All jobs for all women

cancel lists of types of jobs and professions banned to women in all Eastern European and Central Asian countries

About bans

The list of professions banned for women is a relic of the Soviet era. This open discrimination against women in the working world is explained as “concern for reproductive health.” In Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, and the former Soviet countries of Central Asia, women are banned by law from hundreds of professions, including prestigious and high-paying ones.

In Armenia and Georgia, the articles about the list of banned professions were excluded from Labour Codes, but the women’s right to work remains restricted: in Armenia, the list of jobs and professions dangerous for women, minors, and people with limited capabilities for work is effective so far; in Georgia, the professions from such a list are prohibited for pregnant and nursing women

Number of professions banned for women

country and the year of the respective laws adoption

About campaign

March 8 is the day of working women’s rights, a fact frequently forgotten in former Soviet countries, where the fight for worker’s rights and equality between men and women has been supplanted by flowers, gifts, and treats for “dear ladies.”

March 8, 2017 is also the one-hundredth anniversary of the Revolution, which gave all women in the former Russian Empire rights equal to those of men “regardless of gender.” The Empire and the Union are long gone, and former Soviet countries have been independent for 25 years now, but many of them have yet to move beyond gender stereotypes and restrictions against women enshrined in the law and based on these stereotypes. A number of countries ban women from certain professions and types of work. These bans, which copy Soviet laws, figure directly in labor laws, which means that women who aspire to find work that is interesting to them are unable to do so if anything about the profession they have chosen has been determined to be “harmful or dangerous for women.”

In reality, millions of women have been deprived of the opportunity to fulfill their dreams in interesting and well-paid professions like a number of positions on sea and river vessels and cargo transport, operating electrical trains, working in a mine or the metro, many types of construction and industrial activities, and steeplejack work. An absurd example is the ban existing in a dozen countries that prohibits women from driving intercity passenger buses carrying over 14 passengers (if there are less than 14 passengers, women are allowed to drive, but if there are 15 passengers, than a man has to do it. But why?...)

When women have tried to assert their rights in courts by appealing denials to work in their specializations on river vessels or the metro, RF high courts have rejected their appeals, citing the in-no-way-proven “harmfulness” and even difficulty of the jobs, which require extreme focus and precision. (Are we to understand that women cannot work quickly and precisely? That they are more stupid than men?!)

A favorite argument of jurists opposed to equality between men and women is “protecting the reproductive health of women,” as if working underground, in the air, or in noisy conditions can somehow harm reproductive health. This crafty argument is meant to prove that the ban on profession is not discrimination, but a manifestation of concern about motherhood, and that it cannot be considered a violation of equality (and we can say, for example, that maternity leave is a form of such protection, and no one even maintains that this is discrimination, but a ban on types of activities for all women is another matter entirely).

There are three main objections
to statements of concern about women’s reproduction:

1. There is no scientific evidence of harm to women’s health for virtually any of these “banned types of activities” -

why is installation on the ground not harmful, but installation in the air is? Why can women work as crane operators on dry land, but not on water platforms? The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women requested that the RF to submit scientific evidence that it is harmful for women to work as a helmsperson-motorist (when it was considering the case of Svetlana Medvedeva, who complained of being denied employment in her specialization with a river fleet – in this case an entire body of restrictions on the labor rights of women was found to be discrimination), but the RF government did not submit any evidence.

2. Women have the right to decide for themselves what is more important to them –

being a mother (i.e. realize the reproductive function that the government is so concerned about), or being a successful professional, going out to sea, working in the air, or doing other interesting things, being successful, and attaining career growth. If there is a risk to their reproductive functions, women should be warned about them. In many cases, risks should be taken into account when planning pregnancy, but this should not lead to blanket bans on certain types of activities.

3. Bans violate the principle of equal rights for men and women –

there are no bans connected with risks to the reproductive health of men (even though their reproductive functions could be harmed in a number of professions, like atomic scientists on nuclear submarines). Moreover, men are left the choice of being professionals or engaging in reproduction. The state does not intrude on the choices men make, but it does on the choices women make (in the form of a legislative ban!), which is direct discrimination.

