COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN EXAMINES REPORT OF AUSTRIA
13 February 2013
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined seventh and eighth periodic report of Austria on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Introducing the report, Helmut Tichy, Legal Advisor, Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs of Austria, said that the situation of women in the labour market continued to represent a major challenge and gender-specific wage gaps in Austria were among the highest in the European Union. While the labour market participation rate of women in Austria significantly exceeded that of other European Union Member States, it still remained clearly far below that of men. In 2011, the employment rate of women stood at 69.6 per cent, while 44 per cent of the female labour force worked part-time. Prevention of violence against women was a central concern of the Government and the comprehensive approach it adopted aimed at protection against domestic violence, criminal persecution of perpetrators, and safeguarding the rights of victims and giving them support.
Committee Experts asked about the equal treatment system in the country and how it ensured protection from discrimination for all women at the national level and wondered whether the complex legal framework for protection against discrimination, which comprised federal and provincial law, would be revised to facilitate redress for women. Austria had introduced temporary special measures in several areas such as employment, education and participation of women in managerial positions in the public sector, and the Experts wondered about their impact on key aspects of gender inequality for women, which were mainly in the economic sphere. Other issues raised included violence against women and domestic violence, human trafficking and xenophobic attacks on migrant women.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Tichy said that the debate had been constructive and thanked the Experts for their interest in the situation in Austria and for their questions which gave food for thought for several years to come.
Also in concluding remarks, Nicole Ameline, Committee Chairperson, urged Austria to take all necessary measures to strengthen the practical implementation of the Convention, fight stereotypes and mitigate the impact of the crisis on women.
The delegation of Austria consisted of representatives of the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, Federal Chancellery, Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection, Federal Ministry of Finance, Federal Ministry of Health, Federal Ministry of the Interior, Federal Ministry of Justice, Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Industry, Federal Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture, Federal Ministry of Economy, Family and Youth, Federal Ministry for Science and Research, and the Permanent Mission of Austria to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public on Thursday, 14 February at 10 a.m. when it will start its consideration of the combined seventh and eighth periodic report of Hungary (CEDAW/C/HUN/7-8).
The combined seventh and eighth periodic report of Austria can be read here: (CEDAW/C/AUT/7-8).
Presentation of the Report
HELMUT TICHY, Legal Advisor, Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs of Austria, said that Austria had been among the first countries to sign the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and had ratified it in 1982. The situation of women in the labour market continued to represent a major challenge. The National Action Plan for the Equality of Women and Men in the Labour Market of June 2010 aimed at the diversification of educational paths and carrier options, raising the rate of labour force participation and of full-time employment of women, appointing more women to executive and managerial positions and closing the income gap between men and women. While the labour market participation rate of women in Austria significantly exceeded that of other European Union Member States, it still remained clearly far below that of men. The percentage of women working part-time ranked amongst the highest in the European Union. In 2011, the employment rate of women stood at 69.6 per cent, while 44 per cent of the female labour force worked part-time. In order to raise the labour force participation rate of women, an agreement had been concluded on the extension of institutional child-care facilities for children to the age of six, while a previous agreement had provided a significant amount of federal funds for this goal. Gender-specific wage gaps in Austria were among the highest in the European Union. In 2011, the Government had introduced the obligation of companies to draw up income reports, while job advertisements now had to state the salary offered. To achieve gender equality Austria pursued a dual strategy of gender mainstreaming and affirmative action for the advancement of women. Gender budgeting was one of a series of instruments destined to bring about de facto gender equality. A Gender Index had been introduced in 2011; it gave a survey of gender-specific segregated data for various areas and was published every year.
