Women are more integrated into society than ever before with a great range of life choices including child-care services, economic support for those working from home, and tax breaks.
Strongly criticized today for harboring negative stereotypes of women and discriminatory attitudes toward immigrants and minorities, Italian officials countered by describing their country's recent enactment of robust and progressive programs on both fronts, as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women took up Italy's sixth periodic report.
Women in Italy were more integrated into society than ever before, said Diego Brasioli, head of the State delegation, as he presented the report. "They have a great range of life choices," he added, citing concrete programs - including child-care services, economic support for those working from home and tax breaks - now in place to support women in the labor market. An important new bill aimed to ensure that women had equal access to elected and public positions, he told the 23-member expert panel. Numerous programs were also in place to support vulnerable women at all levels of Italian society.
Among specific progress achieved since its last periodic review, Italy had adopted its first National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, by which it monitored relevant sectors, he said. The country had also adopted the National Plan on Violence against Women and Stalking, in addition to establishing a Government unit and working group on stalking and sexual violence. Despite the current global financial crisis, Italy had also managed to preserve its extensive annual budget for the protection of human-trafficking victims, he said, adding that the elaboration of a new national plan on trafficking was slated for completion by November 2011. But despite those success stories, complete equality had yet to be achieved, he said. Women, who now made up nearly half of the national workforce, still earned about 5 per cent less than men, and many of them remained overstretched by the need to reconcile work and family-care obligations.
Following Mr. Brasioli's presentation, Committee experts commended the 21-member delegation - which was joined via video conference by colleagues in Rome - on their country's progress in protecting some aspects of women's rights, but all agreed that more remained to be done. Italy ranked seventy-fourth in a well-known world gender report, one expert said, while another noted that the country was noteworthy for its gender imbalance in terms of elected office. Yet a third Committee member stressed that Italy had no coherent policy for reconciling the responsibilities of parenthood and employment, describing women's widespread maternity-related resignation as a grave violation of the Convention.
Several experts also pointed to persistent negative stereotyping of women in advertising and media, with one recalling that the Committee, in reviewing Italy's previous reports, had called for measures - including legislative steps - to combat stereotypical portrayals. She asked whether that recommendation had been implemented, while several of her colleagues asked whether remedial programs functioned in a comprehensive way to cover sectors as diverse as education and mass media.
In response, one delegate described recent initiatives implemented with a view to promoting positive images of women. The Government was implementing one such program in collaboration with the Institute of Self-Discipline, an umbrella organization working with private marketing and communications companies across Italy, to withdraw sexist or distorted images of women from advertising. Another initiative required the State television station to show "modern" images of women, while a third consisted of a voluntary self-regulation program for commercial television.
Throughout the day, many experts raised concerns about discrimination against immigrant women, who accounted for nearly half of the 50,000 immigrants who had arrived in Italy since January 2011 alone. Meanwhile, a 2009 law had made illegal immigration a criminal offense, she said, urging Italy to review that legislation to ensure that trafficking victims did not fall into the category of irregular or illegal migrants.
With regard to pervasive negative attitudes towards Italy's Roma population, which continued unabated in Italy, according to the experts, one Committee member pointed out that some 20,000 Roma children under the age of 12 were not fulfilling their educational obligations. Such troubling conditions resulted from a deep distrust of a Government perceived by Roma communities as "hostile", she said. Yet another expert referred to a "state of emergency" declared in 2008 to deal with nomadic settlements, which remained in place today. The Committee member urged the Government to repeal the state of emergency, saying that would signal its willingness to engage positively with the Roma population.
A delegate responded by emphasizing the critical importance of forging close links between efforts to sensitize the population to the plight of marginalized communities and social-inclusion programs. Many community programs paid special attention to the Roma, particularly in the areas of education and housing, he said, citing a 2008 project focused on creating social-inclusion tools for public administrators. Italy had been the first country to carry out a Council of Europe campaign to combat prejudice, he said, adding that other programs were being developed, including a strategy for the inclusion of Roma women in the labor market.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 15 July, to take up the combined sixth and seventh reports of Ethiopia.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to consider the sixth periodic report of Italy ( document CEDAW/C/ITA/Q/6/Add.1 ).
