Women workers ask ombudsperson to abolish the list of professions banned for women

A group of women workers in transportation and printing sectors has sent an open letter to the Russian Human Rights Ombudsperson Tatyana Moskalkova, calling on her to facilitate abolition of the list of professions banned for women since it discriminated against women, restricted their labor rights, hampered their professional development and prevented them from earning decent wages.

The letter was also signed by Svetlana Medvedeva, river vessel navigator, whose legal appeal in 2016 resulted in ruling by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women that “the list of professions banned for women”, which included 456 occupations in 38 professional spheres, constituted violation of women’s rights to equal opportunities with men for employment and freedom to choose a profession. Referring to this decision, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation in July 2017 demanded to review the case of Svetlana Medvedeva concerning the ban on the work of women on river vessels. In September 2017 the Samara District Court de facto recognized that the existing Russian ban on certain occupations for women was inconsistent with the international standards, but at the same time the court did not oblige the employer to employ Medvedeva in the professional capacity for which she had been trained since in this case the employer would be violating the existing law.

In January 2017 the Russian Ministry of Labor and Social Protection announced that it planned to revise the list of professions prohibited for women, but so far no changes have been introduced into the Russian labor legislation.

Open letter

To T.N. Moskalkova,

Ombudsperson for Human Rights of the Russian Federation


Dear Mrs. Moskalkova,

We, the undersigned – workers of passenger, freight and river transport, printing houses, representatives of small businesses – ask you for protection of our labor rights.

All of us are professionals, we love our work, we want self-realization in the professional fields we have chosen. However, our professional choice is limited by the list of professions banned for women (Government Decree #162 dated February 25, 2000 “On approving the list of heavy work and work with harmful or dangerous working conditions, in which employment of women is prohibited”).

Among the professions prohibited for women it lists drivers of large-capacity long distance trucks, drivers of intercity buses, electric trains and metro trains, sailors and helmsmen of vessels, some types of printing work, many other kinds of professional activities. We consider these restrictions to be discriminatory and contrary to our constitutional right for equality with men. Many of us have been studying for a number of years, acquiring the professional skills of truck drivers or helmsmen, and later it was not possible for us to find jobs in these professions. For us the chosen jobs are the source of earnings and a favorite, interesting employment. They constitute the professional spheres in which we can be realized not worse than men, and we know this from both our experience and our employers. But even when the employer ignores the ban, employs us for the chosen job, we constantly run the risk of losing our jobs, because if a woman is found at work where “women’s labor is prohibited”, the company will have to pay substantial fines. Our labor rights are not protected in this case, either by the Labor code or other Russian laws – in fact, we are accepted to work in violation of the law and therefore can also be dismissed regardless of the legal regulations. Many employers themselves would like to have the opportunity to legally hire female professionals, but they are afraid of fines.

On September 15, 2017 the Samara District Court recognized the refusal of the Samara river passenger shipping company to hire Svetlana Medvedeva as a helmsman as discrimination from the point of view of international law, while at the same time the court declined to oblige the employer to hire the plaintiff in this capacity referring to the fact that the Russian law forbade this work for women. Thus, the court actually left the discriminatory refusal intact. Earlier in 2016 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women also recognized these prohibitions on work in “harmful and dangerous working conditions”, which lead to the impossibility of employment for women in 456 occupations, as unacceptable discrimination, and it urged the Russian Federation to abolish all of these prohibitions.

For the reasons stated above, we ask you to pay attention to the problem of discrimination against women on the basis of gender, to promote the abolition of prohibitions restricting our labor rights, which also prevent us from professional growth and development, from getting decent wages, from making a career and enjoying our rights at the workplace.

Letter with signatures (in Russian)