Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women considers report of Andorra

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination 
  against Women

4 October 2013

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined second and third periodic report of Andorra on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Presenting the report, Joan Carles Villaverde, Head of the Attention and Social Intervention Service at the Ministry for Health and Welfare, said Andorra was one of the smallest countries in the world and its population of 76,000 meant that problems of inequality could be tackled quickly and effectively.  The visit to Andorra in April by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon showed that its efforts in tackling discrimination and inequalities – and its achievement of gender parity in the parliament following the 2011 elections - were being recognized at the international level.  The improvement of gender equality particularly in the domestic and labour spheres was a priority and the Government sought to bring about important cultural change through education, backed by legislative measures and with the firm commitment of society.  Mr. Villaverde also spoke about healthcare, education and legislative reform, as well as awareness-raising of cultural stereotypes. 

Committee Members congratulated Andorra on the results of the 2011 election which led to gender parity in parliamentary representation, with 50 per cent of Andorra´s legislators now women.  The result advanced the political participation of women, which in turn greatly supported the fight against violence against women.  Andorra was also commended for amending its hugely discriminating marriage law.  However, the Committee raised concerns about the fact that abortion was illegal, with no exceptions.  Forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, were discussed, as was prostitution and trafficking in persons.  Sexual and reproductive health education in schools, gender stereotypes in education and discrimination in employment were also among matters raised.

In concluding remarks Nicole Ameline, Committee Chairperson, thanked the State party for the constructive dialogue which provided further insight into the situation of women in Andorra.  She encouraged Andorra to take all necessary measures to address the Committee’s recommendations for the benefit of all women and girls in the country.

Mr. Villaverde, in concluding remarks, said that the delegation had tried to be as transparent as possible and looked forward to the Committee’s recommendations which provided a basis and an encouragement for future work. 

The delegation of Andorra included representatives of the Ministry of Health and Social Well-Being, the Ministry of Justice, the Chief Legal Officer, the Department of Education, the Ministry of Education and Young People, and the Permanent Mission of Andorra to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will reconvene on Monday, 7 October, at 10 a.m. when it will hold a half-day general discussion, with United Nations agencies and civil society organizations, on the subject of rural women.  That afternoon, at 3 p.m., the Committee will meet with representatives of non-governmental organizations.  


The combined second and third periodic report of Andorra can be read via the link: (CEDAW/C/AND/2-3).

Presentation of the Report

JOAN CARLES VILLAVERDE, Head of the Attention and Social Intervention Service at the Ministry for Health and Welfare, said Andorra acceded to the Convention in 1997 and over the last 12 years had signed 20 international conventions, 14 of which it had ratified.  Andorra recently signed the Palermo Protocols against violence against women, and planned to sign the Convention on Persons with Disabilities early next year.  Andorra was one of the smallest countries in the world, where access to healthcare and social welfare were well valued.  Its falling population, currently approximately 76,000 inhabitants, meant that problems of inequality could be tackled quickly and effectively.  Urgent responses to a situation were taken in a very short timeframe, which led to effective protection for victims of gender-based violence, of which Andorra had proportionally less cases than other countries.  The improvement of gender equality particularly in the domestic and labour spheres was a priority and the Government sought to bring about important cultural change through education, backed by legislative measures and with the firm commitment of the society.  The visit to Andorra in April by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon showed that its efforts in tackling discrimination and inequalities – and its achievement of gender parity in the parliament following the 2011 elections - were being recognized at the international level. 

Andorra’s current social plan took into account its budgetary reality and the most urgent needs.  Previously Andorra had not had a suitable fiscal framework to support its policies, so it had embarked on many fiscal reforms that included several new taxes, including income tax.   A new law on Socio-Sanitary Services was currently before Parliament, and would provide for the rights of Andorran citizens in social welfare and healthcare.  Other relevant bodies included the new Commission on Women, which had recently extended its scope, and whose mandate included the prevention of gender-based violence, including by recruitment of social workers.  The Information Systems and Social Planning Unit coordinated the Ministries on areas of equality and set out criteria for data collection and the drafting of reports.  A coordinating body called The National Commission for Social Welfare managed the National Action Plan for Equality.  The Government Advisory Board on Health and Welfare worked to develop sustainable guidelines on health and welfare in Andorra with all sectors.  Several United Nations treaty bodies had recommended that Andorra improve its data collection, so in April 2013 the Statistics Department was made the coordinating body to collect, manage and analyse social data in Andorra. 

