COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONSIDERS REPORT OF TAJIKISTAN
9 October 2013
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined fourth and fifth periodic report of Tajikistan on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Presenting the report, Sumangul Tagoeva, Head of the Committee on Women and Family Relations of Tajikistan, spoke about how Tajikistan had implemented the Committee’s recommendations following its 2007 review, including establishing a law against domestic violence and other new legislation. Initiatives had been taken to increase the participation of women in all areas of society, from decision-making roles to the labour market. Trafficking in persons remained a great concern and was an issue Tajikistan paid significant attention to with a holistic approach. Temporary special measures had been used to increase the number of women, including from rural areas, obtaining higher education degrees. Health reforms included a reduction in the maternal mortality and abortion rate.
Committee Members congratulated Tajikistan for adopting a law on violence within the family, or domestic violence, its new law on Gender Equality, its constitutional safeguards and other reforms, including implementation of the Committee’s last set of recommendations. Experts asked questions about traditional gender stereotypes, the status of elderly women, trafficking in persons and prostitution. Women in leadership roles and their political participation, and the purpose of temporary special measures were discussed, as were issues of nationality and statelessness and forms of religious discrimination against women.
Ms. Tagoeva, in concluding remarks, said since its independence Tajikistan had been committed to being a democratic State based on the rule of law with human rights and freedoms at the heart of all policies; it would study and take account of the Committee’s recommendations in order to protect and promote all the rights of women.
In concluding remarks Violeta Neubauer, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue, commended the State party for its efforts, and encouraged it to address the Committee’s recommendations for the benefit of all women and girls in the country.
The delegation of Tajikistan included the Head of the Committee on Women and Family Relations, the Human Rights Ombudsman, the Deputy Prosecutor General and representatives of the Executive Office of the President, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, the Parliamentary Committee on social issues, family and health protection, and the Permanent Mission of Tajikistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will reconvene on Thursday, 10 October at 10 a.m. when it will start its review of the combined fourth and fifth periodic report of Seychelles.
The combined fourth and fifth periodic report of Tajikistan can be read via the link: (CEDAW/C/TJK/4-5).
Presentation of the Report
SUMANGUL TAGOEVA, Head of the Committee on Women and Family Relations of Tajikistan, spoke about how Tajikistan had implemented the Committee’s recommendations following its 2007 review, including the adoption in 2013 of the Law on the Prevention of Violence, and the establishment of 33 crisis centres and three shelters, providing support to victims of domestic and gender-based violence. The legal marriage age had been increased from 17 to 18 years, and since 2007 the Statistics Agency had been collecting gender-aggregated data. The Government planned to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention. The National Strategy on Promoting the Role of Women 2011 to 2020, with its accompanying Plan of Action, aimed to guarantee the equal participation of men and women at the decision-making level. The Women and Family Affairs Committee, with the support of development partners, had a wide mandate including the integration of gender approaches in the work of all Ministries and Government Agencies. It had established 105 District Information Consultation Centres and one centre for training specialists.
The Government had carried out several initiatives to increase the political participation of women, in the academic sphere, in the judiciary, in the diplomatic service and by promoting women at the local and national authority and Government levels. Trafficking in persons remained a great concern and was an issue Tajikistan paid significant attention to. A new national anti-trafficking plan for 2013 to 2014 had been approved, as well as a new holistic programme to fight trafficking. The parliament was currently considering draft laws on trafficking and on providing support to victims, and a draft amendment to the Criminal Code on child prostitution and child pornography. Ms. Tagoeva spoke at length about education, including the use of temporary special measures to increase the number of women obtaining higher education degrees. There was still a problem of child drop-out from school, however, and as part of its response the Government had passed a law on the responsibility of parents for the education and upbringing of their children.