The goal of the campaign All Jobs for All Women is to achieve the cancellation of lists of types of jobs and professions banned to women in all Eastern European and Central Asian countries

Women must be granted equal access to all types of activities and work, professional fulfillment, and good pay.

All women have the right to good jobs corresponding to their qualifications, education, interests, and life plans. Restrictions concerning appearance, age, and “beauty” are as inappropriate in most professions as gender bans (exceptions are modeling and some forms of advertising). For example, the requirement that only slim young beauties can be hired as flight attendants on passenger planes is the same kind of stereotype as the notion that a woman’s duty is to give birth and not work on a ship or in the metro.

Many countries still have similar patriarchal views of the “suitability” of women, when a candidate’s external features are considered more important than her professional qualities (whether there’s a requirement for external “beauty” and “style,” or, on the contrary, if a stylish appearance is seen as interfering with work).

All women have the right to work in their specializations. Their gender, appearance, and “reproductive function” should not impact their opportunity for employment in any direct or indirect way.

pro et contra

Explanations of Discriminative Bans

…harmful factors in the working environment create a professional risk for a woman’s reproductive health, and it has been established that the female organism has a greater sensitivity to the effects of many harmful factors (include noise and vibrations). Banning women from a number of harmful and difficult jobs is dictated by the need to preserve women’s health and the quality of health of the new generation. These types of jobs include train operators [metro] and assistants… Work in this specialization frequently takes place under severe time constraints combined with high responsibility for life and the integrity of material assets. These jobs require workers to maintain a high level of attention and concentration, to be able to to quickly react to multiple light and sound signals, to remember a significant amount of instruction material, to process this information, to formulate the correct decision, and to take certain operational actions… The argument in the cassation appeal that it was not proven during consideration of the case that a woman cannot work under time constraints and physical and emotional stress has no legal meaning.

(From the RF Supreme Court ruling in the case of A. Klevets, 2009.)

The principle of legal equality cannot be realized without account for the generally recognized social role that women play in continuing the human race… Parts one and three of Article 253 of the RF Labor Code restrict the use of a woman’s labor for difficult, harmful, and/or dangerous jobs, as well as for underground jobs, i.e. in conditions that have an adverse impact on the female organism, and have the goal of protecting a women’s reproductive health from the impact of harmful workplace factors.

(From the RF Constitutional Court Ruling in the case of A. Klevets, 2012).

RF laws have established several restrictions on female labor. These restrictions are in no way discriminatory against women. Rather, they are measures to protect women from various types of adverse effects on their health, and, ultimately, on such an important function as motherhood. Thus, workplace hygiene for women envisages restrictions on hiring women for certain types of work.

(S.V. Alekseyev, V.R. Usenko. Gigiena truda. [Hygiene of Labour]. A handbook for students of medical universities. Moscow, 1988)

Anti-Discrimination Decisions and Opinions

The Committee is of the view that the introduction of such 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.

No evidence has been provided to the Committee that the inclusion of the position of helmsperson-motorist in the list of prohibited jobs is based on any scientific evidence that it may be harmful to women’s reproductive health.

The Committee observes that the adoption of a list of 456 occupations and 38 branches of industry contradicts the State party’s obligations under the Convention because it treats men and women differently, it in no way promotes the employment of women and it is based on discriminatory stereotypes.

(From the CEDAW decision (2015) in the case of Svetlana Medvedeva, who couldn’t finish her education and work as ship navigator due to the list of professions banned for women)

No specific studies or data exist to confirm the distinctly harmful impact of these professions on a woman’s reproductive health in modern times. There is also no evidence that employment in these professions has a different impact on women than it does on men… Any job that involves lifting objects over 10 kg two times in one hour is banned. Meanwhile, a one-year-old baby weighs 10 kg on average, and the state does not in any way restrict mothers from lifting and moving their babies.

(Report of the Consortium of Women’s Organizations (Russia) to CEDAW, 2015).

The effective List of hard, dangerous and harmful jobs in Ukraine adopted by the Order of the Ministry of Health # 256 of 29.12.1993 bans women’s employment at certain jobs. In particular, women can’t drive vehicles with more than 14 passenger seats, tractors and other agricultural vehicles, sea and river boats, or be employed at a number of industrial and agricultural positions. According to the Human Rights Commissioner, an effective List of hard jobs should be revised and brought in line with the principle of equal opportunities of men and women in the sector of employment.

