14 February 2017 – The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) at its 66th session reviewed reports about the situation in Ukraine.

Ukraine has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and is reviewed regularly by CEDAW on the progress of the implementation of the Convention. The Committee, which is composed of 23 international independent experts, held dialogue with delegations from the government of Ukraine and was also briefed by NGOs and national human rights institutions.

Neal Walker, UN Resident Coordinator, Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine has presented UN Country Team Report on CEDAW implementation:

Madam Chair, members of the Committee,

Thank you for the opportunity to brief you on behalf of the UN Country team in Ukraine. I am pleased to have with me today colleagues closely associated with our work on this report, including Anastasia Divinskaya, the Head of UN Women in Ukraine and Natalia Pylypiv, OHCHR Human Rights Officer.

Let me start by stating simply: the United Nations Country Team in Ukraine prioritizes gender equality and women’s rights. We are deeply apprehensive about the unprecedented challenges in Ukraine that impact women’s access to equal opportunities and rights, and we are particularly worried about women facing multiple forms of discrimination. The roots can be found in patriarchal attitudes and stereotypes, but also in deep-rooted systemic problems which have not been addressed. These include weak rule of law, antiquated social-protection systems, weak capacity of national machinery for the advancement of women and a lack of political will. The conflict seriously exacerbated systemic problems and created new challenges and a whole new type of violations of women’s human rights.

I am proud to present the UNCT Ukraine’s first report to CEDAW Committee. The report was prepared by the UN Gender Theme Group including seven agencies: UN Women, OHCHR, UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNDP, UNHCR and ILO, with support of the UN Peace and Development Advisor.

We decided to focus on three key areas that have consistently been problematic in Ukraine and where the situation has further been exacerbated due to the on-going conflict and its consequences. They are: public and political life, employment and work and violence against women.

The submission provides supplementary information to the Eighth Periodic Report of the Government of Ukraine, as well as the Shadow reports submitted by civil society organizations. In preparation to the 66th session of the CEDAW Committee, UN Agencies organized two consultations and one training with the civil society and the Government to support their preparation to the session, as well as to validate the issues and the data. I will now briefly present each of these areas in terms of the key problems.

Public and political life

The level of participation of women in public and political life is low. Women comprise 11% of Parliament, 12% of the Cabinet of Ministers and 16% of the executive civil servants at the top level of public administration. The temporary special measures are applied inconsistently, and even where the quotas are introduced (local elections law), the enforcement mechanisms are still not in place. In short, women are excluded from key political decision making apparatus. I would particularly like to highlight that due to the lack of affirmative measures, women facing multiple forms of discrimination, such as Roma, women with disabilities, displaced women and others, are almost entirely excluded from the decision-making.

The national reform agenda and the eighteen reforms initiated since 2014 have been developed without gender and human rights perspectives. The implementation of the reforms almost entirely neglects the national and international commitments on gender equality and women’s human rights, as well as the new gender equality priorities caused by the conflict. Women, facing multiple forms of discrimination, as well as the women’s groups and organisations are not a part of decision-making forums or consultations concerning the reforms.

National machinery for the advancement of women remains weak. There is a lack of coordination and coherence between machinery at the local and at the national levels. This prevents comprehensive government-wide implementation of the gender equality and women’s rights agenda.

However, I am pleased to report that in October 2016 the Prime-Minister decided to establish a position of Commissioner on Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men in the Cabinet of Ministers. This promising measure has the potential to enhance comprehensive advancement of gender equality and women’s human rights in Ukraine by engaging the Cabinet of Ministers. The Decree on establishment of the position is pending approval, hopefully by the end of February 2017 and we encourage the Committee to support this development.

Employment and work

The gender pay gap remains a key concern. The gap has not changed since 2009 and now the difference in wages of men and women is approximately 24%. Horizontal and vertical occupational segregation by gender remains strong reflecting and perpetuating stereotypes regarding the traditional roles of men and women. As a result, women are concentrated in sectors with relatively high educational requirements, but lower wages, for instance in the public sector. The current general legislative prohibition against women’s employment “in heavy work and work with harmful or dangerous conditions” excludes women that have the physical capacity and the desire, to take such jobs. Lack of disaggregated data on the labour market is a serious obstacle: Government must address this problem to effectively address the gender pay gap.