Several initiatives had been taken to improve the economic opportunities of women and their competitive power on the labour market, as well as their development of entrepreneurship, which was a main way of achieving equality between men and women. Extensive improvements to the health services included new legislation on the protection of reproductive and general health of women, as well as intensive awareness-raising on issues of reproductive health, family planning and the prevention of sexually-transmitted illnesses including HIV AIDS. The maternal mortality and abortion rate were decreasing, but women’s HIV infection rate had increased. Many efforts had been taken to eliminate discrimination of women in rural areas and provide equal access to land for men and women. Ms. Tagoeva noted that the divorce rate had been steadily increasing, which analysis found was mainly among young couples who were unprepared for family life, or affected by financial issues, migration, family violence or the interference of relatives in the young couple’s personal lives. In response the Government was conducting awareness-raising activities aimed at young people to strengthen the institution of marriage.
Questions by the Experts
An Expert commended the delegation on its new law on Gender Equality, legislation against gender-based violence, and reform to the Criminal Code. She welcomed the head of the delegation’s announcement that the State party intended to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention, and asked when that would happen. The Constitution of Tajikistan established the priority of international treaties over domestic laws, but the Convention had never been invoked in Tajik courts: was that due to lack of awareness of the Convention, or lack of training of lawyers and judges?
What was being done to improve the situation of older women, and had the State party taken on the Committee’s last recommendation to collect data on women over the age of 50. The Expert noted that the law on sexual and reproductive healthcare was only applicable to women under the age of 50, which excluded women of menopausal age, and was perhaps indicative of the State party’s attitude towards older women.
Response by the Delegation
A delegate said the ratification of the Optional Protocol had been agreed by all relevant parties, and it was being prepared for submission to Parliament. The President agreed to ratify it on 3 April 2013, when he endorsed the national plan for the implementation of the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review recommendations, which included ratification of the Optional Protocol by 2015. However, the delegate said he believed they would be able to ratify it earlier than 2015.
Regarding statistics on women over the age of 50, a delegate said the result of a population census were published in a compendium by the National Statistics Agency, and population data broken down by age was available there. Regarding issues impacting on women over the age of 50 and elderly women in general, a delegate said pursuant to the statistical data, the number of elderly was 5.2 per cent of the overall population, with around 65 per cent being women. Life expectancy had increased by over 10 years, and there were twice as many 90 year old women as men. There were awareness-raising campaigns on a healthy lifestyle for the elderly, social clubs and learning courses, and special elderly care, including proposals for the elderly to receive free health consultations. People over the age of 80 received enhanced pensions, which were 50 per cent higher than the basic pension rate. Social services were now provided to people in their own homes. Tajikistan was working with the European Union to establish 11 day centres for the elderly, seven of which were run on a community basis. It hoped to have 20 such centres by 2015, reaching 25 per cent of those who needed such assistance.
A number of women had been appointed to leadership roles, including the appointment to leadership positions in several ministries and agencies of 14 gifted and capable women in January 2012. The number of women in the central and local civil service was 4,343, or 23.5 per cent, an increase of five per cent since 2008; while 539 women held leadership roles in central agencies, which was 124 per cent more than in 2007. There was a programme that trained girls and women for leadership positions.
It was true that there were budgetary restrictions, and the amount earmarked for the Women and Family Affairs Committee was not enough, at approximately USD$150,000 per year. However, there was an upwards trend in budgetary allocations for the Women’s Committee so hopefully the budget would be increased. A delegate noted that the Committee on Social Issues, which dealt with family and health issues, had its own budget. A delegate also referred to the Committee’s recommendations on strengthening relationships with civil society organizations, which had led to several initiatives, including briefings with the Government ministries and agencies.
Questions by the Experts
An Expert reminded the delegation that the Convention was not only about eliminating discrimination against women, but also achieving equality for women. That meant de facto equality, real opportunities to impact on political and public decision-making, defining national priorities, as well as decision-making in the private sector, on a par with men. Temporary special measures were designed to address the unequal baseline opportunities of men and women in society, they were the most efficient and practical method of achieving equality between men and women, and boys and girls. Since men and women in Tajikistan did not have equal status and opportunities in all areas covered by the Convention, it meant that men needed to be treated differently in order to close the gap in achieving equality for women.
