Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine has experienced a difficult socio-economic transition toward a market-based economy. Output declined dramatically, inflation was rampant for much of the decade, and thousands of unproductive and overstaffed industrial enterprises have been forced to close. This dramatic economic decline and restructuring has led to alarming demographic developments, high levels of poverty, increased unemployment and the development of an unregulated market for informal labor. High mortality, declining birth rates,1 and emigration2 have fueled a decrease in total population from 52.2 million in 1993 to 48.5 million in 2001.3 Average life expectancy for men has declined from sixty-six in 1989 to sixty-two in 2000.4 According to the United Nations (U.N.), “Ukraine stands on the threshold of a nationwide AIDS epidemic,” as the number of reported cases has increased 20 times since 1997.5
The World Bank notes that real income decline over the transition period has resulted in an increase in poverty, leaving some 27 percent of the population poor—more than one out of four people; 18 percent of Ukrainian households are considered extremely poor.6 Official statistics report average monthly wage at approximately U.S.$60 per month, with nearly 81 percent of the population earning less than U.S.$90 per month.7 Employers in both the public and private sectors persistently fail to pay wages.8 Employment has shown a consistent downward trend, falling from 70.8 percent in 1997 to 62.7 percent in 2001.9 Officially registered unemployment is recorded at 4 percent,10 while real unemployment stands at over 10 percent, as determined by ILO methodology.11 Hidden unemployment may mean actual unemployment figures are even higher.12 One-fifth of the population is working part-time or registered as employed but officially on forced, unpaid “administrative leave.”13 At least one-third of the population participates in unofficial or secondary employment,14 and the informal or “shadow” economy amounts to over 50 percent of GDP.15
The difficult circumstances of the post-Soviet transition period have affected women’s rights with respect to health, physical security, and economic opportunity.16 Women’s health has suffered under harsh economic conditions, and medical services, particularly for pregnant women, are often inadequate.17 The prohibitive cost of contraceptives and a lack of knowledge about family planning results in a high rate of abortion.18 High rates of infant mortality, maternal mortality, miscarriages, and sexually transmitted diseases also reflect unsatisfactory reproductive and sexual health care.19 Expert studies have shown that domestic violence is widespread.20 Trafficking of women from Ukraine into forced labor, including forced sex work in Europe, the Middle East, and other countries “has reached an unprecedented level even when compared to other F[ormer] S[oviet] U[nion]countries,” according to the World Bank.21
Women’s post-Soviet experience in the labor force also reveals many worrying trends. According to local experts, the transition to market economy has brought women “under-representation in decision-making positions, high rates of unemployment, and a re-emergence of traditional stereotypes concerning gender roles.”22 During the Soviet period, over 90 percent of women were employed or engaged in study, and women’s share in the labor force exceeded men’s in the 1970’s and 1980’s.23 Women continue to graduate from secondary schools and universities at rates equal to, or exceeding, the rates for men.24 However, their experience in the labor market differs significantly from that of men’s. Gender based segregation by sector and level of responsibility is pronounced. Women tend to be concentrated in a few, primarily low-wage sectors, including healthcare, trade, public catering, education, and agriculture,25 as well as in the informal sector. Men constitute the majority employed in transport, construction, financing, information technology services, manufacturing, and science and scientific service.26 Wage arrears are most common in industries with higher relative participation of women, including healthcare and education.27
Discrimination in career advancement and the “glass ceiling”28 are also well documented. Even in sectors where women are a majority, they hold senior and managerial positions at a much lower rate than men. This is particularly acute in public administration. Women constitute over 73 percent of total “government employees,” yet are severely underrepresented in management. Among the five highest managerial categories, 37 percent of managers are women, and in the top three categories, women hold only 21 percent of the managerial positions.29 For other sectors, the ILO also notes that “in 2000, women made up a minority of supervisory and managerial groups.”30 Similarly, in all branches of industry, including in sectors where women’s labor predominates, women’s salaries for comparable work fall well short of men’s, averaging approximately 70 percent, despite the fact that almost 60 percent of employees with higher education are women.31 Sexual harassment is also a serious problem in the workplace, with some sociological studies showing that up to 50 percent of women are victims of sexual harassment,32 although it goes largely unrecognized33 or is considered something women must simply endure.34 Family responsibilities continue to fall mainly on women, resulting in a severe “double burden” of work both at home and on the job. Poor economic conditions often force women to seek secondary employment or to accept low-wage jobs, simply to provide means of subsistence to their families.
