Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviews the report of the Russian Federation

UN

27 October 2015 

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

Presenting the report, Alexey Vovchenko, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Protection of the Russian Federation, stated that the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection was the coordinator of activities on gender equality. The work to ensure gender equality was taking place in practice through a gender-based approach, and was incorporated in various State programmes and plans. Efforts were being made to increase the level of payments to those receiving benefits from the budget, most of whom were women. Serious attention was being paid to improving labour conditions and to protecting women from hazardous work. The Government’s main efforts in the field of health were geared towards reducing maternal mortality and promoting neonatal and reproductive health for both mothers and children. Great attention was being paid to the institution of the family and protecting its values. More than 200,000 non-governmental organizations were currently active in the Russian Federation. Women’s organizations represented one third of all newly registered organizations. 

In the interactive dialogue that followed, Committee Experts asked about the non-existence of a national action plan to combat trafficking in persons, accessibility to modern contraceptives, abortion statistics, treatment of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, sexual and gender education, and the restrictive law on non-governmental organizations as “foreign agents”. They also raised issues of the lists of hazardous jobs for women, implementation of the Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, the situation of women in the Crimea, particularly those of Ukrainian nationality, temporary special measures and the lack of disaggregated statistics. Other issues raised included measures taken to promote the economic empowerment of women, conditions of women in rural areas, domestic violence, underrepresentation of women in political life, the presence of women in academia, and the overemphasis on child bearing and its possible negative consequences. Experts also asked about harmful practices in the Northern Caucasus.

Mr. Vovchenko, in concluding remarks, expressed gratitude for the Expert appraisal provided by the Committee. The Russian Federation would continue its work on studying and implementing the Convention. The delegation was cognizant of the fact that more progress had to be made in certain areas.

The delegation of the Russian Federation included representatives of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Economic Development, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Culture, Office of the Prosecutor-General, State Duma, Federal Penitentiary Service, Central Electoral Commission, and the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation.


The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 28 October at 10 a.m. to start its consideration of the combined eighth and ninth periodic reports of Portugal (CEDAW/C/PRT/8-9). 

Report

The eighth periodic report of the Russian Federation can be read here: CEDAW/C/RUS/8.

Presentation of the Report

ALEXEY VOVCHENKO, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Protection of the Russian Federation, said that a number of alternative and shadow reports had been discussed with the representatives of civil society. The Government was ready to listen to constructive criticism; gender equality and empowering women were among its key tasks. The Russian Federation welcomed the adoption of the Declaration “Beijing + 20” earlier this year. The work to ensure gender equality was taking place in practice through a gender-based approach, and was incorporated in various State programmes and plans. Efforts were being made to increase the level of payments to those receiving benefits from the budget, most of whom were women. 

The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection was the coordinator of activities on the question of gender equality. A plan of action had been developed to implement the recommendations of the Committee to the combined sixth and seventh periodic report. Raising awareness of the Convention, protecting citizens against discrimination and improving the situation of rural women, including in the North Caucasus, were particularly emphasized. A conference on preventing violence against women in the North Caucasus had taken place. Priorities for ensuring gender equality included creating the right conditions for women to fulfil their professional and personal potential. Russian women in general were more highly educated than men, and were very active in the economy. Russian women sought to be fully employed, but also tried to have a work-life balance and combine professional and family responsibilities.

The latest legislation adopted prevented employers from giving preferences to candidates on the basis of sex, age, social status or other personal features. Pregnant women could not be fired. Serious attention was being paid to improving labour conditions and to protecting women from hazardous work, and employers were actively encouraged to improve the overall conditions of work for their employees. Women in the Russian Federation had the right to take maternity leave and take care of their child until the age of three, but research showed that most women wanted to return to the labour force when their child was around one and a half years old. Ensuring 100 per cent coverage for all young children in pre-school establishments and kindergartens was a goal for Russia. 

It was only through education that women could have access to highly paid jobs. All education in the country was based on State standards, and all children, regardless of their sex or ethnic and religious background, needed to be enrolled in elementary schools. The Constitution guaranteed protection for small minorities and ethnic groups, who were within the competence of local authorities. The educational system was secular, but within each school there was space left for certain elements of traditional education. The Government’s main efforts in the field of health were geared towards reducing maternal mortality and promoting neonatal and reproductive health for both mothers and children. Between 2010 and 2014, the number of abortions had decreased by 23 per cent. More than 50 parental centres had been built over the last three years. 