The Expert said that many laws and policies in Tajikistan were gender-neutral, which meant that the accumulative effect of historical, structural and cultural discrimination against women did not allow for gender equality to emerge. The Expert asked the delegation whether the parliamentarians and policy makers in Tajikistan adequately understood what temporary special measures were, and if the Government had considered introducing them. Would the Parliamentary Working Group currently reviewing the Gender Equality Law also consider including temporary special measures in the amended legislation?
The State party was commended for its ratification of many human rights treaties, its constitutional safeguards and its many equal opportunity laws. Notably, however, gender stereotypes had changed little over the years and customary practices and traditions continued to dictate women’s role in the family, particularly with regard to their education, employment, ownership of property and land, and status in the family. The practice of polygamy continued, for instance. The strong traditional attitude that girls should not continue in education into their teenage years, that girls should get married, bear children and run a household, predominated. What measures was the Government taking to change stereotypes and traditional attitudes, especially among religious communities and local leaders, and in school curriculums.
Regarding religious discrimination against women, an Expert expressed concern about the ban on Tajik women attending and praying in Tajik mosques, based on the 2004 Council of Ulemo fatwa. She was also concerned about the reported ban on Muslims wearing headscarves in educational establishments, asking if there was an official ban on the wearing of the hijab in schools. The Committee fully understood the secular credentials of the Government, and its wish to preserve a secular education system, but was concerned that women’s fundamental human right to freedom of belief was being impacted upon.
An Expert congratulated Tajikistan for its adoption of the law on the prevention of violence within the family, as per the Committee’s 2007 recommendation. Could the delegation elaborate on its practical initiatives to tackle domestic violence and support victims, particularly through the new crisis centres, and how they were financed. How did the new protection orders work?
Response by the Delegation
In education, a raft of measures had been taken to improve the role and status of women, to attract girls to study at school, and to give girls financial assistance to go to school; a presidential quota had also been introduced for women to attend tertiary education. Manuals and textbooks had been issued to teachers on gendered education. The Government was working on new standards for the teaching of subjects on the curriculum.
There was no prohibition on the hijab, the head of delegation confirmed. There was a uniform for all students, which took account of all cultural and historical values. The uniform worn at schools and universities did not exclude the possibility of the ‘national headscarf’ being worn, in line with national values. Children not complying with the uniform would be excluded, their parents would be contacted, and a constructive outcome would be found. The head of delegation noted that there was a national costume that included a national headscarf for women, of which Tajik women were very proud. It was something in line with what Muslim women would want to wear, so there was no prohibition on wearing the headscarf: women were free to choose. The delegation did note that some young people sought to push the boundaries of the school uniform, which was typical of young people.
Concerning stereotypes, the head of delegation said the Government was constantly working on awareness-raising campaigns and trainings to discuss the role of women in society, to enhance their status, and to change historic cultural attitudes. Courses on gender issues, in which more than 4,000 women had participated, took place every year.
The fatwa ruling that women should not pray in a mosque was based on a request by one of the wives of the Prophet, in the books of Islam, to which the Prophet replied that if a woman wished to read her prayers at home, in her bedroom, she should do it away from other people’s eyes. The Council of Ulemo based their decision to recommend that Muslim women prayed at home, and not in a mosque, on that teaching. Responding to a follow-up question from an Expert who questioned the ruling by referring to collective prayers that took place around the world, for instance in Mecca, a delegate replied that as the Expert well knew, collective prayers were not mandatory in Islam.
Following much discussion a law on violence in the family, or domestic violence, was adopted that included a raft of measures to prevent violence in the family. Emphasis was on eradicating the causes of such violence and fully implementing the law, including by awareness-raising. It was important to bring the crimes of violence within the family home out of the shadows, to cast light on them. The concept of domestic violence was clearly defined in the law on violence in the family as deliberate, illegal actions of a psychological, physical or sexual nature, committed in the private sphere by one member of a family to another, that caused harm or threat of harm. Marital rape was a crime, a delegate confirmed.
