GENEVA (15 March 2016) – A Russian woman who was denied employment at the helm of a boat because the job was on a list of banned occupations for women in the Russian Federation suffered gender-based discrimination, UN experts have found.
The experts, from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), reiterated their call for Russia to amend legislation that lists 456 occupations and 38 branches of industry considered by the Russian authorities as too arduous, dangerous or harmful to women’s health, above all their reproductive health.
The legislation “reflects persistent stereotypes concerning the roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family and in society that have the effect of perpetuating traditional roles for women as mothers and wives and undermining women’s social status and their educational and career prospects,” CEDAW members observed after considering the woman’s complaint.
Russia, as a State party to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, is required “to create safe working conditions in all industries, rather than preventing women from being employed in certain areas and leaving the creation of safe working conditions to the discretion of employers,” the experts found. Russia is also obliged to give equal protection to the reproductive health of women and men, they noted.
The woman, Svetlana Medvedeva, graduated in 2005 as a navigation officer and in 2012 was selected by a private company in the Samara region of the Russian Federation to work at the helm of a boat. She was subsequently rejected with the explanation that hiring her would contradict Article 253 of the Labour Code and Government Regulation no.162 which details the occupations women are not permitted to do or are restricted in doing.
Ms. Medvedeva sought a judicial order to compel the company to establish the safe working conditions required for her employment, but the courts rejected her appeal, saying that the prohibition was aimed at protecting the reproductive health of women. She brought her case to CEDAW, arguing that her rights had been violated under the Convention.
In its findings, the 23-member Committee said that the blanket prohibition, which applies to all women regardless of their age, marital status, ability or desire to have children, constituted a violation of Ms. Medvedeva’s rights to have the same employment opportunities as men and to freely choose her profession and employment.
“No evidence has been provided to the Committee that the inclusion of the position of helmperson-motorist in the list of prohibited jobs is based on any scientific evidence that it may be harmful to women’s reproductive health,” members observed in the findings.
The denial of employment put Ms. Medvedeva in a position where she could not earn a living through the profession for which she was educated, the Committee said. CEDAW called for her to be given appropriate reparation and compensation, and for the authorities to facilitate her access to jobs for which she is qualified.
CEDAW, which has repeatedly criticised countries that have lists of occupations prohibited to women, called on Russia to:
· Review and amend Article 253 of the Labour Code;
· Periodically revise, amend and reduce the list of restricted or prohibited occupations and sectors established by Regulation No. 162 to ensure they apply strictly to protecting maternity and to providing special conditions for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers;
· Promote and facilitate the entry of women into these jobs by improving working conditions and adopting temporary special measures to encourage women’s recruitment in these sectors.
The Committee adopted its views on 25 February 2016 and published them on 14 March 2016. Download available here: CEDAW/C/63/D/60/2013
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