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Public Hearing at the European Parliament

European Parliament
Photo by Zofia Lapniewska

2004-12-03 22:32:11 / News read 2200 reading

On 2nd December 2004 at the European Parliament a Public Hearing on 'The enlarged EU and its agenda for a wider Europe: What consideration for gender equality' took place. Organised by WIDE and based on 5 official regional reports, it gave the clear view over the women's situation in Europe.

The aim of this hearing was:

- To further discuss the impacts on the EU accession process on women’s livelihoods and gender equality in the new Member States and accession countries;
- To discuss opportunities and constraints and recommendations on policies and institutional mechanisms needed at both EU and national level for the promotion of the gender equality agenda;
- To address possible political divisions in Europe arising from the EU Enlargement process and develop an agenda on policies and initiatives, which will ensure that women’s issues and concerns will be considered in the enlarged European Union and its neighbours in South-Eastern Europe (in countries including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro ) and far Eastern countries (Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia and other Newly Independent States);
- To continue building solidarity and contribute to the strengthening of women’s movement in and enlarged EU.

To read more about presentations go to:
WIDE Newsletter

The report about Former Soviet Union Countries was written and presented by NEWW-Polska.

Below the full text of this particular report.

The Enlarged EU and its Agenda for a Wider Europe: What considerations for Gender Equality?
EU neighbouring countries in Eastern Europe/ Former Soviet Union


Written by Zofia Lapniewska, NEWW-Polska. With the contribution of Raisa Sinelnikova, Counterpart Alliance for Partnership, Belarus; Shorena Dzotsenidze, Center for Women and Development, Georgia; Halyna Fedkovych, Women’s Perspective, and Oksana Kisselyova, PhD, Liberal Society Institute, Ukraine.

Short description of the region
The Russian Federation and the fourteen Newly Independent States (NIS) – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan – form the region of EU neighbouring countries in Eastern Europe/ Former Soviet Union (FSU). Three of them – Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia – are already European Union (EU) member states. This report analyses the situation of women in the remaining eleven countries, with a special focus on Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine.
Belarus: population 9,89 m., GDP per capita: purchasing power parity - $6,100 (2003 est.) , World Trade Organization (WTO) observer government status since September 1993 . EU-Belarus relations: In the current situation, pending any substantive change in the internal situation in Belarus, the 1997 General Affairs Council conclusions on Belarus which restrict EU-Belarus relations remain valid . FDI inflows (2001) m €: 84 (0,7% of GDP)4, Unemployment rate: 2,7% (2002) (women 1,6%).
Georgia: population 4,7 m., Gross Domestic Product (GDP) - per capita: purchasing power parity - $2,500 (2003 est.)1, WTO member since June 20002, EU-Georgia cooperation: the EU/EC will aim at ensuring a coordinated use of all available policy and assistance instruments and focus on three key areas: (1) Promoting rule of law, good governance and respect for human rights and democratic institutions, including the strengthening of civil society actors: (2) Reducing poverty, targeting assistance to the most vulnerable groups, especially in rural areas, (3) Enhancing stability and security through confidence building measures aiming at the prevention and settlement of internal conflicts and actions in favour of affected populations. FDI inflows (2002) m USD: 165.4 (4,9% of GDP), Unemployment rate: 17% (2001 est.)1 (women 11,8%).
Ukraine: population 47,7 m., GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $5,400 (2003 est.) 1, WTO observer government status since November 19932. EU relations with Ukraine are based on the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) which entered into force in 1998 for an initial period of ten years, and on the EU’s Common Strategy of 1999 which originally covered four years but was recently extended until December 2004. A number of specific agreements in particular policy areas such as trade, science and technology, and nuclear energy are also in place. Technical assistance has been provided since the early 1990s in support of the transition process towards democracy and market economy, through the TACIS programme. From the beginning of the European Union’s consideration of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), Ukraine has been considered a priority partner country in this context . FDI inflows (2002) m USD: 693.0 (1,6% of GDP), Unemployment rate: 3.7% officially registered (2003)1 (women 2,53%).