On healthcare, the Government continued to work within the framework of education for health in schools which aimed to prevent abusive behaviour in inter-personal relations, including sexual and emotional relations.  The Ministry of Health and Welfare offered schools various workshops on preventing abusive behaviour and educating them on sexual and reproductive health.  Education reform included a five per cent budget increase and new cross-cutting secondary level curriculum, currently a pilot project, which included human rights education.  There were legal provisions to ensure that children with disabilities enjoyed their rights to education and awareness-raising was given to teachers and parents alike to raise their expectations of the abilities of those children with regard to their learning and capacity to work.  More widely, the eradication of traditional gender stereotypes was another important area.

Questions by the Experts

An Expert congratulated the delegation on changing the marriage law, as per the Committee’s last recommendation, and even more so for the results of the 2011 election, which reached gender parity in parliamentary representation, with 50 per cent of Andorra´s legislators now being women.  Only two countries in the world had achieved that.  The result advanced the political participation of women, which in turn greatly supported the fight against violence against women. 

However, there were still some areas of concern in the implementation of the Convention, namely areas of de facto discrimination, she said, asking why, 15 years after Andorra’s ratification of the Convention, had it never been invoked in the Constitutional Court?  Lawyers did not appear to study human rights as part of their law courses, nor did they receive on-going human rights training.  Would it be possible to reach an agreement with France or Spain to provide that training?  What about the National Plan for Equality?

Response from the Delegation

Regarding financial resources, a delegate gave some background information, explaining that the Government of Andorra was financed by banks for many years, especially as Andorra did not manufacture anything.  That situation was only recently changing, as the Government could no longer survive in that way.  It had to set a basis for a good, sustainable source of income for the Government, which was something that probably should have been done 20 years ago, but happened when the global financial crisis hit.  There was a rationale behind the changes in machinery, such as the laws against violence against women, and the Government hoped that would show good results in the future.

The adoption of the Constitutional Norm on human rights refurbished the entire legislation of the country in that area, a delegate said.  The Government’s strategy was for each sector to enshrine the principle of non-discrimination, as well as on a case-by-case basis.  No court cases had invoked the Convention more because the problems had been dealt with without having to invoke discrimination.  The Ombudsman was an independent body and thus could not act on cases directly submitted to the judiciary, although he or she could receive complaints.  

A delegate said as Deputy Public Prosecutor and a Member of the Judiciary, she would answer the question on training of legal officials in human rights.  There were on-going, annual training courses, both in Andorra and in the neighbouring countries of France and Spain.  Indeed, this October a training course on human rights was being run by the University of Andorra, which was open to all. 

The National Equality Commission was established in 2010, with the mandate of drawing up the National Plan for Equality, a delegate explained, within the resources available.  It identified around 18 areas of action. 

Questions from the Experts

Despite the impressive number of women in Parliament, women were still under-represented in many other decision-making sectors, an Expert said.  Furthermore, there had been little progress in reducing the gender gap in the professions, nor in addressing the traditional division of roles of women and men in private family life and in society at large.  That was a case where special temporary measures ought to be considered as part of the strategy to eliminate the de facto inequalities of women in those areas. 

Turning to the issue of domestic violence, an Expert asked how the new law on gender-based violence provided for restraining orders. 

Regarding trafficking in persons, an Expert regretted that there was no specific law against trafficking; although there were mentions in the legislature on kidnapping and abduction, there was no specific mention of women, which left a big legal gap.  Would the Government enact comprehensive legislation covering all aspects of trafficking with an expressed gender perspective? 

Prostitution was illegal, and the courts punished anyone who used their premises or finances for prostitution.  However, there was a risk in prostitution being pushed underground and it happened in private residences and apartments.  That meant some women were fearful of seeking social or health support.  Were there any investigations into the nightclubs that were often frequented by tourists and were fertile grounds for prostitution?

Response by the Delegation

A delegate assured the Committee that Andorra was such a tiny country, if a dangerous situation happened the police knew about it within hours; it was impossible not to know what was going on in such small communities. Regarding the issue of trafficking, the delegate asked rhetorically whether the Committee had seen the size of Andorra?  It had not experienced any cases of trafficking, or indeed child prostitution.  When the Committee looked for problems it had to consider the size of a country and see that issues that were often serious in other countries had not even been experienced in another, such as Andorra.  The Government did lack certain strategies and laws, but it had to prioritize its other problems, such as unemployment, to those that really affected citizens.  It was true there was no specific offence of trafficking in persons, but it was defined as illegal in the Criminal Code, a delegate clarified. 