From a report of Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman to CEDAW (2016)

In 2015, Moldovan Equality Council recommended repealing the Classification of industries, professions and works in difficult and harmful conditions, which are prohibited for women, approved by Government Decision No 264 of 06 October 1993, because it is discriminatory on the grounds of sex.

The Committee is concerned by the existence of a list of professions declared dangerous for women, which reinforces discriminatory stereotypes and occupational segregation. The Committee recommends that Armenia abolish the list of jobs and professions dangerous for women, minors, and people with limited capabilities for work.

(Concluding Observations of the UN CEDAW on Armenia, 2016).

The Committee is, concerned about the Labour Code containing an overprotective list with a significant number of professions prohibited to women, allegedly to protect their health, especially their reproductive health; the failure of employers to create sufficiently safe conditions in line with exemptions to the list provided for by law…. The Committee recommends Belarus to review the list of restricted professions to ensure that it covers only restrictions which are absolutely necessary for the protection of maternity in the strict sense, and promote and facilitate women’s entry into previously listed jobs by adopting temporary special measures

(Concluding Observations of the UN CEDAW on Belarus, 2016).

The Committee is concerned about the overprotective list of more than 450 occupations and almost 40 branches in which women are precluded from access to the labour market, although procedures have been introduced that, under certain conditions, exceptionally can provide access for women to those occupations. The Committee calls upon the Russian Federation to review the list of restricted occupations and sectors to ensure that it covers only restrictions necessary for the protection of maternity in the strict sense, and promote and facilitate women’s entry into previously listed jobs by improving working conditions and adopting appropriate temporary special measures.

(Concluding Observations of the UN CEDAW on the Russian Federation, 2015).

“Restrictions must be rare and should only be applied in exceptional cases, when the use of a woman’s labor may be linked to a serious health risk. But still, the right of a woman to decide if she agrees to that risk or not should take precedence.”

Attorney Dmitry Bartenev

Women stories

Svetlana Medvedeva

Viktoriya, navigator

After long years of drudgery, I found a job on the fleet, on a tow boat in the Saint Petersburg seaport. At the same time, I was studying to be a navigation engineer at the Admiral Makarov State Maritime Academy. I was forced to quit in 2015 because it turned out that the job of sailor was “harmful for women.” In this case, refusal of work solely on the basis of gender amounts to discrimination, which is banned by the Constitution and RF labor laws. I am being educated in a specialization, which means that under the law I must be offered corresponding work in the region where I live. For a long time, everything has been modern on our boat: hoists, cranes, and the on-shore repair brigade from the shop does all the heavy work. So I don’t lift anything heavier than mops and ballpoint pens, but this law is protecting me from heavy work. I am grateful to management that they didn’t apply this law on banned professions for women to me right away – those were the happiest 20 months of my life. Now I don’t have any prospects for work in this country. I’m not asking anyone to promise me the moon, and I don’t want money. I just want to go back to my favorite job, where I was in the right place and handled my responsibilities. I paid my taxes from my salary without fail, and now, in the middle of a crisis, in the winter, right before exams, I have found myself out on the street and will have to file for unemployment. And who is better off in the end for this? Have all the problems in this country really been solved? Is firing people from their beloved jobs all that is left?

Elena, Roma activist

In Luhansk Oblast, women worked in the mine, two days on, two days off. Their wages in 2012 amounted to 1,500 hryvna, while men earned from 3,000 minimum (our neighbor received a pension of about 6,000 hryvna)… During a shift, each woman was expected to shovel one ton of coal. What’s more, they worked up to their knees in water, even in the winter. There was one case when the mine was flooded during the summer because of the rain. One female worker was in the basement. If she had not known how to swim, she could have drowned in the mine. Our relative worked in the mine. She was 30, and her muscles were so large that she could have been a bodybuilder, that’s how much coal she shoveled. This work was not banned. That’s how the state maimed itself (length of service was calculated for harmful work). And workers got free coal, even the union functioned, there was the opportunity to visit clinics. But I think all of this was paid for with jeopardized health. Women took these jobs because there was no other work. So, to me, when the state says it is taking care of women, I personally don’t believe this. By banning one profession, they close their eyes to the women brought to despair, who don’t know how to survive in unstable times and will agree to heavy labor.