Leading the Italian delegation was Diego Brasioli, President of the Inter-ministerial Committee for Human Rights in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Other members were: Angela Pria, Head, Department of Civil Liberties and Immigration; Michele Palma, Director General for International Affairs, Department for Equal Opportunities; Assunta Morresi, Expert on Bioethics and Health, Cabinet of both the Minister for Health and the Minister for Labor; Monica Cecconi, Medical Executive, Cabinet of the Under-Secretary of State on Health; Stefania Ricci, Executive Director, VI Office devoted to the European Union and International Relations, Ministry of Health; and Irene Zancanaro, Directorate General for International Affairs, Department for Equal Opportunities.
The delegation also included Annamaria Matarazzo, Officer, International and European Union Relations, Department of Family-Related Services; Sebastiano Ardita, Director, General Directorate for Detainees and Penitentiary Treatment, Department of the Penitentiary Administration, Ministry of Justice; Martha Matscher, Head of the Office on Asylum, Department of Civil Liberties and Immigration, Ministry of the Interior; Chiara Giacomantonio, Vice-Senior Police Officer, Central Operational Service, Department of Public Security, Ministry of the Interior; Enzo Fanelli, Head, General Office of Legal Affairs, General State Defense, Ministry of Defense; and Luisa Riccardi, Executive, Legislative Office, Ministry of Defense.
Also in the delegation were Gloria Cinque, Officer, General Office of Legal Affairs, General State Defense, Ministry of Defense; Maria Baroni, Officer, Diplomatic Adviser Office, Ministry of Labor; Cinzia Alitto, Coordinator, Office of the National Equality Councilor, Ministry of Labor; Guiditta Tiberi, Officer, Office of the National Equality Councilor, Ministry of Labor; Catia Zumpano, Senior Researcher on Structural Policies and Rural Development, National Institute on Agrarian Economy; Maria Giuseppina Muratore, Senior Officer, National Institute on Statistics; Maja Bova, Human Rights Expert, Inter-ministerial Committee for Human Rights, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Filippo Cinti, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations.
Joining the delegation in New York by video-conference from Rome were several officials from the Department of Equal Opportunities; Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Labor; Ministry of Health; Ministry of Education, University and Research; and the National Committee for Equal Opportunities.
Introduction of Report
Mr. BRASIOLI read a message from Mara Carfanga, Minister for Equal Opportunities, which noted that Italy was engaged in a wide range of strategies, programs and policies aimed at promoting, protecting and advancing the rights of women.
Presenting the report, he said Italy's action within the United Nations system and other international organizations had been marked in recent years by its focus on a number of specific issues: promoting dialog among cultures and religions; promoting a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to its universal abolition; the rights of the child; and eradicating violence against women while promoting human rights education. In March 2007, Italy had been among the first Western countries to sign and later to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, he said, adding that the Italian Government had participated extensively in the preparation of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
Domestically, women were more integrated into society than they had been in the past, and there was no sector in which they could be hindered, he said. However, effective equality had not yet been completely achieved. Too many women were stretched by the need to reconcile work and family-care obligations, and many earned less than men or suffered domestic and sexual violence. Italy was working actively through the Ministry of Equal Opportunities and the National Office against Racial Discrimination to counter such challenges in several key areas. On gender-based violence, the Government had amended and further supplemented the Equal Opportunities Code, thus broadening the principles of non-discrimination and gender equality.
In 2010, Italy had adopted its first National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, by which it monitored relevant sectors, he said. It had also adopted the National Plan on Violence against Women and Stalking - a rising phenomenon in Italy - as well as establishing an ad hoc government unit and a working group on stalking and sexual violence. With regard to human trafficking, despite the current global financial crisis, Italy had preserved its annual budget of $10 million for the national protection system for trafficking victims. The Government was also currently working to renew that system.
