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COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN REVIEWS THE REPORT OF TURKMENISTAN

10 July 2018

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the fifth periodic report of Turkmenistan on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Merdan Govshudov, Deputy Minister of Education of Turkmenistan, introducing the report, said that much progress had been made in the area of gender equality, highlighting in particular the new Constitution adopted in 2016 that guaranteed the equality of women and men before the law.  A fully independent Office of the Ombudsman had been set up in 2017 to ensure the protection of the human rights of all, and most importantly, the Law on the State Guarantees for the Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities for Men and Women, adopted in 2015, guaranteed equality in all spheres of life.  The national action plan for gender equality 2015-2020 contained specific actions to change and eradicate gender stereotypes.  Women’s political participation took place of pride: women represented 24.8 per cent of Members of Parliament, the Speaker of Parliament was a woman, women made up more than 20 per cent of the People’s Councils, while 43 per cent of the economically active population in 2017 were women.  The law guaranteed the right to education to all, boys and girls alike, who had equal opportunities to choose their field of study, including in higher education.  There was no specific law on domestic violence or violence against women, but women were protected by the criminal law which prohibited violence in any form.

In the discussion that followed, Committee Experts recognized the efforts to address discrimination against women, including the legal prohibition of discrimination on the basis of gender.  It was unclear, however, whether the legislation contained a clear definition of discrimination against women that prohibited direct and indirect discrimination in the private and public spheres.  The Experts were concerned about a long delay in the approval of the domestic violence survey by the Cabinet of Ministers and about the change in its title to “survey on health and status of women in families”.  The lack of a domestic violence law and of specific reference to gender-based violence in the existing legislation were a concern, as was the perceived lack of urgency accorded to those issues.  Experts urged the adoption of a comprehensive law specifically defining and criminalizing all forms of gender-based violence, especially domestic violence, rape, including marital rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment.  The patriarchal, male dominated culture seemed to curtail women’s rights and freedoms, including in employment, dress, travel and other areas, Experts noted, and urged Turkmenistan to eliminate those traditions that were harmful to women.

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Govshudov said that Turkmenistan continued to make progress in implementing the provisions of the Convention and looked forward to the next dialogue with the Committee.

Dalia Leinarte, Committee Chairperson, commended Turkmenistan for its efforts and encouraged it to address various recommendations, which the Committee would issue with the purpose of the more comprehensive implementation of the Convention throughout the State party.

The delegation of Turkmenistan was composed of the representatives of the Ministry of Education, Turkmen National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights under the President of Turkmenistan, Mejlis (Parliament), Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Population, Union of Women of Turkmenistan, and the Permanent Mission of Turkmenistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.


The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 11 July to consider the initial report of the State of Palestine (CEDAW/C/PSE/1).


Report

The Committee is considering the fifth periodic report of Turkmenistan (CEDAW/C/TKM/5).

Presentation of the Report

MERDAN GOVSHUDOV, Deputy Minister of Education of Turkmenistan, introducing the report, said that much progress had been made in the area of gender equality, highlighting in particular the new Constitution adopted in 2016 which had introduced 11 new articles to guarantee the equality of women and men before the law.  The Office of the Ombudsman had been set up in 2017 with the mandate to ensure that the human rights and freedoms of women and men were protected.  The Ombudsman enjoyed personal legal immunity in the discharge of their functions, which was done in full independence and freedom from any political pressure.  Gender equality was enshrined in basic legal and normative standards, and a gender equality strategy had been adopted.  Most importantly, said Mr. Govshudov, the law on State guarantees for ensuring equal rights and opportunities for men and women had been adopted in 2015; it also implemented provisions of international conventions and aimed to develop gender equality in all spheres of life in Turkmenistan. 

Turkmenistan was proud of the level of women’s political participation, continued the Deputy Minster, noting that in Parliament, women represented 24.8 per cent of members, and the Speaker was a woman; women made up more than 20 per cent of the 230 members of People’s Councils; and 23 per cent of managers were women.  In 2017, 43 per cent of the economically active population were women.  Turkmenistan was one of the first countries in the world which started aligning its policies with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was also ensured by the Presidential decision of 2017.  The Institute of International Relations had opened a scientific methodological centre to focus on the study of the Sustainable Development Goals, and the National Commission for the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals had been set up.