In the reporting period, the State had increased benefits paid out to families, which was particularly beneficial for women. Special benefits were granted for the birth of a third child. A large number of additional measures were being implemented by regional and local authorities. Great attention was being paid to the institution of the family and protecting its values. Attracting people to participate in the political life was one of the priorities; more than 200,000 non-governmental organizations were currently active in the Russian Federation. Women’s organizations represented one third of all newly registered organizations. Special grants were attributed to socially important and useful projects. As of September 2015, there were 79 political parties in the country, 10 of which were headed by women. In the Duma, women held 60 out of 450 seats; they were similarly represented in the regional assemblies. In municipal bodies, women represented 45 per cent of representatives. 

Questions by Experts

An Expert appreciated the solid periodic report and the detailed response to the list of issues. It was encouraging that discrimination was now defined on the grounds of sex as well. Regarding sex-based discrimination, under what circumstances did the State party violate individual rights and liberties based on sex? Was there indirect discrimination, and was discrimination by non-State actors included?

The Ombudsman had received zero complaints about discrimination and violence against women. Could the delegation elaborate about the impact of the federal law on free legal aid on the protection and promotion of women’s rights? 

The delegation was asked to explain about steps taken by the State party to educate the general public about gender equality

The law on foreign agents was an obstacle to many women non-governmental organizations. What was being done in that regard?

Another Expert asked how the Government was planning to translate its readiness for greater accountability on women, peace and security into practice. What was being done to increase the presence of women at all levels of decision-making, especially regarding peace and security? How did Russia, as a permanent member of the Security Council, plan to implement such a landmark resolution? 

There had been reports of repeated violations of human rights, including perpetrating sexual and gender-based violence, in the territory of Donbass, where the Russian Federation exercised significant influence. What about the oppression of the ethnic Ukrainians in the Crimea? How was the situation of women in that region? To what extent was the Government taking its extra-territorial obligations seriously and would it investigate offences made by the armed groups it controlled? 

A question was also asked about the situation of internally displaced women from Abkhazia and South Ossetia and what was being done to alleviate their difficult conditions.

Only 52 non-governmental organizations were reportedly registered as “foreign agents”, another Expert noted. How did all other tens of thousands of NGOs survive without foreign help?

Replies by the Delegation

Regarding non-governmental organizations financed from abroad, it was important that there was transparency on their funding. It was not State interference, the delegation emphasized. Those organizations were not deprived from access to justice, if they wanted to go to court. The legislation had two criteria for non-governmental organizations to be included in that register; political activism was one of the two criteria. The essence of the law seemed to be frequently misinterpreted, which was why the State party would strengthen the information campaign about it.

Free legal aid was very important, and the specific figures could be subsequently provided.

Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security was highly regarded by the Russian Federation, which believed in the development of national strategies to implement it, primarily on a voluntary basis. The Russian Federation was currently not in an armed conflict with any State, so such a plan had not yet been developed. 

The Russian Federation could not interfere in the processes going on in Ukraine. More than one million refugees had left from Ukraine to Russia, most of whom were women, girls and women with children. They were provided with medical services, education and employment opportunities.

South Ossetia was regarded by the Russian Federation as an independent State, and was treated as such under international law. There was no confirmation of the phenomena raised by the Expert. 

The Law on Gender Equality had been adopted in consultation with civil society. Women’s organizations also worked directly with different political parties; the ruling party had a 19 per cent women representation. The President had allocated funds for fighting domestic violence; funding was distributed to those organizations which had won the competition for grants. In the upcoming elections, there would certainly be a lot of women candidates. 

The Russian Federation was implementing the Convention to the full extent in the Crimea and Sevastopol, which were its constituent entities. In addition, those entities could undertake additional measures on the protection and promotion of women’s rights. 

The delegation explained that the term “foreign agents” did not mean that the activities of the non-governmental organizations were prohibited or should be stopped, but just stating the fact that they were receiving funds from abroad. Very few organizations were receiving funds from abroad; there were federal and regional grants in place to support the activities of the civil sector, which could survive without foreign aid. 

In 2015, an important law on social services to the population had been adopted. Those non-governmental organizations providing such services would receive regular funding from the authorities.