Overview on common macroeconomic tendencies
The transition from centrally planned to market-based economies was based on privatisation, liberalisation and a strengthening of the financial and tax discipline of companies. These changes had serious implications for the redistribution of resources and budgetary spending. Price increases and an increase in foreign debt put pressure on national budgets resulting in cuts in public expenditures – including in health, education and family related benefits. The transition process had significant social impacts including destabilising the labour market and creating a class of so-called “new poor”. In one decade (1988-1998) the poverty rate in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and the NIS region increased by 19% and now the percentage of the population living below the poverty line is 27% in Ukraine and 54% in Georgia . The present economic conditions have forced many unemployed people to emigrate  most of these have been women. Over the last 13 years the Georgian population decreased by 20% and various estimates state that today between 3 to 7 millions Ukrainians are working in foreign countries. Another significant trend is the shift from formal to informal work. According to a World Bank survey informal work in Belarus generates 48.1% of the gross national income. The shadow economy, corruption and smuggling form critical obstacles to democratisation in the region.

Gender equality - Common characteristic in the region
In spite of the economic and political differences, one common feature of all the countries in the region  supported by a wide range of research and data  is the worsening position of women and the reduction of their economic, social and political rights. The reasons for this deteriorating situation include:

• Women shifting from the public sphere to the private sphere, to traditional gender roles within the family and the household. A revival of patriarchal values and prejudices against women have led to this shift. The changes in practices and attitudes are further discussed below.
• The increased vulnerability of women to poverty.
The adverse economic and social conditions in the countries have particularly affected women, who today constitute the largest number of the poor, powerless and disenfranchised. The region has experienced the rising feminisation of poverty and unemployment, as well as increased prostitution and trafficking in women and children within and across borders. Women are more vulnerable to poverty as their reproductive and family responsibilities increase (as a result of the reduction in social services and cuts in social budgets) and as they lack opportunities to participate in formal economic activities. The most vulnerable are single mothers, divorced women with children, rural women, elderly single women, disabled women, mothers having disabled children, and unemployed women.
Moreover, the economic and social position of women has worsened as discrimination increases, as they are excluded from decision-making, and because ownership of assets by women is very low. During the Soviet period Ukrainian women held very few party-leadership positions or managerial positions. Once privatisation began, this meant that men inevitably ended up controlling more assets than women. Women in Ukraine own no more than 5-7% of privatised assets.
The share of women in the labour market is declining. Women continue to be seen as secondary income earners partly because of their domestic and care roles. In 1994-2000 women made up 80% of the discharged workers in Ukraine. The negative effects of the economic structural adjustments pushed women out of the formal labour market into the informal economy and into their own, mostly small, enterprises. In Belarus for example, more than 60% of shuttle traders and street vendors are women.
In Belarus women can legally become entrepreneurs, as can men. However, this opportunity is rarely taken up. Women own only 5% of small and medium enterprises (SME); they often have less start-up capital than men, and they have limited access to finance and credit for business operations and expansion. It is even more difficult for women in rural areas to own their own business.
• Increased discrimination and horizontal and vertical segregation of women in the economic sphere.
Despite their relatively higher education (more than 57% of working Ukrainian women and 58.5% of Belarusian women have higher education), women are still discriminated against in the labour market and face more difficulties than men in accessing stable and well paid jobs. In Ukraine, despite the fact that equal pay for both sexes is guaranteed by the Constitution and the Labour Code, the average nominal salary of women is 17% less than the average salary of total labour force, and constitutes only 65% of men’s salary. In Belarus the ratio of female to male monthly earnings is 80.9%. Georgian wages of employed women in total are more than 1.5 times less than men, and the proportion remains the same for the average net income of self-employed women/men. The gender wage gap is a result of the concentration of women working in low paid sectors, the lack of women in top management positions, and discrimination through lower pay for equal value work. This demonstrates that high female participation rates are not sufficient to guarantee gender equality in the context of a patriarchal society where caring activities remain primarily the responsibility of women, and where women continue to be seen as secondary income earners.
• Under-representation in politics and decision making positions.
Women are underrepresented and even excluded at all policy levels. In Belarus, although 62.8% of the employees in governmental bodies are women, only 10.4% hold management-level positions. The cabinet includes only 7.3% women, while in the legislature there are 23.7% women. In Georgia, the situation is similar with women now holding only 22 out of 230 seats in Parliament. This is a very slow rise from the 14 women that held seats in 1995. In Ukraine women represent 75% of civil servants but there are very few women in senior positions. And when women do rise into management positions, they tend to be at the lower levels of management  68% of the managers of the lowest category are female, only 7% of women-managers can be found in the highest category.
• Reforms of the social security scheme, cuts in social services, health, public services, privatisation of health institutions, childcare institutions.
Ukraine has undertaken significant restructuring of its social security programs with resultant negative impacts on women. Following the requirements of the structural adjustment programmes, welfare state institutions and provisions were adjusted to be ‘compatible with a market economy environment’. As a result, the majority of public pre-school childcare institutions have been closed or sold and women are now facing difficulties combining work and motherhood. Private childcare is inaccessible for many families as it is unaffordable, state childcare allowance stays miserably low and as a consequence, women are forced to stay at home and take care of children. Since 1994 national expenditures on the public health sector in Ukraine have been cut at least four times, making medical and health services less accessible for many people, particularly for unemployed, poor, rural, and elderly women. The shift to a chargeable healthcare system has created overwhelming difficulties for the majority of the population; the tariffs for medical services often exceed the family budget; and access to free medical services is limited. As a result, the morbidity of the population has rapidly risen in the region.
• Lack of legislation on gender equality and protection from discrimination, accompanied by a lack of effective mechanisms for monitoring and implementation.
The countries within the region differ with regard to their formal acceptance of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the (non)existence of National Action Plans (NAP) and machineries for the advancement of women. What they do have in common, however, is a large gap between the declared de jure and the de facto gender equality.
Ukraine is signatory to the CEDAW, but does not have a NAP based on the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA). While many of the provisions in the Ukrainian Constitution are designed to be favourable for women, they are in fact discriminatory. Civil servants in the state employment centres and departments of family and youth lack an understanding of gender issues and the importance of gender equality. In addition, they lack the necessary legal provisions to support the elimination of discrimination against women. Belarus is not a signatory to a number of key international human rights conventions, but has recently signed the CEDAW. Gender segregation in the labour market is reinforced by the lack of equal opportunity legislation. However, national mechanisms have been put in place to implement a policy for ensuring gender equality and the elimination of discrimination against women, and a NAP has been drafted.

