A recent decision made by the UN body dealing with women’s rights, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), has found that Russia violated the rights of Svetlana Medvedeva to non-discrimination and equal treatment between men and women.
Medvedeva, who graduated in 2005 as a navigation officer in the Russian Samara region, was in 2012 denied employment at the helm of a boat because the job she had applied for was listed as one of the 456 occupations and 38 industries banned for women.
Although Medvedeva’s application was initially approved by the company it was later rejected by invoking Russian labour regulation. Regulation 162 establishes a list of occupations too arduous, dangerous or harmful to women’s health, in particular their reproductive health. Regulation 162 also states that an employer may decide to use women’s labour for prohibited positions if safe working conditions are established by the employer. Medvedeva challenged the rejection of her application in court, seeking a judicial order to compel the company to establish those safe working conditions. Her case was dismissed.
In May 2013, contending that she had exhausted all means of legal recourse in the courts of her country, Medvedeva registered an individual complaint before the UN women’s rights committee alleging that her rights under several articles of the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had been violated.
The complaint claimed, in particular, that Medvedeva had been denied employment by the company because of her sex, on the basis of a blanket legal prohibition.
“She indicates that the Convention requires States parties to ensure that employers take measures to remove negative impacts on women’s health. Even where such measures do not exist or are impossible, preventing women’s employment through exclusionary laws that apply only to women is not appropriate,” the complaint said.
The women’s rights committee concluded that the refusal to employ Medvedeva on the basis of a blanket legislative provision constituted a violation of her rights to have the same work opportunities as men in her field, and to freely choose her profession and employment.
“The State party is required to provide equal protective measures to safeguard the reproductive functions of both men and women and 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 on the Committee found, adding that the list of banned jobs was based on discriminatory gender stereotypes.
The Committee recommended to Russia to grant Medvedeva appropriate compensation and facilitate her access to jobs for which she is qualified. They also called on Russia to amend the Labour Code and periodically review the list of banned jobs to ensure that restrictions are limited to those strictly protecting maternity and providing special conditions for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Eight of the human rights treaty bodies (the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Committee against Torture, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child) may, under particular circumstances, consider complaints or communications from individuals who consider that their rights have been violated.
22 April 2016