Experts from the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) have ruled that a Russian list of occupations that are restricted to women is discriminatory and in violation of women’s rights. The Committee reached the conclusion in the course of analysing the case of a Russian woman who had been rejected from a position as a helmsperson on a boat.
Svetlana Medvedeva applied to helm a boat for a private company in 2012, after qualifying as a navigation officer. She was initially selected for the position, but was later denied it on the grounds that it appeared on a list of jobs that women in Russia are restricted from carrying out. Medvedeva launched a judicial challenge to her denial of employment at the helm of a boat. However, the courts denied her appeal and upheld the restriction, claiming that the limits on female employment in Russia are designed to protect their “reproductive health.”
Analysing the case, CEDAW – which was set up to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women – reached the conclusion that Medvedeva had suffered discrimination in being denied employment. Regarding the grounds for the rejection of her appeal, the Committtee said that no scientific evidence had been presented to support the claim that women’s reproductive health may be endangered in any way by holding the position of helmsperson-motorist on a boat. Furthermore, the Committee found that the restrictions on women working in this field had put Medvedeva into a position where the “profession for which she was educated” is one she is legally barred from working in on account of her gender.
Regarding the case of Medvedeva specifically, CEDAW called on the Russian government to allow her access to work in the field for which she has successfully qualified. The Committee also called for compensation to be paid to Ms Medvedeva by the Russian government.
In more general terms, CEDAW urged Russia to change its policies on restricting and prohibiting women from certain jobs and industries. The country’s government should, the Committee said, begin to amend and reduce the list of professions that, by law, women have limited or no access to.
CEDAW is a panel that aims to support work towards gender equality across the UN. Last September, it was said by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that there is no country which has yet achieved full equality for women. CEDAW is intended to help tackle these issues, along with other bodies such as the Human Rights Council and a new, recently-announced panel to address issues relating to the economic empowerment of women.