In 2007, the Committee had made comments to Greece concerning the entrenched gender stereotypes and an Expert said that times of crisis, while critical, could offer the opportunity for ground-breaking actions. Had there been gender-specific impact assessment of the economical and financial crisis, which could assist in identifying entry points for the improvement of status of women? Could the delegation share data about the prevalence of violence against women per province and specific social groups?
Experts then took up the issue of domestic violence and underlined the importance of having legislation to combat domestic violence and asked about results achieved in combating the phenomena and about the impact of the economic crisis on violence, particularly domestic violence. Were records available about convictions for domestic violence and trafficking in persons and for other manifestations of violence?
What was the impact of the crisis on human trafficking, was it increasing with the crisis? What studies had been carried out on human trafficking and what information had been gathered about various types of human trafficking internally?
Response by Delegation
The delegation said that as per the Constitution, the State was obliged to take affirmative action to alleviate inequalities. A series of such measures had been undertaken to improve the participation of women in the public and private life, notably the law on quotas on women’s participation in municipal and Parliamentary elected bodies. Greek society was a very traditional one and gender stereotypes existed. The mass media was an important tool which the Government used to combat such stereotypes.
The 2010-2013 National Action Plan on Gender Equality contained actions on combating gender stereotypes which had to be eradicated in order to achieve equality. The Plan contained a number of measures in the area of education, from primary to tertiary levels, introduction of students’ councils in schools and others. In addition, the General Secretariat used libraries to combat stereotypes and support professional training, and there were now more than 700 libraries in schools and universities which contained literature on gender equality.
Concerning the National Coordination Mechanism against Trafficking, the delegation said that crises indeed offered the opportunity for advances and the Government was cooperating successfully with the non-governmental organizations and the private sector, while funding for the activities came from the European institutions. The Government was in close contact with the Network on Corporate Social Responsibility in Greece concerning labour exploitation in the private sector and had undertaken a number of campaigns concerning trafficking in persons.
One of the functions of the Observatory was to conduct studies, and the production of statistics on the use of databases in employment and education, the configuration and use of indexes in Europe and Greece; a study on the political initiatives to improve women’s participation in the labour market; and a study on educational initiatives and others.
Follow-up Questions and Responses
In further follow-up questions, Committee Experts said that the system of quotas was not particularly efficient and it only addressed women candidatures; were there intentions to introduce quotas addressing the seats allocated to women?
The delegation mentioned a course on entrepreneurship for women and the Experts asked about the follow up on the impact of this course, because this was one initiative which, if strategically managed, could take women out of disadvantaged positions. Another Expert asked how mediation and mediation mechanisms worked in the country.
Responding, the delegation said that the quota system had helped, but not significantly and the results of political participation of women, particularly at municipal levels and as mayors, were disappointing. The delegation said they were not in favour of a quota on seats. Not even the feminist movement suggested it strongly. Implementation of the quota system in the civil service was problematic, but cases and disputes could be referred to administrative courts. Quotas in the civil service were quotas for the Council members already in service, which could decide, based on the law, on the promotions in the service.
The Committee against Domestic Violence, an expert group, worked on the issue of mediation and had proposed a legal reform in this regard. Judges throughout the country had been trained in mediation, but this initiative suffered from a lack of resources. A number of initiatives had been undertaken to assist women in entrepreneurship, together with a number of research studies on the issue which had been used in developing initiatives.
Questions by Experts and Responses
An Expert said she expected to see more progress concerning the situation of women in Greece and their full equality with men; it was expected of a country that was a cradle of civilization and did not suffer colonization like many other countries in the world. Greece had to implement the laws that guaranteed full parity between men and women as prescribed by the Convention. Could the delegation provide clarity concerning birth registration, especially for disadvantaged social groups?
The delegation said that when any child was born, they received a registrar certificate, stating they were born. The public administration usually requested birth certificates which were issued only to people living permanently in a municipality. This meant that immigrants could not obtain a birth certificate, but this was not a problem because a registrar certificate could be used instead.
Answering more questions and comments by Committee Experts, the delegation said that more time was needed to embrace the quota policy. Quotas had their use but did not constitute a permanent solution. The solution was in empowering women to make choices for their own gender.
