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Ukraine: Women Facing Job Discrimination

Gender discrimination in Ukraine is cutting women out of the work force while the Ukrainian government is doing nothing to stop the problem, Human Rights Watch charged in a new report released today. ( in Ukrainian )

The fifty-two-page report, "Women's Work: Discrimination Against Women in the Ukrainian Labor Force," describes how Ukrainian employers discriminate against women job seekers in the way they announce vacancies and interview applicants.

Both government agencies and private businesses regularly request male applicants more frequently than females in their job advertisements. Employers also use information on women's family circumstances-which they require the women to give during interviews-to deny women employment. Age and appearance requirements also exclude many women from jobs for which they are professionally qualified.

"The job market in Ukraine reflects some highly archaic stereotypes about women's capabilities," said LaShawn Jefferson, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Women's Rights Division. "The government of Ukraine can't claim to be a protector of women's rights while letting them be consigned to the lowest-paying, lowest-prestige jobs."

Government officials routinely deny that discrimination against women in the labor force is a problem in Ukraine. But Ministry of Labor inspectors lack the will and the training to investigate discriminatory recruitment practices. Meanwhile, the State Employment Service endorses such discrimination by posting vacancy announcements with gender specifications, and even requesting gender-specific vacancy information from employers.

The Ukrainian government has signed several international treaties outlawing job discrimination against women. They include the Convention Against All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the International Labor Organization's Discrimination Convention No. 111.

Gender-specific job advertising in Ukraine appears in newspapers, employment magazines, and Internet employment sites. State employment centers, private recruiting firms and job-placement agencies routinely distribute such advertisements. Vacancy announcements with requirements such as "young woman from 18 to 30, attractive appearance" are common.

Gender specifications can be found for all categories of jobs. Advertisements for blue-collar work involving physical labor as well as announcements for salaried mid- to upper-level managerial positions request male applicants much more frequently than female. The majority of advertisements specifying "woman" can be found among service sector positions-such as wait staff and domestic help-as well as for lower-wage and non-supervisory professional positions as secretaries and accountants. As a result, women are dissuaded from even attempting to apply for many jobs that match their professional skills and qualifications.

Discrimination in job interviews is also endemic and, for women job seekers, can be grueling and humiliating. Employers readily question women in interviews and on job applications about their age, marital status, family situation, family plans, and their husband's employment. Then employers make hiring decisions based on this personal information. For example, employers often deny young women work because, as they tell the women, they are of an age to be raising children. Women over thirty-five also encounter significant obstacles to employment, since the majority of jobs advertised for women, including as secretaries, caregivers, and waitresses, are typically deemed "appropriate" only for young women. Employers regularly specify age requirements in vacancy announcements and may deny a woman employment upon learning her age during an interview. To address pervasive employment discrimination against women in Ukraine, today Human Rights Watch called on the Ukrainian government to:

  • Publicly condemn discrimination against women in all recruitment practices, including job advertising.
  • Ensure that state agencies do not conduct discriminatory recruitment practices and cease the use of gender-specific job advertising.
  • Enact legislation to eliminate gender restrictions on parental benefits, with the exception of time off for childbirth.
  • In conjunction with non-governmental organizations, trade unions, employer groups and others, conduct national education campaigns to raise awareness of discrimination and sexual harassment in employment among women job seekers, employers, public officials, and civil servants, and to raise awareness about official remedies available to injured parties.
  • Human Rights Watch also appealed to international organizations to take bolder steps in promoting non-discrimination with the Ukrainian government. In particular, Human Rights Watch urged the United States government and others to include employer and employee anti-discrimination education components to aid programs aimed at promoting women's rights and combating trafficking in human beings.

    Human Rights Watch called on the European Union (EU) to assist the Ukrainian government in harmonizing its legislation to meet EU standards on nondiscrimination and equal treatment in employment and asked the International Labor Organization (ILO) to provide additional training to government officials, including labor ministry inspectors, on gender specific labor rights issues and investigative techniques.

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