Gender Discrimination – Jobs Banned for Women

The report Gender Discrimination – Jobs Banned for Women was presented during public hearing at the European Parliament on the discrimination of women in the employment sphere in Eastern Europe and countries of Central Asia. Issued within the campaign of ADC Memorial #allJobs4allWomen.

The restriction on women’s employment in the form of existence of so-called “lists of banned professions” is a widespread practice in the countries of the region. As a matter of fact, these bans concern over 100 million women, living in countries with high unemployment rate, a significant gap in salaries of women and men and high percentage of persons living below the poverty line. All together, this results in socio-economic vulnerability of women, aggravated by discriminatory rejections of the jobs recognized as “harmful” or “dangerous.”

The fact that this situation discriminates women has been clearly proven: the decision of the UN CEDAW on the case of Svetlana Medevedeva shows that the ban prohibiting a woman to work as an engineer on board a ship, contradicts the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, one of the most important Human Rights conventions ratified by all countries of the region. The Committee has not only recognized violation of the rights of Ms Medvedeva, but also recommended the Russian government to abolish the list of banned professions and to end the discriminatory practice. A similar position is taken by the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and the Recommendations of the International Labour Organisation (ILO); this Committee regards the existence of lists of professions banned for women as a violation of the fundamental ILO Convention № 111 concerning discrimination (this Convention has also been ratified by all countries of the region).

Attempts to justify the bans by the norm of the ILO Convention №45 that prohibits work of women in mines (exercised both by high courts, like the the Constitutional Court of Russia in the case of Anna Klevets in 2012 and by the governments, like the opinion of the Ministry of Labour of Azerbaijan) ignore the much more important norm of international law – the ILO Convention № 111 that directly prohibits refusing jobs to women because of their sex.

The argument of “protective function” of the ban is in fact discriminative itself: women don’t need protection from deciding themselves on issues like to have children or not; what matters more to them: the reproductive function or career; the “traditional role of the procreator” or income. In case that some type of work is harmful for pregnancy – it is essential to warn women who want to take this job, but not to forbid something to all women. The discriminatory impression makes also the total ban on certain work for pregnant or breastfeeding women and mothers of children under three years old: it’s sufficient to give women in such situations the right to refuse from carrying out certain tasks, but not to decide for them, whether they are allowed to work or not. It is unacceptable when an employer has to persuade women employees or candidate employees to reveal their pregnancy or motherhood. Women must have the right to receive benefits entitled to pregnant women and mothers, but no law should oblige a woman to refuse from her job on the pretext that she might get pregnant, is pregnant or have children. The protection of the motherhood is an important issue, but it should not be used as a reason for justification of discrimination.