Women in Ukraine say getting and keeping a job is harder and harder. It's particularly difficult for older women or those with young children. This confirms the recent findings of international rights group Human Rights Watch, which says Ukrainian women face serious gender discrimination. The group says the authorities -- while boasting of the country's efforts to fight discrimination -- in practice turn a blind eye to it.
Prague, 19 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A recent "help wanted" ad in the Ukrainian newspaper "Iz ruk v ruki" for an office worker reads as follows: "Wanted: young woman, 19-35, likeable, slender, attractive, with knowledge of PCs -- high salary." Another ad, this one in "Proponuyu robotu," says, "Wanted: waitress with work experience, under 25, attractive."
Ads that emphasize a person's age and appearance over their professional skills, while common, are a serious form of discrimination, says Human Rights Watch (HRW). The group, in a recent report on Ukraine, says the country's women face serious forms of gender discrimination. The most blatant types, it says, are related to appearance, marital status, and age.
Rachael Denber at the group's office in New York told RFE/RL that discrimination often starts with job ads and extends to almost all aspects of a woman's professional life. "There's blatant discrimination in the hiring process and it starts with job advertisements geared according to gender," Denber said. "Certain jobs are advertised for men only and it's usually the most prestigious jobs, high-paid jobs. [Less]-prestigious jobs are geared specifically for women and we found it over and over again in several different regions of Ukraine, and it seems to be a pretty [usual occurrence], it seems to be quite prevalent."
Ludmila Fedorenko, a Ukrainian woman living in Kyiv, is 45 years old and has no official job. She ekes out a living caring for the children of a private family. The job pays about $100 a month and carries no social security or other benefits.
She said she's a victim of age discrimination. "Nobody wants to hire a woman who is 45, it is simply impossible for me to find a job in either state-owned or private companies," she said. "We have a newspaper that publishes ads, 'Proponuyu robotu.' And just take a look what kinds of ads they have, what kinds of jobs are offered. They want some [women] distributors selling cosmetics and there are very few ads offering a normal job. Professional builders are needed, but these jobs are for men."
Natalia Litovchenko, another middle-aged woman, makes her living as an artist. She said she does not feel personally discriminated against since she can sell her own paintings. But she said she sees evidence of discrimination all around her. She talked about her son's company, which is reluctant to hire women.
"My son owns a design company and I know about their practice of hiring designers. They are afraid to hire women because there is the attitude that women are more emotional and they can ruin their projects," Litovchenko said. She said the discrimination continues during the hiring process, when women are asked questions about their personal lives.
The HRW's Denber said: "Women are [often] asked, specifically, questions about their family status, whether they are married, whether they have children. If they are married and have very small children, they are considered to be, you know, undesirable employees because employers don't want to have to pay [social benefits]."
Denber said employers often consider women with small children to be unreliable because the kids may fall ill and the woman would then have to stay home. On the other hand, women who are married but have no children are also seen as unreliable because they may have children someday and a company would have to pay maternity benefits.
To be sure, Ukraine is not the only country where women face this type of gender and age discrimination. It's a problem that permeates nearly all societies, both East and West.
RFE/RL tried to reach some officials in the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, but with no success.
The Ukrainian government appears to be in denial. On its official website, the government states that protection of women's rights is included in its action plan. However, the Internet publication "Transitions Online" recently quoted Labor and Social Policy Minister Mykhaylo Papiev as saying discrimination is not seen as a major issue in the plan.
Denber said discriminatory practices contradict Ukraine's international agreements and its constitution. She said it could also hamper Ukraine's long-term goal of joining the European Union.