2015, October 22

National laws on prostitution: The cases of Netherland, Germany and Spain

First I would like to introduce the evaluation of the Netherland’s experiment, which legalized pimping and brothels in 2000. The Dutch Government conducted the evaluation in 2007. According to the Government, after the full legalization of prostitution, 95% of prostitutes still worked without contracts and considered themselves self-employed, despite the fact that there was a high level of control of their work by brothel operators. Accordingly, given the lack of work contracts, the majority of prostitutes were not entitled to any social service benefits.
According to official sources, the majority of prostitutes (more than 60%) did not pay tax on the income they earned through prostitution. In the escort sector, this increased to 75%. According to the Dutch government, the conditions under which prostitutes worked differed widely. Only 2% of the municipalities tolerated street prostitutes, which pushed them towards brothels, windows or other indoor establishments, where they were required to pay a rent and/or part of their incomes.
According to the evaluation, the emotional wellbeing of prostitutes has declined between 2001 and 2006 according to every variable assessed, i.e. the extent of distress was higher and the use of sedatives had increased. Only a small minority of municipalities (6%) offered an exit programs to prostitutes.
According to the government, the medium age of the prostitutes is much lower than in other sectors (29% of prostitutes in escort services are aged 18 or 19). More than half of the prostitutes who are working as escorts started when they were younger than 20, and more than 10% when they were underage
In 2012 Local police in Netherlands reported that low sentences for traffickers continued to result in the reappearance of the same offenders and thus the continued exploitation of trafficking victims within the regulated commercial sex sector.
Apart from improving the situation of prostitutes, the legalization of prostitution in Netherlands in 2000 aimed at reducing the prostitution by "irregular" migrants. However, work in prostitution is not considered as a valid occupation in order to provide work permits. As a consequence, non-EU nationals were pushed into the underground market where almost no controls take place, with no rights or protection available, and where prostitutes are thus more vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.
In general, between 45-50% of prostitutes in Netherlands state that violence is their main concern. The fact that Dutch brothels must be equipped with "panic buttons" is illustrative of the high level of risk of violence that prostitutes face.
According to the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings (2010) in Netherlands:
“There has always been a clear relationship between human trafficking and prostitution in the Netherlands. Human trafficking has been associated with prostitution ever since it was included in Dutch criminal law”. We are still a long way from reaching a situation where there is sufficient control of the Dutch prostitution sector to substantially reduce vulnerability to exploitation in the sector”
All in all in 2012, alarmed by persistent abuses and the presence of organized crime in the prostitution sector, into which is estimated that between 60-70% of the women are governed by criminal groups, the Dutch authorities considered amending the national prostitution policy. Apart from that, in 2008 the Council of Amsterdam launched the so called "Project 2012", with the aim of reducing crime in the central area, through which up to 200 of the 480 windows have been closed.
German Government initiated the Report by the Federal Government on the Impact of the Act Regulating the Legal Situation of Prostitutes in 2007. However since then, the Government does not provide any official data. A study carried out in 2007 found that 92% of prostitutes had suffered sexual harassment, 87% physical violence and 41% sexual violence in the context of performing sexual services. Around half of interwied showed symptoms of depression, 41% used drugs.
In general, Germany is considered one of the major destinations for victims of human trafficking. The Guardian identified Germany as "Europe’s biggest brothel".
In an effort to combat sexual exploitation, and in order to implement Directive 2011/36/, Germany’s Bundestag voted in June 2013 in favour of a bill which foresees the implementation of greater penalties for human trafficking, as well as stricter controls and monitoring for sex businesses by regional labour safety authorities.
Under the Criminal Code of 1995, prostitution in Spain was decriminalized. According to enforcement authorities, this decriminalization contributed to growth in the national sex industry. In 2003, the Criminal Code was amended again, establishing the criminal liability of those who obtain benefits exploiting the prostitution of others, even with consent.
In 2013 the Spain government stated that the great majority of prostitutes who consume substances have started it after engaging in prostitution: 83.3% of the prostitutes who consume sedatives, 73.2% of antidepressants consumers, and 66% of cocaine consumers started consuming after engaging in prostitution. Use of cocaine is often instrumental and demanded by the clients of sexual services.
In 2013 it was also estimated that 90% of women in prostitution in Spain could be under the control of organized crime networks. And that prostitutes in Spain mainly are foreigners.
In 2006 the special Commission was created and the Final Report regarding prostitution was adopted next year.
The Final Report reaffirmed the abolitionist approach and rejected the possibility of the regulation of prostitution, which they saw interfer with labour law, the legislation on gender equality, and the fundamental principle of equality of the Spanish Constitution.
The Commission viewed prostitution as a form of gender-based violence, inflicting severe damage and risking the physical and psychological health of women and girls; as rooted in patriarchal structures of men’s sexuality and the domination of women; and as being fostered by gender discrimination, the feminization of poverty, and global migration patterns. It recognized also that prostitution is a lucrative business, mostly controlled by criminal groups, and is tightly linked to trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights aspects of the victims of trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Sigma Huda:
States Parties with legalized prostitution industries have a heavy responsibility to ensure (...) that their legalized prostitution regimes are not simply perpetuating widespread and systematic trafficking. As current conditions throughout the world attest, States Parties that maintain legalized prostitution are far from satisfying this obligation". Her statement regarding the danger inherent to legalised prostitution systems to enhance trafficking in human beings has been confirmed by recent studies.


