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CEDAW: Plenary Session for Bulgaria

Soyeon Kim, UN Representative

On July 12, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women held a plenary session for Bulgaria. The Bulgarian delegation addressed issues including Roma women and girls, gender equality, and crimes against women.

On July 11, Bulgarian NGOs addressed CEDAW with concerns for women in Bulgaria. NGOs expressed multiple legal issues that do not adequately address women’s issues, including how laws for women remain vague, how the Anti-Discrimination Act does not specifically cover sex discrimination or gender-based violence, and how domestic violence has yet to be recognized as an additional crime. NGOs had claimed that there are still an insufficient shelters for victims of domestic violence, citing that one in four women are victims of domestic violence, and Bulgarian advertisements use stereotypes of women and promote prostitution. NGOs had also noted that unlike many countries in Europe, Bulgaria society still does not address paternal roles in families.

Ambassador Stephan Tafrov and the Bulgarian representatives reported that women’s issues are becoming more prominent in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian government created the Council for Equal Opportunity for Women and Men in 2004, and the Council of Ministers focuses on gender equality by partnering with government agencies, NGOs, and businesses. The Bulgarian National Assembly also created the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, which deals with the rights of women, fights discrimination against women, and ensures that all legislation about women is discussed and conforms to the Convention. For example, laws have been implemented regarding crimes against “sexual morality”, or the use of sex services. Judiciary and law enforcement departments receive legal training twice a year to increase awareness of the Convention The Bulgarian government has implemented municipal councils for gender issues and a national strategy for the promotion of gender equality that was ratified in 2008 and will continue into 2015; this strategy falls under the UN’s Laws of Discrimination against Women. Currently, transborder and national human trafficking is illegal, and transnational trafficking has a “separate and severely punishable composition.” Despite pressure for women and NGOs, Bulgaria has yet to ratify the laws recommended by CEDAW resolutions and still does not have laws regarding violence against women. The perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence can be released from jail if he marries his victim, and marital rape and sexual harassment only remain acts of discrimination.

The Bulgarian delegation noted that women have obtained more prominent occupations. In the business sector, there has been an increase in female leaders, and Bulgaria aims to gain at least 30% female presence overall. There has also been a 41.5% increase of female agricultural entrepreneurs. Military laws against women have been repealed. There has been an increase in awareness about trafficking in the media, which is controlled mostly by women. However, CEDAW noted that only five of Bulgaria’s 40 missions are run by women, and only 11% of women overall hold the position of “minister”.

The Bulgarian National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues asks for the integration of the Roma to combat human trafficking and prostitution. 22% of Roma women have not completed elementary education, are illiterate, or never attended school. There are more school drop-outs for economical, social, psychological, pedagogical, and ethno-cultural reasons, including early marriages in girls as young as 12 years old. However, there is an increasing percentage of Roma against marriages before the age of 16. To promote education about marriages, Bulgaria is working on the integration of young Roma girls through local projects integrating education and equal job opportunities. In January 2012, the Council of Ministers adopted a national plan for the education of young girls and Roma including education in health, culture, media, ethnic integration, and discrimination; the plan will end in 2020.

Bulgaria is still attempting to change the stereotypes of women, especially in rural areas, where priorities include addressing domestic violence and changing the social norm. The Bulgarian representatives stated that prejudice against women originally started in primary and secondary education via textbooks, which undervalued the role of women in history and often portrayed women to have more home-related occupations. The Bulgarian representatives noted that the government has distributed material to schools and teachers about how to approach gender-related issues and gender mainstreaming into education. Currently, NGOs and the Bulgarian government are attempting to find equal opportunities for women and men in Southeast Europe, albeit through separate efforts. NGOs preventing early marriages have been using funds from the European Union.

On July 27, CEDAW noted Bulgaria’s improvements towards ending discrimination against women. To improve women’s rights and laws regarding violence against women, CEDAW recommended that the Bulgarian government continue to raise awareness on women’s rights, adopt a gender-equality law, ensure all acts of sexual violence are investigated with all the perpetrators persecuted and sentenced, specifically criminalize domestic violence and marital rape, ensure sufficient number of shelters available to domestic violence victims, and provide support for NGOs that are offering shelter and support. To improve working conditions for women, CEDAW also recommended that Bulgarians narrow and close the wage gap between men and women and encourage men to share parental responsibilities, including enabling paternity leave. To improve the integration of the Roma, CEDAW recommended that the Bulgarian government provide aid to victims of human trafficking and tackle the root causes for school drop outs among the Roma. It is expected that at the next plenary session for Bulgaria, these issues will have been addressed and improved on.