It was not a secret that the diplomatic profession had been considered a closed one to women in the 1970s, but women had made they way in and today there were women serving in Embassies in several countries, while others were nominated to be heads of diplomatic missions.
Questions by Experts
There were more girls in secondary and tertiary education than boys, but this did not translate in higher employment rates for women or in adequate pay for women. Could the delegation provide education data segregated by gender, and comment on the involvement of minority girls in non-traditional fields of education?
Another Expert took up the issue of employment and said that the employment sector in Greece had been gradually deteriorating due to the crisis, and the numbers did not show much progress. Official female unemployment was over 30 per cent and male unemployment was at 24 per cent; in addition, there was a significant amount of hidden unemployment among women. Most resources to promote employment had been directed to traditionally male sectors such as construction. The Committee was concerned about the destruction of the institutional framework for collective bargaining in the country, and the work of day care centres and nurseries was seriously compromised. Finally could the delegation comment on the present situation of migrant and minority women in the labour market and in precarious low-paid jobs.
Abortion seemed to be a recurrent matter of birth control, particularly among minority women and young girls. What were the differences between boys and girls in terms of alcohol consumption and what strategies were applied to control this? There was a reduction in the age at which women began to smoke; what measures had been undertaken to address this issue?
Greece had the highest rate of abortion in Europe and the number of abortions was higher then the number of live births; the rate was particularly high among teenage girls, and Greece was also leading in the number of C-sections. What were the plans to reduce the number of abortions and to improve sex education in schools? What was the budget of the Ministry of Health and would the budgetary cuts affect sexual and reproductive health? Did Greece have an idea on how to effectively reorganize its health sector to address those problems?
Response by Delegation
In response, the delegation said that considering the rates of enrolment in secondary and tertiary education, and the 6.2 per cent increase in the number of women entering university in 2009 as compared with the previous year, there was a slight change in the proportion of women in non-traditional occupations, such as science; the choice of women to get involved in the scientific field was also supported by various Government and European initiatives. As far as the Muslim minority was concerned, the number of boys enrolled in primary schools was double that of girls, while girls represented 50 per cent of students at secondary school levels.
In order to ensure educational opportunities to all, and particularly marginalized groups, there were the so-called second chance schools open to all and adult education centres; teachers received training in adult education. There were specific programmes for migrants and schools for parents to support them in the hard work of parenting.
As far as the situation of migrant workers and migrant agricultural workers were concerned, the delegation said that migrants were consulted in the preparation of all programmes and interventions targeting them, and especially migrant women from mountains and islands. All regular migrants had the same opportunities as citizens to form cooperatives or start up businesses.
Women’s health was of great interest to Greece, but the budget available for the activities had been reduced as a result of the crisis. The Government would be pursuing the projects it had begun. There were 19 centres which assisted women, particularly victims of violence, in their reproductive health needs. There was a hot line that youth and women could use to discuss with experts various issues that affected their health.
Cancer awareness campaigns were in place for women and young people, and there were direct interventions in schools. Smoking in public places was forbidden by the law and Greece was implementing the World Health Organization’s framework for the prevention of smoking. Doctors were the ones making decisions about C-sections based on women’s health, and the Government cooperated with the doctors’ associations, hospitals and other bodies to monitor the extent to which C-sections were conducted.
Unemployment in the country was rampant and the political decisions made in most cases were unavoidable. Unfair dismissals of pregnant women were dealt with by courts which could reverse the decisions; pregnant women could be dismissed only under very strict conditions. The Office of Ombudsmen dealt with cases of pregnant women returning to work to find out that rotational or part-time work had been imposed. There was no data on sexual harassment.
Follow-up Questions and Responses
In a series of follow-up questions and comments, Experts further inquired about the number of suicides in the country, abortions, and the system of health insurance.
In response, the delegation said hospitals accepted emergency uninsured cases. Abortion was legal in Greece under certain conditions. Contraception was reimbursed if prescribed by a physician. Contraceptives were very cheap. The percentages of rates of suicide had not changed compared to previous years.