Turkmenistan had adopted the national action plan for gender equality 2015-2020, the national human rights action plan 2016-2020, and the national action plan for children 2018-2022 children, said Mr. Govshudov.  The coordination of all those plans was the responsibility of the inter-departmental committee for the implementation of Turkmenistan’s obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law.  One of the tasks contained in the national action plan for gender equality was changing and eradicating stereotypes which led to discrimination against women, and the Government was undertaking a regular awareness campaign on the provisions of the Convention among the population, while as a part of the cooperation with the United Nations Population Fund, 30 seminars had been held throughout the country on the issue of gender equality and the role of women.  Information centres for human rights attached to the Office of the President had been set up to build the capacity and awareness of civil servants and law enforcement officers on gender equality and human rights in general.  An information centre attached to the Supreme Court raised the capacity of magistrates, judges and other court personnel on gender equality.  Furthermore, Turkmenistan was involved in working constructively with international human rights defence mechanisms.

The legislation on education guaranteed the right to education to all, boys and girls alike who had equal opportunities to choose their field of study, including higher education.   Young people were active in sporting competitions, and teams from education institutions usually did very well.  Women, alongside men, were involved in many sports, and competed successfully.  Textbooks reflected gender issues and, in higher grades also addressed issues such as reproductive health and life skills, and healthy reproductive development, which was a responsibility of women and men.

Turning to issues of violence against women, the Deputy Minister said that perpetrators of domestic violence, sexual violence and trafficking in persons were prosecuted and sanctioned.  There was no specific law on domestic violence or violence against women, but women were protected under this general approach, and the fact that the legislation criminalized violence in any form.  Turkmenistan was currently undertaking a survey on violence against women and understanding its causes, on the basis of which changes to the current legislation would be drafted, and a decision would be taken whether to proceed with drafting a specific legislation on domestic violence.  Human trafficking was a crime but this was not a prevalent phenomenon in Turkmenistan.  In 2016, there had been 23 cases and 45 victims, and only one crime had been recorded in 2017.  The legislation on countering human trafficking in line with international standards had been adopted in 2017, which had recognized the status of victims of trafficking in persons.  Corresponding changes had been introduced in the penal code.

Questions from the Experts

Opening the interactive dialogue with the delegation of Turkmenistan, a Committee Expert commended Turkmenistan for the numerous measures taken to address discrimination against women, including the legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender, and protecting gender equality in justice and prosecution, legislation on citizenship, and others.  The focus of the Committee’s questions would be on the implementation aspects of new laws and policies and the impact they were having on achieving substantive equality, the Expert stressed.

It was unclear, however, whether the legislation contained a clear definition of discrimination against women that prohibited direct and indirect discrimination in the private and public spheres.  What were prohibited grounds of discrimination and the corresponding sanctions?

The domestic violence survey was pending approval by the Cabinet of Ministers since early 2017, and furthermore its title had been changed to “survey on health and status of women in families” instead of “survey on domestic violence”.  Could the delegation comment and explain why the change in the title of the survey, and also inform whether Turkmenistan intended to adopt a comprehensive law specifically defining and criminalizing all forms of gender-based violence, especially domestic violence, rape, including marital rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment? 

What body or mechanism was responsible for the implementation of the national action plan on gender equality?

The Constitution defined discrimination against women only in the context of civil rights, noted the Expert with concern, adding that gender-neutral laws could discriminate against women.  The delegation was asked to explain how women victims of discrimination or violence could access justice, and safely report acts of violence?  Could the delegation inform on the body in charge of receiving complaints of discrimination, the number of complaints received, and remedies available?

The Committee was concerned about reports of torture and ill-treatment of relatives of forcibly disappeared persons, particularly women who had not received copies of verdicts against their family members and who were unable to appeal those sentences.

