Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Concluding Observations: Iceland (2002).

        Draft report

        Rapporteur: Ms. Rosalyn Hazelle

        Consideration of reports of States parties


        Combined third and fourth periodic report

        1. The Committee considered the combined third and fourth periodic report of Iceland (CEDAW/C/ICE/3-4) at its 532nd and 533rd meetings, on 17 January 2002 (see CEDAW/C/SR.532 and 519).

        I. Introduction by the State party

        2. In her introduction, the representative of Iceland updated the information contained in the reports which covered implementation up to December 1997, indicating that the new information would be contained in Iceland's fifth periodic report. She also informed the Committee that the Government had ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention in March 2001 and was preparing its acceptance of the amendment to article 20.1 of the Convention, relating to the Committee's meeting time.

        3. The representative indicated that, in May 2000, a new act on the Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men (The Gender Equality Act), which replaced the former Gender Equality Act of 1991, had been passed. The Act had created a new special institution, the Centre for Gender Equality, administrated by the Ministry of Social Affairs and entrusted with monitoring of the Act's implementation. The Act provided that institutions and enterprises with more than 25 employees should have a gender equality policy or create special provisions regarding gender equality in their employment policies. The Act prohibited both direct and indirect discrimination and entitled individuals and non-governmental organizations to seek redress from the Complaints Committee on Equal Status. Although the decisions of the Complaints Committee were not binding, the Centre for Gender Equality or the individual concerned could initiate legal proceedings based on the Committee's opinions.

        4. Each Ministry was required to appoint an equality coordinator who was tasked with the mainstreaming of gender equality within the work of the Ministry and its dependent institutions. Since 1991, Iceland had introduced three four-year action programmes on measures to realize gender equality, the latest in 1998. The Centre for Gender Equality had begun preparations for a new Action Plan, for the years 2002-2006, which places greater emphasis on gender mainstreaming and the methods to achieve it. In this respect, the representative stressed the need to increase the involvement of men in equality initiatives.

        5. In 2000, a Maternity/Paternity Leave and Parental Leave Act, which would enter into force on 1 January 2003, had been passed. The Act constituted a fundamental reform in that it promoted sharing of parental responsibilities and gender equality on the labour market. The representative indicated that implementation of the Act would create greater equality between women and men generally, and in particular reduce the pay gap between women and men, and address women's low representation in comparison with men's at the top levels of business management, situations that had resulted in part from women's heavy responsibilities for family and children.

        6. The representative noted that trafficking in women and prostitution, potentially associated with the strip clubs legalized since 1990, were becoming growing concerns for the Icelandic authorities. In cooperation with labour unions, local and national authorities were scrutinizing the activities of strip clubs in order to address trafficking and prostitution.

        7. In September 1998, the Minister of Social Affairs had appointed a Committee for a five-year period, to seek to increase women's participation in politics, inter alia, through education and information campaigns. The initial task of the Committee was to increase the number of women participating in the 1999 parliamentary elections. Thirty-five per cent of members elected to Parliament in 1999 had been women, in comparison with 25 per cent in 1995. The Committee was currently seeking to increase the proportion in local government, which at present stood at 28.5 per cent. Similarly, in the period 1998-1999, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had recruited women to 50 per cent of all new positions requiring a university degree.

        8. At the University of Iceland, women constituted 60.9 per cent of all new students and women represented over 50 per cent of students in disciplines except engineering, economics and computer science. In April 2000, a two-year agreement had been signed in order to strengthen the position of women in the labour market, increase female leadership in economic life and encourage women to choose male-dominated fields of study in higher education.

        9. The representative highlighted the fact that in 2000, women's participation in the labour market had been 79 per cent for age group 16-74 in comparison with 88 per cent for men. In age group 55-74 women's labour-force participation had decreased. Unemployment among women was 1.9 per cent in 2001, in comparison with 1 per cent for men. There was a wage differential of 10-16 per cent between women and men, and this differential was the subject of active debate.

        10. The representative pointed out that, in 1998, the Office of Gender Equality and the Administration on Occupational Safety and Health had published a study on sexual harassment which confirmed that this was a problem in the workplace. In response, the Gender Equality Act had defined and prohibited sexual harassment.

        11. The representative indicated that measures to address violence against women, including sexual violence, as well as violence against children, particularly girls, had been introduced. These included in camera trials for such offences, special procedures to protect victims and witnesses required to provide evidence, and restraining orders. Penalties for rape had been increased, and the State Prosecutor usually called for significant penalties in cases of sexual violence.

        12. In concluding, the representative noted that, although great progress had been made in implementation of the Convention, much more needed to be done. Efforts towards further implementation included examination of whether and how gender equality was being taken into account in national and local planning and policy-making. A working group, which was currently focusing on bills prepared by the Ministries of Finance, Industry, Commerce and Social Affairs, had also been established to ensure that gender was taken into account in the preparation of legislation.

        II. Concluding comments of the Committee


        13. The Committee expresses its appreciation to the Government of Iceland on its third and fourth periodic reports, which comply with the Committee's guidelines for the preparation of periodic reports. The Committee also appreciates the additional information given in response to the issues raised by the pre-session working group and during the oral presentation.

        14. The Committee commends the Government of Iceland for the constructive and frank dialogue with the members of the Committee.