Women were better educated than ever before and had benefited most from the expansion of education options in recent decades. Girls and boys showed stereotypical behaviour when choosing a type of school and later an occupation and girls were overrepresented in business, social and commercial vocational schools, but vastly underrepresented in industrial-technical schools. The prevention of violence against women was a central concern of the Government and the comprehensive approach it adopted aimed at protection against domestic violence, criminal persecution of perpetrators, and safeguarding the rights of victims and giving them support. The Prevention against Violence Act of 1997 had created a legal basis for the rapid and efficient protection of victims of domestic violence. In 2009 a series of further important provisions had been introduced and persistent violence directed at another person for an extended period of time was considered a crime which carried punishment of up to three years in prison. Centres for protection against violence had been established in all federal provinces to offer comprehensive support to persons exposed to threats or acts of violence. The number of victims in those Centres had increased from 8,623 in 2004 to 15,533 in 2011. In 2004, an inter-ministerial task force entrusted with combating human trafficking had been set up under the leadership of the Foreign Ministry, which continuously endeavoured to develop and improve measures aimed at fighting human trafficking.
Questions by Experts
A Committee Expert asked about the reservation entered by Austria to Article 11 of the Convention and whether the withdrawal of this reservation would be considered in the near future. How did the two human rights institutions, namely the Equal Treatment Commission and the Office of the Ombudsman, work on the protection of women’s rights at the national level?
Experts then took up the issue of the complex legal framework for protection against discrimination, comprised of federal and provincial laws, and asked whether a review of the anti-discrimination system was being planned by the Government; this was important for women suffering from discrimination to decide where to go to obtain redress. The Ministry for Women and Civil Service had a five million Euro budget to fund various activities and projects in the field of violence against women, education, employment and others; could the delegation assess the achievements and impact of this allocated amount, which might be insufficient for the purpose? What was the budget for core operations of the Ministry? Austria had a variety of sectoral action plans and considered them more efficient and effective than one comprehensive national gender equality plan would be.
Was gender mainstreaming and gender budgeting practiced and implemented systematically through all activities of the State at national, provincial and municipal levels as required by the Constitution, or did it remained scattered and implemented as pilot projects mainly? Were members of staff appropriately trained in gender mainstreaming and gender budgeting?
Response by Delegation
In response to these questions and comments, the delegation said that the reservation on article 7(b) of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had been withdrawn in 2000, while the reservation on article 11 had been reduced and was kept on some areas which Austria believed were important for the protection of women. Austria had specific legislation on exposure to lead and on work requiring extreme physical effort and underground mining. Austria had accepted numerous recommendations from its Universal Periodic Review process, including the review of reservations it had entered to various human rights instruments, which were reviewed on a regular basis. The reservation on article 11 would not be withdrawn for the time being.
The Ombudsman for Equal Treatment was a national equality body established in 1990 to represent the interest of the State authorities to achieve equal treatment within the scope of the Equal Treatment Act. The Ombudsman was responsible for supporting and counselling victims of unequal treatment and could take complaints to the Equal Treatment Commission. It was the duty of the Commission to decide whether the Act had been violated and it could issue non-binding decisions on how to apply equality law in specific situations and avoid discrimination.
The Parliamentary Commission for Public Administration, or the Austrian Ombudsboard, had been entrusted with important functions in the field of human rights but had not been registered as category one under the Paris Principles. The Ombudsboard had received the mandate for human rights after Austria had signed the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and had designated the Board as the national preventive mechanism. The Board was fully independent and consisted of three members who could be nominated by the three largest parliamentary parties, and were elected by the Parliament.
Concerning the possible unification of the equal treatment system, Austria was rather happy with it and was not thinking of its total review, but rather about step-by-step improvements. The Ministry for Women was located in the Federal Chancellery and had about 60 staff located in several departments. In 2012, the Ministry for Women had received an allocation of over ten million Euros for its activities. As of January 2013, the Government had an obligation to carry out gender impact assessment to ensure that actions of the public administration were not only based on available resources, but were led by considerations of impact: social, economical, gender, environmental and others. Each ministry had a gender mainstreaming commissioner and each had to define five outcomes per budget chapter, one of which had to be gender-related.