He said his country's development cooperation was aimed largely at the realization of the third Millennium Development Goal - promoting gender equality and empowering women - through the 2010 Gender Guidelines. Specifically, it supported women in fragile States and conflict situations, advancing the economic and political empowerment of women and focusing on the implementation of international agreements and other relevant documents. Italy supported programs in Afghanistan, Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Somalia, Sudan and other priority countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Mr. BRASIOLI said that in March 2011 his country had launched the National Independent Human Rights Institution to address the needs of Roma and Sinti women, of both migrant and Italian origin, who remained particularly disadvantaged. The first national awareness-raising campaign with regard to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people had been launched, and a study was being undertaken to explore ways to prevent homophobic bullying in schools, combat discrimination and achieve other relevant goals. Italy was working to strengthen women's leadership both domestically and internationally, and although the use of quotas had been abolished in 2006, a bill had been submitted in April 2011 to ensure equal access for women to elected and public positions.
Turning to employment, he said the Government had adopted "Italia 2020", a national action plan for the inclusion of women in the labor market, through which it had allocated 40 million for relevant projects. Concrete programs had been established under the plan, including child-care services, economic support for those working from home, and tax breaks. The total percentage of women workers had stood at 46.1 per cent in 2010, but despite laws prohibiting discrimination, women still earned 5 per cent less than men on average, he said.
A number of national decrees had been issued to rectify that gap, he said, adding that they addressed such issues as efficiency and transparency in public administration, and equal opportunities in companies and trade unions, among others. He concluded by saying that the Strategic Program on Gender Medicine had been in place since 2009. It obligated health-care centers to ensure, upon request, the voluntary interruption of pregnancies, as well as medical abortions. Guidelines had been issued to protect the health of women choosing those procedures.
Experts' Questions and Comments
PATRICIA SCHULZ, expert member from Switzerland, said it was regrettable that the Italian Government had not respected the Committee's rules, adding: "Your report is over 100 pages." The responses were too long, she said, noting that such massive documentation did not convey a precise picture, while many of the Committee's 1997 and 2005 recommendations had not been addressed.
She said she did not understand the scope of protection offered by the Code of Equal Opportunities, and stressed that it was the Government's responsibility to ensure that international conventions were applied uniformly throughout the country. How were national authorities coordinated? She asked. Regarding Roma and Sinti women, she urged the repeal of the state of emergency, which would signal Italy's willingness to tackle that issue in a positive way.
AYSE FERIDE ACAR, expert member from Turkey, said the distribution of Italy's responses to the Committee's 2005 concluding observations had fallen short of expectations, adding that she had learned from alternative sources that Italian-language versions of the Convention, its Optional Protocol and the general observations were not easily accessible to civil society.
NICOLE AMELINE, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert member from France, discussed legal and territorial consistency, stressing the importance of a parliamentary procedure. She asked whether there was a way to evaluate statutory law against European directives, and if legislative provisions could be assessed throughout the country. Since criminal justice was organized by territories, who established priorities in that area
VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert member from Slovenia, said she could not find an Italian-language version of the sixth report online. Moreover, the Committee's general recommendations had not been translated and were unavailable to Italians, and the report made no reference to them. According to an Inter-Parliamentary Union ( IPU ) report, the Italian legislature had been asked to provide information on its involvement in preparing the report, but that information had not been provided. That demonstrated a lack of interest in women's human rights and gender equality. She also asked how the reversal of the burden of proof worked and whether it was only available in two distinct areas of discrimination. Finally, she asked what funds had been allocated to the Department of Equal Opportunities for gender-equality purposes and how many of the Department's staff were experts in that area.
Ms. AMELINE, expert from France, requested information on temporary special measures, specifically the elimination of quotas and how to move towards other ways to enhance equality. Could the regions implement temporary special measures, and what corrective steps were available? She asked. Noting that employment rates remained low and violence high, she wondered whether a resumption of temporary special measures was needed.
Mr. BRASIOLI, briefly discussing the methodology used to draft the report, noted that additional data had been included in response to specific requests by the Committee during its last review. He then asked other members of the delegation to address specific questions raised by the expert members.
Responding to several questions relating to the principle of non-discrimination in Italian law, a member of the delegation said that principle - which was based on the Italian Constitution itself - was considered to be "immediately perceptive", that is, directly applicable by judges. Other relevant principles emanating from the constitution included equality of work and work conditions, and equal access to public office for men and women. The Equal Opportunities Code, which had recently been amended, now followed European Union standards, she said.
