COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONSIDERS REPORTS OF HUNGARY
14 February 2013
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered
the combined seventh and eighth periodic report of Hungary on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Introducing the report of Hungary, Erika Asztalosne Zupcsan, Deputy State Secretary for Social Policy, Ministry of Human Resources, said that since 2007 Hungary had gone through several socio-economic processes that had had a fundamental impact on the status of women. The new Fundamental Law that entered into force in 2012 granted wider citizenship rights and guaranteed the fundamental rights of every person without any discrimination. New priorities had been set up and included the focus on family values and family issues in order to manage the grave demographic situation, and enhancing job opportunities for women. The main economic objective of the Government was the creation of one million new workplaces in this decade, and with this in mind, a new Labour Code was enacted which set out the essential framework required for the establishment of a more flexible labour market.
During the discussion Committee Experts expressed concern about the regressive approach of the Government in relation to women’s issues and this was evident in the stronger focus on family values rather than on gender equality. The privatization of health and other social services had gone rather far and Experts wondered how Hungary intended to respect the provisions of the Convention in relation to the guarantee of socio-economic rights for women. Experts also raised a number of other issues such as the use of temporary special measures to ensure equality between men and women; combating multiple discrimination particularly for women and girls with disabilities and Roma women; lack of progress in combating violence against women and domestic violence; and the extremely low participation rate of women in Parliament, which at only nine per cent was below European and international averages.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Asztalosne Zupcsan expressed gratitude to the Committee Experts for their extremely constructive approach and the recommendations that showed the way forward.
Also in concluding remarks, Nicole Ameline, Committee Chairperson, noted that Hungary was in the full swing of its reforms and expressed hope that this would be an opportunity to ensure better alignment with the provisions of the Convention. Hungary should give full consideration to the prohibition of discrimination and should develop even greater cooperation with non-governmental organizations.
The delegation of Hungary consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Human Resources, Ministry of National Economy, Ministry of Public Administration and Justice, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Office of the Prosecutor General, Budapest Regional Court, Central District Court, Equal Treatment Authority and the Hungarian Central Statistical Office.
The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 15 February at 10 a.m. when it will start its consideration of the combined sixth and seventh periodic report of Cyprus (CEDAW/C/CYP/6-7).
The combined seventh and eighth periodic report of Hungary can be read here: (CEDAW/C/HUN/7-8).
Presentation of the Report
ERIKA ASZTALOSNE ZUPCSAN, Deputy State Secretary for Social Policy, Ministry of Human Resources of Hungary, said that Hungary had gone through several socio-economic processes that had had a fundamental impact on the status of women since 2007. The new Fundamental Law of Hungary had entered into force in 2012 and it had opened a new chapter in constitutional history. It granted wider citizenship rights and guaranteed the fundamental rights of every person without any discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, gender, disability, language, religion or other status. After this law had been passed, a number of cardinal laws had been enacted which had had an impact on the status of women, such as the Act on the Protection of Families, the revised Labour Code and the Act on the Operation of Non-governmental Organizations. Since 2010, the system of public administration had undergone fundamental changes and the number of ministries had been streamlined from 15 to eight and the responsibility to support the advancement of women was now a horizontal task across the whole public administration. The Ministry of Human Resources had the primary responsibility for ensuring equality between women and men, while the main tasks of the Equal Opportunities Office included shaping the attitudes of the society, establishing partnerships and coordinating between non-governmental organizations and other organizations involved in creating equal opportunities. New priorities had been set up reflecting the new approaches of the Government in relation to the population, the family policy and the status of women. One of the new priorities was to manage the demographic situation which was a great challenge for Hungary given the fact that the number of births had fallen drastically since 1981 and had reached a hundred-year low in 2010. Another priority was to enhance job opportunities for women and to increase family benefits and the Government had allocated a record 11 billion forints to improve the work and family life balance and increase the number of places in day care centres and nurseries.
The Fundamental Law explicitly stated that women and men were equal before the law and prohibited negative discrimination of persons with disabilities. Hungary had made remarkable advances in the fight against human trafficking in the last two years and had amended the Act on Crime Victim Support which mandated the provision of support to victims of trafficking. It had also initiated the internal procedure for the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, while a new national strategy against human trafficking was due for completion in May 2013. More attention had been devoted to the issue of domestic violence and a wide-ranging social dialogue was evolving on this topic. In September 2012 Parliament had backed the citizens’ initiative to classify domestic violence as a separate offence under the criminal law and as a result a working party had been established to create the legal framework to deal with domestic violence. Tackling the problem of Roma and addressing discrimination against Roma women was another national priority and not merely a poverty issue. Women’s employment was a key area where the Government had implemented a range of far-reaching measures over the past two years. The main economic objective of the Government was the creation of one million new workplaces in this decade and the new Labour Code had been enacted which set out the essential framework required to establish a more flexible labour market.
