On March 6, 2018 the European Parliament held hearings on “The right to work without gender discrimination”. Among the speakers was Russian female sailor Svetlana Medvedeva, who had recently managed to prove in court that the ban on the profession of helmsman/motorist for women violated the principle of equality and was discriminatory. A Russian ministry in charge of these issues has began work on the revision of the official governmental list of 456 types of work which were prohibited for women.
Lists of occupations prohibited for women are a legacy of the Soviet legislation. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were the first post-Soviet countries to abolish these prohibitions, they were then followed by Georgia and Armenia, and at the end of 2017 due to a campaign carried out by human rights and other activists the list of professions prohibited for women was also abolished in Ukraine. However, in Russia this ban on professions for women is still in effect and this practice is not considered as discriminatory against women by the Russian authorities.
On the contrary, it is being stated that this is a positive measure for the protection of women and their “reproductive function”. At the same time women are banned from hundreds of professions, many of which are prestigious and highly paid. In 2015 Russia received United Nations’ recommendations to reconsider the list of prohibited professions and grant women equal access to work, but so far this has not been done, official website of the Russian Sailors’ Union (RPSM) reports.
Svetlana Medvedeva has personally faced this ban and started her fight for labor rights back in 2012, when she had been denied employment. Her employer referred to the “List of heavy work and work with harmful or hazardous working conditions, in which the use of women’s labor is prohibited”. According to the results of the official certification of the workplace carried out by her employer, the position of motorist/helmsman did not meet the sanitary requirements in terms of noise levels. Svetlana Medvedeva addressed the problem by complaining to the official Internet public reception office of the Russian president, later her appeal was transferred to the Russian Ministry of Labor. There she was explained that women could be recruited for a positions mentioned in the list of harmful occupations, provided that the employer creates safe working conditions at the workplace, which has to be confirmed by certification. Svetlana Medvedeva filed a lawsuit, but the district and regional courts sided with the employer. She then appealed for help of the trade union, RPSM, and the Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial”, which was also followed by a complaint to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. In March 2016 the Committee considered the complaint and accepted Svetlana’s arguments. The Committee gave a number of recommendations to the government of the Russian Federation as a member state of the United Nations, but no reaction followed. It was only in 2017 that a Russian court recognized the actions of the Samara River Passenger Enterprise (SRPP), Medvedeva’s employer, as discriminatory, but it has not obligated the company to employ Svetlana in the position she aimed for.
“To be mothers, to be successful professionals or to combine both is up to the women themselves, but not to the government. If there are risks for women’s reproductive function, it is necessary to warn about it, but not to prohibit any kind of professional activity. That’s why we call for the abolition of the existing prohibition lists”, moderator Claire Moody, summed up the arguments of the majority of the participants of the hearings at the European Parliament.
Source: website of the Confederation of Labor of Russia