She went on to say that anti-discrimination laws applied to all sectors and levels of society. With regard to trial law the procedure, a case could be brought directly when a man or woman believed that discrimination had occurred. Equality advisers operating in all the country's regions then took recourse based on the law. Additionally, cases of collective discrimination could be brought to court, and the adviser concerned might request an employer to make specific plans for the removal of the discriminatory behavior or system. A reconciliatory process would then begin, or another judgment might be rendered. As for the burden of proof, anyone trying to defend his or her rights was charged with presenting the facts, but in cases of discrimination, that burden was reversed, she said.
Another delegation member described the role and structure of the Department of Equal Opportunity, the subject of several questions, saying it was organized under four general directors. They worked, respectively, in the areas of violence and disability, with an approximate budget of 20 million; strategic interventions, structural funds, communications, and national interventions, with an approximate budget of 100 million; international affairs, including human trafficking and female genital mutilation, with a budget of about 20 million for trafficking, 2 million for female genital mutilation, no specific budget for international affairs, and about 5 million annually for daily functioning; and ethnic and multiple types of discrimination, operating on a budget of about 17 million. The Constitution contained a number of discrimination-related articles, he said, adding that four territorial bodies were charged with pursuing anti-discrimination objectives in Italy's regions.
In response to a question about the challenges posed by that "strongly decentralized structure", he said the issues under consideration were innately territorial in nature and must be dealt with locally. Nevertheless, the mechanism had a strong central monitoring system, with both technical and political aspects, which was charged with transferring resources to regional offices. Controls were in place to ensure that the regional bodies did not violate the Constitution or the Convention.
On the question of temporary special measures and affirmative action, he said it was true that Italy did not allow for such measures, preferring instead that they be permanent in nature and reflect the concept of "positive action" - long established in the European Union - rather than "affirmative action". Through positive-action measures, disadvantaged groups such as women were directly identified as requiring a positive advantage, he said. For example, a bill proposing a quota system for women in provincial elections had been introduced, and if approved, it would become national law. It was therefore, by definition, not temporary, he stressed.
Answering a question about Roma and Sinti women, an official from the Department of Equal Opportunities in Rome said special attention was being paid to those communities, particularly in the areas of education and housing. Since 2004, support had been extended to Roma associations with a view to ensuring the adequacy of school practices. Furthermore, Italy had been the first country to carry out a Council of Europe campaign to combat prejudice. Among other efforts, it had held events in several cities to inform decision-makers in various institutions about prejudice.
Just yesterday, a major television channel had aired a three-hour program to increase awareness about Roma issues, he continued, noting that training courses for journalists had also been organized. Sensitization must be linked to social inclusion programs, which was why, in 2008, one project in southern Italy had focused on creating social-inclusion tools for public administrators. Another project supported regions in identifying, planning and monitoring local policies. A strategy being devised with a view to including Roma women in labor markets and "social reality" would mark a turning point for them, he said.
Responding to a question about immigration, a delegation member in New York said 50,600 immigrants had arrived in Italy since 1 January, almost half of them women. One project, involving the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ( UNHCR ) and the Italian Red Cross, among others, offered such newcomers first assistance and legal support upon their arrival in Italy.
Ms. CINQUE said the quota system had been abolished in 2006 after having been used as a temporary measure aimed at solving logistical problems.
A delegation member from the Ministry of Labor said "underground work" had assumed greater importance in relation to health and security in the workplace. Countering illegal employment was indispensable in guaranteeing adequate economic and pay conditions. The Government had adopted measures to prevent and punish such activities, which entailed tax and pay evasion. On the issue of work inspections, she cited data showing that the number of irregularities had fallen between 2009 and 2010. "We are very committed on this and have achieved good results."
Experts' Questions and Comments
DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIA, expert member from Croatia, said every State party was obliged to make the Convention and its Optional Protocol well known, and asked how many times the Convention had been invoked and applied in national courts. As for gender-based stereotypes, the Committee had expressed its concern about the portrayal of women in the media and it was important that measures be taken, including legislation, to combat it. Politicians should also avoid using sexist stereotypes in their public statements, she said, requesting statistics on early marriage among Roma women, the number of women killed by their husbands or ex-husbands, and the number of shelters available for abuse victims.