Support

I support the Campaign All Jobs for All Women because I believe that women have the right to choose their jobs and build their careers freely and that all legal provisions that prevent gender equality in employment should be repealed.

Olga Manole, Human Rights Program Coordinator, Promo-LEX Association / Moldova

Everyone should have the right to choose any profession they want, regardless of their gender. Other than severe health risks during pregnancy — a risk limited to a certain time frame — there are no valid reasons for excluding women from certain jobs.

Cia Rinne, poet and artist (Germany)

support the All Jobs for All Women campaign and am convinced that women can work in any field, build a successful career, and benefit any company. Bans on professions and types of work not only limit Ukrainian women’s opportunities for self-fulfillment, but also cause the state to lose enormous potential.

Yevgeniya Lutsneko, director, Center for Social and Gender Studies (Ukraine)

Only women should decide for themselves where to work and what professions to choose. The role of the government is only to create comfort and safe conditions at working places so both women and men could joyfully and fully embrace all the benefits of a chosen sphere of work.

Aliaksandra Dzikan, Her Rights Center (Belarus)

Women can work in any field and carry out any task — not worse than the men, in the past a lot of jobs were given only to men, we — women had to make our way in politics, in business, in art. We proved that we can be successful in anything and give impact to everything. Indeed all jobs have to be accessible to all women without discrimination and patriarchal stereotypes.

Rita Sussmuth,  former President of Bundestag,  President of ADC Memorial

The list of professions banned for women in Russia is an echo of the totalitarian Soviet system, where the state believed it was entitled to make decisions for people by hiding behind “noble” purposes. If professions on this list are harmful, then the state’s responsibility is to inform people of possible risks and consequences, while the right to choose lies with us. s

Tatyana Chistova, film director (Russia)

I am not what I am allowed to be, I am what I choose to become. 

Yevgeniya Ivanova, expert at the Civil Society Institute (Armenia)

It can be difficult to work in the financial sphere, because women are still in the absolute minority and are not taken as seriously as men. But I'm sure that with time women will start to be respected more and more for their achievements, as professionals and colleagues, and not as the "weaker sex" and "an office decoration."

Tanya Savkin, Vice President - Senior Analyst, Moody's

I fully support and join the campaign "All jobs for all women".

Harmful , discriminative records linked to ban a list of the professions , that is the vestige of the Soviet Union and contradicts the principles of equality and CEDAW Convention must be immediately restricted in the countries which still are facing this discriminative practice.

It is crucial not only to eradicate those records, as well as states should endeavor to ensure protection and preserve of women's labor rights in accordance to their legislation and constitution.

Elene Rusetskaia Director Women's Information Center

On the one hand, the list of professions banned for women is supposedly meant to protect and look out for women by invoking their lesser physical abilities in comparison to men. On the other hand, if we look at the reality of life in a permanent economic crisis, where social protection institutions are simply not functioning and where each day is struggle to survive, then we see that a large number of women have the hardest and lowest-paying jobs. This includes in mines, where they are not officially listed as miners and supposedly work in offices on the surface. This means that female miners do not receive social protection, do not receive the same pensions as male miners, and, in the event of an accident, their relatives do not receive insurance, benefits, subsidies, or state support. Like many other women, female miners received reduced “envelope” wages, and if they are not paid, they cannot demand justice from state authorities. They are “invisible” while performing the most complicated, dirty work.

Maria Kulikovskaya, artist, architect, curator, auctioneer

The formal gender equality was established hundred years ago with equal universal suffrage. We still now see women in post-socialist countries - and not only there - to be barred from certain jobs, and we hear a Polish Conservative MEP babbling in the European Parliament that "women are weaker, smaller and less intelligent, thus should be paid less". We are in the 21st century, and not allowing women to proceed in certain professions is not only delusional, it's illegal under international law.

Alena Krempaská Program director of Human Rights Institute, Slovakia

I support campaign "All jobs for all women", because I think that every adult person should have a right to choose what is good for him/her. With it's bans the goverment doesn't protect women - it denies them the right to decide for themselves.

Anna Doniewska, activist, Poland

Campaign members