2015, September 16

International documents on regulation of prostitution

According to the Global Black Market information revenue can be estimated at around $186.00 billion per year worldwide. According to the Fondation Scelles’s Report published in 2012 prostitution has a global dimension, involving around 40-42 million people worldwide, of which 90% are dependent on a procurers. 75% of prostituted women are between 13 and 25 years old. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 70% to 90% of prostitutes have been forced into prostitution by criminal groups. Data and estimation on victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation indicate that most of prostitutes are migrants. On average 70% of the prostitutes in the EU are migrant women, especially in countries where prostitution is legal.
UN-Women in its note for 2013 stated that the issues of sex work, sexual exploitation and trafficking should not be conflated and that these three issues deserve to be considered in their own right. However, it can be said that, in international law and other international documents prostitution is hardly separated from sexual exploitation and trafficking in human beings.
Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, 1949
The Convention states that: “Whereas prostitution and the accompanying evil of the traffic in persons for the purpose of prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person and endanger the welfare of the individual, the family and the community”.
The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action
Highlights the significant problem of the feminization of poverty, and that poverty can force women into situations in which they are vulnerable to sexual exploitation. The platform acknowledges that trafficking and sexual exploitation place women and girls at high risk of physical and mental trauma, disease and unwanted pregnancy.
Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Beijing +10)
States, that the “Resolution 49/2 of The Commission on Status of Women is specifically dedicated to eliminating the demand for trafficked women and girls. Is highlighted the inextricable link between demand and trafficking for sexual exploitation, and calls upon Governments to specifically enforce or adopt legislative measures to deter exploiters and sex buyers who create the demand for prostitution that leads to sex trafficking”.
Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (2000)
States that “Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation.”
Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, 2005
Acknowledges that the most prevalent form of trafficking in Europe is that for purposes of sexual exploitation, which has strong links with the sex industry.
Article 6 highlights the importance of tackling demand in order to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings, stating that demand "fosters all forms of exploitation of persons, especially women and children, that leads to trafficking".
Maputu Protocol
Maputu Protocol includes the notion of sexual exploitation under Art. 11 “Protection of Women in Armed Conflicts.”
EU law
Directive 2011/36/ called upon the Member States to criminalize the known use of services of victims of exploitation, and specifically the buyers of sexual services from trafficked persons.
European Parliament Resolution on Criminalization of Demand for Prostitution, 26 February 2014.
Globally the regulation of prostitution is left under competence of national parliaments
The majority of countries in the Middle East prohibit prostitution. The prohibition of prostitution is based on either a prohibition of sex outside of marriage or a morality provision in the Penal Code. Prostitution is not illegal in Israel and Lebanon.
The laws in Africa vary from country to country and in many cases are radical one. Prostitution is either criminalized or totally legal, like in Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Senegal.
However, globally the general trend is to address the demand side of trafficking, exploitation of trafficking and prostitution.
The UK amended its legislation in 2009 by introducing administrative fines for sexual services from a prostitute who is subject to exploitation as a criminal offence. The client can be prosecuted even if unaware of exploitation of the prostitute by a third party. The 2009 legislation also prohibits soliciting a person in a street or public place to obtain sexual services.
France and Northern Ireland this year and last year Republic of Ireland adopted laws on criminalization of clients.
The tendency in Europe is addressing the demand side of prostitution in order to deal with exploitation of prostitution and trafficking.


2015, July 25

Gender Equality and the European Neighbored countries

I will not be very misleading to say that we left Millennium Development Goals with many unresolved issues regarding gender equality, including gender based violence, women in conflict and post-conflict situations, not succeeding in changing stereotypes and still trying to find the best ways to reconcile family and work, just to mention few. Accordingly, social and economic empowerment of women as well women’s participation in political life and decision-making is crucial to attain Sustainable Development Goals and achieve transformative and de facto gender equality.
In this regard it is important to stress, that a number of women politicians in the European Neighbored countries is increasing. Just to mention Tunisia with about 32% of female members of the Parliament which is well above of average in Arab countries (which is 17%). On the other hand, some other ENP countries count only few women in the National Parliaments with Armenia – 10%, Lebanon – 3%, and Egypt – 2%.
According to the CEDAW General Recommendation No. 25 on Temporary Special Measures a wide variety of legislative, executive, administrative and other regulatory instruments, including quota systems can facilitate more women in political life. In this regard it should be mentioned that for the moment among 12 European Neighbored Partnership countries only political parties in Israel have voluntary gender quotas for their candidates and there is a requirement for at least 33% of women candidates for the National Parliament.
A good example of gender quota system can be Latin American Countries. Between 1991 and 2000, eleven Latin American countries adopted quotas establishing a minimum level of 20 to 40 percent for women’s participation as candidates in legislative elections. As a result the political representation of women increased from 11.4% to around 19.1%. However, temporary special measures, including quotas, as it is Recommended by the CEDAW Committee is rarely employed despite that the Recommendations were adopted 10 years ago, in 2004.
On the other hand, for empowerment of women, i.e. to enable them utilize their rights, we can not rely exclusively upon temporary special measures which may or may not produce long lasting changes. For instance, in no country the fast introduction of quota automatically lead to the empowerment of women. As it was mentioned by Ms Gisladottir, the UN Women Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia.
What is crucial is how elected women use their new political power, what critical acts they perform in order to mobilize the resources of the political systems to improve the situation for themselves and for women in general.
In this regard the CEDAW Committee would like to emphasize the monitoring role of parliaments in implementation of de facto gender equality. National parliaments are essential in overseeing the positions taken by the governments during the implementation of the Recommendations and compliance with the CEDAW Convention and its Optional Protocol.
The second, no less important, role of national parliaments is promotion of women’s rights. Members of the parliament should actively advocate relevant policy changes. In this regard, female members of the parliament are expected to initiate active debates that would lead to positive changes in the national legal framework and all areas of life. But for that women should be ready to be big candidates. As it was mentioned by Ms Benchehida, a Senator of the Algerian Parliament.


2015, June 16

Reconciliation Family and Work

Officially State policies promoting harmonization between work and family are recognized by all States Parties to the CEDAW Convention which is now ratified by 189 countries. However, how a State Party understands the responsibilities of women and men in the family differs from country to country, and very much is related to the prevailing cultural norms and gender stereotypes in a given society.