The 2011 law on gender-based violence had considerably simplified the way cases of domestic violence were dealt with, a delegate said.  Previously, unless there had been three acts of aggression, even if the aggressor had a previous conviction, there could be no intervention.  Today, any type of aggression, be it physical or psychological, and even if it did not result in hospital treatment – just a slap or a kick - by a member of the family group, it was considered an offence and could be prosecuted.  Article 14 of the law applied to aggravating circumstances and extenuating factors. 

There were also provisions to allow for the preventative removal of a woman in cases of domestic violence, and also to impose removal measures – and restraining measures - from the home as a punishment to the aggressor.  Four year non-contactable restraining measures were typically applied to a perpetrator of domestic violence, which carried a prison sentence for non-compliance.  A delegate told the Committee she would share 2010 to 2012 statistics on sentencing in cases of domestic violence:  15 cases in 2010, 21 in 2011 and 32 in 2012.  Concerning supplementary penalties and removal orders, the delegate said that nine were issued in 2010, 13 in 2011 and 11 in 2012. 

Concerning the Interdisciplinary Task Force for Women, a delegate confirmed that the 2011 budget was increased to €300,000, in line with the increased services that the Task Force was providing.  Economic problems had not placed restrictions on budgetary allocations in that sphere.

Questions from the Experts

NICOLE AMELINE, Committee Chairperson, intervened at this point to remind the State party that as the recent Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, it would have seen that human rights were a part of the whole, and that no country could shrug their obligations, regardless of their size.  Andorra has seen that the exploitation of women was a universal problem and a growing one, and unfortunately the financial crisis would only make the problem of prostitution worse.  Immigration into Andorra could be an exacerbating factor.  The delegation said it did not know of any cases of that kind, but the lack of legislation on the issue was an obstacle.  Andorra had to take on the whole multi-sectorial dimension of women’s rights.  The Chairperson gave the example of France, which until it had a specific law on violence against women, did not have many cases reported, which did not mean that it was not happening.  

In follow-up, an Expert said she refused to accept that prostitution did not exist in Andorra, as it existed the world over, in communities large and small.  The Committee preferred prostitution not to go underground, which meant women were unable to receive social and health care, for example regular HIV testing.  She quoted the example of Liechtenstein as a good one for dealing with prostitution. 

Andorra now had the distinction of being one of two countries that had not only reached gender parity in Parliament but also exceeded it, an Expert said, and the Committee congratulated it in that regard.  However, the parity achieved in the national parliament was not reflective of women’s participation in public life overall, including at local levels.  At the Parish Councils for example the membership of women councillors had halved between 2007 and 2012.  There had been a small increase in women mayors, but not in deputy mayor positions.  There were also disparities in women’s representations in appointed positions, with only two women Ministers out of seven, as well as in the courts.  Had the State party conducted a survey to find out the reasons for those disparities?

Response from the Delegation

There was constant vigil against prostitution and the issue certainly was not overlooked, a delegate reassured the Committee.  The police knew it was illegal and monitored constantly.  While the Government could not prevent prostitution taking place in one house, it would be difficult to carry out that profession in the long run as it would soon become known.  He also confirmed that there were health and social services available to prostitutes.  The Government had close links with Liechtenstein, which although three times smaller was more advanced in many ways, the delegate said, and did indeed learn from its group of small countries partners.

Regarding stereotypes, a delegate said it had not been easy to change traditional attitudes.  Andorra had been isolated for many years and its Constitution only came into force in 1993; it had taken a huge amount of effort to change mentalities about gender stereotypes and Andorra had evolved very quickly.  The delegate reminded the Committee that the Head of State of Andorra was the Arch-Bishop.  The parliamentary initiative on gay marriage was a lively debate; it was a civil initiative that was very sensitive, especially to the older generations.  There were women in the Government, in the administration.  Unfortunately there were only two women Ministers (Education and Welfare), but it was not easy to find women to take on the role of Minister.  There still remained a lot to be done and Andorra would be happy to accept the Committee’s recommendations in that regard. 

The delegate clarified that it was difficult to find women available for politics, not capable, and political parties often struggled to find any candidates, men or women.  That was an on-going problem in Andorra, although young people were more interested in going into politics and the average age now of parliamentarians was quite young.  For example, in the Foreign Ministry, which had a staff of 12, the two senior posts were held by women and in fact there were more women than men, as well as two women Ambassadors.  Overall, as there were a majority of women parliamentarians the parliament was consequently dealing with more women’s issues.  Andorra would welcome a recommendation from the Committee on how to enforce gender parity on candidate lists. 