A delegate read out statistics on cases of gender-based violence, which were available in the report. Five offices had been set up for the prevention of domestic violence, which were so far run by women but would also recruit men. Since the new legislation came into force more than 2,000 victims of domestic violence had appealed for the Ministry of Interior to uphold their rights; over 120 cases were brought in 2012 and 101 cases so far in 2013. Inspectors to prevent domestic violence were in force, and last year held raids on households and identified 900 “problem” or dysfunctional families, who were either given protection orders or special awareness-raising information.
The mass media was used to disseminate awareness-raising campaigns, such as the broadcast of films and programmes on the most popular TV channels to help people understand domestic violence issues within the family. Following the information campaign, the number of complaints had increased, which hopefully meant that people had more trust in the Government to come forward and report crimes, rather than just that domestic violence rates were rising. A new draft law on domestic violence was anticipated to be submitted to the Government by the end of the year.
To date there were 33 crisis centres and three shelters for victims of domestic violence, financed through non-governmental organizations; there was also a hotline. In 2013, 21 victims had been helped in the centres, and 13 in 2012, but there was no information on the previous years. Eight rehabilitation health centres had been set up in the maternity clinics of hospitals, to give primary medical care, preventative treatment, and rehabilitation for victims. Perpetrators had to pay the bills for the treatment. The centres were entirely confidential, and could also help with all issues related to reproductive health, as well as provide medical assistance to sex workers.
To decrease the number of girls involved in prostitution, the Government had taken many initiatives to reduce the recruitment of girls for sexual exploitation, prostitution or pornography, a delegate said. Unfortunately, said the delegation, it could not deny that prostitution existed and girls were involved in it, even though many had not chosen to be prostitutes. The Committee on Women and Family Relations carried out regular raids to try to combat the negative phenomenon of girls in prostitution in Tajikistan, a delegate said. The Committee worked with the girls stuck working as prostitutes to help them find alternative employment and training.
Bigamy and polygamy were illegal and perpetrators were criminally liable under the Criminal Code. There were 661 “latent” or “hidden” cases of bigamy and polygamy registered with law enforcement bodies between 2009 and 2013. In the same period 155 women were murdered by their husband or partner.
Questions from the Experts
Tajikistan was commended for its wide-range of actions to tackle the issue of trafficking in persons. However, an Expert said the report lacked statistics on how many victims had been reached, given medical assistance, and support to foreign female victims and other groups. How many victims were supported by the new centres established in Dushanbe and other cities, with assistance from the United Kingdom, and how were they financed?
Regarding the political representation of women and women in decision-making roles, an Expert asked how many women held decision-making roles in trade unions and employers’ organizations. Given there were no women Ambassadors, what measures had been taken to train women for leadership positions within the diplomatic service?
An Expert asked questions about nationality rights and statelessness, including the right of a woman to transmit her nationality to a spouse and children, as the Committee had received reports that women, particularly poor and rural women, lacked awareness about their right to a nationality, which impacted upon their official status and birth registration. The Expert said it was estimated that a significant number of women lived in a state of legal limbo following the collapse of the Soviet Union, including ‘border wives’ and Tajik women who had left the country during the war, as well as Tajik women who had not exchanged their old Soviet passports.
Response from the Delegation
A 2009 Presidential Decree on raising the status of women in society led to many activities to that end, as well as the appointment of high-level staff. A Plan of Action under that programme had been developed. The Committee on Women’s Affairs ran annual programmes, training courses for women leaders and other initiatives, not only in the cities but also in the regions. More than 4,000 women had benefitted from the courses already. There were 39 women diplomats in the Foreign Service, which provided training through a diplomatic academy for women to be future ambassadors. Political parties had increased the number of women candidates and members, albeit some more than others. Out of a further 23 trade union organizations, 10 were headed by women.
Responding to the need to protect the rights and interests of child victims of trafficking in persons, priority was given to preventing the crimes and eliminating the causes of victimization. Income from trafficking in persons, just like income from drug trafficking and organized crime, was to be minimized, i.e. by confiscating the property of the people traders.