In this regard, the Nordic governments implement a parental leave system that leads to equal sharing of childcare responsibility between men and women and guarantee high quality public childcare and elderly care. For example, parents of preschoolers have the choice of either publicly sponsored child-care or prolonged care in the family. Denmark, provides the strongest support for working motherhood, and is the foremost provider of public child-care in Scandinavia, and particularly stands out with high coverage rates for children under 3 years old. Meanwhile, Sweden has historically been at the forefront with regard to parental leave arrangements, and traditionally has strong tradition for encouraging father care (long paternity leaves).
However, despite the strong commitment to achieve economic and social empowerment of women, gender roles in the family are deeply traditional in many Central European countries. The States’ policies talk for themselves. For example, the father in Poland is entitled to paternity leave only until his child is 12 months and amounted to 1 week (in 2010 and 2011). The child care leave for three years can only be taken by a mother in Poland. At the same time in 2014 only 4% of children aged between the birth and 3 years old have access to childcare services.
Likewise, the persistence of gender stereotypes in Slovakia results in the lack of real measures for “reconciliation for family and working life”. The presence of children under the age of six years in a family significantly reduces the employment rate of women in Slovakia but has only a minimal effect on men’s employment. The employment rate of women aged 25-49 years with a child under the age of six years is less than 40% while for men in the same age group and in the same phase of parenthood it is over 83%. The most frequently implemented and used measure for reconciling work and family life is flexible working time. One consequence of persistent gender stereotypes is that care of children and other family members is still seen as women’s work. Only a very few fathers take parental leave.
Cultural norms and stereotypes preclude women from full participation in the labor market as well as enjoy family life in Azerbaijan. In Azerbaijan the reconciliation of professional and private life for women and men is left exclusively for women. There are very poorly developed childcare facilities and no compulsory paternity leaves in Azerbaijan.
Some European countries, especial in Eastern and Central Europe, have no measures for single parent families. For example, in Russian federation family policy supports only two-parent families. This approach increases inequality of one-parent families, including in employment. Such families usually need more social support, and heads of such households need more protection and employment assistance. According to the population census of 2010, in Russia, there are 8.5 million one-parent families; women head the majority of such families.
State policies for reconciliation family and work are intertwined with cultural norms and persistent stereotypes. If the given culture is not built on the principals of gender equality, the state policy regarding reconciliation will stay traditional and even patriarchal.


2015, May 21

UN Security Council Resolution 1325

Security Council Resolution 1325 is perceived as a landmark legal instrument because it aims to support the transition of women from victims to actors. It perceives women in their diverse roles as agents of change, mediators, peace-builders and decision-makers. However, during the last 15 years it became evident that there is still a long way to go to transform the vision of the resolution into reality in women’s lives. Women continue to be marginalized during formal peace processes and peace building. What is more worrying, grave abuses of sexual violence and rape continue to be a common occurrence in conflict and post-conflict context. While much has been achieved by way of incorporating sexual violence within the framework of Resolution 1325, efforts still need to be made to address systematic sexual violence cases as well as impunity for such crimes.
A common explanation for wartime violence is that rape is a form of atrocity, which is an inevitable byproduct of wars; in other words, wars naturally provides the opportunity for widespread sexual violence, and many, if not all male soldiers will take advantage of it. However, some armed groups do not engage in widespread rape despite other forms of violence against civilians.

What is often left unrecognized, is that sexual violence during war times originates from sexual violence during peacetime. It is a crime that we must deal with, not accept it as an inescapable reality of the war. Accordingly, to make a logic link between gender inequalities in times of peace and violence in conflict settings, can be much more important then prescription of how wartime sexual violence ought to be legally regulated.
One of the grave forms of sexual violence during the time of peace, is trafficking for sexual purpose, forced prostitution and enslavement. The forms of sexual violence in times of conflict and post-conflict settings are the same: rape, sexual torture, sexual mutilation, forced prostitution and sexual enslavement. Therefore, we need to look into the causes and solutions for peacetime violence in order to avoid exacerbation of these crimes during war. We need to exert political and social will to tackle it. Existing cultural norms and patriarchal gender stereotypes very often reinforces misogyny and crimes against women.

In this regard, the inevitable link between stereotypes of women as sexual objects during peace times, and women as objects of sexual violence in time of conflict and post-conflict should find its place in the global study.

I strongly believe that violence against women, both in times of conflict and peace, can only be addressed through a strong voice of international community. And I would therefore like to warmly welcome you all today to this important discussion.



Dear readers,

The “Women in Democracy” website is a wonderful and recent initiative pursued by the Community of Democracies Working Group on Women and Democracy. The website allows individuals, groups and institutions to access the most relevant and updated information regarding the global state of women rights and gender equality. For the first time, we are afforded one major source of relevant news, research, conferences, and other initiatives targeted toward any person concerned with improving the situation of women in politics.

The website is an important step in the continuing movement of women for equal treatment. Even today, women all around the world are often denied their most basic democratic rights and suffer from violence, discrimination, and lack of access to the public sphere.

As a global coalition of states devoted to the ideals of democracy, the Community of Democracies acknowledges that equal rights and opportunities for women, being crucial for the development of any society, constitute a moral obligation for every democratic country to fulfill. In realizing this vision, the Community is dedicated to and supports initiatives and projects that promote gender equality. The Working Group on Women and Democracy was founded to fulfill this goal.

Chaired by Lithuania, the Working Group on Women and Democracy aims to foster women’s political participation, representation and leadership. It promotes best practices facilitating women’s full political participation, makes recommendations to improve equal representation, disseminates information on female empowerment, and provides a platform for cooperation between governmental and non-governmental actors on concrete projects targeting gender gaps. The website “Women in Democracy” is only one among a number of valuable initiatives conducted by this body.

I wish to use this opportunity to share my own experience and reflections.

In my family, women of every generation tell the story of their struggle to break the glass ceiling. Being the first elected female leader of the Liberal Party of Sweden, I understand how much effort it takes for a woman to struggle to achieve equal treatment. The President of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitė, at the high-level conference “Women Enhancing Democracy: Best Practices” in 2011,” made the following unforgettable remark: “In order to become leaders - in politics, business or arts - whatever women do they must do it twice as well as men to be thought half as good.”

Our goal, embodied in the efforts of the Working Group on Women and Democracy and expressed in the important message of the “Women in Democracy” website, is to put an end to this reality. Step by step, women are indeed making improvements in this field; however, there is still a lot of progress to be made. Let us not stop here.