A member of the delegation who was also a young woman parliamentarian took the floor to speak about women’s participation in decision-making roles.  She said that a working group to help women be more involved in economic and political life had been set up.  There were many delegations to international organizations, including the Council of Europe, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and others, many of which were chaired by women. 

Questions from the Experts

An Expert asked about the participation of non-governmental organizations and civil society in Andorra, noting that today’s country review was one of the few that had no national non-governmental organizations in attendance. 

Response from the Delegation

In Andorra the Ministry of Justice and Welfare had many contacts with non-governmental organizations working in the field of human rights, such as the Red Cross, Caritas and Women Migrants Association.  There was a good system of coordination in place and most projects involved non-governmental organizations one way or another, including the drafting of the report being discussed today.   They may not be present physically today, possibly because of a lack of resources to travel to Geneva, but they were following the review today and would be involved in follow-up. 

Questions from The Experts

An Expert commended the State party’s actions in the field of education and asked whether the curriculum included responsible sexual and reproductive health education, especially given that abortion – for any reason – was illegal in Andorra.  Furthermore, was any specialist training given to teachers on using a human rights-based approach? The Experts also asked about girls with disabilities in schools, and the education of the children of migrants. 

Regarding gender stereotypes in education, an Expert said there was a trend of women going into low-paying careers, predominantly in the caring and vocational services.  In all other areas, men outnumbered women.  There was a state of occupational segregation.  The Expert commended the State party for the progressive increase in girls taking vocational training, but said the concern was that girls tended to take courses that perpetuated gender stereotypes, as the report showed 90 per cent of nurses were women, while the majority of doctors were men.  Teaching was mainly a female profession with over 70 per cent of teachers being women, and the entirety of the administrative support system being women.   The statistics did not clarify, so could the State party?  The State party should consider taking temporary special measures to encourage girls to study non-traditional subjects, the Expert said.

Regarding employment, an Expert said that compared with other countries Andorra was not a Member State of the International Labour Organization, which could partly explain the problems in assessing this article.  Most parties to the Convention had ratified International Labour Organization conventions on equal pay and on non-discrimination.  Why was Andorra still outside the International Labour Organization, whose core conventions were nowadays the global labour standard?

Maternity leave was 16 weeks long.  Of those the mother had to take the first six weeks, to be able to recover from the birth.  After that the father may take paternity leave.  Furthermore, a parent could take two hours off from work per day until the baby was nine months, either for breastfeeding for a mother, or for the father to care for the baby.  It was not always taken but the option was available. 

Concerning discrimination in the field of employment, an Expert said the report showed astonishing denials of certain problems.  For example, he quoted Paragraph 222 which started that “legislation did not contain any expressed provision guaranteeing right to equality in employment issues” and also that “in practice, there were no cases of discrimination in the private sector, as equality in that sector was absolute”.  The Expert commented that Andorra must be the first country in the world to have achieved absolute equality in the private sector, and he thought that statement was problematic.  Double discrimination was reported for the lowest paid women, where men earned more than 50 per cent for comparable work.  Domestic workers in private houses were paid even less.  How did the State party ensure that the principle of equal pay for equal work of equal value was fully implemented in Andorra?

An Expert asked for more information on the status of women migrant workers, an issue the Committee emphasized because the global financial crisis had put more pressure on women, not only as workers, but also as the family of male migrant workers.  What about their access to services, such as healthcare, including HIV testing, and education for their children.  The State party had not ratified the Convention on Migrant Workers. 

The Committee also asked about abortion, which in effect remained by law a crime in all cases, even when the life of a woman was in danger. The State party committed, at its last review, to examine amending the laws to withdraw punitive measures against a woman who had an abortion.  Would the Committee consider legalising abortion in cases of rape, incest, and when a woman’s life was in danger?  Could it provide data on how many women had died as a result of being denied an abortion, and also provide information on the number of illegal abortions carried out.  The Expert also asked for information on the provision of contraceptives and on HIV AIDS. 

Response from the Delegation

In answering questions about measures taken in the employment sphere to eliminate gender discrimination and the pay gap, a delegate first sought to explain that the entrepreneurial sector was very small in Andorra.  Most businesses and companies were small; in fact there were only four large companies in the country.  Between 2008 and 2013 the Government’s priority had been to try to avoid redundancies and job loss, as more companies had been closing down than opening up.  Andorra was trying to keep a positive attitude through the storm of the financial crisis, and ensure employees had enough purchasing power, and that employers were able to pay monthly salaries.  The National Plan for Equality proposed a number of measures and benefits, but the plan was not being applied yet as although Andorra did not really have unemployment, it was currently at a stage where entrepreneurs and the Government were just trying to meet the urgent economic needs of the population and had to prioritize as such.   