Furthermore the Committee on Women and the Family had a special centre for girl victims of trafficking; more than 300 adolescent girls had benefited from rehabilitation courses. Victims were given psychological, social, health, legal and financial support and care, full compensation and damages. In 2006 an agreement was made with the International Organization of Migration to help support victims socially, legally and financially.
Issues of nationality and statelessness were a matter of concern of course, a delegate said, but the law did provide for people who were stateless. For example, people who left Tajikistan and lived abroad retained their citizenship; a divorce did not affect a person’s citizenship; and adopted children could similarly gain Tajik citizenship – the rights of the child were guaranteed. The Soviet Union collapsed over 20 years ago but a lot of citizens still had those old Soviet passports and had not renewed them at the local authority offices. Those people had de facto statelessness and were in a legal vacuum but they could rectify that via the relevant procedure. A foreign woman who married a Tajik citizen could then get Tajik citizenship after living in Tajikistan, with her husband, for five years. The law was amended with the five year rule in response to many cases of foreign men marrying Tajik women then abandoning them to go off to other countries, such as Afghanistan.
Questions by the Experts
An Expert appreciated the Government’s strong efforts in implementing the Convention, but said the information in the report on education was limited, especially in terms of disaggregated data. Many girls, especially those from rural areas, did not attend secondary school, the Expert noted – some reports stated as many as 60 per cent did not go to school. Drop-out rates were very high. The reasons ranged from expense to traditional attitudes that could not see the point of educating girls. There was a Presidential Order and special measures on education for girls, the Expert noted, asking whether more measures were being taken to help girls go to school, such as free lunches, schoolbooks, uniforms and so on.
The Expert asked about the law on parental responsibility for the education of their children, and what measures the Government had taken to reduce the drop-out rates. There were generally no qualified teachers, there was a lack of decent school infrastructure, such as electricity in schools, and even a lack of toilets for girls and boys – girl students needed access to safe sanitary facilities. What about education for girls and women with disabilities, the Expert asked?
Turning to employment, an Expert noted the recent increase of female participation in the labour market in several areas but said little progress had been made since 2004. The first area of concern was structural inequalities and segregation in the labour market; women were mostly employed in the informal sector where they had low wages and very little social security. How did the State party ensure that the principle of equal pay for equal work between men and women was applied in the public and private sector, the Expert asked, noting that the International Labour Organization also had concerns about that. The Committee was also concerned about the lack of maternity leave and noted that the State party had not ratified the International Labour Organization conventions on maternity protection.
Child labour was a concern of the Committee: it was estimated that 200,000 children worked in Tajikistan, and 10 per cent of them did not attend school. What was the State party doing to prevent the worst forms of child labour? The situation of women migrant workers was also a concern, the Expert said, asking what the Government was doing to support them, and how it worked with receiving countries, such as Russia, to make sure female migrant workers received social security. What about the impact on families abandoned or left behind in Tajikistan by male migrant workers?
The State party was commended for some improvements in the area of health, particularly a decline in the maternal mortality rate, but the Expert said the rate was still rather high. Some 73 per cent of the population of Tajikistan lived in rural areas, but did not have good access to healthcare, in particular reproductive healthcare. The strategy on reproductive health did not cover the category of adolescents and young adults; given the increase in HIV infection – 29 per cent of the population – that sector of the population should surely be a priority group. The Expert asked about the stigmatization of HIV infected women, particularly sex workers. Health services for persons with disabilities were also raised.
An Expert said 75 per cent of agricultural sector workers were rural women, according to International Labour Organization statistics. The State party had spoken about a 50 per cent increase in women running farms since 2008, but despite efforts undertaken by the Ministry of Agriculture still only five per cent of all farms were headed by women, which was a very low number. Could temporary special measures improve the situation?