Responses by the Delegation

Responding, the delegation said that the national legislation was fully in line with international law and it enabled further changes in the legislation to better guarantee the steadfast commitment to international standards and human rights.  It was a priority for the Government to promote and protect women’s human rights in accordance with international standards and national law, and especially the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The delegate stressed the importance of the adoption of a new Constitution in 2016 which guaranteed equal rights and freedoms of all citizens in accordance with international law, and guaranteed equal opportunities to women and men.  The 2015 law on State guarantees of equal rights of women and men had provided a clear definition of discrimination against women, said the delegate, underlining that the equal rights of women and men were included in electoral law.  Women enjoyed equal access to employment in civil service, to health and to education, without discrimination on the grounds of sex, opinion, origin, belief, ethnic group or any other criteria.  On the protection of children and maternity protection, the legislation was in line with international standards.

Legislation provided sanctions for perpetrators of violence against women, in accordance with the seriousness of the crime, the delegate continued, explaining that kidnapping a woman or forcing a woman into marriage were punishable, among other acts.  The Human Rights Act also contained provisions sanctioning violence against women.

The delegation said that the Government would invite international experts to provide training to Government staff on international humanitarian law and human rights obligations, and to support the implementation of the domestic violence survey.

With regards to alleged enforced disappearance, the delegation said that Turkmenistan’s Permanent Representative in Geneva was actively working with the Working Group on enforced disappearance to address the issue.

Questions from the Experts

Another Expert remarked that the national gender machinery was fragmented and noted with satisfaction the improvements made in the country since the last review, including the bodies at ministerial and municipal levels.  What were those bodies, what was their mandate, and what resources were available to them?

Commending the adoption of the national action plan on gender equality 2015-2020, the Expert asked about its coordinating body and its resources, and how it related to the national action plan for human rights.  Did the Office of Ombudsman have an independent budget?

On temporary special measures, an Expert noted that the national action plan on gender equality was a policy document that contained specific measures to improve the representation of women in all spheres of political, public and professional lives, especially those in positions of responsibility, however, the information on the implementation of those measures was lacking.

The delegation was asked about the situation of human rights defenders working on women’s issues and specifically of women human rights defenders, and about the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, with particular focus on Goal 5 on gender equality.

Responses by the Delegation

The national action plan for gender equality indeed contained measures to achieve substantive equality in all spheres of life, said the delegation, noting that a roadmap for the advancement of women to 2020 had been developed and it contained details of all measures to advance gender equality.

The implementation of the steps taken to advance gender equality was being done by various State bodies, while municipal and Government bodies monitored their own compliance with their gender equality obligations.  A compliance monitoring body was in place which reported annually to the Cabinet of Ministers.

The Office of the Ombudsman was completely independent from the executive, and its staff enjoyed legal impunity from prosecution in discharge of their functions.

Explaining coordinating mechanisms in place, a delegate said that the National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights and an inter-departmental commission attached to the Institute and the Office of the President looked into Turkmenistan’s compliance with its international human rights and international humanitarian law obligations.  National action plans on human rights, on gender equality, on human trafficking, and on children’s rights were coordinated by the inter-departmental commission, which monitored the implementation and regularly reported to the Cabinet of Ministers and recommended political measures that had to be undertaken.  The inter-departmental commission had been recently enlarged to include members from all ministries as well as representatives of human rights organizations, and it operated through a number of working groups set up to address specific subjects and issues.

The protection of vulnerable individuals was of utmost importance to the Government, which adopted specific measures to improve their protection.  Thus, Turkmenistan had recently adopted quotas for the employment of persons with disabilities, additional measures to the improve social protection of families with many children, and others.  In 2016, relevant legislation on social protection had been adopted, and the monitoring of the implementation of those measures was ongoing.

The Union of Women of Turkmenistan was fully involved in all gender related activities in the country, including in the inter-departmental commission.  The Union of Women was a mass movement with grassroots representation which sought to protect the rights of women in accordance with the Constitution and international human rights obligations.  An important part of the mandate was to raise awareness of women throughout the country, particularly in rural and remote areas, on their rights.  Two centres had been set up to support the participation of women in public and political life, one to support female entrepreneurship and women who wished to set up their own business, and another to support and enhance the participation of women in science.