2015, March 26

On Municipality Election Results

With the conclusion of elections to municipality councils, Lithuania’s women would be forgiven for not being very surprised. Today they make up around 54% of the country’s population, and are among the most educated in the European Union. In 2013 41.5% of women aged 25–64 had a higher education and ranked higher than Finnish, Estonian, Irish and Swedish women in terms of their levels of education. In Lithuania’s cities and towns, it is most often women who are responsible for caring for children, the ill and the elderly, which is why decisions made at the municipality level are of great relevance to them. So what kind of logic applies where the portion of the population that is more educated and is more involved in and has a greater understanding of the flurry of everyday affairs has but a very weak voice when it comes to decision-making?

Out of the 60 positions of major in Lithuania’s city and regional municipalities, women were elected to four. That is, women make up 6.6% of majors in Lithuania now. Nijolė Dirginčienė (Lithuanian Social-Democrat Party) was elected in Birštonas, Živilė Pinskuvienė (Labour Party) was elected major of the Širvintai District municipality, Marija Rekst (Lithuania’s Poles Electoral Action, Russian Alliance) was elected major of the Vilnius District municipality, and Dalia Štraupaitė became the major in Visaginas (Lithuanian Freedom Union). Naturally, the constant gender disbalance in municipality elections does not mean that the The Central Electoral Committee of the Republic of Lithuania will think to present at least somewhat more detailed election results based on gender on their website. They give only general numbers of men and women elected to municipality councils: in 2007 there were 1,206 men and 344 women; in 2011 – 1,184 men and 342 women; in 2015 – 1,134 men and 365 women. Yet it is not just these general numbers that serve as indicators to the balance between men and women in elections. For that, information on the ratio between elected men and women would be needed, as well as the numbers of male and female candidates on party and public election committee lists, the positions women hold on candidate lists, the gender distribution of elected candidates in regional and city municipalities. The fact that the The Central Electoral Committee of the Republic of Lithuania ignores including this kind of information on its website reflects the already traditional gender disbalance on candidate and elected municipality council member lists.

We could try to count the women elected to municipality councils ourselves. For example (in alphabetical order), of the 25 members elected to the Akmenė District municipality council, 8 were women. Of the 27 members elected to the Alytus City municipality council, 7 were women. In the Alytus District municipality council, of the 25 members 4 are women. Among the 25 Anykščiai District municipality council members, 3 women were elected. The average number of women on council boards is around a handful amongst several dozen men. However an accurate distribution of municipality council members based on gender could be provided by the Central Electoral Committee of the Republic of Lithuania.

What guided the compilation of the candidate lists?

It appears that in the municipalitu council elections only a few political parties and public election committees took an interest in EU, Council of Europe and other international documents where Lithuania has obligated itself to implement or take heed of their recommendations.

Some discord comes from the Liberal Movement, whose website gives the programmatic claim: “Liberals: Gender quotas on party lists go against the principles of equal opportunities for men and women” (http://www.liberalai.lt/lt/naujienos-3/liberalai-lyciu-kvotos-partiju-sarasuose-priestarauja-vyru-ir-moteru-lygiu-galimybiu-principui-986).

Meanwhile Resolution 303 of the Council of Europe (2010) “Achieving sustainable gender equality in local and regional political life” states that the participation of women in a country’s political life is a sign of democracy. The Resolution reminds us that balanced participation of men and women on local councils is an inseperable part of human rights and democracy. Recommendation 288 (2010) of the Council of Europe urges countries to promote female candidate participation in elections to local councils and to contribute to the promotion of female candidates. This Recommendation and other international documents, including the United Nations Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women urges the drafting of laws or other decrees to set so-called temporary special measures (quotas) in order to ensure balanced male and female participation in elections. In Recommendation 303 (2010) from the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe it is foreseen that no gender should make up less than 40% in governing and decision-making organs at any level. In the European Commission’s Gender Equality Strategy for 2010–2015, the guarantee of women’s participation in decision-making is one of the five priorities.

It’s no surprise that in assessment of women’s participation on local muncipality councils, Lithuania does not reach the average figure for EU countries, which in 2013 was 31% (data is provided every two years). In Lithuania meanwhile female municipality council members made up 21%, and our neighbours Estonia (29%) and Latvia (31%) were ahead of us. In terms of the number of female majors, Lithuania also does not meet the EU average, which is 13%. In Lithuania, this figure was 11%. Following the municipality council elections held in Lithuania in March 2015, we have even fewer women, that is, 6.6%.

In an attempt to change this obviously patriarchal political way of thinking, it would be worthwhile starting from numbers and statistics. The Central Electoral Committee of the Republic of Lithuania could be of great assistance in this regard and present the public with numbers that go further than simply being a hallmark of socialist competition, but rather with statistical data that meets modern statistical principles. Armed with more reliable data a more detailed discussion of election results could follow, not to mention monitoring, evaluation of political party promises and the formulation of questions.


2015, March 3

Women – weapons of war

Modern wars and conflicts have obviously changed in their nature. Civilians are increasingly drawn into these conflicts and women are becoming a specific object of war, used as one of the weapons of war. Only a girl raised in a patriarchal environment can be naïve enough to believe that war is a male arena and that “uninvolved, innocent women” remain further behind the front lines.

News about the military conflict in Ukraine that is broadcast to the Lithuanian population is presented only within a high politics framework, as if it were coming to us from a session of the UN Security Council or the monitors’ reports of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Maybe this is why it seems hard to associate the war taking place in Ukraine with the shaky security of the regular civilian population in Lithuania. We still believe that in case of a conflict, it will be NATO soldiers, UN peacekeepers and Lithuanian army conscripts who will go into battle. However herein lies our largest delusion, as even the slightest shift of the conflict in Ukraine towards the West will unavoidably affect us all.

Military activities in different regions of the world today have one essential quality – the horrendous involvement of women and girls in conflicts. We can start this list from the Red Army’s soldiers, who raped around German women and girls towards the end of World War II. In 1990, during the Kuwait–Iraq war, Iraqi soldiers raped around 5,000 Kuwaiti women. The Rwandan genocide has left us with anywhere from 250,000 to 500,000 raped girls and women. In Europe, during the Bosnian war (1992–1995) between 20 and 50 thousand Muslim women were raped. In many cases, these were particularly violent acts of gang rape. Women in Bosnia were held in special camps and raped over an extended period. During the Kosovo war (1996–1999) it was Serbian and Roma women who were the focus of this violence.

