Leda Koursoumba, Law Commissioner of Cyprus, introducing the report, said that Cyprus had developed a number of national action plans and strategies that either specifically addressed gender equality or incorporated gender mainstreaming. Those included the National Action Plan on employment of 2004, on trafficking in human beings of 2005 and 2010, on gender equality of 2007 and on social protection and social inclusion in 2008. Major developments in the area of combating violence against women included the enactment in 2004 of a new Law on Violence in the Family, the development of the first National Action Plan for the Prevention and Handling of Family Violence 2010-2013, an awareness-raising campaign, systematic training of professionals working in the field and strengthening of the Police Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Office.
Committee Experts commented on the multitude of equality bodies and mechanisms addressing women’s issues and wondered about their specific powers, how they were coordinated and what the role of the National Machinery for Women’s Rights was in this regard. Experts asked about resources allocated for the implementation of the National Action Plan to combat violence in the family and raised issues on the use of temporary special measures to accelerate the improvement of the status of women, especially their participation in the political sphere and in the labour market; anti-trafficking measures, including measures to increase the rate of convictions for perpetrators; victim protection measures; and measures to curb trafficking for purposes of labour and sexual exploitation.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Koursoumba said that the process in the Committee had provided the opportunity to reflect on what was being done and what its impact was on safeguarding women’s rights in Cyprus.
Also in concluding remarks, Nicole Ameline, Committee Chairperson, said that the constructive dialogue had been an opportunity to better understand the situation of women in Cyprus and encouraged the delegation to address the concerns expressed by the Committee Experts for the benefit of women and girls in Cyprus.
The delegation of Cyprus consisted of representatives of the Law Commissioner of Cyprus, Ministry of Justice and Public Order, Cyprus Police, Ministry of Education and Culture, Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance, Ministry of Health and the Permanent Mission of Cyprus to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
Presentation of the Report
LEDA KOURSOUMBA, Law Commissioner of Cyprus, said that as a full member of the European Union, Cyprus had moved forward to promoting the rights of women and had just successfully completed the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, during which the issue of violence against women had been a priority. Due to its economical achievements, the standard of living of men and women had been improved, but the 2009 economic crisis which had hit the country hard had decreased the prosperity of people and created unemployment, particularly among the youth. Due to the continuing illegal occupation of 37 per cent of its territory by Turkish forces, the Government was unable to ensure the full realization of women’s rights and gender equality in the whole of the territory of Cyprus. A number of national action plans and strategies had been developed that either specifically addressed gender equality or incorporated gender mainstreaming, which included the National Action Plan on employment of 2004, on trafficking in human beings of 2005 and 2010, on gender equality of 2007, on social protection and social inclusion in 2008 and on violence in the family of 2010. The preparation of the first National Action Plan on gender equality was the most significant achievement in terms of policy formulation and it addressed six priority areas: employment, education, decision-making, social rights, violence and gender stereotypes. The Equality Unit of the Ministry of Justice and Public Order and the National Machinery for Women’s Rights continued to play a leading role in the overall promotion of gender equality, which included law reform, awareness raising activities, support to non-governmental organizations and the promotion of gender mainstreaming. A number of equality bodies had been set up or strengthened, particularly the Parliamentary Committee on Equal Opportunities for Men and Women set up in 2006 which primarily focused on the implementation of the National Action Plan on Gender Equality. This Committee had been consolidated in 2011 with the Human Rights Committee and renamed the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities between Women and Men Committee.
The Ombudsperson, as an independent Equality and Anti-Discrimination Authority, had an important impact on gender equality issues and acting as the Commissioner for Human Rights had issued in January 2013 a report on domestic violence in Cyprus which aimed to identify important aspects of the problem and highlight shortcomings and deficiencies in the institutional framework for addressing gender-based violence and domestic abuse. Gender mainstreaming and positive action measures were gradually being implemented at all levels and particularly in the areas of employment and vocational training, aiming at the economic empowerment of women. Those included measures for the integration and reintegration of women into the labour market, reconciliation of family and professional life, closing of the gender pay gap and the support of women’s entrepreneurship. Efforts had been made to map the needs of vulnerable groups of women through research and awareness-raising about their rights and social inclusion. Major developments in the area of combating violence against women included the enactment in 2004 of a new Law on Violence in the Family, the development of the first National Action Plan for the Prevention and Handling of Family Violence 2010-2013, an awareness-raising campaign, systematic training of professionals working in the field and strengthening of the Police Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Office.