Women’s employment rate has been declining steadily from 1995 to 2000, reaching 52 percent in 2000, far below the rate of 61 percent among men.35 Official statistics and some international experts note that formally, women’s unemployment is roughly equal to men’s.36 However, according to local employment centers, the majority of those officially registering as unemployed are women: in Lviv oblast 59 percent, in Lviv city 73 percent,37 and in Kyiv 75.8 percent.38 This discrepancy suggests that official statistics are not effectively capturing the scope of unemployment among women. Both Ukrainian authorities and the World Bank note that with the closing of unproductive enterprises, women have been the prime targets for job cuts, when these have occurred.39 In addition, dismissals have occurred at the highest rates in many of the fields with a concentration of women, such as education and healthcare,40 and men have been reemployed at a higher rate than women.41
Many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Ukraine are committed to assisting women with some of these challenges presented by the changed economic and social conditions. NGO activities include trafficking prevention programs, domestic violence prevention programs, crisis hotlines, legal assistance and referrals, job skills training, and women’s human rights. The Women’s Rights Center “LaStrada Ukraine” organizes trafficking prevention educational programs and materials, provides crisis hotlines, and assists victims of trafficking. Since 1998 Winrock International, a U.S. NGO, in conjunction with seven regional Ukrainian NGOs, has undertaken a pilot program to address two key factors that contribute to the susceptibility of Ukrainian women to trafficking: lack of economic opportunity and violence. Local women’s centers offer job skills training, hotlines, crisis prevention, and referral services to women.42 A few organizations dedicated to sociological, political, and economic research and analysis of problems facing women also exist. Many of these groups conduct advocacy with local and national governments, and international institutions.
1 The birth rate has fallen from 12.8 per 1,000 in 1990 to 7.6 per 1,000 in 2000. Cabinet of Ministers, State Statistics Committee of Ukraine, and UNDP “Promoting Gender Equality Project,” “Ukraine: Gender Statistics to Reach Gender Equality Between Women and Men,” State Statistical Commission and Economic Commission for Europe Working Paper no. 23/add. 1, Joint ECE/UNDP Workshop on Gender Statistics for Policy Monitoring and Benchmarking, Oriveto, Italy, October 9-10, 2000.
2 According to the Ukrainian Ombudswoman, no fewer than five million Ukrainians are working abroad. “Millions of Ukrainians Said to be Working Abroad,” RFE/RL Newsline vol. 7, no. 64 part II, April 3, 2003. In a recent survey of Ukrainians working in Italy, over 93 percent said that they left due to economic reasons (low salary, no employment, or debts). The average Ukrainian migrant makes up to ten times what he or she is likely to earn in Ukraine in an average wage position. “Ukraine’s Exodus: Migrant Workers in Europe,” Eastern Economist vol. 9 nos. 48-49, pp. 2-5.
3 Population is expected to decline to forty-two million by 2026. Ombudsman of Ukraine, Condition of Guarantees and Defense of the Rights of Ukrainian Citizens Abroad (Kyiv, 2002), p. 37.
4 Life expectancy for women has remained unchanged at seventy-four. State Statistics Committee of Ukraine, Women and Men in Ukraine (Kyiv: State Statistics Committee of Ukraine, 2001), p. 9.
5 “HIV/AIDS in Ukraine,” Press Release, United Nations in Ukraine [online] http://www.un.kiev.ua/en/pressroom/pressreleases/29/ (retrieved September 14, 2002).
6 Mapi M. Buitano, World Bank: Ukraine Country Assistance Strategy FY2001-2003, September 12, 2000 [online] http://wbln0018.worldbank.org/ECA/ECC11/UkraineCAS/AR/cover.nsf/HomePage/1?OpenDocument (retrieved June 11, 2003).
7 Data for 2001. State Statistics Committee of Ukraine, Social Indicators of Living Standards: Statistical Compilation, (Kyiv: State Statistics Committee of Ukraine, 2002), pp. 14-15.
8 A 1996 study by the World Bank and the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology found that over 45 percent of workers were owed pay. “Women and the Labor Market,” p. 34. Wage arrears have declined slightly since the mid-1990s, but still amount to significant sums. Public sector wage arrears stood at forty-four million in March 2003. International Center for Policy Studies, “Economic Statistics,” issue 3, January 2001, p. 3 and “State-Sector Wage Arrears Down By 10% to UAH 44.2 Million in March,” Ukrainian News Agency, May 5, 2003.