Ms. ACAR, expert member from Turkey, said stereotypes - and the gender-discriminatory attitudes resulting from them - were a problem and asked whether efforts to stereotyping were coordinated or undertaken in a piecemeal manner. Had school programs been evaluated? Regarding violence against women, she said that combating such abuse required recognizing that it was related to gender inequality. What sustained and coordinated initiatives were the education system and the media undertaking to that end? She asked, saying she was pleased that Italy planned to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
NAELA MOHAMED GABR, expert member from Egypt, commended Italy's efforts to combat negative stereotypes, but sought assurances of good coordination in the implementation of all action plans and legislation. Regarding the media, she asked whether the country had a "homogeneous" national action plan for dealing with negative stereotypes. Saying she understood that Italy was facing financial problems, she expressed hope that its budgetary situation would not have a negative impact on support for disabled, elderly women or migrant women, among others. How was Italy dealing with migrant women who faced negative stereotypes and must be able to preserve their cultural identity
YOKO HAYASHI, expert member from Japan, welcomed the fact that Italy was elaborating its first national action plan against human trafficking and asked when a nationwide focal point for it would be established. Having heard that jurisdiction over trafficking and smuggling was fragmented, she asked whether the new plan would overcome that problem. As for trafficking victims, she said she had received information that article 18 of the anti-trafficking law was being interpreted in a restrictive manner, excluding trafficked women. In particular, Nigerian women trafficked through Libya and forced into prostitution in Italy had been denied assistance under the article, she said, adding that victims awaiting Italian residency authorization should be allowed to participate in job-training programs. Had funds been allocated for activities such as toll-free phone services to combat trafficking
ISMAT JAHAN, expert member from Bangladesh, recalled that the Committee had previously asked Italy to revisit its anti-trafficking law and wondered what progress had been made on that front. A 2009 law had made illegal immigration a criminal offense. She urged Italy to review that legislation to ensure that trafficking victims did not fall into the category of irregular or illegal migrants. The issue of prostitution also was deeply tied to immigration, she added.
Addressing the issue of stereotypes, a delegation member described three important initiatives established with the aim of restoring a positive image of women. In the first, the Government was collaborating with the Institute of Self-Discipline, an umbrella organization working with private marketing and communications companies across Italy, on a program intended to remove sexist or distorted images of women from advertising. More than 900 cases had been dealt with. The second initiative required the State television station to show "modern" images of women, and the third comprised an agreement with Parliament to propose self-regulation in the commercial television sector. Meanwhile, courses on the role of women in Government institutions had been available since 2005, and agreements had been initiated with universities to establish related programs, he said, adding that secondary school teachers would be trained for the first time on equality and anti-stereotyping issues.
A delegation member speaking from Rome said that, since 2008, Italy had run a specific educational program known as "citizenship and constitution" from day care up through high school. It addressed a wide range of social issues, including stereotyping.
Another member of the delegation added that training on human rights was also available. As for human trafficking, understood in Italy as a crime with "special status", it was handled by a specialized court dealing with organized crime. Trafficking statistics were available, he said, pointing out that 15 such cases had been registered in 2009, with convictions averaging about 15 years' imprisonment.
Regarding social protection for immigrants, he said the law gave priority protection to foreign citizens who had been victims of serious crimes. Victims were given protection and assistance after the relevant authorities had confirmed the existence of the necessary conditions and considered the severity of each case. The favorable opinion of a public prosecutor was not required in such situations. While victims might fear negative repercussions or that they would not be believed, the law allowed for victims to "choose their own path", he said, noting that the goal was to protect victims while separating those attempting to use the system to gain entry.
He said Roma victims of police violence were protected when a crime was reported, and received the full support of the law. However, shame, fear of not being believed and general mistrust frequently led to the under-reporting of such crimes. Several initiatives were being carried out to strengthen the training of law-enforcement officers in those areas, including a program dating back to 2004, which, with the participation of non-governmental organizations, aimed to train officers on family issues. Anther professional program provided training for police officers on gender violence.