Questions by Experts
A Committee Expert asked about the role of non-governmental organizations in the reporting process, the status in the Constitution of international treaties ratified by Hungary, including the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and the prohibition of discrimination in the law.
Another Expert expressed concern about the regressive approach of the Government in relation to women’s issues, which was evident in the stronger focus on family values rather than on gender equality. The privatization of health and other social services had gone rather far and the Expert asked how Hungary intended to still respect the provisions of the Convention in relation to socio-economic rights and what concrete measures it was taking to ensure that courts, teachers, police officers and other professionals were aware of the Convention?
The reality in Hungary did not correspond to the developments expected in the area of women’s rights and an Expert reminded Hungary that there should be no inconsistency between family law and women’s rights. How did Hungary intend to strengthen women’s rights, with which resources and with what means? What were the objectives in relation to family violence and how long would it take to pass a bill on this matter?
Gender equality was an human rights on its own and needed to be applied as a cross-cutting issue; was the Department of Equal Opportunities in charge of developing a gender equality policy, and how was it staffed and resourced? Why had the strategy of 2008 not been implemented and why was a new strategy being drafted instead of producing the Second Action Plan? The Fundamental Law and the Equal Treatment Act provided the basis for the introduction of temporary special measures, and there were many areas where those measures were needed for the benefit of disadvantaged women. How did the Government intend to use this useful tool to ensure equality between men and women?
Roma women often suffered multiple discrimination; was the Strategy for Roma still being applied and implemented?
Response by Delegation
In response to these questions and comments, the delegation said that the Fundamental Law or the Constitution which had entered into force in January 2012 relied on the European Human Rights Charter and on United Nations human rights and fundamental freedoms conventions. It provided a wider scope of rights for the individual. Both the European Union and international human rights laws were taken into account in the drafting of this law. The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was a part of domestic legislation which had been promulgated by the law in 1982. The Fundamental Law stated first of all a general prohibition of discrimination and then went on to state the numerous grounds for discrimination which were prohibited. With regard to social rights, the Fundamental Law spelled out that efforts should be made for full assurance of social rights to the extent possible by the Government budget. No women’s rights should be limited and women should not suffer a loss of rights and should be given a preference when the provisions of the Family Law were implemented. In March 2014 new legislation would be enacted, the new Civil Code, which would have new important bearing on several laws, including the Family Law.
The demographic situation of Hungary was very grave at the moment and many Government measures were aimed at improving the birth rate and that was why there was an emphasis on family values and family issues. The strategy of 2008 did not reflect new developments and the priorities of the Government had changed, which was the reason for the revision of that strategy, within which more emphasis was given on family issues and within them, on women’s issues.
Concerning temporary special measures, there had been an important Parliamentary debate concerning the introduction of the quota system, which was unfortunately refused. The new Penal Code which would be enacted in July this year defined sexual violence as a separate crime as per the provisions of the Convention. Since 2008, a gender focal person had been nominated in the Chief Prosecutor’s Office.
The Equal Treatment Authority had been established in 2005 and had the right to express opinion on legislation and make recommendations on decisions of the Government and the legislation related to equal treatment. Positive discrimination was regulated in the Act on Equal Treatment.
The Act on Persons with Disabilities and their Rights had been enacted in 1998 and this Act was now being revised. The fundamental principle underlying the revision was the principle of equality between women and men and the revised Act would contain a separate chapter on the rights of women and girls with disability.
In addition to expanding the protection system, the Government was planning to create a crisis hotline and service to provide assistance to victims of domestic violence and to promote prevention. The hotline and service would be incorporated in the tasks of the Network on Equal Opportunities with the aim of empowering women in crisis situations.
Concerning the Roma strategy, the delegation said that it aimed to provide positive measures for all age groups, from the age of two, through juveniles, to adults. The active involvement of Roma was crucial and out of 40 staff working on the implementation of the strategy, 15 were Roma. Particular attention was given to the employment of Roma women and an ongoing project aimed to provide employment to 1,000 women. There were complex projects to improve housing, access to health services and education for Roma.
