A trial that opens today and sees a 31-year-old female navigation officer sue a Russian shipping company who refused to employ her as a ship’s captain, represents a landmark challenge to Russia’s sexist and outdated labour regulations, said Amnesty International.
Svetlana Medvedeva graduated in 2005 as a navigation officer in Samara region. In 2012 she applied for a job as a ship’s captain by Samara River Passenger Enterprise, but the company’s initial consent to hire her was later retracted because of labour laws that restrict women from more than 400 professions.
“For many years Svetlana Medvedeva has fought relentlessly to achieve her dream to stand at the helm of a river vessel. However, the state, in the country that once pioneered women’s rights, continues to deny her this opportunity because of discriminatory restrictions that also prevent women from driving trains, becoming carpenters, truck drivers or professional divers,” said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia.
The current list of professional occupations that are banned for women in Russia lists 456 occupations and 38 industries that are considered too “arduous,” “dangerous” or “harmful” to women’s health, in particular to their reproductive health.
The “prohibited” list was originally adopted in the USSR in 1974. It was confirmed in 2000 by Russian Government Regulation No. 162 which allowed for exemptions only if safe working conditions were established by the employer.
Svetlana Medvedeva challenged the rejection of her job application in court, seeking a judicial order to compel the company to establish safe working conditions and allow her to work in accordance with Regulation No. 162. However her claim was rejected.
In May 2013, she registered a complaint before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) alleging that her rights had been violated. The complaint claimed that she had been denied employment by the company because of her sex, on the basis of a blanket prohibition.
On 25 February 2016, the CEDAW Committee found in favour of Svetlana Medvedeva and urged the Russian authorities to grant her appropriate compensation and to facilitate access to jobs for which she is qualified.
In July 2017 Russia’s Supreme Court ruled that her case should be re-opened. The trial begins today in Samara’s District Court.
“Russia was the first major European country to grant women suffrage in 1917. The first female ambassador, in 1923, was from Russia, and so was the first woman in space,” said Denis Krivosheev.
“It’s time the Russian authorities drew inspiration from these remarkable women and put an end to the shameful regulations that hold women back and perpetuate stereotypes.”
Amnesty International calls on Russia to comply with the CEDAW recommendation to amend Regulation No. 162 and to remove all arbitrary restrictions on women’s employment.