Fight against discrimination of women – “radical idea”?

One hundred years ago a day was established marking the fight for women’s rights. Later on, it became known as International Women’s Day: an annual celebration of the fight for women’s rights to vote and to wage equality. It is hard to believe that only 3-4 generations ago many Europeans were sure that women could not even passively participate in political life (“they cannot have voting rights!”) and that the work of women – even if it is equal to the results and quality of the men’s work – should be paid less. These prejudices were changed only after women’s long and hard struggle for equal rights in the 20th century. 

Although many things have changed during the last century, the problem of rights remains not only far from solved, but still largely unrecognised. In many traditional communities still, as one thousand years ago, gender equality is not accepted. Women’s dependence and their lack of rights are taken for granted. Even in the countries and communities where the legal equality of men and women became an everyday norm, the principle of gender equality is not realised in all areas. How many women heads of states do we know? How many women leading world economists do we know? It is still surprising when a woman becomes a head of state, or of a large company or bank. Even in the well-developed countries it is rather exceptional. Women comprise no more than 10% of “bigwigs” – in the G8 or anything else, and it does not raise any indignation. This year the organisers of annual forum in Davos decided to “improve” this obvious “gender slant” – they set the minimum rate of women attendance – 25%. This voluntary stipulation threw a bomb: it turned out that it is still difficult to find this many women at the required level in their careers. This sad fact tells everything: there are more women than men in the world, but ten times less among those who rule the world…

The one-hundred-year question of women’s political and economic rights is not solved yet: men still have the power and money. Women are often not protected from old forms of discrimination and violence – unequal family status, low wages and the right to be elected (even if the right to vote is observed, it does not mean that a woman can try to become a politician). A lot of women in the world do not get equal education, as many see girls’ education as less importance than boys’. The relatively rare women who do became important scientists, business persons or politicians work in worse conditions, as they sense the mistrust of their colleagues. Women still more often become victims of violent crimes – at home, at work or on the street.

All these facts are widely known. Nobody would refute the claim that to be a woman is much more difficult. For some reason, in spite of this problem, known in every part of the world, the issue of women’s rights many professional human rights activists are still perplexed or even amused by the issue. Many people are ready to admit that the situation with women’s rights is dramatic in Afghanistan, Iran or Chechnya where women have to wear scarves or veils, can be beaten to death with stones or painted for diverging from tradition. But the fact that the situation in Russia leaves much to be desired has to be proved. However, what must be proved? Our country was the first to make men and women’s right equal after the February revolution in 1917 and still celebrates that day – March, 8. Paradoxically, this day became not only an official public holiday, but also a day of the greatest discrimination – when women are told enough offensive nonsense, in the form of celebration, to last them the rest of the year. The official website of the prime-minister of the Russian Federation cites his words on that day: “Woman gives birth to all of us. We should be grateful to women that they give birth to us… Women accompany us in everything in this life. And of course, we, men, like when women decorate our lives. But it depends on us if women can decorate our lives.” (http://premier.gov.ru/events/news/14380/index.html) In other words, all depends on men. So what depends on women then? The role of women seems to be honourable but very simple: to give birth and then “accompany in everything.” Who said that the status of women has changed in Russia for the last hundred years? These words might have been said by Nikolai II if he had a habit of congratulating women on the 8th of March.

Putin‘s words echo those of another odious Russian politician: the president of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov thinks that “woman has to give love to us.” He distinguishes “us, men” from “her, woman” (note that the plural used for male, while female is expressed by singular as something faceless and devoid of individuality). He can be even more specific: “A woman should know her place. Woman should be property” (from the Human Rights Watch Report “A woman should know her place. Enforcement of an Islamic Dress Code for Women in Chechnya” (March 2011).

UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said that “one hundred years ago when the world celebrated International Women‘s Day for the first time, the concept of equality between men and women was a radical idea” – it seems his words are still important in Russia. Gender equality is still mostly a radical idea.

According to UN data, the difference between men’s and women’s salaries in Russia is 30%. Ruling positions are occupied by men. All state intuitions defending women’s rights were closed. The UN considers women to be underrepresented in the elected positions: for instance, in the State Duma (2007-2011) only 13,8% of deputies were female; women make up 14% of  the ruling party “Yedinaya Rossiya” (United Russia) and 4.7% of the Federation Council.

Under pressure from the international community, the authorities of the Russian Federation launched the development of the law “On state guarantees of equal rights and freedoms to men and women and equal opportunities for its realisation.” The Russian Federation ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, but the notion of discrimination is not defined in the Russian law system.

However, the problem of discrimination exists in various forms. For example, women from ethnic minorities face a “double” discrimination. To find work is inarguably more difficult for a woman, especially if she is Roma. And if this Roma woman belongs to the category of ‘economic migrants’ who are discriminated against on the basis of citizenship, we come up against “triple discrimination.” More individual features of a person can be added here – age, health, poverty. But real progress (as opposed to illusive progress like our 8th of March), can only be reached through a complex anti-discrimination approach and recognition that all forms of discrimination are inadmissible and require immediate practical solution. All the efforts of men and women, citizens and non-citizens, people of all ethnicities, religions and ages should be consolidated to defend the main human rights principle: we are all born “equal in rights”. And we should live equally.

Stefaniya Kulayeva

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