Questions by Experts
Committee Experts raised a number of issues with the delegation, including the extension of the prohibition of discrimination into the private sphere; the bodies entrusted with remedies in cases of discrimination, the powers they had and the number of complaints received by those bodies; and the independence of the National Human Rights Institution and its transfer to the Office of the Ombudsperson. How were the laws on access to justice for women and the legal complaint mechanisms applied and how were judges trained in the provisions of the Convention and the jurisprudence of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women?
Cyprus had taken many measures to improve the status of women, especially since its ascension to the European Union, and many mechanisms seemed to be addressing the rights of women. Was it clear who did what in the country and how all those mechanisms were coordinated? What was the role of the National Machinery and would resources allocated to it be increased?
Response by Delegation
In response to these questions and comments, the delegation noted the primacy of the Constitution over international and European laws. Article 28 of the Constitution covered direct and indirect discrimination and applied to both public and private sectors. The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was not invoked to the full extent, like any other international convention, and lawyers deemed that invoking the Constitution and national laws was sufficient. The accession to the European Union presupposed the harmonization of the national laws with European laws due to which Cyprus ended with many small pieces of legislation.
The institution of Ombudsmen had competences to be an anti-discrimination body in compliance with European regulations, and those functions were in parallel to the mandate of the Ombudsperson. The National Human Rights Institution established in 1998 fell short of the Paris Principles and it had been thought that since the Ombudsmen was totally independent from the Government, the National Human Rights Institution could be yet another monitoring institution added to the Office of the Ombudsperson. Access to those bodies was easy and free of charge and incurred no expense for the legal representation; those institutions were effective remedies for the citizens. Recommendations issued by the Ombudsperson were generally well received in the society and on average 95 per cent of them were implemented by the public administration.
Cyprus did not consider that the multitude of equality bodies was a negative thing as each of those bodies had its own specific terms of reference and because efforts had been put in raising awareness about them in the general public and among civil society organizations so that everyone knew to which body they should address themselves. The National Machinery for Women’s Rights was asked to play a key role in gender mainstreaming; it was staffed with three professionals and its budget was increasing steadily until the economic crisis. A study had been conducted into equality bodies to see whether some of them could be merged and the findings showed the preference to keep those specialised bodies separate.
Follow-up Questions and Responses
Experts then asked a number of follow-up questions, including whether gender impact assessment had been conducted about the equality measures and types of training of judicial officers in the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocols. Concerning the National Machinery, Experts wondered who was in charge of coordination of all the equality mechanisms and bodies dealing with women’s issues, about specific powers of the Ombudsperson and other equality bodies and outcomes of complaints they received, and the role of equality inspectors.
Responding, the delegation said that it was the decision of the Parliament to merge human rights and equality issues into one Parliamentary Commission. Judges and other officers of the court received specific training on gender issues and on the Convention. The delegation would send information about outcomes of complaints at a later date. The Ministry of Justice and Public Order had overall coordination responsibility for equality issues, while the Ministry of Labour played a crucial role in a sense that it was responsible for many issues of concern to women and the equality agenda, such as labour, employment, maternity leave and others. Inspections were also carried out by the labour inspectors who received and examined complaints about discrimination in the workplace and they had received 300 complaints regarding sexual harassment and maternity issues between 2008 and 2012.
Questions by Experts
The Committee had earlier recommended the use of temporary special measures to accelerate the improvement of the status of women, especially their participation in the political sphere and in the labour market, but the Government had not passed any legislation on those measures. What measures had been taken to apply temporary special measures and what were the obstacles to their wider use? Was an assessment made on the advantages of the introduction of temporary special measures in the National Action Plan on Gender Equality?
It was commendable that Cyprus had adopted a comprehensive legal framework to combat violence against women and the National Action Plan to combat violence in family. What resources had been allocated for the implementation of this plan and how were non-governmental organizations included in its implementation? What measures were envisaged to address the shortcomings identified in the report of the Ombudsperson on domestic violence? How was gender perspective ensured in the provision of services to victims of domestic violence and violence against women?