Response by the Delegation
All citizens of Tajikistan, irrespective of nationality, gender, ethnicity or religion, had to receive compulsory education from first to ninth grade. Tenth and eleventh grade were optional. Statistics were available by gender and region. Around 43 per cent of primary level students were girls; at secondary level, 48 per cent were girls; at the professional vocational institutions around 26 per cent of students were girls; while at university level 28 per cent of students were girls.
The drop-out rate was decreasing, but it was correct that more girls dropped out than boys. Girls who did not go to school mostly came from lower income families, but there were benefits and subsidies, such as free textbooks, to try to encourage them to go to school. The Committee was correct that school infrastructure was lacking, including toilets for girls, but the Government was building new schools every year that fully met modern standards.
The Government was increasing its funding to the educational sector, including for teachers’ salaries. The average teacher salary was increased by 60 per cent in 2012, and by a further 13 per cent in September 2013. Legislative reform included a new law adopted in 2013 and several strategies until 2020. The ultimate objective was 100 per cent educational coverage of all children.
Tajikistan did provide for equal wages for men and women, and the Labour Code set out that men and women should get equal pay for equal work. A main reason for the gender pay gap was that men worked in hazardous jobs that paid higher wages as compensation, although increasingly women worked in more hazardous working conditions as a result of the introduction of new technology. The Government hoped to provide vocational training to the 38 per cent of job seekers who were women.
Over 72 per cent of the population worked in the informal employment sector, including the agricultural sector, so it was considered to be important. The Government sought to support women entrepreneurs, particularly in their small businesses and cottage industries, for example handicrafts. There was a State programme to ensure equality of rights and opportunities for rural women, including their access to land.
The Ministry of Labour was carrying out a special project to prevent the use of child labour; it also provided labour inspectors and followed up on alleged cases of child labour. In 2012 more than 60 cases were reported, and corrected.
A major problem in providing good maternity healthcare was obsolete infrastructure and out of date equipment, a delegate said. The Government was improving medical establishment infrastructure in rural areas, including a €30 million project with the German Development Bank to build and refurnish childbirth centres in rural areas. More than 70 reproductive health centres offered contraception and family planning services; while a further 60 midwife-led clinics had already been renovated. There were currently 3,000 midwives working in rural villages, out of a target number of 4,360.
Sexual and reproductive healthcare was provided to young people, who were considered an ‘at risk’ category, such as information on HIV and sexually transmitted diseases for men and women, in ‘trust units’ that were confidential clinics in hospitals to serve adolescents. Women with disabilities had unlimited access to medical healthcare. The Ministry of Health was engaged in awareness-raising, in communities and in the workplace, about HIV AIDS and to combat discrimination and stigmatization.
The question of labour migration was a major issue for Tajikistan; more than one million Tajiks had emigrated and left behind women and children. The labour migrants were mostly in Russia, and Tajikistan had very good cooperation with the Russian authorities and the diaspora there, but the migrants moved around, so it was hard to track them down to get them to meet the responsibilities to their family. The migrants often remarried in Russia and had a second family. The Government was considering setting up a fund to support abandoned women and children.
Regarding women labour migrants, a delegate said that traditionally the trend was only for men but increasingly women were migrating in search of work, often in the health, hospitality and service sectors. Women encountered specific problems, not only the low-status and law-paid jobs but also a lack of job security. The women were often very young and not fully educated. Sometimes they emigrated for a fake marriage, and struggled to find healthcare.
SUMANGUL TAGOEVA, Head of the Committee on Women and Family Relations, thanked the Committee for the constructive dialogue, and for noting positive developments and remaining challenges. The Government and civil society in Tajikistan would carefully study and take account of the Committee’s recommendations in order to protect and promote all the rights of women. Since declaring independence Tajikistan was committed to being a democratic State based on the rule of law with human rights and freedoms at the heart of all policies.
VIOLETA NEUBAUER, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue, commended the State party for its efforts and encouraged it to address the Committee’s recommendations for the benefit of all women and girls in the country.
The Committee’s concluding observations will be made available at http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/SessionDetails1.aspx?SessionID=812&Lang=en on Monday 21 October.
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