Questions by Experts
Austria had introduced temporary special measures affecting employment, education, participation of women in managerial positions in the public sector and others. How efficient were those measures and how could they contribute to key aspects of gender inequality for women, which was mainly in the economic sphere? Austria had signed the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence; what was the expected timeframe for its ratification? What kind of training was provided to judges and prosecutors on violence against women, the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the jurisprudence of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women?
Austria was a receiving country for a great number of immigrants and there were stereotypical problems concerning Muslim women. What measures were taken to address violence against migrant women and women with disabilities?
Austria was a country of destination and country of transfer for human trafficking and had in place action plans to combat the phenomenon and assist the victims. There ought to be more training for the judiciary and border control officials, particularly on issues of access to justice. Studies indicated that there were 35,000 women prostitutes in Austria, 80 per cent of whom were immigrants and many were trafficked.
Response by Delegation
The delegation said that the Equal Treatment Act enhanced the position of women in general; the number of women in employment had risen considerably since the 1980s, especially in the public civil service. The picture in the private sector was not as nice as that in the public sector; pay gaps in the private sector still persisted, but the positive development was the increase in the employment rates of women in the private sector. Special measures for migrant women included availability of German language classes.
Ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence was on the agenda and should happen this summer. Since 2008, the Law on Judges and Prosecutors contained particular provisions on training on cooperation with non-governmental organizations and victim protection. Victims of violence were entitled to psycho-social support and legal aid; many of the victim support services were provided by non-governmental organizations.
The violence protection centres made efforts to offer counselling to victims in their mother tongue. The Ministry of Women had a department dedicated to the special needs of migrant women and had in 2010 started a dialogue tour to discuss the issue of integration with migrants and Austrians. In 2007 a Migrant Report had been published which also provided information about the situation of migrant women in employment, in relation to violence and other factors, and this was a valuable source of information.
Stereotypes existed in very large extent also in education and the Ministry of Education had undertaken a number of information and sensitization activities, but more needed to be done. The Ministry had included an equality objective for its 2013 plan and had envisaged measures such as the development of gender competences among teachers.
The National Action Plan for Integration of 2010 contained seven areas of action, including language and education, the work field, values of the State and the society, health and social affairs, intercultural dialogue, leisure activities and sports and living and regional integration. A 20-point programme had been drawn up for the implementation of this National Action Plan. The evaluation of the impact of the plan in 2012 demonstrated positive results, but more needed to be done.
The legislation on hate speech and incitement to violence had been revised last year to include grounds such as gender or sexual orientation, which were now considered criminal offences. Austria had intensive activities on awareness raising and training of various professional groups on issues related to human trafficking. Training for judges and prosecutors was offered at least once a year, while human trafficking day was organized annually for the public.
Follow-up Questions and Responses
In a series of follow-up questions and comments, Committee Experts raised the issue of xenophobic attacks experienced by immigrant women and the preventative action in terms of awareness raising and tolerance fostering. There was a discussion to include sexual harassment in the public sphere in the criminal code and Experts wondered about the status of this initiative. Was there a decrease in the number of complaints, especially by women, who renounced the protection of their rights because of high costs associated with court proceedings?
Was there an earmarked budget for the National Action Plan for Persons with Disabilities, especially for women with disabilities, and how was their participation in the implementation of this plan guaranteed? How many women were killed in domestic violence cases and how many shelters were available in the country for victims of domestic violence?
Responding, the delegation said that Austria was working hard on giving migration a positive image and fostering dialogue in order to demonstrate the benefits from migration. The perpetrators of xenophobic acts were investigated and prosecuted and the Penal Code considered xenophobia an aggravating circumstance to a crime. There were constant undertakings to improve statistical information but for now there were no figures on the impact of this legal provision. Victims of violence, any kind of violence, received free psycho-social and judicial support provided by specialized victim support organizations.
There was indeed a political debate concerning the amendment of provisions of sexual harassment in the public sphere and the centre of the debate was the definition of sexual activity that required that the victim must be somehow touched. There were suggestions that the matter be referred to a committee for further discussions.