Questions from the Experts

In the next round of questions, Committee Experts raised the issue of violence against women and remarked that Turkmenistan had made some improvements in this regard, but more remained to be done, including in the legislation and its implementation, data collection, and implementing infrastructure.  The lack of domestic violence legislation and lack of specific reference to gender-based violence in the existing legislation were a concern, as was the perceived lack of urgency accorded to those by the Government. 

How many complaints of different forms of violence against women had been made under the Criminal Code, and how many were prosecuted and sanctioned?  What was the timetable for the adoption of a specific law on domestic violence?

The Experts stressed the critical importance of data to understanding the pervasiveness of gender-based violence against women, and the forms of violence that women suffered, and urged the delegation to invest in data collection and analysis systems.  Questions concerning services for victims of violence against women, such as shelters and help lines were raised, as was the situation of training of officials on violence against women, including on the State’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Turning to gender stereotypes, the Expert said that the patriarchal male dominated culture in Turkmenistan seemed to curtail women’s rights and freedoms, in travel, dress, employment and other areas.  While all cultures were proud of their traditions, some such traditions were harmful to women and needed to be eliminated as described under article 5 of the Convention.

Experts welcomed the adoption of the law on human trafficking and the elaboration of a national action plan, as well as the finalization of victim identification procedures, and asked the delegation to explain the funding and impact of anti-trafficking measures, including those aiming to assist victims.  Could the delegation comment on reports criticizing the labour exploitation of thousands of persons in the annual cotton harvest, and explain measures taken to address sexual exploitation and prostitution, including what was being done to reduce the vulnerability of persons to sexual exploitation due to poverty?
Responses by the Delegation

Responding to questions raised on the national dress, the delegation stressed the importance of protecting traditions and cultural heritage, and passing them on to the young people.  Each ethnic minority had its culture and dress, and were proud of those.  Each woman in Turkmenistan could wear whichever dress she wished. 

One of the aims of the national action plan on gender equality was to eliminate gender stereotypes which led to discrimination against women.  Women, and others, including State officials and civil society organizations representatives, were informed on the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

On the question of forced labour during the annual cotton harvest, the delegation explained its policy on compliance with the International Labour Organization’s convention on forced labour.  Only five per cent of the gross domestic product came from agriculture, and there were various programmes in place to support farmers and agricultural production in the country.  The cotton production was carried out by more than 500 enterprises and family farms.  Forced labour was prohibited across the country, including under the new Constitution, and the law on the protection of the rights of the child explicitly excluded any form of exploitation of children, including for labour purposes.
 
Prostitution was not an acute issue in Turkmenistan, whose Government nonetheless worked with various international organizations on this issue, and on the issue of human trafficking.  The International Organization for Migration worked with a number of non-governmental organizations on human trafficking, there was a hotline and cooperation with local level authorities.

There were some shelters and hotlines in Turkmenistan, but not a sufficient number.  The high number of calls – some 3,000 – did not mean that there were 3,000 victims of trafficking in persons as people called for information, a question, and other reasons.

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert then addressed the right of women to participate in public and political life of Turkmenistan, which was guaranteed in several pieces of legislation, and noted with concern the slow progress in increasing their participation, in particular in decision-making positions in the Government, Parliament, diplomatic service, economy and academia.  The Expert was also concerned about the significant restrictions imposed on civil society organizations and on the media, including foreign media.  

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation explained that there were two new parties which were both now represented in Parliament.  Political organizations allowed citizens to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed rights, said the delegation, and noted that the historic media legislation ensured access to the Internet for the people in Turkmenistan.  The people had the right to organize and assemble in full right. 

There was no legislation on dress codes for women, or the use of cosmetics, a delegate said, adding that such questions were “rather absurd”.  There were efforts to portray women as leaders and active contributors to the society. 