Cyprus was both a country of transit and a country of destination for trafficking in human beings and Experts asked whether the National Action Plan on trafficking had a gender perspective and how its results were evaluated? Despite the legislative framework, the real problems were in police enforcement and the gap between complaints and prosecution of traffickers, with the number of convictions being among the lowest in Europe. Could the delegation comment on victim protection measures, access to shelter and psychological support? Trafficking of women for labour purposes was an issue of concern and those cases were largely underreported; could the delegation comment on the regulation of private employers, particularly for domestic workers? The report was silent on prostitution; what was the extent of forced prostitution in the country and what measures were being taken to curb it? How did the Government combat gender stereotypes?
Response by Delegation
The delegation said that in response to the Committee’s concluding observations, the visa issuing system had been revised to curb the abuse for purposes of trafficking and this had largely been successful. Cyprus took seriously the concluding observations concerning the use of temporary special measures, which had been included in the National Action Plan on gender equality. The dialogue had been opened on the use of temporary special measures and visibility had been given to research findings and good practices from Europe. The research showed that the media did not give equal attention and space to female political candidates. So far, Cyprus was taking a soft approach and would continue to address the issue of women’s political participation.
The January 2013 report of the Ombudsperson on domestic violence recommended the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence and several other measures in the sphere of the criminal system. Action on combating trafficking was largely successful, considering that Cyprus came up with a legal framework, the National Action Plan and victim support system. All the anti-trafficking activities in the country would be evaluated by an independent external evaluator.
The issue of preventive training on domestic violence, sexual exploitation and trafficking in human beings was high on the agenda of Cyprus, which did not mean that other areas of crimes against women had been overlooked. There were campaigns on safety of women, sexual harassment, handling of forensic evidence in case of rape and other. There had been convictions of traffickers on the basis of the anti-trafficking law of 2000 and 2004. Studies by the police in convictions of domestic violence indicated an alarming rate of attrition of over 80 per cent, which was similar to many other European countries. As president of the Council of Europe in 2012, Cyprus had produced a booklet on the police handling of attrition in cases of domestic violence in order to contribute to tackling of the problem on the European level and to share good practices. The issue of labour exploitation was of concern to the authorities and cases were investigated on an annual basis.
Violence was considered as a public health problem and the Ministry of Health had implemented various awareness campaigns and had developed a gender-based protocol related to victims of rape. Practising voluntary prostitution was not considered an offence. Cyprus had not been an exception to an international trend of provision of sexual services and those services had been offered in small bars, apartments or massage parlours; in response, the police investigations and raids of new establishments had increased. All the measures were taken to determine whether it was voluntary or forced prostitution and whether it was related to trafficking.
Stereotypes had to do with attitudes and culture and empowering of women was crucial in order to combat them; Cyprus had undertaken awareness raising campaigns and ensured free access to equality and monitoring mechanisms.
Follow-up Questions and Responses
In a further series of follow-up questions and comments, an Expert commented on the replacement of the visa regime with a new law and the decline in the number of persons entering as artists and asked how the new system affected the patterns of trafficking and how the impact was monitored.
The delegation said that Cyprus was very vigilant about new and emerging forms of trafficking and what it was seeing was that compared to the previous system in which most of the women employed in the cabaret sector were from non-European Union countries, most of women in the sex industry now came from the European Union. The police was performing more operations and it was important to say that new establishments were not outside the view of law enforcement; the situation was different and the police was adapting to it.
Another Expert asked the delegation to comment on the reports according to which female asylum seekers were not treated appropriately and conditions in which they were held did not conform to international standards.
Questions by Experts and Responses
Even though Cyprus had been a party to the Convention for almost 27 years, women were still not participating in the political and public life on an equal footing with men, particularly in elected offices. The 2009 parliamentary and municipal elections saw a significantly reduced participation rate of women, from over 40 per cent in 2004 to nine per cent in 2009. There was a critical perception regarding the use of temporary special measures and the use of quotas which were not supported by some Government departments and even some women’s organizations.
During its Universal Periodic Review in 2010, Cyprus rejected the recommendations to support the participation of women in peace-keeping operations and Experts wondered about the framework for women’s inclusion in the peace process. The peace talks would resume in two days time and were an opportunity to re-design women’s participation in the peace process?