Questions by Experts

An Expert asked which institution played which role in the national machinery on women’s rights. Which institution was in charge of monitoring the situation of women comprehensively across the country? The delegation was asked to provide further information in that regard.

The issue of temporary special measures was raised by another Expert. How did the State party perceive those measures? The term measures could not only be understood as a legislative tool, but in a much broader sense; outreach activities and targeted recruitment could also fit into that category. They were a form of affirmative action. 

A question was asked on statistics: gender-segregated data was largely missing from the report. 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection acted as a coordinator of all activities of all executive bodies implementing the Convention. There was definitely a need to have a high-level of State coordination of different branches and bodies. A governmental commission on the implementation of the Convention and women’s rights was also now in place. There was admittedly a still not high enough level of coordination among all involved organs.

On the temporary special measures, it was explained that there was no one single document which brought all of them in one place. There should be a compendium covering all measures targeting women, who were half of the country’s citizens. The essence of the Russian approach was to allow women a freedom of choice regarding their career and personal lives. Currently the Ombudsperson was a woman; she had asked her institution to develop a mechanism to protect and promote the rights of women. 

The delegation explained that the State did not support the establishment of quotas

As for the collection of data, the delegation admitted that there had been difficulties with statistical offices. Over the previous five years, no new introduction to the statistics vis-à-vis women had been seen. A plan for the work of statistical bodies for 2016 was now being looked into. 

Questions by Experts

The issue of negative gender stereotypes was raised by an Expert, who referred to the disparaging statements by a Russian Orthodox priest on the importance of gender equality. 

Was there data available on domestic violence committed against women in Russia? What was the absolute number of rapes? Domestic violence worryingly continued to be considered as a private issue. What kind of assistance did the victims of domestic violence receive?

Harmful traditional practices still existed in the Chechen Republic. Around 16 per cent of Chechen women reported that they were living in polygamous marriages. What measures had the Government undertaken to fight that problem?

Stigmatization of women sexual minorities was also a matter of concern. 

Another Expert raised questions on actions taken to combat trafficking in human beings

Prostitution was illegal in Russia, an Expert noted. More details were asked on statistics in that regard. Criminalizing prostitution was not a preventive measure, she said. Lifting the criminalization of women offering sexual services was encouraged. 

Replies by the Delegation

Regarding gender stereotypes and discrimination, the delegation stated that there were quite a number of mechanisms to fight negative and disparaging statements. One notable way was an “anti-award” established by journalists. 

The Ministry of the Interior attached great importance to combatting violence against women. There was a clear trend of reduction of cases of violence against women, but also an increase in establishing the perpetrators of such cases. The Ministry was conducting a number of educational and preventive activities, and also helping women get out of such situations. In 2014, 364,000 cases of domestic violence had been registered, the delegation specified; out of that, 159,000 cases were of violence against women. 

Assistance to women victims of domestic violence was provided in establishments at the regional level. The draft law was making its way through the parliamentary proceedings as the Parliament was currently holding its autumn session. 

Police officers learned to work with victims and detect crimes of human trafficking. Most cases related to sexual exploitation. It was one of the priorities in the Russian Federation. 

Officially, there were no polygamous marriages in the Russian Federation, but it was admittedly characteristic of certain men in the Northern Caucasus region. Such cases, when established, were against the law and needed to be rectified. Education had to play a key role in that regard. 

The Government had no plans to legalize prostitution, the delegation stressed. 

Questions by Experts

While it was commendable that women constituted 70 per cent of civil servants and 50 per cent of the judiciary, they continued to be underrepresented in the Parliament and the Government, an Expert said. What measures had been taken to ensure women’s participation in decision-making at all levels? Was there any leadership programme targeting women? 

A question was asked about women professors and women rectors at universities. 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that progress was being made in promoting women in high positions. The speaker of the upper house of the Parliament and the head of the Central Bank, for example, were women. The Government was against the principle of the introduction of quotas. Among the G20 countries, the Russian Federation stood out as having a very high percentage of women participation in the labour market. Women’s organizations could support those parties which had more women on their electoral lists; the ruling party, for example, had 30 per cent of women on its list. 

It was explained that there were more women than men working at universities. As for the diplomatic service, efforts were being made to increase women’s presence there; currently, women represented 23 per cent of the diplomatic service and 16 per cent of Russian diplomats abroad. An increasing proportion of women diplomats was expected.