The armed conflict exposed a problem of occupational segregation and employment discrimination in armed forces. Of almost one thousand posts in military service at the private, sergeant and sergeant-major level, approximately two-thirds are closed to women. Military positions that can officially be held by women are limited to posts that involve the provision of services, care and entertainment (librarian, secretary, nurse, clerk, and accountant). We know in fact, that women participate in combat. Discrepancies between women’s formal and actual positions result in women being paid less than men. Deeply concerning, they are often ineligible for services and benefits in case of injury sustained during combat or from receiving status as a veteran of the Anti-Terrorist Operation.

Studies document the prevalence of discrimination in the world of work on the basis of sex and other grounds, such as disability, age, HIV status, displacement. This includes discrimination in access to employment, unequal remuneration, conditions of work and violence at the workplace, among others. Effective access to justice is not available for victims of discrimination.

Finally, in this section, I wanted to refer to Question 21 raised by the Committee in the list of issues in relation to Ukraine. We fully endorse the urgent need to delink the payment of social benefits, including pensions, from IDP status.

Violence against women

Gender-based violence remains widespread in Ukraine. Recent research shows that 19% of women aged 15-49 have experienced some type of physical violence. The armed conflict in eastern Ukraine increases the risks of gender-based violence, due to the unravelling of social fabric, displacement, deteriorating economic situation.

Lack of accurate and reliable data on GBV remains an acute problem. It is not collected systematically at the national level, so good data is not available to inform response and policies. The interchangeable use of terms, such as conflict-related sexual violence, gender-based violence and domestic violence by the media, the Government and service providers contributes to confusion and complicates a determination of the scale and scope of problems.

Based on data collected to-date, there are no grounds to ascertain that sexual violence has been used for strategic or tactical needs of the parties to the conflict. The majority of documented cases of conflict-related sexual violence occurred in the context of deprivation of liberty. Other risk factors include imposition of checkpoints and presence of armed actors in populated areas.

Services for GBV survivors remain inadequate. The referral pathways are broken, especially in conflict-affected regions. Professionals in medical and social state institutions lack the specific knowledge and skills required to deal with survivors. Consequently, specialised services for the survivors are provided by civil society organisations through donor-funded programmes. High quality services are available in urban centres, mostly in the capital but there is little or no assistance available in smaller towns and rural areas. Across the country, there is almost complete absence of safe spaces (shelters) that meet required criteria.

The conflict had a particularly negative impact on the provision of services for survivors in territory controlled by armed groups. Armed groups have imposed severe limitations that prevent humanitarians from carrying out programmes, particularly those linked to protection and psycho-social support.

Women constitute overwhelming majority of the registered victims of offences of sexual nature: 91% of rape survivors and 74% of domestic violence survivors. Unfortunately, perpetrators often enjoy impunity for these crimes. National legislation and legal practice regarding the prosecution of sexual violence is limited and is not fully in line with international standards and practice. Due to gaps in legislation and a lack of capacity, acts of sexual violence, including conflict-related, are often recorded by law enforcement as “other crimes” – such as bodily injury. Lawyers, police officers, prosecutors and judges lack knowledge of how to document, investigate and consider cases of conflict-related sexual violence. Consequently, victims of sexual violence are often confronted with inaction, or even inappropriate action, by State authorities.

Ukraine’s broader legislation on gender-based violence is contradictory and requires revision. The Istanbul Convention, one of the key regional instruments to combat violence against women, has not been ratified.

In conclusion, allow me to reiterate that the United Nations Country Team at the level of Heads of Agencies, ably supported by the Gender Theme Group, is deeply committed to continue our advocacy on concrete actions required to achieve Gender Equality. We will also continue to implement programs and projects designed to improve Gender Equality. We count on clear concluding observations from the Committee to support the work of Ukrainian stakeholders to achieve Gender Equality.

Thank you again for the opportunity to present the UNCT report and we welcome any questions.