The first draft of a national plan on human trafficking would be completed in November 2011, and protection programs would be enacted in Italy's various regions with the assistance of civil society partners, he said. The procedure for victim protection - which would be reflected in that draft document - would entail accompanying victims to training courses and their reintegration into society, all with the aim of fully protecting their dignity. He concluded by saying that a major debate triggered by a 2008 bill proposing the prohibition of street prostitution had yet to be resolved.
Experts Questions and Comments
Ms. SCHULZ, expert from Switzerland, asked whether issues such as tax law, health and education, which were covered by a certain code, could be brought to court.
Ms. SIMONOVIA, expert from Croatia, reiterated her request for statistics on femicide.
Ms. GABR, expert from Egypt, asked whether Italy had a national focal point on trafficking, and if not, whether there were plans to appoint one.
Ms. AMELINE, expert from France, asked about a company that had dismissed several women.
Regarding stereotypes, a delegation member said more complete data would be available in 2012. On domestic violence, she said a campaign to counter violence against women had been carried out, and a subsequent survey showed a slight improvement on gender roles among couples and in the way in which people organized their time. Balancing work and children remained a problem, though there had been some signs of improvement, she said.
On gender-based violence, she said that a 2006 survey had not been repeated, due to financial constraints, but the Government hoped to resolve the problem. There was a plan in 2011 to renew an agreement with the Department of Equal Opportunities, and a European survey planned for 2013 would feature indicators on gender-based violence in Italy. While the Government lacked trend indicators for domestic violence, she said, surveys had shown an increase in the number of police reports describing that type of abuse, which indicated greater awareness of the problem, rather than an increase in violence.
Mr. BRASIOLI, referring to multiple requests for statistical data, said the National Statistics Department could be of broad help in that regard. It was difficult to collect data on early marriage, which was not a significantly strong phenomenon in Italy, and was therefore not the subject of a simple survey. The United Nations Statistics Division had decided not to include the topic in violence indicators recommended for 2015, he added.
In response to a question about female workers laid off by a company in northern Italy, he said no request had been made to indemnify personal income, and should that start, all stakeholders would need to ensure the proper execution of all procedures and comply with the principle of equal opportunity.
Experts' Questions and Comments
OLINDA BAREIRO-BOBADILLA, expert member from Paraguay, said women were marginalized from political decision-making, adding that Italy was noteworthy for its gender imbalance in elected office. While pleased to hear about a bill on equality in the political sphere, she asked whether it constituted a temporary measure that would ensure de facto equality, or a real move towards the creation of equal democracy, in which gender difference would be eliminated. What could be done to ensure that all regions had equal political representation and a gender balance in public administration
SOLEDAD MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert member from Spain, pointed out that Italy ranked seventy-fourth in a well-known world gender report, and asked how women's political representation could possibly stand at only 11 per cent. Democracy meant that majorities were in power, whereas women, who comprised 53 per cent of the Italian population, were in the majority. She also asked about the low representation of women in the justice sector, and what approaches would be adopted to defend equality in municipalities.
MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert member from Algeria, said that, although article 51 of Italy's constitution had introduced the principle of gender equality into public and elected posts, paragraph 109 of the report stated that women constituted 18 per cent of the Senate and 21 per cent of members in the lower house of Parliament. She said she would have liked to have seen more progress in that area and emphasized that more women must be elected. She also requested figures on the number of women in the judiciary.
Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, said Roma girls faced difficulties in gaining access to education, as reflected by the 20,000 Roma children under the age of 12 who had not fulfilled their educational obligations. According to a 2010 survey, the root causes of that failing were to be found in their difficult economic conditions and distrust of schools, which were perceived as hostile and thus a threat to their identity. What efforts had been made to ensure that Roma girls were able to continue their education, and further, to support Roma families? She asked.
NIKLAS BRUUN, expert member from Finland, spoke about the low pay and employment rates among women, saying it was hard to find any improvements since 2005. On maternity-related issues, he said that having to resign from work due to pregnancy was a grave violation of the Convention. Italy had no coherent policy in place to reconcile the responsibilities of parenthood with those of employment. Did the Government have any plans to provide affordable child care for low-paid women, and would it introduce better conditions for parental leave? He also asked whether maternity allowances for women in atypical employment would be specially designed for part-time work, and how the Government dealt with sexual harassment in the workplace.