        Positive aspects

        15. The Committee commends the Government of Iceland for the progress made in ensuring gender equality as illustrated by the passing of the Gender Equality Act (2000) and the large number of studies, pilot projects and research initiatives conducted in order to advance the equality between women and men.

        16. The Committee commends the Government for its efforts in incorporating gender mainstreaming in its overall policy framework and at all stages of policy-making processes.

        17. The Committee commends the Government for its recognition of the common responsibility of women and men in the promotion of equality and for having taken a number of measures to involve the participation of men in strategies to increase equality between women and men, inter alia, in the area of paternal leave.

        18. The Committee commends the fact that the Government of Iceland has ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention and is preparing for acceptance of the amendment to article 20.1 on the Committee's meeting time. The Committee also welcomes the fact that a number of recommendations in its concluding comments adopted when Iceland last reported have been implemented.

        Factors and difficulties affecting the implementation of the Convention

        19. The Committee notes that there are no significant factors or difficulties that prevent the effective implementation of the Convention in Iceland.

        Principal areas of concern and recommendations

        20. The Committee notes with concern that, unlike the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Convention has not been incorporated into domestic legislation and regrets that article 1 of the Convention, which defines the concept of discrimination, is not part of Icelandic legislation.

        21. The Committee recommends that the Government give further consideration to the incorporation of the Convention into domestic legislation. The Committee points particularly at the importance of the incorporation of article 1 of the Convention, which defines "discrimination against women". The Committee requests that the Government report on progress made in this regard in its next periodic report, including information on whether the Convention has been invoked before domestic courts.

        22. The Committee is concerned that the decisions of the Complaints Committee on Equal Status are not binding, inter alia, in cases where government bodies are found in violation of existing provisions.

        23. The Committee recommends that the Government consider strengthening the enforcement mechanisms of the Complaints Committee, and, in particular, provide that its decisions have binding force.

        24. The Committee notes with concern the apparent contradiction between the high level of education of women and the lack of women's achievement in the labour market, particularly the persistent wage gap of 10-16 per cent in the public sector to the detriment of women. The Committee is also concerned that the long-standing high rate of part-time employment of women seems to indicate that, despite the Government's efforts to facilitate the reconciliation of family life and work, women still bear a larger share of family responsibilities.

        25. The Committee encourages the Government to continue its efforts to take measures to assist women and men in striking a balance between family and work responsibilities, inter alia, through further analysis of the underlying causes of the wage gap, job evaluations, further awareness-raising and education initiatives for both women and men. This also includes ensuring the availability of adequate childcare facilities throughout the country. The Committee also requests that the Government provide more information in the next report on the situation of women in the private sector with regard to the wage gap.

        26. The Committee notes that, although progress was made with regard to women's political representation, women are still underrepresented in elected office, senior positions and the diplomatic service. The Committee is also concerned about the low number of women professors at the university.

        27. The Committee encourages the Government to take further measures to increase the representation of women in decision-making positions in all sectors, inter alia, on all public committees, and to facilitate an increase in the number of women in senior positions at the university.

        28. The Committee notes that the Government has taken a mostly legal and welfare approach towards violence against women, including domestic violence. The Committee also expresses concern at the low penalties for crimes of sexual violence, including rape.

        29. The Committee urges the Government to continue its efforts to implement and strengthen current policies aimed at combating violence against women, and to increase its awareness-raising activities and work with male perpetrators. It also urges the Government to consider the current penal provisions with regard to the practice of low sentences for perpetrators of sexual violence, including rape. It also encourages the Government to consider the issue of violence against women under the provisions of articles 2, 3, 5, 10 and 14 of the Convention. The Committee requests the Government to provide more information in the next report on combating violence against women, including measures taken to provide training of the police and the judiciary.

        30. The Committee notes with concern that Iceland may have become a country of destination for trafficking in women.

        31. The Committee encourages the Government to continue taking action to combat trafficking in women, including cooperation within the framework of the Nordic Council and the Council of Europe.

        32. The Committee expresses concern about the change of the pension system, which has cancelled defined benefits in favouring individual actuarial calculation and has reduced spousal benefits. It is concerned that, in view of the wage gap between women and men, this will adversely affect older women's income.

        33. The Committee recommends that the Government study the impact of the pension system on women and take appropriate measures to avoid increasing poverty among older women.

        34. The Committee expresses concern at the high level of alcohol consumption among women, and the level of alcohol and drug consumption among young people, including girls.

        35. The Committee urges the State party to take measures to address alcohol and drug abuse, especially among women and girls.

        36. The Committee encourages the Government to continue its preparations for acceptance of the amendment to article 20, paragraph 1, of the Convention.

        37. The Committee requests the State party to respond in its next report to the outstanding issues raised in constructive dialogue, as well as to the specific issues raised in the present concluding comments. It further requests the State party to provide in its next report an assessment of the impact of measures taken to implement the Convention, in particular with regard to gender mainstreaming.

        38. The Committee requests the wide dissemination in Iceland of the current concluding comments in order to make the people in Iceland, in particular government administrators and politicians, aware of the steps that have been taken to ensure the de jure and de facto equality of women as well as of further steps that are required in this regard. It also requests the Government to continue to disseminate widely, in particular to women's and human rights organizations, the Convention, its Optional Protocol, the Committee's general recommendations and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the results of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly, entitled "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century".

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