Questions by Experts and Responses
Experts asked whether the Government had a special mechanism to separately monitor and assess the disparate impact of the economic crisis on women, and expressed particular concern about the situation of women-headed households which might bear the highest cost of the crisis. In this particular situation of crisis, were there any thoughts as to launching initiatives in favour of rural women?
Responding, the delegation noted the importance of tourism to the country’s economy and said that maybe more needed to be done to mainstream gender and equality in the sector, in mountainous and island regions. Greece was quite good at creating cooperatives and tried to assist women to create their cooperatives and networks and link them with European networks for placement of products. There were a number of projects in the rural areas in which many rural women participated. The protection of the environment and natural resources was another very important project in which mainly young rural women participated. Support to rural women was one of the Government’s priorities, particularly in the area of developing their entrepreneurial skills and helping them enter the labour market.
There were awareness raising campaigns and educational programmes in schools on sexual and reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, pregnancies, relationship between sexes and other topics. One aim of those programmes was to reduce the rate of illegal abortions. There were 48 centres in 18 regions of the country which provided psychological help to those requesting it.
Responding to a follow up question by a Committee Expert concerning the situation of Roma and minority women, the delegation said that progress was being made in increasing school enrolment for Muslim and minority girls. Roma were not considered a minority, but were a vulnerable social group; progress was being made in the field of education, housing and health, and more needed to be done to improve their living conditions.
Questions by Experts
A Committee Expert took up the issue of the Shari’a law and asked whether it was applied and were there personal laws for Muslims in Greece? Another Expert asked about abolition of the Shari’a law and the provision of the judicial review concerning the muftis. Turning to the family law, the Expert asked about the marital property regime in Greece and the legal situation of couples living together without being married and their protection.
Response by Delegation
Responding, the delegation said that the application of Shari’a law in family and inheritance matters was open only to the Greek citizens members of the Muslim minority in Thrace and was optional, in a sense that an individual could decide whether to address him or herself to civil courts or to muftis. Any practice which was contrary to fundamental values was not allowed, such as polygamy, marriage by proxy or repudiation. Minority Muslim leaders and women had not asked for the possibility to abolish the Shari’a law, and their wishes needed to be respected.
Underage marriage, or marriage under the age of 18, could be authorised by competent courts only in exceptional circumstances and with parental consent. The phenomenon of early marriages in Thrace was not widespread; the case of the married 11-year old girl happened ten years ago and did not reflect a general trend among the Muslim minority.
The law gave spouses the right to one third of the property acquired after the marriage which was held in the name of another spouse. Property of couples living in unions was divided as per their own agreement.
Follow-up Questions and Responses
In a series of follow-up questions and comments, Experts further inquired about marriage between Muslims and Christians, were they frequent and how were they treated and which laws applied; the power of local courts to reverse illegal decisions by Shari’a courts and whether judges were trained and sensitized in decisions of Shari’a courts? Were there any training programmes for muftis on women’s rights, marriage preparations and others?
The delegation said that there were examples of mixed marriages, both in Thrace and in other parts of the country, and this practice was not discouraged. Future spouses of different religions sometimes preferred to celebrate a civil marriage instead of a religious one. All decisions by muftis went automatically to local courts, so no one needed to complain, and the delegation admitted that more needed to be done in training the local court in Shari’a and muftis’ decisions.
Partnership agreements between couples were upheld unless contrary to the law; there was no law governing the situation of property division where there was no agreement.
In Thrace, minorities belonging to vulnerable groups received support, for example business support and training for women.
ZETTA MAKRI, Secretary-General for Gender Equality, Ministry of the Interior of Greece, said that Greece was fully aware of the impact of the crisis which had affected the vulnerable in particular. The State was committed to further enhance the situation of women in political and public life and had geared its efforts to the full implementation of legislation.
NICOLE AMELINE, Chairperson of the Committee, highlighted the efforts that Greece continued to carry out in a very difficult environment and emphasized how much the Convention was an essential tool in the period of crises, not only to preserve and uphold women’s rights, but also to safeguard the rights of minorities. The Committee wondered whether European funds could be allocated in favour of women and for the implementation of the Convention, as those were crucial in the exercise of democracy. The Committee hoped that women would be included in all decision-making processes in the country and emphasized the importance of the Convention in this regard.
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