For its scale, this new aspect of military conflict was recognized by the United Nations in 2000 and Resolution 1325 “Women, Peace and Security” was passed. This document is about the necessity of actively including women in conflict resolution and peace negotiations, to ensure their participation in the creation of a legal base that would be favourable towards women and would ensure gender equality. In other cases, as the outcomes of the Bosnian war showed, a larger portion of the raped women never receive any kind of material or psychological help, become stigmatized by their own families and if they survive, they remain in poverty and isolation until the end of their lives. Many of the women who experienced sexual abuse during the war never return to their homes and some of them end up raising the children of their abusers.

What brings on the treatment of women as an effective and cheap weapon of war?

To a large extent, the use of sexual abuse as a weapon of war against women is an outcome of structural gender inequality. Patriarchal and chauvanistic stereotypes regarding women encourage men at war to see them as suitable for denigration. At the same time, women who identify themselves only as wives, child-bearers and only in terms of being with a man will hardly be capable of making independent and adequate decisions in a time of threat. So the gender inequality that is already entrenched in times of peace is repeated in tragic ways under conflict conditions.

Today in Lithuania there are some who imagine that we do not live in a realistic world with the threat of war not so far away. Some politicians and social figures recommend women to be greater “women”, that is, to be exclusively wives and mothers. In our country there is not a single higher education institution where one could study and graduate with a degree in gender studies. Opponents of these kinds of programs think that men’s and women’s roles are inherent and are explained only during Sunday sermons at Church. Today we also hear voices saying that the law on Protection Against Violence in a Close (Family) Environment should be ammended. For example, some Lithuanian judges think that mediation between the abuser and the abused woman is almost obligatory. Is there any better way to teach a woman to forgive her abuser and to encourage her to continue to suffer? There are also calls in Lithuania for the prohibition of abortion, as the right for a woman to make her own decision also “inhibits” her from being a true Lithuanian woman. Meanwhile, during a period of military conflict, it is also important to know whether a country’s laws allow a doctor to perform an abortion.

Today what is critical is not the revival of traditional 19th-century family customs but the almost forgotten women’s rifle-bearing initiatives.


2015, February 3

More and more often in Lithuania we hear news about certain Lithuanian families that have migrated to the Northern countries that draw the attention of local social workers. There are increasingly more cases where Lithuanian emigrants’ children are being separated from their parents and are transferred into state care. Emigrants, driven by the fear of having their children taken away from them, decide against sending their offspring to local schools and instead embrace distance learning. We can only imagine how this kind of education at home differs from the famous sculpture by Rimša from 1906 “School of Hardship”, which portrays a Lithuanian woman at her spinning wheel teaching her child how to read. This kind of anti-tsarist and anti-Russian strategy could be justified during the press-ban years, but today some Lithuanians migrate to the territories of the Russian empire of their own will.
This year the Norwegian government presented its fourth Report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. In this Committee’s concluding observations it was underlined that Norway should pay attention to the situation where children are separated from their parents and placed in the care of state institutions. The Committee’s experts urged Norway to explain the reasons for this phenomenon and to turn attention towards the preventative education of such at-risk parents, and to teaching them the feeling of parenthood and responsibility for their children. Sweden presented its (fourth) report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2009. In the concluding observations directed at Sweden, the Committee also highlighted that there was a large number of children in the country who had been separated from their parents, and similarly urged finding out the reasons why this had happened, and to apply the respective preventative measures.
According to the Norwegian ambassador in Vilnius Dag Malmer Halvorsen’s data, at present there are around 55,000 emigrants from Lithuania in Norway. In Sweden there are around 7,400 arrivals from Lithuania, and the Swedish ambassador Cecilia Ruthström-Ruin also mentions that migrants often bring with themselves a different way of life. As Lithuanians constitute a certain percentage of at-risk parents in the Northern countries, especially in Norway, Lithuania could and should cooperate in implementing the mentioned UN Committee on the Rights of the Child Concluding Observations, in trying to answer the question of what are the main reasons for children being removed from their parents in Lithuanian migrant families. Why do our families stand out so much to our northern neighbours?
In the opinion of Scandinavian scientists, there are several aspects that explain why the Northern countries managed to create and implement effective family policies. Among the most important factors determining egalitarian relations in the family, in the Northern countries, it is important to note that:

  • There was a historical evolution of a nuclear family model, consisting of parents and their children;
  • There were no imperial or totalitarian traditions; 
  • Well-organized local communities were formed; 
  • Protestant secular societies predominated; 
  • There was a feminist movement and gender equality principles were actively implemented in the public sphere and in the family; 

In effect, gender equality was a crucial factor. Norway’s Gender Equality Act was passed in 1979. However, prior to the passing of this law, Norway was little different to other traditional and patriarchal countries. Norwegian women also bore the so-called “double burden” in paid employment and in the home; domestic violence was a family’s private affair; there was a marked difference in wages for the same job comparing men to women; the pre-school institution network had not been developed; 40 percent of women had part-time work and did not receive a pension in their later years; stereotypes weighed heavily on women who did not want to live a traditional way of life, and a 1950s American housewife ideal was promoted in the public discourse.
However, the thorough implementation of the Gender Equality Act banned any discrimination based on gender and sexist chauvinism in Norway; it brought on the development of pre-school institutions and created the hitherto inexistent father’s role in the family; programs combining family and work were implemented; and women were given the chance to regulate their reproductive potential themselves. In 2009, 30 years after the passing of the Gender Equality Act, Norway became the first country in the world where women made up 49 percent of employees at the largest companies. From 1993, thanks to the introduction of quotas, women occupy 40 percent of seats in city councils. Today, 90 percent of husbands in Norway make use of paternity leave. Clearly, working mothers in Norway can make use of the quota system only because the state overturned patriarchal stereotypes and gender roles, it participated in the combination of work and family, and in this way encouraged women to actively contribute to the creation of the country’s economic well-being. In other words, the state brought gender equality policies into realization in public and family life.
Meanwhile, in Lithuania:

  • Extended families dominated from the end of the 18th century where several generations lived together, and where the patriarchal role of the father or other males in the family was in effect unquestioned. The formation of new modern family relations was aborted in the inter-war period, whilst the Soviet period formed neo-patriarchal gender roles in the family.
  • From 1795, except for the inter-war period, Lithuania was part of one empire or another. The Soviet period did not form conscious communities, but, in the words of Hannah Arendt, a society of atomized people. 
  • From the 16th century the main matrimonial issues in Lithuania were under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church. As a result, Lithuania was one of the last countries in Europe where civil marriages and divorces were legalized, only in 1940. 
  • And finally, the feminist movement of the 1960s by-passed Lithuania, along with women’s political activism. 