Questions by Experts

The Russian Federation had played a leading role in the adoption of a number of resolutions promoting the traditional forms of family, an Expert noted. Were there any State programmes on gender education, gender equality and age-appropriate sexual education? The prevalence of abortion, while declining, was still high.

The Expert asked whether the Government screened textbooks to eliminate negative gender stereotypes. Lesbian, bisexual and transgender women were particularly targeted and susceptible to being fired from teaching positions. 

Clarification was asked regarding the high percentage of women professors – did that include tenured positions, and how many female rectors were there? 

Another Expert asked whether the new legislation on work conditions was comprehensive enough. Gender pay gaps in the Russian Federation were still considerate. 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation informed that the education system across the country was organized in line with the federal education standards. The emphasis was on the acknowledgement of the values of family and family life. Topics such as ethics and interpersonal relations were studied as part of the curriculum. People could also be educated outside of schools – in discussion clubs, circles and other less formal venues. Values such as civic mindedness and patriotism were promoted. 

Sexual infections and their prevention as well as sanitary standards were addressed within biology classes. The State party believed that the introduction of specialized sexual education classes was not necessary at this stage. School education was compulsory, not only for Russian citizens, but for all residents. The authorities were working to ensure that Roma children had the opportunity to know their mother tongue and then learn Russian.

The provision of information on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community was not part of the curriculum; the information was not hidden, but the propaganda of such lifestyles was not adequate.

The proportion of women among teachers in higher education was higher than that of men. Women accounted for 40 per cent of deans, 16 per cent of rectors, and 36 per cent of deputy rectors. There were programmes and materials in place for gender studies and women studies, which were considered as a scientific discipline.

Women, on the average, earned 74.6 per cent of what men earned, which was better than 10 years earlier, but was, of course, still unsatisfactory. In the public sector, which included teachers and civil servants, the overwhelming majority of workers were women, and their salaries were significantly lower than in business. 

The delegation explained that there existed an offence of sexual harassment which was punishable; it covered general harassment, and not only in the workplace. 

Regarding contraceptives and abortion, a delegate said that between 2010 and 2014, there had been a reduction of abortions by 23 per cent. When women visited their gynaecologists, they were provided with information on contraceptive options. In addition, lectures and seminars were organized on the topics of reproductive and sexual health. Psychological assistance was also provided to women; in 2014, 150,000 women had turned to such centres for advice on whether to continue or terminate their pregnancies. In small towns and villages, medical assistance was provided through mobile clinics. 

The number of illegal abortions had been drastically decreasing over the past several years, partly because there were no impediments to legal abortions. The law had been adopted so that women would be given some time for consideration – the so-called “week of silence” between the time a woman turned to abortion services and the time the abortion could be performed. One in four women went to the doctor every year to receive advice on modern contraceptive techniques. 

The delegation assured that the vertical transmission of HIV (from mother to child) had been almost fully eradicated. 

Responding to the questions on trafficking in persons, the delegation stated that there was no single action plan to combat trafficking in women. Information on sentences brought in trafficking-related cases could be furnished subsequently. 

Questions by Experts

An Expert noted that the percentage of women in academia was higher than average. While information on reproduction might indeed be provided during biology classes, that was not what was meant by sexual education. She also asked about the elimination of negative gender stereotypes in education and promoting respect for both sexes. 

Was the cost of contraceptives covered by the public health insurance scheme?

The Expert also asked if there were any public policies in place to prevent the spread of HIV

Another Expert inquired about the list of hazardous jobs for women. Was there not a risk for arbitrary solutions and stereotypical assessments which might deny women the right to take a job? 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that there was no separate subject of study on respect within the family and gender equality, as it was part of the overall education system. What exactly did the Experts understand by negative stereotypes, the delegation asked. 

The lesbian teacher had appealed in a court over her dismissal; if the court decided to reinstate the person to her job, the employer would need to do so. There was no formal ground for dismissal only because somebody belonged to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community.

The State party would carry on its work on the list of hazardous occupations

Modern medical contraceptives were accessible to all women at very reasonable prices, the delegation explained.

Just the previous week, the State Commission had held a meeting on additional ways to prevent the spread of HIV, and had decided to allocate significant resources to that. Substitution therapies were not permitted in the Russian Federation. 