9 State Statistics Committee of Ukraine, Social Indicators of Living Standards, pp. 98-99. See also Alena Nesporova, “Unemployment in the Transition Economies,” Economic Survey of Europe 2002, No. 2, Prepared by the Secretariat of the Economic Commission for Europe (Geneva and London: United Nations, 2002).
10 This statistic reflects the number of people registered with the State Employment Service. “Official Unemployment Rate Remains 4% in April,” Ukrainian News Agency, May 14, 2003 [online] http://www.ukranews.com (retrieved May 14, 2003).
11 State Statistics Committee of Ukraine, “Economic Activity of the Population, 2000-2002” [online] http://www.ukrstat.gov.ua/ (retrieved May 22, 2003).
12 Guy Standing and Laszlo Zsoldos, Worker Insecurities in Ukrainian Industry: The 2000 Ukrainian Enterprise Labor Flexibility Survey (Geneva: International Labor Organization, 2001), p. 1. Ukrainian experts note that it is difficult to estimate the actual level of unemployment in Ukraine because of the existence of both hidden unemployment (unregistered labor or workers forced to go on long-term unpaid vacations) and hidden employment (employment in the shadow economy). Olga Harasymiv and Kyrylo Moskovczuk, “Ukraine: An Independent Report Submitted to the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in Connection with the Review of the Fourth Periodic Report of Ukraine (26th CESCR Session),” (Lviv, July 2001), pp. 3-4.
13 Buitano, World Bank: Ukraine Country Assistance Strategy.
14 International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Women 2000, (Vienna: IHF, 2000), p. 475.
15 U.N. Report on Human Development in Transition: Europe and CIS, 1997, as quoted in International Center for Policy Studies, “Economic Statistics in Ukraine,” Policy Study #13, November 2000 [online] http://www.icps.com.ua/docs/ps/es/eng/ps_es_eng_200011_13.pdf (retrieved June 11, 2003), p. 8.
16 Children, and in particular at-risk children, have also been disproportionately affected by the drop in living standards, growing poverty among parents, and failures of the state to provide adequate social assistance to families with children. Irena Kalachova, “Poverty and Welfare Trends in Ukraine Over the 1990s: Country Paper,” (Florence, Italy: UNICEF Innocenti Research Center, 2001), p. 20.
17 International Helsinki Federation, Women 2000, p. 481.
18 Although official statistics show the abortion rate has declined from 150 abortions per 100 live births, in 1995, in 2000, numbers remained high with 113 abortions per 100 live births. Irena Kalachova, “Poverty and Welfare Trends in Ukraine, p. 21. State Statistical Committee of Ukraine, Women and Men in Ukraine, p. 22. In 2001, UNICEF reported 34.1 abortions per woman. See also, International Helsinki Federation, Women 2000, p. 480.
19 Although infant mortality has been declining since 1995, official Ukrainian statistics reported for 2001, a rate of 11.3 per 1,000 live births. For 2000, UNICEF reported a rate of 20 per 1,000 live births. The methodology used by each source varies. State Statistics Committee of Ukraine, Social Indicators of Living Standards, pp. 32-33 and UNICEF, “Infant Mortality Rate,” [online] http://www.childinfo.org/cmr/revis/db1.htm (retrieved June 3, 2003). For 2001, Ukraine reports 23.9 maternal deaths per 100,000. State Statistics Committee of Ukraine, Social Indicators of Living Standards, p. 42. In 2000, syphilis incidence among women was 91.7 per 100,000 women, up from 6.2 in 1990, but lower than in 1996, when the rate peaked at 144.8. Irena Kalachova, “Poverty and Welfare Trends in Ukraine,” p. 21.
20 See Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, Domestic Violence in Ukraine (Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, 2000).
21 Buitano, World Bank: Ukraine Country Assistance Strategy. For detailed analysis, see Human Rights Watch, “Hopes Betrayed: Trafficking of Women and Girls to Post-Conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina for Forced Prostitution,” A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 14, no. 9(D), November 2002, and Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, Trafficking in Women: Moldova and Ukraine, (Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, 2000).
22 Oleksandra Rudneva, Ganna Khrystova, Inga Kononenko, Natalya Orlova, and Olena Kochemyrovska, Alternative Report to the U.N. Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), (Kharkiv, 2002), p. 11.