Clearly, Lithuania’s historical development was not conducive to the formation of egalitarian gender relations. That is why today in democratic Lithuania an active gender equality policy should be the main compensatory mechanism encouraging modern egalitarian relations in public life and in the family.
The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Convention) was ratified by Lithuania in 1995. Article 16 of the Convention and General Recommendations No. 21, 29 (1994, 2013) refer to why it is important to change stereotypes that encourage and sustain patriarchal roles of men and women in marriage and/or in partnership. The Convention urges national governments to create favourable legal and social conditions for men and women to share responsibility in the family and thus make it possible for them to combine work and family obligations.

Meanwhile the two main national laws outlining non-discrimination and gender equality in Lithuania, the Republic of Lithuania Law on Equal Treatment (2003) and the Republic of Lithuania Law on Equal Opportunities for Men and Women (1998), do not apply in the spheres of the family or private life. The very important Republic of Lithuania Law on Protection from Domestic Violence (2011) blocks the use of violence against women and children in the family. However, within the framework of this law, there are now recommendations to implement a mediation institution. In effect this means encouraging an abused woman to forgive her offender. According to the Labour Code of the Republic of Lithuania, men can receive paternity leave, however unlike Norway, 90 percent of Lithuanian fathers do not make use of this right.

Today gender equality principles do not play a significant role in a majority of Lithuanian families. Instead what dominates is Soviet-era neo-patriarchalism or postmodern neo-liberalism, where gender equality is understood as an individual’s own private matter and concern. However a modern and effective family policy cannot be regarded without considering gender equality principles. Without an egalitarian state family policy, our emigrants will continue to make their way to foreign countries with a very specific understanding of the roles of men and women and parent-child relations in the family, and concurrently their neighbours will be inclined to inform social protection departments about those strangely behaving families.


2014, September 23

The UN CEDAW Convention (The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) is an international tool for the elimination of gender-based discrimination against women, which goal is the practical realization of substantive equality between women and men.
Today 188 states have ratified the CEDAW Convention and it makes the Convention the second most accepted of the nine core UN international human rights treaties. Eight Eastern-Central European countries, that have been accepted to the European Union in 2004, ratified the Convention between 1980 and 1994: with Hungary being first among them in 1980 followed by Poland the same year and then Estonia (1991), Latvia (1992), Slovenia (1992), Slovakia and Czech Republic (1993), and Lithuania (1994).
In order to achieve practical realization of substantive equality between women and men the CEDAW Convention obliges state parties to pursue “a policy of eliminating discrimination against women” and to adopt “all appropriate measures”, including legislation, to ensure the “full development and advancement of women.” The Convention also encourages state members to accept “temporary special measures which aim at accelerating de facto equality between men and women” as well as “special measures” aimed at protecting maternity. The Convention also promotes setting “all appropriate measures” to remove stereotypes on gender roles. These provisions could be called a policy of empowering women in addition to policy on eliminating discrimination.
Lithuania, Poland and Hungary submitted their respective periodical reports and defended them in the CEDAW Committee within the last eight months (with Poland having the constructive dialog in October). Periodical reports make possible to better assess their achievements or possible backlashes in gender equality since the countries’ accession to the EU in 2004.
Lithuania defended its reports in 2008 and 2014. In both Concluding Observations the Committee stressed that the information provided in the country’s reports sometimes was too general to permit the Committee to evaluate the specific situation of women. The Committee also stressed that the responses to Lists of the Questions were not always satisfactory and lacked an understanding of the nature of the Convention and its specific provisions, especially regarding the aim of temporary special measures in areas such as politics, public life, education and employment in the public or private sectors. The Committee further indicated that Lithuania has not succeeded in adopting the laws on the temporary special measures. As in 2000, statistics show that women are still underrepresented in political life. Today women consist 24% among the members of the Parliament (elected in 2012).
In the last Concluding Observations the Committee indicated a week role of national mechanism in Lithuania. It was observed that the Division of Equality in the Government is not sufficiently resourced financially and the number of staff of the Division has been reduced to 3. The experts noted that no adequate information was provided on the coordination mechanisms to ensure gender mainstreaming at municipal levels. For Committee it was also not clear how productive is the work of the gender equality focal points in respective ministries in Lithuania.
Since the accession to the EU, Hungary has defended its reports to the CEDAW Committee two times, in 2007 and 2013. In 2007 the Committee recommended Hungary to align the definition of discrimination against women with Article 1 of the Convention either the inclusion in the Constitution or appropriate laws, such as the Act on Equal Treatment. However, still during the second report in 2013 the State party was of the opinion that the Committee’s recommendation contained in previous Concluding Observations of 2007 was not reasonable.
The Hungarian Equal Treatment Act allows for the application of temporary special measures. In 2007 the “law on quota” was proposed which aimed to increase political participation of women. Alternative sources indicated to the Committee that a bill on women’s quota on national party lists have also been proposed by Members of the Parliament in 2011. However, both proposals failed due to insufficient support of the Parliament. As a result, participation in the political life, public life and economic decision-making remains underrepresented by women in Hungary. The percentage of women in the Parliament is really very low and consists of only 10.1% when European average is 25.3%.
The Committee further questioned the definition of family in Hungary. The new law on the protection of families, which was adopted in 2011, defines family in Hungary as a “relationship (…) based on a marriage between a woman and a man (…)”. In May 2014 the Constitutional Court stated that this definition of family is contrary to the Fundamental Law and the definition itself is too narrow. In this regard, the national Constitutional Court recognizes regression of gender equality in the family life in Hungary. The Law discriminates in forms of allowances to single mothers and their children, or to families of grandparents and their grandchildren, or for example, to unregistered families. It seems women’s property rights in un-formal marriages are unprotected too.
The Committee also expressed concern regarding Hungary’s explanation that the population increase is the main priority of the State party’s policy. The Committee believes that taking this direction may represent a regressive approach to gender issues. The experts of the Committee were of the opinion that taking this direction increases the prevalence of gender stereotypes by portraying women mainly, if not exclusively, in the role of mothers and caregivers.
Poland submitted combined 7th and 8th periodic reports in 2010. Despite the recommendations from the Committee, Poland still does not have specific law that contains a definition of discrimination against women encompassing both direct and indirect discrimination and covering all areas of life. The Polish Parliament has repeatedly rejected comprehensive law on gender equality. The new Equal-Treatment Act adopted in 2010 covers more many public areas but still does not consider sex as a protected circumstance in the area of educational services and healthcare. Up to 2011 there has not been implemented monitoring and enforcement of anti-discrimination legislation. There has never been a single complaint for sexual harassment at the work place in Poland.
The rate of female parliamentarians decreased to 9% in 2005 in Poland. In 2011 amendments were made to the Electoral Law in order to increase participation of women in public and political life. According to the amendment, the electoral list for the Polish and European Parliaments as well as municipal, district councils may be represented by no less than 35% of female and 35% of male candidates. Today women constitute 24% of all members of the Parliament and only 12% of the Senate. There is no a single woman in four municipal councils in Poland.
That is why today it is very important to return to the progressive political vision. In this regard, I would like to stress that adoption of the CEDAW Convention by the 188 member states is a formal international recognition of women’s rights as human rights and their inclusion in the global human rights framework of the United Nations. Our duty should be to make the Convention serve as an instrument for the practical realization of substantive equality between women and men.