Progress in the area of women’s rights, a delegate underscored, had been made, including in the Mejlis (Parliament) where women represented 24 per cent and the speaker was a woman.  Women were well represented at all levels of economic and political life of the country.  The Ombudsman was a woman, and the ambassadors in New York and to China were women, which showed how high women could go in Turkmenistan.

Questions from the Experts

The Committee commended the adoption of the new citizenship law which further contributed to the reduction of statelessness, and the new refugee law which incorporated a number of recommendations made by the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Concern remained about the oppression against non-Turkmen women and women with non-Turkmen surnames who faced barriers in Government employment, and the alleged oppression of Russian-speaking non-Turkmens, and degrading articles published against non-Turkmen women. 

Why had the results of the 2012 national census not been released?  Would the legal definition of a stateless person be amended to comply with the 1954 Convention on Statelessness?

Responses by the Delegation

With regards to questions raised on citizenship, the delegation explained that Turkmenistan had become the second country in the world in terms of granting citizenship to refugees and stateless persons and guaranteeing their rights.  A number of programmes were in place to protect the rights of stateless persons and refugees.  Refugees and stateless persons enjoyed the same rights as citizens, stressed the delegate, and there had not been a single case of a child born in the country to such parents who had not received Turkmen citizenship.

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert remained concerned about the lack of data on the enrolment of girls and boys at different levels, and the data on dropout rates, especially for girls.  At tertiary levels, women represented 37 per cent of students, and a gap remained in terms of majors.

Another issue of concern was that there were only 8,300 university spots for the 100,000 students who graduated from high school every year, and restrictions were imposed on students wishing to study abroad, especially for girls.  Could the delegation comment and explain measures taken to address the corruption in the university entrance process?

Applauding the progress through educational reform, free education and high literacy rates, another Expert remarked that those unfortunately did not translate into equitable economic and professional opportunities for women.  What were the specific barriers that prevented women from taking full advantage of the free educational system to acquire the necessary skills and training for entry into the high-paying male-dominated sectors?  What was the relationship between child bearing and low representation of women in those sectors?

As for the access to health, including to sexual and reproductive health services, Experts commended that those were made a part of primary health care and were thus accessible, but for adolescent girls, parental consent was required for access to contraceptives and the morning after pill, and reproductive health care services.  Births and abortions outside of hospitals were illegal, which was problematic for rural women.  Sexual and reproductive health education in schools did not cover questions of gender-based violence.  Could the delegation comment on reports of rather high rates of HIV/AIDS, particularly in rural areas, and explain the services available to people living with HIV/AIDS, particularly pregnant women? 

Responses by the Delegation

The Constitution guaranteed the right to education to all, without discrimination, and free of charge.  The law on education had been adopted in 2013, while the equality of rights of all underpinned the national education policy.  Higher education was free of charge as well.  Currently, there were 24 higher education institutions and 45 vocational education institutes, which were open to all residents of the country.  The number of students in those institutions were on the rise, as was the number of students abroad, many of whom were the recipients of the so-called student vouchers, which enabled them to study at prestigious universities in Russia, China and elsewhere.

The Constitution also guaranteed health for all, thus free-of-charge health care was provided to all through State institutes.  The law on health adopted in 2015 guaranteed access to health services to all, and also guaranteed the right to food.  The priority was on mothers and children, and individuals unable to work.  As a result of the health sector reform, the funding for the health sector had been increased to allow for the focus on preventive health for mothers and adolescents.  There was the national programme to counter HIV/AIDS, and efforts were ongoing to increase access to testing and awareness raising activities, including on preventing the transmission of diseases.  HIV/AIDS testing was free of charge for pregnant women and blood donors.  The legislation on combatting the HIV/AIDS epidemic had been adopted in 2016.

Abortion was legal in case of foetal malformations, and could take place as early as five weeks of pregnancy, up to twelve weeks.  The Union of Women worked in schools to educate teenagers on sexual and reproductive health, early pregnancy, and protection from sexually transmitted diseases.

The right to work and a free choice of profession was a constitutionally guaranteed right.  Women and men were guaranteed equal pay for work of equal value, and labour relations were governed by well-developed regulations.

