Bulgarian government continuously overlooks the realization of ESCR

Genoveva Tisheva. (Photo: EWLA)

“The Bulgarian government continues the trends of sacrificing social and economic rights of the citizens with the justification of economic and financial stability, thus continuing to sustain the phenomenon of ‘stability in poverty’,” warned last week the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation (BGRF, member of Social Watch since 1999) in its report to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Genoveva Tisheva, Elena Triffonova, Maria Nikolova and Niya Bogomilova of the BGRF briefed the Committee on the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Bulgaria in Bulgaria. Representatives of the Foundation Compassion Alzheimer Bulgaria also took the floor in Geneva on Monday 19.

The BGRF raised issues of unemployment, particularly among the youth, feminization of poverty and gender inequality in the country. In terms of maternal mortality, it was noted that the government failed to recognize the specificity and nature of birth-related deaths and that there was no consistent system of care for women giving birth.

The government’s explanations “are related with the economic and financial crises and its consequences, which require, according to the government, preventive austerity measures,” adds the report.

In its last year of mandate, the government committed itself to pay more attention to the social rights and to increase the income levels, but this commitment responds to “a pre-election strategy”, and constitutes “a clear evidence of the low priority attributed to socio-economic rights”, according to the BGRF.

The representatives warned that the government was continuously overlooking the realization of the economic, social and cultural rights of the citizens. Executive and justice officers are not receiving continuous education in human rights and the government had not yet signed and ratified the Optional Protocol to the Covenant, they said.

“The Bulgarian government has not ensured continuous education on human rights and, namely, on social-economic rights. No such education and training is provided for courts and other governmental institutions. It is a substantial failure,” warns the report.

The authorities are not considering yet the elaboration of a Law on Gender Equality, a failure that “affects the realization of basic socio-economic rights by women, through not providing the needed temporary special measures, through combating gender segregation of the labor market, and without a real tool for combating gender stereotypes which are at the basis of discriminatory practices towards women,” added the BGRF.

The organization suggested the Committee to ask the government “to elaborate and adopt a comprehensive law on gender equality, including the provisions on  temporary special measures, on combating stereotypes; to develop special programs, plans and measures for tackling the GPG (gender pay gap) in its different aspects, including through elaborating a set of criteria and indicators for objective job evaluation; to adopt special programs and measures for tackling youth unemployment, including through improving the educational system and its links with realization in the labor market.”

The report cited the GPG assessment made by the European Social Survey in 2011. The global gender gap raised that year to 25,1%, “is greatest in mid-career (…), mainly because it is the life phase of family formation and raising small children” (26,4%) and remains “at lower levels over late career” (25,3%), while the lowest “is observed in early-career” (24,1%).”

“Socially prescribed roles for women to work and raise family simultaneously are a possible explanation of the females’ preference to jobs which better fit this expectation, even if these jobs are less paid,” adds the study. “The largest and the most significant wage differences could be found in large enterprises with 500 and more employees (35,4%), while in smaller (up to 24 employees) the gender pay gap is about 24,5%. A possible explanation is that female usually work for small and medium firms, in ‘female branches’, while big ones are mostly ‘occupied’ by men and women have ‘supportive’ positions there.”

The report adds that men “are much better paid in governmental organizations, both at central and local levels, where gender pay gap is 36,1%”, and that they “usually” occupy “top managerial and high income positions, while in public sectors (like education and health services) gender differences are much smaller (6,6%). Even in supervising position gender pay gap is not small (17,2%), but it is bigger in not-supervising area (24,2%). Male supervisors occupied higher managerial positions and it is inevitably related to their higher payment,” according to the study.

People at work who risk falling into poverty, which corresponds to the share of employed people living in poverty stood at 7.7% of total employment, remaining relatively constant over the past three years. The main factors for those at the risk of poverty remain their economic activity status and participation in the labour market, especially for the unemployed. Economically inactive persons as a whole are also among those groups, for which the risk of living in households with an income below the poverty threshold is particularly high.

“In this context the policy of the government for social inclusion is based only on adopting strategies, plans, programs which are missing the elements of general prevention of poverty and are focused only on vulnerable groups towards which all measures are targeted. These documents are not effectively implemented and implementation is not assessed,” assessed the BGRF.

The organization claimed the Committee to recommend the Bulgarian government “to tackle adequately the complex and multi-faceted character of poverty in Bulgaria through a package of measures, according to the different aspects and groups affected by the risk of poverty. All the policy measures in the field have to be regularly assessed for their impact and effectiveness.”

The government failed to recognize the specificity and nature of birth-related deaths and there was no consistent system of care for women giving birth, said the BGRF. The organization asked the Committee to suggest the government to “carry out extensive and comprehensive studies of the cases and causes of birth-related deaths, and publicize these studies; (to) create specific guidelines for medical professionals and hospitals relating to treatment of women giving birth with the view to death prevention, and provide training to medical professionals; (and to) create clear guidelines for lawyers to be applied in cases of adjudication of birth-related cases before the courts, and provide training to legal professionals.”

Bulgaria has not yet implemented its Universal Periodic Review recommendations to adopt a special Law on Gender Equality, and the gender pay gap is still wide. Unemployment persists being a serious problem (over 11 per cent in 2011), particularly for the youth, while poverty was on the rise, especially among women, according to the report.

The right to study one’s own religion in schools was violated as there was no obligatory religious education in public schools. The public health system did not cover the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and there was no national strategy aiming to ensure adequate financial and social support and policy measures. 

Committee Experts asked about the impact of the financial crisis in Europe on unemployment, particularly of women and youth; gender inequality in the private sector in terms of careers and wages; protection of women from all forms of discrimination in the absence of a special law; and religions in the country, including the official religion of Bulgaria.

Responding, the NGO representatives said that national statistics indicate a rise in poverty among the women and the youth and the economic crisis has had an impact on employment in Bulgaria. The Law on Discrimination and the Committee on Anti-Discrimination exist, but not too many complaints were filed after the body.

Public health services were available upon payment for dementia or Alzheimer patients, but not many could afford the cost and many people affected by those diseases did not enjoy any medical treatment, reported the Foundation Compassion Alzheimer Bulgaria.

More information
Alternative Report of the BGRF: http://bit.ly/XXsaxo

Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: http://bit.ly/UPpT1v