Ms. JAHAN, expert from Bangladesh, focused on vocational training opportunities in the public and private sectors, requesting statistics on the employment status of Roma and migrant women. Concerned about severe segregation in the labor market, she said the situation was particularly acute in the agriculture sector of the south, where migrants were often exploited both mentally and physically. What measures had been taken to prevent discrimination and redress the serious problems faced by migrant women
PRAMILA PATTEN, expert member from Mauritius, focused on the lack of information on the implementation of laws and policies by the private sector, stressing that under the Convention, Italy was obliged to tackle discrimination perpetrated by businesses. She asked about efforts to regulate the private sector, and the extent to which the ad hoc bill submitted to the Minister for Equal Opportunities in April 2011 was intended to address inequality in employment. When would the bill be enacted? She also asked how women with disabilities were supported in the workplace.
Mr. BRASIOLI said women had been part of the Italian foreign service since 1960, and their numbers had been increasing. In the last decade, about 40 per cent of job applicants had been women, and in the last three years, the number of female applicants had outnumbered that of their male counterparts. Another member of the delegation said the participation of women in national politics was strong, but stagnant at the local level. A campaign for equal democracy had been launched to redress that situation, with some concrete results. Several bills had been introduced to promote their participation, including the "double preference" proposal, which allowed voters to select two candidates if one was a man and the other a woman. Additionally, a law had been passed to ensure that one third of the seats on the boards of corporations were held by women, he said, adding that penalties were in place should companies not comply.
Non-governmental organizations were represented in the national Equal Opportunities Commission, which had been re-established after a long lapse, he said, adding that regional electoral laws were left to the autonomous regions themselves and the central Government could therefore not act on them. Additionally, post-graduate degrees under "women, politics and institutions" programs had existed since 2005 to train future leaders.
In response to a specific question, a delegation member noted that the Department of Equal Opportunities was the national focal point for human trafficking.
While describing the shortage of women in the judiciary as "old news", another delegate said they played many highly significant roles in that sector, including in the higher ranks of the penitentiary system. The number of women in the armed forces had increased since the elimination of the quota system, and the rate of increase rose faster each year, she said. With regard to the seniority system of advancement, she said that was only one element among several that were considered when assigning promotions.
On the situation of the Roma, a delegate speaking from Rome said ethnic data could not legally be published. However, international organizations estimated that between 120,000 and 150,000 Roma lived in Italy. Many were there because of a special decree that allowed Roma women fleeing the wars of the 1990s to remain in the country. Today, an estimated 60 per cent of the Roma population were Italian citizens, he said. The regions had programs in place to serve many vulnerable categories of women, including the Roma, and they were based on the European Commission's principle of social inclusion - "explicit, but not exclusive, interventions".
On Roma education, another delegate, speaking from Rome, said the reality of Italian schools was one of local autonomy. At the national and territorial levels, programs intended to create "better situations of learning" were attempting to deal with a significant increase in immigration, and their finances were allocated on the basis of local indicators. With regard to labor, between $25 and $30 billion - drawn from the National Health Fund - was allocated to "non-self-sufficient" people, including those with disabilities. However, there was a need to change that structure because some areas of Italy were more economically self-sufficient than others.
He said the wide gap between male and female employment rates remained a source of concern, but the situation was improving, despite Italy's loss of 6.3 per cent of its gross domestic product due to the global recession. Women's employment was holding up under those conditions thanks to the fluidity of their work market, he said. It was notable that Government income support and maintenance of workers during the global financial crisis had been critical, he said, adding that a new plan, connected to the National Stability Act, envisaged an increase of 12 per cent in women's employment by 2020. Another program was intended to provide stable employment for women in southern Italy.
Regarding reconciliation policies and child care, another delegate discussed actions aimed at raising the child-care services target, saying that the results had been "quite good". The Government had allocated 900 million for that purpose, realizing 25.3 per cent coverage for child-care services.
He said that in its efforts to improve the employment rate, the Government had worked to encourage enterprises towards "flexible projects" and new time-work models, allocating 15 million per year to finance such projects. It had also tried to foster good legislation on parental leave, he said, pointing out that 10 per cent of all parental leaves were now requested by fathers, which was important for Italy's cultural situation. The Government had allocated funds to help low-income people gain access to child-care services, he added.
