|Aspiring To Equality: An Overview Of The RF Duma*s
Concept Paper On Achieving Equal Rights And Opportunities
For Men And Women
Article 19.3 of Russian Federation*s constitution boldly states: *Men and women enjoy equal rights and equal opportunities to exercise them.*
In contemporary Russia, however, this is an aspiration, not a reality. In law and life, gender based discrimination and gender disparities are commonplace.
The Concept Paper On Achieving Equal Rights And Opportunities For Men And Women is the RF Duma*s attempt to realize the goal of Article 19.3 by systematically promoting gender equality in its future lawmaking initiatives.
Assisted by gender specialists, the RF Duma*s Committee on Women, Family and Youth, drafted the Concept Paper, or the *Conceptions.* Committee Chair and Communist Deputy Alvetina Aparina held hearings on the Conceptions in May 1997. Then, in November 1997, Aparina formally introduced the Conceptions to the Duma where they were quickly approved.
The Conceptions assert that equal rights and equal opportunities can be promoted through legislation and decrees addressing: political participation; social and labor relations, including parental rights and responsibilities; violence against women; and government-sponsored mechanisms to secure equal rights and opportunities for men and women.
Political Participation: The Conceptions seek to increase the numbers of women who hold elective offices and serve as appointees in the government (at the federal and regional levels).
To increase the numbers of elected female representatives, the Conceptions propose amending electoral laws to provide unspecified incentives for adding more women to the candidate lists of political parties. To increase the number of women in appointed posts, the Conceptions propose awarding female candidates preferential treatment in hiring. They even suggest imposing a quota system to ensure that more women are hired and promoted in the government.
Social and Labor Relations: The Conceptions recommend eliminating certain discriminatory firing/hiring practices, as well as the discriminatory tracking of women into feminized professions. In order to permit women who are mothers and primary caretakers to pursue jobs of their choice, the Conceptions also encourage provision of adequate parental benefits to families with children. While primarily addressing women, the Conceptions note that parental benefits must be offered to men and women. This is to prevent discrimination against women employees as well as to encourage and enable men to take active roles in raising their children.
Specifically, the Conceptions propose eliminating per se restrictions on women*s employment opportunities (in dangerous professions, night work, etc.), in favor of a rebuttable presumption that women shouldn*t be hired for such jobs. The presumption could be overcome by proving that the work site was not inherently dangerous to a woman*s health or safety. Furthermore, the Conceptions insist that employers who practice unauthorized gender discrimination must be held accountable under existing Russian laws which generally prohibit sex discrimination.
In order to stop tracking women into poorly paid professions, the Conceptions urge that vocational education and job re-training programs teach skills which are responsive to the needs of the marketplace. Currently, such programs tend to provide training reflective of stereotypes of women*s work (sewing, hairdressing, child care) rather than the needs of the marketplace (computer skills).
In order to assist women already employed in feminized professions, the Conceptions propose that the government create a minimum wage. They also suggest subsidizing certain feminized, poorly paid professions (e.g. textiles, food service industries) and reevaluating the wages paid to employees in others (e.g. education, medical sciences).
Despite their stated opposition to tracking, the Conceptions advocate governmental support for women*s entrepreneurial activities. Ironically, the rationale for this support is not traditional under-representation of women in business. Rather, it is based on the perception that these women work flexible hours, something needed to have a career and a family at once.
In addition, the Conceptions advocate a broad definition of *family planning* that encompasses not only birth control, but support for families with young children, such as day care, flex time in employment. The Conceptions make no mention of abortion.
Violence Against Women: The Conceptions propose enacting federal legislation to address the problem of family violence. They assert that the law must define and regulate abusive conduct; articulate measures of social support for victims; define the status of agencies and organizations authorized to provide assistance; and create a mechanism for punishing officials who fail to act to protect victims of violence.
Government Sponsored Mechanisms: The Conceptions recommend that an executive entity coordinate efforts among the branches of the government to promote gender equality. At the same time, the Conceptions urge the government to appoint a trained gender specialist within individual executive bodies to oversee the inclusion of initiatives which promote equality in each agency*s work. The Conceptions also recommend enactment of a law that articulates procedures which would enable citizens to petition the government when their rights (to non-discrimination, bodily integrity, etc.) have been violated. They also recommend Russia*s active participation in the development of an optional protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which would allow individuals to petition the CEDAW Committee in the event that their rights are not being respected.
Commitment to the principle of equal rights and opportunities is often forcefully expressed in the Conceptions. Unfortunately, concrete means for implementing these objectives are not. For example, funding sources for proposed programs are not articulated and scant attention is given to how proposed legislative initiatives might be drafted, let alone implemented.
It*s also important to remember that the Conceptions themselves are recommendations. They aren*t binding on government actors and have no enforcement mechanism. In fact, the current legal status of the Conceptions remains unclear: they were scheduled to take effect upon publication in Rossiskaya Gazeta; to date, however, the Conceptions have not been published.
Finally, a philosophical*albeit perhaps fundamental*concern is that the methods promoted by the Conceptions may raise awareness of gender issues, but fail to advance equal rights and opportunities for women and men. Protectionist labor legislation, traditionalist views of women as the primary caregiver in families, special subsidies for feminized industries and political quotas may advance the careers and well being of certain individual women. But will such measures dismantle the widespread sexist stereotypes that lead to gender discrimination*or simply reinforce them?
Kristen Hansen, ABA SEELI