Questions by Experts

Social policies related to families focused solely on women and thus demonstrated a patriarchal outlook, noted an Expert. 

What were the measures being taken to promote the economic empowerment of women? Was the State party considering measures such as micro-credits provided to women entrepreneurs at the local level? Economic empowerment was firmly established as part of the newly adopted Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

Turning to the questions on women in rural areas, another Expert said that the current report was more informative than the previous one. Nonetheless, it seemed that no specific gender perspective had been adopted. Data disaggregated by gender, age and location would be of great help to the Committee. 

The Expert said that perhaps too much effort was being placed on child bearing, which might reinforce traditional gender stereotypes. Had research been conducted on the effect of such policies on women in rural areas? The overemphasis on the family might have negative consequences, the Expert commented. 

The issue of the rights of indigenous women was also raised by the Expert. 

A question was asked about pregnant illegal migrant women, and what would be done with their children. 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that there were a number of social services provided to women who needed them. Shelters and legal assistance were also offered by State institutions, which were under purview of regional authorities. The State was undertaking efforts to provide targeted assistance so that the birth of a child did not push families into poverty.

Experimentally, unemployed people had been given subsidies to start a business. Government employment authorities had started to keep track of such initiatives and had found out that 70 per cent of beneficiaries of such measures had been women. 

The proportion of women among owners of small and medium businesses stood at 39 per cent. Among the most popular sectors for women were consulting and social services. Their needs included training and professional development, the delegation explained. Financial support was provided to entrepreneurs, but without taking gender into consideration. 

The delegation said that the demographic situation had been improving in recent years; for the first time in the past 25 years, the number of births had exceeded the number of deaths. The proportion of second and third children in families had significantly increased since the previous report. Life expectancy had also increased substantially, including in the rural areas. The average life expectancy for women was, on the average, 10 years longer than for men. 

Infant and maternal mortality levels had decreased, and the Russian Federation had now reached the European levels in that regard. 

The indigenous small peoples of the north had their unique traditional ways of life, providing for their livelihoods through herding and fishing. Mobile services were the only way to reach them, be it when it came to providing health services or the exercising of the right to vote. Women patients were sometimes provided airlift by helicopters if they needed to reach doctors.

It was the choice of the woman herself whether to have a second or a third child. More than 50 per cent of men used the possibility of using paternal leave when presented with that opportunity. 

The delegation explained that in recent years most migrants coming to the Russian Federation were women. The number of migrants of working age was over seven million. Women among persons awaiting deportation were kept separate from men. There had been more than 500 births in detention facilities in 2014; the number in 2015 so far was 239. Some women gave birth in the penitentiary system and others in outside hospitals. 

Questions by Experts

There was a growing phenomenon of unmarried couples living together. In case of a death of a partner, the woman was not eligible to any inheritance, but was considered as a stranger who had simply shared a living space with the other person. Were there any measures being taken to rectify that situation? What was the normative framework to identify the property to be divided after the divorce?

Was domestic violence a factor which had to be considered by courts when they ruled on custody rights

An Expert noted that in Chechnya and Dagestan, there were a number of harmful practices, including very early marriages, bride kidnappings, female genital mutilation and polygamy. 

Replies by the Delegation

If the marriage was not registered, there could be a contract concluded between the two individuals living together. For the partner to receive benefits of a deceased partner, marriage would need to be registered. All of the property acquired during the marriage should be divided equally, 50-50. If the court during the divorce proceedings decided who in the future should have custody of the children, then the court would also rule on the alimony paid for children. 

In the region of the North Caucasus, there were a number of republics where polygamous marriages could be a problem and could be considered a criminal offence. The authorities condemned bride abductions, honour killings and similar practices. In Islam there were no such standards. The Russian legal system was a unitary one, the delegation stressed.

The delegation could not provide more information on custody at the moment. 

Concluding Remarks

ALEXEY VOVCHENKO, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Protection, expressed gratitude for the Expert appraisal provided by the Committee. The Russian Federation would continue its work on studying and implementing the Convention. The delegation was cognizant of the fact that more progress had to be made in certain areas.

YOKO HAYASHI, Chairperson of the Committee, said that the concluding observations and recommendations would be sent to the State party through the Permanent Mission in Geneva.

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