23 International Helsinki Federation, Women 2000, p. 475.
24 The distribution of women and men enrolled in daytime secondary education is equal. In higher education, enrollment consists of 54 percent women and 46 percent men. Men are the majority in vocational schools (60 percent to 40 percent). Statistics Committee of Ukraine, Women and Men in Ukraine, p. 27. Some statistics show that graduation rates are somewhat higher for women (56.6 percent from secondary school and 51.9 percent from college and university). International Helsinki Federation, Women 2000, p. 474.
25 State Statistics Committee of Ukraine, Women and Men in Ukraine, p. 36.
27 “Women and the Labor Market,” p. 34.
28 “The glass ceiling” is a term commonly used to describe an artificial barrier created by discrimination that prevents women and minorities from advancing to senior and management positions.
29 State Statistics Committee of Ukraine, Women and Men in Ukraine, p. 37.
30 Standing and Zsoldos, Worker Insecurities in Ukrainian Industry p. 33.
31 Irena Kalachova, “Poverty and Welfare Trends in Ukraine Over the 1990s,” and State Statistics Committee of Ukraine, Men and Women in Ukraine, p. 40. Government officials dismiss the wage differential by claiming that women are not discriminated against for equal work. Indeed, the gender discrepancy between senior managers and general employees would easily account for these discrepancies alone. Human Rights Watch interview with Volodymyr Tyotkin, director, State Department of Supervision of Labor Legislation Observance, and chief state labor inspector of Ukraine, Kyiv, April 9, 2003.
32 Young, unmarried women are particularly vulnerable, and married women face “an intermediate risk.” International Helsinki Federation, Women 2000, p. 488. See also Violence Against Women in Ukraine: Mainstreaming the Human Rights of Women, report prepared by The World Organization Against Torture for the U.N. Committee Against Torture 27th session, November 12-23, 2001).
33 According to the chief labor inspector for Kharkiv Oblast, Ludmila Plastun, “Sexual harassment is a very remote problem. We still have to grow up to this problem [in Ukraine].” Human Rights Watch interview with Ludmila Plastun, chief labor inspector for Kharkiv Oblast, Kharkiv, April 10, 2003.
34 “It is generally agreed that sexual harassment of women in the workplace is a widely tolerated social practice in Ukraine and, given the precarious nature of the current job market is one which women are often forced to put up with.” Rudneva et al, Alternative Report, p. 15.
35 Similarly, economic activity was recorded at 69 percent for men and 59 percent for women. Some of this discrepancy can be attributed to the lower retirement age for women (55) than men (60). Irena Kalachova, “Poverty and Welfare Trends in Ukraine,” p. 7. Also State Statistics Committee of Ukraine, Men and Women in Ukraine, p. 33.
36 State Statistics Committee of Ukraine, Social Indicators of Living Standards, p. 196; Irena Kalachova, “Poverty and Welfare Trends in Ukraine, p. 7; and Standing and Zslodos, Worker Insecurities in Ukrainian Industry, p. 28.
37 An oblast is a federal administrative district, roughly equivalent to a province. Human Rights Watch interview with the director, Lviv City Employment Center, Lviv, April 19, 2003.
38 Kyiv City Administration Division of Work and Employment, “Labor Market of Kyiv January-December 2002” (Kyiv, 2003).
39 In 1998 and 1999, women constituted 67 percent of the people “discharged due to organizational changes in production” and less than half of the people who resigned from any job “on their own will.” Cabinet of Ministers, State Statistics Committee of Ukraine, and UNDP “Promoting Gender Equality Project,” “Ukraine: Gender Statistics to Reach Gender Equality Between Women and Men.” See also, Buitano, World Bank: Ukraine Country Assistance Strategy. The ILO did not find conclusive evidence on treatment of women in surplus labor conditions. Standing and Zsoldos, Worker Insecurities in Ukrainian Industry, p. 32.
40 Data for 2000. State Statistics Committee of Ukraine, Men and Women in Ukraine, p. 42.
41 Data for 1998 and 1999. Cabinet of Ministers, State Statistics Committee of Ukraine, and UNDP “Promoting Gender Equality Project,” “Ukraine: Gender Statistics to Reach Gender Equality Between Women and Men,” p. 8.
42 See www.winrock.org.ua