Important progress had been made in the participation of women in the economy and workforce, where they represented 45 per cent, including by removing certain restrictions on the employment of women, such as a ban on the employment of women with children under the age of three for example.  The Ministry of Labour was currently reviewing lists of jobs with partial restrictions on women’s work, with a view of revising the 2009 Labour Code and ensuring that it reflected the present.  Turkmenistan was working very hard to get its young people into employment.

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert commended Turkmenistan for the impressive social infrastructure worth US$ 4 billion which provided citizens - including in rural areas - with free of charge electricity, water, table salt and medical care.  Was this part of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, the Expert asked, inquiring how Turkmenistan would ensure that no one was left behind in key development areas and also about social protection schemes for individuals living below the poverty line.

The delegation was asked about the process for accessing free healthcare and whether it covered maternal health; steps taken to increase pensions for women considering that women made up the majority of those in low-paid jobs or unpaid work, and also to provide pensions to rural women; and whether the social infrastructure extended to the provision of crèches and child care centres to reduce the burden of unpaid care which fell mostly on women.  Could the delegation explain the social register or any other mechanism which listed individuals who qualified for social assistance?

The rural population made up more than 50 per cent of the country’s population, Experts noted, and asked about specific measures taken to empower rural women and promote their rights, including their political participation, and ensure full access to healthcare and education.

Responses by the Delegation

According to the World Bank data, the income per capita in Turkmenistan was above average, which meant that there was no absolute poverty in the country, the delegation said, noting that social assistance for those individuals who needed more support – notably single mothers and persons with disabilities, was being provided according to the law for social protection. 

Employers and self-employed persons paid contributions into the pension fund for the old-age pension; on the other hand, social pensions, which were in fact social benefits, were paid out by the State to needy individuals.  The amount of old-age pensions depended on the contribution made during the working life.  Stay-at-home women, usually in rural areas, had a possibility to contribute to the pension fund to build up savings for their pensions. 

In early 2018, a commission set up by the Government had examined various categories of vulnerable categories, in order to understand their needs and how best they could be helped, including by supporting them to get jobs.

In line with the basic law on the social protection of the population, each Ministry had a list of services and benefits provided to different social categories; those lists were registered with the Ministry of Justice.

There were crèches in the capital and throughout the country, provided for by the State and open to children up to the age of six, at which point children started school.  Support was available for mothers of young children up until the age of three, and it was up to the mother to decide at what age children were sent to the crèche and child care.

Questions from the Experts

On early marriage, in 2016 some 10 per cent of girls had married before the age of 18, despite the legal age of marriage being set at 18.  The Family Code guaranteed the equal rights of women, however, its implementation was an issue of concern, especially in relation to the practice of polygamy.  What was the legal status of de facto unions, and could the delegation comment on reports of harassment of women wishing to marry foreigners? 

What actions were being taken to address corruption in the context of urban development and to ensure that women whose homes had been destroyed to make way for large-scale development schemes were properly compensated?

Responses by the Delegation

Turkmenistan was constantly undertaking reforms of its legal system to align it with its international obligations and ensure that it guaranteed gender equality, and this was the case with the legislation governing family relationships as well.  The Family Code had been amended in June 2018 to guarantee the protection of families, mothers and children from any economic hardship.  Polygamy was prohibited by law.  Women and men, once of legal age of marriage, had the equal right to decide when and who to marry; once married, their equal rights were guaranteed.

Concluding Remarks

MERDAN GOVSHUDOV, Deputy Minister of Education of Turkmenistan, in his concluding remarks, reiterated the attachment of Turkmenistan to its international human rights obligations, which included reporting to human rights treaty bodies.  Turkmenistan continued to make progress in implementing the provisions of the Convention and looked forward to the next dialogue with the Committee which was an opportunity to learn a great deal from the Experts.

DALIA LEINARTE, Committee Chairperson, commended Turkmenistan for its efforts and encouraged it to address various recommendations, which the Committee would issue with the purpose of the more comprehensive implementation of the Convention throughout the State party.


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CEDAW/18/20E