Children of migrant workers did have the right to education, and Andorra always applied the Convention of the Rights of the Child.  Out of 10,800 students in the country, only 250 students were part of a private system.  Human rights education was provided to teachers in a cross-cutting fashion, although there was still work to be done in that respect.  Regarding life-long learning, training sessions were run on human rights, which was not something that happened on a supply and demand basis.  A delegate said they would certainly make the suggestions on temporary special measures in education, and a study of recruitment of teachers, to the Government at home. 

Regarding migrant workers, a delegate said every few months the Government checked the employment situation and needs, and then drafted a quota for the different sectors, not on a gendered basis.  Once that quota was filled then no more permits were available for migrant workers.  Once a person was integrated into the labour system they received legal residence and their family could join them in Andorra, fulfilling their right to a family life.  The Government ensured they lived in the appropriate economic conditions. 

Regarding women in employment, the Government was looking at providing a better maternity package, paternity leave for fathers, and flexi-time options to help women better achieve work-life balance.  The Penal Code reform of 2009 introduced trade union relations and the possibilities of collective bargaining.  The workers needed to know that they had rights, and a legal framework was in place, and being promoted to them.  More work needed to be done in that regard, however.  In cases of pay discrimination, there were two options: high sanctions could be applied to any act of pay discrimination, or a person could appeal and may receive compensation from the company.  The Criminal Code also had provisions against pay discrimination that could mean criminal liability for the employer.  

It would be absurd not to recognize that Andorra had a difficult problem with abortion, a delegate said.  The right to life was established in the Constitution, as understood by the Catholic Church, and here the delegate reminded the Committee that a Catholic Bishop was the Head of State.  Therefore in order to be consistent with the Constitution, abortion had to be made a criminal act.  Andorra was a very conservative society, but it was evolving and new generations did not feel the same restraint as older generations.  Two delicate questions had been tabled by parliament: gay marriage and abortion, partly thanks to the efforts of civil society.  Practically, when an Andorran woman needed an abortion she would normally travel to one of the neighbouring countries, France or Spain.  The issue did need to be tackled, it had to change, but because it would be a matter of modifying the Constitution, society had to be prepared in case it came to a referendum. 

Regarding reproductive healthcare, there were primary health centres which provided contraception and family planning advice for young people.  The Government also worked with educators on family planning and reproductive health education.  There was no reliable record of how many people in Andorra lived with HIV AIDS, unless they had been positively diagnosed and treated by a doctor.  It was an issue of privacy, there was a certain stigma attached to HIV and not everybody’s status was on the record.  Some people went to France or Spain for their treatment, to maintain their privacy. 

Questions from the Experts

An Expert pointed out that despite Andorra being a very well connected State, there was almost no mention on the Government websites of the Convention and women’s rights, and suggested that the State party make better use of the internet for dissemination purposes.

Pensions for women, and in particular for widows, was asked about by an Expert.  Another Expert asked about the fact that Andorra had two Heads of State: one was the President of France and the other a Catholic Bishop.  If the latter would not agree to pass legislation on abortion, and gay rights, perhaps the former would, especially as France was a secular State? 

Response from the Delegation

A delegate spoke in detail about the provisions of pensions for widows; when the contribution did not reach the level of minimum wage it was topped up.  That was an issue the women’s societies in Andorra were pushing to be reformed. 

Andorra used to have a website which listed all of the conventions and international treaties to which Andorra was party, but when the website was modernized that information was lost. 

A delegate commented that Andorra, in its 700 years of history had managed to overcome many difficult situations.  Although Andorra’s constitution was difficult at times Andorrans probably preferred to keep their two Heads of State, even though they were quite different individuals.  The delegate said he was sure that little by little obstacles would be overcome. 

Concluding Remarks

NICOLE AMELINE, Committee Chairperson, thanked the State party for the constructive dialogue which provided further insight into the situation of women in Andorra.  She encouraged Andorra to take all necessary measures to address the Committee’s recommendations for the benefit of all women and girls in the country.

JOAN CARLES VILLAVERDE, Head of the Attention and Social Intervention Service at the Ministry for Health and Welfare, said that the delegation had tried to be as transparent as possible.  It would submit further answers in writing, and looked forward to the Committee’s recommendations which provided a basis and an encouragement for future work.

The Committee’s concluding observations will be made available at on Monday 21 October.

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