Recommendations for policy change
To the EU institutions

• To develop mechanisms to facilitate the sharing of best practices (within EU member countries and with countries and institutions outside the EU) to illustrate where gender equality has played a significant role in addressing poverty and social exclusion.
• To facilitate a common framework for the promotion of gender equality. This should include training, learning and creating long-term strategies based on core values, knowledge and skills.
• To ensure that EU-supported projects implemented in the region are based on gender equality and that they take necessary measures to reduce gender disparities and promote equal opportunities.
• To assist national governments to develop employment and social policies based on the European Employment Strategy and the European Social Policy.
• To assist with projects focussing on development, not only on humanitarian aid.
• To facilitate the closer collaboration between (national and local) governments and non-governmental, grassroots and community-based organisations in the region.

To the national governments and institutions
• To adopt a Law on Equal Opportunities of Both Sexes; to integrate gender equality in all legislation; to adopt and/or develop National Action Plans for the advancement of women followed by effective implementation and monitoring measures, including affirmative actions.
• To promote equal opportunities of women and men via the establishment of national gender machineries at national, regional and local levels.
• To introduce and implement affirmative actions programs and policies aimed at increasing the participation of women in the national parliaments, the governments and the ministries, the judiciary, and local decision making bodies, as well as eliminating obstacles for the advancement of women in all spheres of the public life.
• To make efforts to raise gender awareness of state officials and the judiciary through education and training, financially supported by the state; to improve and promote the court system as a mechanism of protection from discrimination.
• To make efforts to harmonise domestic legislation with EU legislation; to integrate the EU gender equality directives into domestic legislation and policies.
• To conduct and financially support an analysis, in cooperation with NGOs and business representatives, of the main constraints to economic development and gender equality; to initiate a public dialogue on key findings and develop a framework for state action over the next three years to be monitored by the EU institutions and national NGOs.
• To fund women's economic development initiatives aimed at developing economic strategies and opportunities for women.
• To stop the further abolishment of the social welfare system and cuts in public spending in the areas of education, health, child care, and other social services; to develop a social care system, including the improvement of state pre-school childcare systems at the local level; to take efforts to stabilise the economies by reviewing the budgetary allocations and improving the tax system, instead of cutting spending for social services.
• To review, control and limit the liberalisation and privatisation of social services and public goods.
• To change the taxation law to take into account the number of children in a family; and to provide state-funded financial compensation for working mothers for childcare services.

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