Labor & Workforce

Russia’s women defy banned professions

By Anush Janbabian

Moscow, Mar 17 (efe-epa).- Russia has an extensive list of banned professions for women, but many ignore the official veto and demand the right to jobs that have so far been reserved exclusively for men.

At the Anti-Discrimination Center Memorial NGO, activists have spent years fighting to demolish the outdated framework that bans women from accessing certain professions.

The AllJobsForAllWomen campaign launched in 2017 inspired by Svetlana Medvedeva who challenged sexist labour laws by suing a Russian shipping company who refused to employ her as the ship’s captain. She won the trial.

“Authorities in Russia (and before the Soviet Union) have vetoed hundreds of trades for women, labelling them “dangerous and harmful” for them and their reproductive function,” the head of the Anti-Discrimination Center Stefania Kulaeva tells Efe.

The expert said that men in all professions – dangerous or not – have the right to choose between their work and family.

“But women do not have the choice. The State decides for them because they must choose family,” she adds.

In August, Russia finally reduced the number of professions banned for women from 456 to 98.

The new list will take effect on 1 January 2021 and removes one of the most notorious restrictions which prevented women from working as electric train drivers, truckers and car mechanics.

However, Russian women will still be unable to become firefighters, drivers of excavators, divers or miners. Work related to the extraction of oil and gas will also be off the cards.

“The reduction of the list for women in Russia is progress, although I would like it to be entirely withdrawn as they did in other neighbouring countries,” says sailor Medvedeva.

“I think dividing the professions into male and female is as absurd as when only men had the right to vote which we now see as crazy,” says Anna Baskakova, a volunteer firefighter.

Baskakova is one of many Russian women who circumvent the ban on putting out fires by volunteering instead.

“Before, I worked as an art historian in the Department of Culture of the Moscow City Council, a job that I liked very much, but then the fires of 2010 occurred,” Baskakova recalls.

The several hundred wildfires that ravaged swathes of Russia pushed Baskakova to leave her job to help those affected by the disaster.

Baskakova took a course at Greenpeace “in case the situation recurred” in the future.

She has since travelled across Russia, first as a volunteer firefighter and then as a member of Avialesookhrana, the Aerial Forest Protection Service.

“I believe that there are no male or female professions because women can do the same as men,” she says, although some trades require women to prove their ability with “physical tests”.

Oksana Chevalier has been a diver for years. Hers is one of the 456 banned professions according to the archaic labour laws which are not that different from those imposed in the USSR in the 1970s.

“My passion for water started very early, because I grew up near a river, in my grandparents’ house,” Chevalier recalls.

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