Follow-up Questions and Responses
Experts then asked a number of follow-up questions and noted that Hungary was going to receive a significant amount of money from the European Union; what proportion of those funds would be allocated to women’s issues and through which arrangements? Did Hungary intend to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights? Was there a political commitment to apply gender mainstreaming systematically?
Domestic legislation did not require reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities and an Expert asked what kind of legislative action was envisaged to provide equal opportunities to women and girls with disabilities and eliminate discrimination in the area of reasonable accommodation. Did Hungary intend to table the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence?
Responding, the delegation said that the strengthening of family rights would not take place to the detriment of the strongest possible protection of the rights of women. The fact that two people lived in civil partnership did not deny the partners’ rights. Every scheme and operational programme that had been launched in Hungary included very important elements of women, and there were programmes specifically aimed at women as a target group.
The European Union funds were allocated to different development projects and aimed at maintaining achievements already done. All development funds took into account two horizontal aspects: environment and gender equality. This meant that every Euro from the European Union was conditional on the implementation of the gender equality principle. Between 2007 and 2013 Hungary had received significant development funds to create and maintain jobs, for integration, and to preserve jobs affected by the crisis. In the next planning period, horizontal priorities would be maintained and gender equality would feature in all projects, while specific projects would be initiated for women.
Questions by Experts
An Expert said that there was no clear progress in combating violence against women and domestic violence in Hungary and asked about the efficiency of protection orders and how long they could be used. The Committee had previously recommended the adoption of a law on domestic violence as Hungary did not have a comprehensive law on domestic violence; what were the plans in this regard?
Women were underrepresented in politics and media, the gender pay gap was increasing, as was the unemployment rate for women, and the focus on family values promoted the role of women as caregivers. All this reinforced stereotypes, which needed to be addressed systematically. The legislation in Hungary spoke more about domestic violence rather than about violence against women and Experts drew the attention of the delegation to the fact that the Committee was very sensitive to violence against women as a form of discrimination against women. What was the status of the law on domestic violence in Hungary?
There were visible developments in the area of combating trafficking in human beings and an Expert wished to hear more about the results of implementing the 2008 strategy to combat trafficking in human beings and what were the obstacles to its implementation. How many women and girls were provided with residency on the basis of being victims of trafficking and how many had benefitted from safe accommodation and victim support services? What activities were in place to address the specific vulnerabilities of Roma women to trafficking and re-trafficking, especially those living in orphanages?
Response by Delegation
The delegation said that there had been no action plan for the strategy to combat trafficking in human trafficking because it was a highly actionable document which had laid down the basis for this fight. The achievements included advances in the legislation, with the Fundamental Law of Hungary prohibiting slavery and trafficking in human beings. There had been a National Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings for two years now and this person coordinated informal round tables with the participation of Government agencies and non-governmental organizations. Hungary was primarily a country of transit and country of origin and it had developed cooperation with a number of European countries and was working on the new mechanism for trafficking in the context of the new European Union legislation. The new Criminal Code included new categories which would make it easier to be in unison with international norms and standards and to prosecute various crimes in the area of violence against women. The strategy 2008-2012 was outdated and the new strategy would be adopted in May 2013. Child victims were never considered perpetrators and were specifically protected by the law. In 2011, there had been 11 persons victims of trafficking in human beings. In 2012, there had been 16 women who used services from the shelters or safe houses.
Hungarian law criminalized violence, including violence against women. Acts that counted as sexual violence or sexual coercion were recently criminalized as well. The act on violence in a relationship was being prepared and was connected to various international instruments in this regard.
Follow-up Questions and Responses
In a series of follow-up questions and comments, Committee Experts raised the issue of psychological violence and whether it was punishable under the criminal law, and whether stalking was a crime. What mechanisms were in place to ensure that the municipalities met their obligations to sex workers in terms of designing working areas? Could the delegation better explain the treatment of children found in prostitution and whether they were treated as perpetrators or victims?
Responding, the delegation said that since 2007 there had been a radical change and stalking had become a part of the Criminal Code. The legal status had been defined on the basis of international legislation. Additional provisions were added on sanctioning forms of violence other than bodily violence, for example psychological violence or domineering. Use of minor sex workers or prostitutes was a criminal offence and the minors were treated as victims.