2014, September 19

Feminism has not disappeared from the public discourse. Quite the opposite, it features in the main internet media sites almost every day. Journalists present feminist initiatives such as new banknotes with the image of Jane Austin being brought into circulation in Great Britain, or quotas for females on company boards in EU countries. Meanwhile, feminism, understood exclusively as the realization of women’s rights and the elimination of discrimination against women, is too formalized. There are discussions as to whether feminism might be an outlived doctrine. However, the main international document on women’s rights – the United Nations Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women – is based precisely on the principles of classical feminism. If the Convention was ratified by 188 countries, then how can feminism be considered outlived?
But perhaps feminism has cornered the privilege of being the only feminist theory and practice? Proponents of similar opinions claim that feminism is too varied to take the capital letter F. Some forms of feminism exist as performance art. The Russian Pussy Riot is probably one of the most widely known examples. The Lithuanian version was the performance art piece “House of Variety and Education”, during which young ladies presented their interpretation of Lithuanian national anthem. Similar ideas are born in informal university student groups as well. For example, Oxford University female students organize parties where they mix up cocktails called Bloody Mary Wollstonecraft and Consensual Sex. The fun atmosphere of such parties is presented as a feminist initiative of the new generation. Supporters of performance-based feminism usually aim to draw attention to the sexism and violence existing in society. However the central goal of these performances are the performances themselves, not women’s rights and their protection. Only the question of taste and whether it was fun (or in the Lithuanian case, a different take on patriotism) determine whether people enjoy these performances or not. As displays of performance art do not and cannot have any realistic impact on changing the existing gender balance and/or eliminating violence and discrimination against women.
Meanwhile post-liberals generally dismiss the “opposite sex” doctrine and encourage us to believe that the real promise behind the feminist and women’s movement of the 1960s–1970s was post-sexism. Post-liberals claim that the fundamental task of feminism was to finally be treated as people/individuals, and not to search for gender equality for men and women. The post-liberal ideology sees it as worthwhile to identify the women’s movement with any other person’s fight against the infringement of their rights on the basis of gender. Post-liberal ideas paved the way for a strange partnership between women’s/gender studies and queer studies, directing the political goals of women’s studies towards research on sexualism.
At the same time, American neoliberal feminism states that economic, political, cultural or social reasons no longer play a part in gender equality. In the view of neoliberal feminists such as Sheryl Sandberg, women’s rights depend of the ability of women themselves to make sure they are upheld in the home, at work, and in
social/political activities. Neoliberals’ fight against women’s discrimination is a woman’s own personal matter and concern.
We can also mention the oddest form of gender equality – conservative feminism. If for the feminists of the 1960s–1970s it was very important to question motherhood as the only female identity, then today this ideology is again promoting a conservative gender equality variant. This model, a policy most commonly supported by the state, equates gender equality to the right of women to be birth-givers and to raise children. In the national programs of certain Central and East European states, it is precisely this women’s right that receives the most widespread support – the right to be a mother and to raise children.
No one doubts that multi-various women’s activism is an expression of a democratic and post-modern society. However, the aim of feminists from the 1960s–1970s was not their own self-expression (performance art based feminism), or the creation of a post-sexist society (post-liberal feminism), or a personal fight for women’s rights (as is being actively promoted by neoliberals). Feminism of the 1960s–1970s, as a progressive policy of women’s rights and anti-discrimination, sought equality for men and women in the public and private space, and first of all – realistic political and social equality for women. So today we are speaking not only about the variety of feminisms and forms of women’s activism, but about the different goals and aims of these variants.



2014, August 17

 There are no objective or serious arguments that could justify banning the termination of an unwanted pregnancy. Doctors, social activists, and human rights defenders speak out against the banning of abortions not because they want to encourage them, but because they are aware of the consequences of such a ban – illegal and unsafe abortions. The main international documents, including the United Nations Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW), confirm a woman’s right to maintain control over her reproduction. A woman has the right to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children.