The procedure before the Equal Treatment Commission carried no costs; the Commission could inquire and request more information, which courts could not do, which offered greater protection to clients and provided them with more information about their cases.
Answering questions and comments by Committee Experts, the delegation said there were 30 women shelters in the country; 3,377 people had taken shelter in 26 of them in 2011. The federal provinces had an obligation to fund those shelters.
Questions by Experts
The report provided no information on nationality while both the shadow report and the 2011 report of the Ombudsboard had pointed out difficulties in obtaining nationality for people with limited income. The interpretation of the Citizenship Act in some provinces was extremely limited and it was very hard for some people who had lived in Austria for a very long time to get nationality due to limited incomes and lack of proficiency in the German language. What was being done to prevent a possible indirect discrimination impact as a result of the interpretation of the legislation? European elections were very important for all Member States; how did Austria ensure better representation of women in the European elections?
What action had been taken to increase the participation of women in public and political life at the provincial levels, where it was very low? What kind of positive action or special measures had been taken to increase the participation of women in the judicial bodies and in senior positions in the Foreign Service?
Response by Delegation
Responding to these questions and comments, the delegation said that in Austria, citizenship was awarded at the end of the integration process during which persons were supposed to have gained knowledge of the German language and societal values, and should have sufficient income. It was true that this excluded some groups of persons and that was why the Government was considering introducing new and facilitated procedures for such categories. There were differences between the provinces because granting of citizenship was in the power of provinces.
Persecution on the basis of gender was recognized as a ground for granting asylum. For example, women from Afghanistan or women at risk from female genital mutilation could apply for asylum in Austria. The Austrian Constitutional Court had 14 members and even though there was no full gender equality among the members, the representation of women was significant.
The financial crisis had also touched Austria and impacted on the allocations to official development assistance, which now stood at 0.27 per cent of gross domestic product, down from 0.43 in 2008.
Questions by Experts
Experts commended Austria for its commendable efforts to promote women in education, but despite the Government action women were still underrepresented in areas such as science. How were the causes of the gender gap in some areas such as physics identified and what specific actions were being undertaken towards the diversification of educational choices and the promotion of the participation of women in academe?
The sex segregation of disciplines was a problem despite the high level of participation of women in all levels of education. The 40 per cent quota applied in all universities was admirable, but the question was if this quota was applied to university administrative and management staff. Was there data available on school drop outs of girls of migrant background and what was being done to address this phenomenon, particularly within the Turkish migrant community?
Concerning measures to achieve gender equality and reduce the gender pay gap, Experts asked how effective they were for retired women and migrant workers and whether a 360 Euros fine for not publishing salary levels in job adverts was sufficient to prevent discrimination.
The Report on Women Health 2010 recognized the need for gender equality as a quality assurance; what was the status of the implementation of some of the measures mentioned in this report? Were resources for women’s centres sufficient throughout the country, especially for vulnerable groups such as women with disability, women with mental disorders, trafficked women and others? Abortion was legal but was not reimbursed by health insurance; what financial assistance was available for poor women and adolescents to fully exercise their reproductive health rights?
Women were underrepresented in sports in Austria and Experts asked about progress made since the institution of the Commission on Women in Sports in 2008. Payment of social insurance was linked to gainful employment and this created obstacles for women who were unemployed or partially employed and who could not fully enjoy social protection.
Response by Delegation
Responding, the delegation said that there were support measures for diplomats transferred abroad which assisted in reconciling of job and family obligations. The head of embassy where a person was transferred to had an obligation to give assistance in various issues, such as obtaining appropriate schooling places, renting an appropriate apartment, or supporting the efforts of the spouse to find employment. Those measures had proved helpful in increasing the number of women diplomats. The level of participation of women in the Supreme Court was 17 out of 58 and was lower than in other justice bodies.