Answering those questions and comments, the delegation said that women held a high percentage of high-level posts and were judged on merits in the diplomatic service. Women also held high positions in the judiciary and 44 per cent of staff members were female. There were now more women candidates and because recruitment was on merit, more women obtained posts. In Parliamentary elections the poor representation of women was a fact, but it was changing and the Government needed to take measures to further improve it. Significant progress had been made over the past 27 years concerning the participation of women in political life.
Questions by Experts
Experts commended Cyprus for developing the National Action Plan for Education 2007-2013 to achieve gender equality though an educational process and asked about the impact of the process. The rate of girls’ enrolment in primary and secondary school was very high, but the situation of Turkish Cypriot and migrant girls was not very clear. What challenges were related to schooling of those populations and how were they being addressed? There existed strong gender-based segregation in education which started early in the education process and had an impact on the options a person could pursue at the end of schooling. The enrolment of girls in secondary technical schools was only 25 per cent, and a programme was in place to increase this percentage; how successful was this programme? There were programmes to combat violence in schools; was this a problem and what was being done to address it? What were the factors causing drop out at lower educational levels and what could be done to address this phenomenon?
Measures taken in the area of employment had yielded some very impressive results, noted the Experts and asked what had been done to eliminate occupational segregation, increase the number of women in highly paid jobs and promote the employment of women in non-traditional occupations. Could the delegation share the information about the project to reduce gender-pay gap and elaborate on concrete measures taken in this regard, and about the Flexible Forms of Employment Project? How successful were the measures adopted under the National Action Plan to reduce gender-pay gap 2010-2015?
There was discrimination in practice in accessing the health system, particularly for poor and migrant women and women with disabilities, who faced high costs for women’s and maternal health. What active steps were being taken to ensure equal access to medical and health services for all the population in Cyprus? Contraceptives were easily accessible and free of charge for medical reasons only, while general access to free and appropriate contraceptives for women was difficult which had the potential to affect the number of unwanted pregnancies and the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases. Abortion was prohibited except for some cases such as rape.
What was the access of women to bank loans, mortgages and other financial products? Pensioners in Cyprus were at the highest risk of poverty; what measures were being taken to tackle this issue, especially for women who were at an even greater risk?
Women in rural areas were facing difficult situations; there was a National Action Plan for rural women 2007-2014, but rural women needed more attention to their problems and more special assistance in health, education, housing and basic infrastructure. With regard to refugee women, there were a number of them in the country; what facilities and services were available to displaced women? What were the living conditions of women with disabilities and what services were available to them?
Response by Delegation
Answering questions and comments by Committee Experts, the delegation said that under the Constitution education was free at all levels and for all children, and was compulsory up to and including secondary education. There were programmes for the integration of non-Greek speaking students in the education system, while the Government was also subsidizing students attending schools in English and schools in Armenian. Migrant children had to attend the school and parents who failed to send their children to school were prosecuted. Schools were established and operating in all rural and urban areas of the island. There was currently an effort to modernize the schools and make them student-centred, with individual study plans and tailored curriculums for each individual student. The school curriculum was revised to fit the needs of the new Cypriot society and all cultural and gender stereotypes found within it were removed.
Turkish Cypriot students residing in Government areas had the right to attend public schools in their neighbourhoods and the Government fully subsidized all schooling-related costs. Turkish Cypriots residing in non-Government controlled area and wishing to attend schools in English received partial subsidies for school tuition.
A zero-tolerance to violence policy had been adopted in Cyprus and an observatory for violence and delinquent behaviour in school had been established which collected and analyzed data about the violence. The result of the study was that violence in school was not a problem. Drop out rates at initial levels of education stood at 11 per cent, and mainly affected boys. There was a plan to upgrade apprenticeship schemes and make girls more familiar with non-traditional occupations. Many students did not consider vocational training and education a viable career option; more than 80 per cent of them wished to proceed to higher education.
The gender-pay gap in Cyprus was significantly high compared to other European Union countries; it had been 21 per cent in 2009 and was now reduced to 18.3 per cent. A project was in place, supported by the European Union, which promoted equal pay principles and included the establishment of a certification body to encourage employers to apply the equal pay principle. During the Cyprus Presidency a conference had been held on best practices in Europe on the equal pay principle, while training was being provided to managerial staff, trade union members, career advisors and teachers on the equal pay principle.
In 2009, a new department had been established for the social inclusion of persons with disabilities which had a budget of 30 million Euros for 2012, used mainly to subsidize various schemes, such as care allowances for persons with disabilities, training and vocational education, self-employment, and others.