Every year in the world, around 20 percent of all pregnancies end in termination. Specialists claim that on average every fifth pregnancy is terminated. However, if in the 15–44 year old age group there are from 7 to 13 abortions for every 1,000 women, then the number of illegal abortions in the same age group is significantly larger: from 16 to 23. The number of illegal abortions is even larger in those countries where abortions have been criminalized. That is, a woman who has undergone an illegal abortion is liable for prosecution and may be imprisoned. Abortions are considered a criminal activity in many countries of the Latin American and Caribbean countries, whilst the figure for illegal abortions here is the highest in the world: for every 1,000 women there are 32 illegal abortions. So the banning of abortions or their criminalization gives an increase in the number of illegal and unsafe abortions.
Why do Lithuanian pro life and anti abortion supporters believe that the ban of abortions in Lithuania would not result in statistics similar to those evident in the Caribbean or Latin American countries? Today in Lithuania, as in the Latin American countries, there is in effect no sexual education system in place for young teenagers and other young people, whilst effective contraceptives are available only with a doctor’s prescription and are not within the financial reach of all women of child-bearing age. Lithuania’s situation in terms of sexual health and education is closer to that of distant South America than that of EU countries. Meanwhile Western Europe, where abortions are available and where a sexual education system has been in place in secondary schools for a long time, has the lowest number of abortions in the world: for every 1,000 Western women there are 12 abortions.
In the field of reproductive health, neither Latin America nor our neighbouring Poland are good examples. Even though the law in Poland allows for the possibility of an abortion in cases of rape, over the last two years not a single woman in Poland made use of this right. Did Poland suddenly become a country where sexual violence against women and girls has become inexistent?

Interestingly, in Poland where the banning of abortions has been associated with the protection of life in the prenatal phase, prostitution is legal. Hungary is another example. In 2011 the new Hungarian constitution outlined that the right to life is defended from the moment of conception, however alongside this, legal prostitution is in place. From 2012, restriction started being placed on non-surgical (pharmaceutical drug-based) means of pregnancy termination in Hungary. And the only private clinic in Budapest offering pregnancy termination services was closed down. Now Hungarian women who wish to terminate an unwanted pregnancy must go to Slovakia or Austria. In Ireland abortions have been criminalized since 1861, however legislation exists for legal prostitution. Irish laws foresee a life sentence in prison for performing an abortion. Yet if in an Irish hospital a woman would be refused an abortion and she would die as a result, medical personnel would not be held liable to the same legal ramifications. This was the situation on October 28, 2012 when Irish doctors refused an abortion to Savita Halappanavar, despite it being the wish of the woman and her husband. Prostitution meanwhile is legal in Ireland. In what way does this reflect love, concern for and violation of a woman’s body? Does this mean that, by following such examples, the protection of prenatal life and ban on abortions shall be legalized in Lithuania along with prostitution?



2014, September 8

Putin and Russian ideologues are speaking about the divide between two civilizations and two value systems: the “Russian world” and the “European” world. An important role here befalls one of the most important fields of human rights – women’s rights and gender equality.

For several years now, the Russian-language media has been forming a radical and conservative opinion about the patriarchal roles of women in the family and society. However in recent months, the “Russian world’s” vision in terms of women’s rights and gender equality can be called open fascist propaganda. For example, in an interview the widely known Russian Orthodox priest Aleksej Moroz talked about the attitude of a “real” Russian towards women’s history and gender politics. The priest’s temper had been flared by several Russian state universities and research centres, among them, the N. Miklucho-Maklay Ethnography Institute, the Riazan District Academic Library and the women’s history and gender studies conference organized by the Russian Women’s History Association in September of this year. In the interview, Moroz claimed that “gender” was a conspiracy tool of Satanistic Europe, legitimizing paedophaelia, bestiality, “gay marriages” and degeneracy. These kinds of Western values, according to Moroz, had to be eliminated, as their application in women’s history research and/or gender equality hid the actual aim of destroying the Russian nation. The priest called on scientists to boycott the conference, to publicly name the organizers and, if that failed, to organize a picket line.

On May 14 the Novocherkask city court passed a resolution whereby the local non-government women’s organization (union) “Dono women” would be recognized as a foreign agent (http://eng.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/28133/). The goal of the organization which was established in 1993 is the protection of women’s rights in politics and in the economy. One of the main accusations made by the Russian prosecutors against members of this organization was that the women had received grants from the United States and the European Union. At present the organization’s members are trying to defend the well known human rights, educational and historical memory organization “Memorial”.

Misogyny, patriarchalism and the fight against women’s rights and gender equality are some of the battle measures applied by Putin and the “Russian world” against “Europe”. In the patriarchal Russian society, this card is almost unbeatable and ideally performs the role of the ideological unifier of the Eurasian Empire. However, women’s human rights are universal and have international standards that Russian Federation (as an inheritor of the USSR) agreed to abide since 1981. It has to be remembered if Russian society wants to live in a democratic rather than a Eurasian kind of empire.



2014, July 9

During the course of research conducted last year, Daniela Rosche and Oxfam Novib found that violence, women’s restricted access in decision-making processes, a gender-biased national legal base and women’s financial dependence were the four main forms of discrimination against women. Regardless of the differences existing in various regions in the world, the level of their economic development, different religions and different cultural norms, these forms of discrimination are the underlying hurdles stopping the real implementation of gender equality. A telling example is violence and its various forms. Even though early marriage, forced genital mutilation (FGM) and foeticide are not predominant in all countries, physical, sexual, psychological and emotional violence against women and girls exists in all societies.
Social and economic justice is dependent on the proportional and accordant participation of men and women in all aspects of political and economic life. These are critical preconditions for the implementation of gender equality that are directly related to bringing an end to violence against women. Meanwhile women’s opportunities to participate in decision-making processes are limited. Apart from a few minor exceptions, there are far fewer women involved in national parliaments, governments and local governing bodies.
One of the crucial conditions for gender awareness is ensuring solidary and productive cooperation between international human rights bodies, grass-roots organizations and national governments, including their respective gender equality branches. Discussion and precise articulation of the existing problems between these parts is a necessary condition for the implementation of women’s rights in practice.