Regarding disabilities and law 66 ( 1999 ), a Labor Ministry official speaking from Rome cited data indicating that out of 28,600 people, 11,000 women with disabilities had access to the job market. Tele-work had also been beneficial to them, he said.
Experts' Questions and Comments
VICTORIA POPESCU, Vice-Chairperson and expert member from Romania, asked how the Government reconciled differences in access to basic health-care services among the regions, especially for women in the south and on the islands. Furthermore, Roma, Sinti and migrant women often lacked information on health services, she said. How was mother-to-child transmission of HIV prevented, particularly among those groups
MARIA HELENA LOPES DE JESUS PIRES, expert member from Timor-Leste, said that despite Italy's national plan for cancer prevention, 60 per cent of women lacked access to mammograms, and were unaware of the benefits of screenings. Asking about the Government's response to that situation, she also requested updated information on treatment for drug-addicted women, including those in prison. Noting that 20 per cent of Italy's budget was dedicated to health, she wondered how much of that was devoted specifically to women's health.
ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert member from China, asked why Italy had not submitted its "core" documents. Why did the report lack focus on the ability of rural women to obtain credit, or Government efforts to ensure that they had equal access to it? Why did a full-time female worker earn 95 per cent of a man's salary, whereas the gap between a retired woman's pension and that of a retired man was 35 per cent? Rural women were a force in the rural economy, she emphasized, requesting data on their social and economic status. Had special measures been adopted to guarantee rural women's participation in development strategies
ZOHRA RASEKH, Vice-Chairperson and expert member from Afghanistan, said the report contained no data to indicate the cause of drug and alcohol addiction among women. Suggesting that addiction was often triggered by economic conditions or abuse, among other factors, she asked whether the Government had studied the root causes of addiction or depression among women. She also asked about the campaign to encourage women to stop drinking during pregnancy and other preventive measures taken in that area. Finally, she requested information on the psychosocial support extended to victims of abuse.
Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked whether the Government had devised special legal measures and policies to create the economic conditions that would enable rural women to remain in rural areas. She asked about efforts to improve the collection of data that would give an overview of the situation of rural women. On gender-based violence in rural areas, she said the lack of social services and social control over those areas made women more vulnerable. How did the Government monitor implementation of the law by public officials in rural areas, especially labor law and criminal law
RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert member from Israel, noted that divorce proceeding were very long, and a decree could only be concluded three years after the initial hearing, which only aggravated the risk of spousal violence against women. She asked whether Italy had resorted to mandatory mediation in all divorce proceedings, even when there were signs of violence against women. International research was very strong in the opinion that mediation should not be used in such cases, she said. What was meant by shared custody? She asked, adding that parental alienation syndrome was also a "very shaky" concept. She also asked whether there was any recognition of intangible property in the distribution of marital property.
Ms. RICCI said the State was the guarantor of equal access to health services under the constitution. The Ministry had launched several initiatives to foster immigrant women's rights, including a report on the state of health of immigrant populations, the creation of targets, and an overview of policies, with a view to identifying assistance programs that could be offered through regional services.
Another project involving civil society examined health-care operators offering their services in Roma camps, she said. The "security package" did not touch provisions stemming from article 35, she said. Foreigners who were not legal residents could not access health-care structures, but they could receive essential care, and were not obliged to show proof of permanent residence.
Ms. CECCONI said the Government had organized breast cancer screenings, which was the main form of assistance. The Prevention 2010-2012 plan aimed to reduce women's mortality while other programs aimed to reduce cancer rates. To eliminate differences in carrying out screenings, especially on the islands and in the south, the 2007-2009 program of the National Screening Observatory promoted screenings in critical areas, she said, adding that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had also financed an extensive screening program.
3 - EESC hearing revealed almost a million EU citizens may be deprived of their right to vote in the upcoming European elections as a result of their disability, and many more may face obstacles casting their ballots...
5 - Paul Dodenhoff writes on an interesting parallel between British citizens caught up in policy aimed at slashing Britain's immigration numbers, and Britain's disabled people caught in a similar assault upon slashing numbers of people receiving state welfare...