Questions by Experts and Responses
Experts said that there was a low level of political representation of women in Parliament in Hungary, which at only 9 per cent was way below the European and international averages. This tendency was reproduced on ministerial posts. An Expert noted that the Hungarian political leaders seemed hesitant to contribute to the political advancement of women and the society seemed to think that the political participation of women was not a relevant topic and it was preferable to keep women at home.
Answering those questions and comments, the delegation said that there was no distinction between men and women in Hungary, except on the basis of the capability to perform. Hungary had enacted laws that gave opportunities to everyone and there were a number of women filling positions within the Government and Government agencies. Since 1990, Hungary had had between seven and ten per cent of women representatives in the Parliament. The quota system for the participation of women had been proposed in 2007 and more than a third of members of Parliament had abstained from a vote. The last time the quota system came on the agenda of the Parliament had been in December 2011 but there still had been no adequate support for the proposal. As far as participation of women in diplomacy was concerned, 28 per cent of posts in foreign missions were held by women.
Questions by Experts
Experts raised the issue of the Equal Treatment Authority which also dealt with employment cases and asked about sanctions applied in those cases and how they were being followed up on. A special issue of concern was the position of minority women in the labour market, such as Roma women, asylum seekers or migrant women. The Supreme Court had decided on several cases of pay discrimination and Experts asked how internal pay segregation was being evaluated. How was occupational segregation being dealt with? The segregation of the labour market into lower paid female jobs and higher paid male jobs indicated hidden discrimination; what was being done to ensure equal pay for equal work? The number of reported cases of sexual harassment remained low; what was being done to address difficulties in reporting such cases?
Experts expressed concern about restricted access to safe abortion and medical abortion through the limitation of access to the drug and asked about the reasons of limiting access to medical abortion which was safer than surgical abortion. Women wishing to undergo abortion had to undergo obligatory counselling and Experts asked whether the Government was ready to drop the mandatory aspect of counselling and the obligatory three days waiting period. Concerning poster campaigns on the protection of unborn life run by the Government, could the delegation explain the rationale for this campaign which was spreading anti-abortion sentiment in the country? Ninety per cent of all births in the world occurred at home, and home birth had been legalized only recently, even though hospital births were strongly encouraged.
Act 154 allowed the forced sterilization of women with disability who were deprived of their legal capacity; what steps were being taken to abolish this provision from the act? Did Hungary have a comprehensive policy of disability and if so, did it set out the legal rights of women with disabilities? What measures were in place to provide commercial sex workers with health services tailored to their needs so that their dignity was ensured?
Response by Delegation
Answering questions and comments by Committee Experts, the delegation said that girls represented 36.8 per cent of students in vocational training, 52.6 per cent in secondary schools and 51.7 per cent in universities. Statistical data were not available for Roma. Combating of gender stereotypes in public education started at the early age of three; there was a national curriculum for kindergartens and day care centres which combated any form of discrimination. This continued in the primary and secondary schools. Preparing children for family life and introducing basic knowledge of human rights were also part of the national curriculum. The Ministry of Human Resources had revised the number of students applying for universities and had decided to increase the amount of study grants.
Turning to questions concerning equal pay for equal work, the delegation said the Government investigated complaints brought to it by individuals or non-governmental organizations and imposed fines on the employers infringing on the principle. Between 2007 and 2011, employment rates remained stable in the age groups 15 to 64 which meant that women did not experience the crisis more severely than men. The rate of unemployment had increased for men. The unemployment rate in 2011 was around 11 per cent for both men and women.
The biggest problem in the reconciliation of family life and employment was in families with young children; 75 per cent of women with children aged 12 or older were employed. Very few of the women with children aged three were in employment. Eight children in 100 had access to crèches in 2011. Different programmes had been envisioned to improve this situation, from increasing the number of places in crèches, introduction of a flexible day care system, and the generation of additional childcare capacity thanks to the use of the European Union grants. The Government was starting a brand new programme with 10 components, with tailored action for different age groups of women and it would target 1.8 million women.
There were training programmes targeting 1,000 Roma women who would be trained in social and child welfare; these training programmes had already started and were very popular. In the second phase of the project, institutions absorbing those 1,000 Roma women had an obligation to continue employing them on a continuous basis.
There was no restriction of access to legal abortion; there was an interesting situation concerning medical abortion whereby Hungary was sued on the basis of patent rights of the abortion drug. If an emergency abortion was required it took place in any hospital in the country. Home births were always possible in Hungary; the new legislation had been enacted in spring 2012 and would be reviewed in two years time. The high rate of C-sections was a growing trend world-wide and also in Hungary. There was one case related to forced sterilization in 2006; compensation was provided to the woman and in 2008 the legislation had been amended and provided for the observation of international norms on the rights of persons with disabilities.