Segregation in school led to segregation in the labour market and the Ministry of Education tried to tackle this problem with measures and actions in the area of training for teachers and educational counselling. Gender-specific differences were even stronger in children with migration background. Co-education was compulsory in public schools since 1975, but segregation still existed in the country.
Concerning gender segregation in the selection of studies, the delegation said that the Government intended to increase the number of women in technical studies through an increase in advisory services and through special projects. The 40 per cent quota for collegial university bodies achieved encouraging results, particularly in increasing the number of women holding rector and vice-rector positions. An important instrument was the performance agreement concluded between the Federal Government and individual universities, which included measures to increase the percentage of women in decision-making positions.
Pensions for women were very low, and were in general only half of those of men, which was due to lower qualifications and interruptions in career due to childrearing. There were campaigns educating women about the dangers of part time work and its impact on retirement. The Government was very aware of the vulnerable position of migrant workers and one of the major objectives of the Ministry of Social Welfare was the empowerment of migrant women. Everybody was insured under the social benefits system, even the unemployed. A new regulation was introduced which authorised the counting of four years per child to enter into calculations for retirement for women who interrupted work because of their childrearing obligations. The crisis had especially affected the employment of women and unemployment of women was on the rise.
The project “100 per cent sports” of the Ministry of Sports was focused on gender mainstreaming and promoting gender equality in sports, under which gender specialists had been appointed in the sports federation, while specific studies had been carried about gender mainstreaming in sports.
About 75 per cent of the population of Austria lived in rural areas and over the past 10 years the number of female headed farms had increased. On average, 37 per cent of agricultural businesses were headed by women. Decision making structures in rural areas were often dominated by men and this issue was being addressed by the equal opportunities working group. Migration from rural to urban areas occurred frequently among girls and young women.
Follow-up Questions and Responses
In a series of follow-up questions and comments, Experts further inquired about measures to prevent multiple discrimination and prevent and combat poverty, particularly female poverty; measures to reduce the gender pay gap which had not changed since 1990s and to support spouses of male diplomats; and how many men benefitted from the “Daddy month” or one month unpaid leave for new fathers.
Answering those questions, the delegation agreed that standard employment jobs were becoming scarcer. In Austria, almost 95 per cent of pensions were government pensions and the private pension system made up a very small part. If there was a proceeding before the Equal Treatment Commission or before the court, there would be special assistance provided to women suffering from discrimination on multiple grounds and special associations for litigation would assist them in pursuing their claims. As of August 2012, 365 fathers took Daddy month, and 180 men took it in 2011. The head of mission to which a diplomat was transferred had an obligation to support female spouses according to the law.
Questions by Experts
Did the delegation have data about the phenomenon of forced marriages? Did the 2010 Law on Registered Partnerships apply to same-sex partnerships? The number of heterosexual couples living together was on the increase and the Experts wondered about the initiative to offer protection to women living in such unions. There was a regime of fault and non-fault divorce in Austria and there could be financial implications for proving fault of one of the parties. Could the delegation provide information about rules that applied in marital property rules in formal marriages? What happened to custody of children if parents could not come to an agreement?
Response by Delegation
Registered partnerships were limited to same sex couples and there were proceedings pending before the Constitutional Court to challenge this limitation. There were still differences in the alimony regime for registered partnerships. A new law had entered into force recently according to which joint custody was not obligatory. There was no institutional acknowledgement of homosexual unions.
HELMUT TICHY, Legal Advisor, Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs of Austria, said that the debate was constructive and thanked the Experts for their interest in the situation in Austria and for their questions which gave food for thought for several years to come. Mr. Tichy also thanked non-governmental organizations for the preparation of the shadow report which did not always state what Austria wanted to hear but was very stimulating.
NICOLE AMELINE, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked all the members of the delegation for having provided information about the situation of women in the country and urged Austria to take all necessary measures to strengthen the practical implementation of the Convention, fight stereotypes and mitigate the impact of the crisis on women.
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