All persons received public health services without discrimination because the health system depended on the income and even people with low income received medical and public care. This meant that poor women, single mothers, persons with disabilities, families with numerous children, migrants and asylum seekers received health care. Pregnant women received free pre-natal and post-natal care. There were no statistics on abortion for minority groups; State hospitals offered abortion to women as prescribed by the law, i.e. for medical reasons when the life of the mother was at risk, in case of rape, or when the child would suffer severe physical or mental disabilities.
Pensions for women were lower because many who had reached retirement age were not in full time employment; social pensions had been introduced and gave a possibility of a pension to people who had never worked outside of home at the age of 63.
Follow-up Questions and Responses
In an additional series of follow-up questions, Experts noted that Cyprus had a very large proportion of internally displaced persons, about 22 per cent; children of women with displaced person status did not have the displaced persons status themselves, which was not the case for children of displaced men. The situation of domestic workers was not very good; they worked long hours, had fewer public holidays, suffered violence and were not entitled to payment of overtime. What measures were being taken to address this situation?
The delegation had provided a very detailed response on efforts in the education sector for the benefit of migrant women and women of ethnic backgrounds and Experts wished to hear more about what was being done to support their integration in the society and the labour market.
The minimum wage had been increased in 2008 and 2009 which had contributed to reducing the pay gaps. What was the impact of the crisis on the minimum wage and on women, considering that women were principal beneficiaries of minimum wages?
In response to those questions and comments, the delegation said that when the population had been displaced before 1974 as a result of the foreign invasion by the Turkish forces, the Government had decided that only descendants of males could be considered displaced persons. It was clear that another formula needed to be found, but because a decision to this effect would cause significant budgetary implications, there was not as yet a solution to the problem.
Migrant domestic workers represented the greatest proportion of migrant workers in Cyprus. The terms and conditions of employment of these workers were equal to those of Cypriots and were safeguarded by the contract of employment signed by the employee and employer. There was no collective agreement for domestic workers, and for this reason the whole issue of domestic workers was under the purview of the Inter-ministerial Committee.
The rate of 11.2 per cent of school drop outs referred to all the population residing in Cyprus at the time of the census, including domestic and migrant workers who had not completed compulsory education in their country of origin; the figure did not include males serving in the Army and university students attending universities abroad, which represented about 55 per cent of tertiary-levels students in Cyprus.
Concerning the participation of women in the peace process, the delegation said that the peace negotiations were face-to-face negotiations of the two leaders, facilitated by the United Nations and supported by Advisory Committees; some of members of those Committees were women. It was important to note that women played crucial role in the societies where they were very active as members of civil society organizations working on reconciliation.
Questions by Experts
Experts noted the scarce information about the family law and family courts in Cyprus and asked for clarification about the jurisdictional split between the various family courts, about laws governing mixed marriages and the matrimonial property regime. Were there any studies on the impact of divorce on the socio-economic status of women? What was the status of de facto unions in Cyprus, did they have any rights and how were property and alimony decided upon when such a union broke up?
Response by Delegation
Responding, the delegation said that the situation of marriage needed to be looked at in the context of the establishment of the Republic in 1960, when the strong feelings of the two religions, the Greek Orthodox and Turkish Muslims, had to be taken into account. At the time, only religious marriages were allowed and civil marriages were legalized only recently. The law had set out some criteria concerning matrimonial property and decisions were left to the discretion of the Court. Cohabitation was a new issue discussed in Cyprus, including cohabitation of people of same sex. There had been attempts to regulate this by the law in a form of a contract which would give rights to the parties, but that had not been completed yet.
Men and women had their own property and could keep it separately from the marital property. Spouses had the right to at least one third of the property accumulated during the marriage held in the name of the other spouse. All issues of marriage and divorce were covered by civil law.
LEDA KOURSOUMBA, Law Commissioner of Cyprus, said that the process with the Committee gave the opportunity to reflect on what was being done and what its impact was on real life and on safeguarding women’s rights in Cyprus. The Committee could guide Cyprus on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
NICOLE AMELINE, Chairperson of the Committee, said that the constructive dialogue had been an opportunity for the Committee to better understand the situation of women in Cyprus and encouraged Cyprus to address the concerns expressed by the Committee Experts for the benefits of women and girls.
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