It was difficult to decide who belonged to the category of commercial sex workers; nevertheless, they should have access to health services and their dignity should be protected. The Council on Disability was under reform and the Government wished to see increased participation of persons with disabilities in its functioning. There was a Strategy on Persons with Disabilities which would soon be revised and amended to introduce more Government actions in favour of women and children with disability.
The poster campaign on abortion intended to protect the unborn life because only one third of foetuses were born in Hungary. The second part of the campaign concerned children in the care of the State and their transfer from institutions to foster care. There were 21,500 children in care of the State in Hungary.
Follow-up Questions and Responses
In a further series of follow-up questions, Experts asked whether the poster campaign was an introduction to the system of the right of the child to be born prevailing over the right of the mother to choose whether to have that child? Were there any studies on the emotional and physical impact of carrying to term an unwanted pregnancy, with the knowledge that the child would be given up for adoption? What support was provided to men to take care of their families and better discharge their parental duties? What actions were envisaged to ensure appropriate and comprehensive sex and reproductive health education? Many prosecutions of perpetrators of rape failed because of insufficient medical records; how did the Government intend to remedy this?
In response, the delegation said that education to family life was not a replacement of sexual education and both were part and parcel of the national curriculum and addressed both girls and boys. Men had recourse to family benefits and various family related social institutions. The delegation was not aware of any studies on the consequences of carrying unwanted pregnancies to term.
Questions by Experts
Experts noted the recent changes in taxation which had increased the difficult situation of the poor, especially single mothers, Roma women and persons with disabilities. The planned ceiling in the social benefits and aid system raised concerns for those groups as well. One reason for the increase in unemployment for women was the mass-closure of micro and small enterprises due to the crisis; was there any system in place to provide bank loans to those enterprises? Women were entitled to retirement after 40 years of paid work; was a gender assessment of this new social system conducted and what were its findings?
While acknowledging that the informal economy was diverse, it did not provide sufficient levels of social protection to women: did Hungary have a supportive environment for the informal sector and what benefits were available for women employed in this sector?
The State Party report acknowledged that the situation of women in rural areas had deteriorated mainly due to the lack of infrastructure. How did the public infrastructure projects by the Government empower rural women? To what extent were the national self-government policies of Roma gender sensitive?
Response by Delegation
Responding, the delegation said that everyone was covered by social security in Hungary. Retiring did not put women at a greatest risk of poverty, child raising did. Retirement after 40 years of service was a special opportunity for women through which the Government wanted to express its appreciation of women who worked and raised children. Those women received somewhat lower pensions, but still 85,000 women had decided to benefit from this early retirement scheme.
Since 2007, the mobility of rural women had improved through infrastructural development and this had increased their access to public administration, education and social services.
Questions by Experts and Responses
It was stated in the report of Hungary that a person aged 16 with diminished legal capacity could be married off in the presence of a guardian. The new 2011 Law on the Protection of Families defined a family as a marriage between a man and a woman, even though the Constitutional Court had declared that this definition was too narrow as it excluded single mothers and their children, or grandparents and their grandchildren. How were women’s property rights protected in informal marriages?
Answering those questions, the delegation said that marriage under the age of 18 was possible but a licence from the guardianship office was needed to ensure that souses did not suffer from negative consequences of marriage. Single mothers were entitled to the same legal protection as parents raising children together. The same applied to grandparents raising grandchildren as children. Registered partnerships generated a presumption of paternity, which was important for the status of the children. Both heterosexual and homosexual partners were entitled to enter into a partnership relationship.
ERIKA ASZTALOSNE ZUPCSAN, Deputy State Secretary for Social Policy, Ministry of Human Resources of Hungary, expressed gratitude to the Committee Experts for their extremely constructive approach and the recommendations that showed the way forward to Hungary.
NICOLE AMELINE, Chairperson of the Committee, welcomed the constructive approach of the delegation and said that Committee’s concluding observations would be transferred later to enable Hungary to better address the concerns of women and children. Hungary was in the full swing of its reform and the Chairperson expressed hope that this would be an opportunity to ensure that the implementation of the reforms would bring greater alignment with the provisions of the Convention. Hungary should give full consideration to the prohibition of discrimination and develop even greater cooperation with non-governmental organizations.
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