Workshop on the Status of Women in the New Market Economies
co-sponsored by NEWW and the University of Connecticut School of Law

Read the Conference Program

April 13-15, 1996
Prepared by Donna Asel

Sunday afternoon, April 14, 1996
PANEL II: Women in the Workplace


Strategies for organizing and empowering workers, addressing job discrimination and sexual harassment and exercising economic power.

Co-facilitators:

Commentator:

Panelists:


Ludmilla Zavadskaya (Russia)
began her discussionby questionning whether the position of women in the"new" Russian labor market had changed from women's position under the prior socialist state. Zavadskayastated flatly that despite the constant changes, women still face the same old problems. The Communist State wanted to show their support of women because equality was part of the Communist objective.

Today, however, there is a new situation because of the market economy, and there is no corresponding motivation to encourage women's equality. Zavadskaya asked, "Can we stilll use the old methods and approaches to assist women in attaining full equality?"

Zavadskaya focused on the particular problems to women posed by the Labor Code and the imminent opportunity to initiate legislative proposals. The Labor Code prohibits women from working at night and prohibits women working in jobs that are "dangerous for women's health." Nonetheless, women still work at night and in these particular "dangerous" jobs. For example, approximately 500 out of 5000 jobs are completely closed to women. The State denies this situation and the political parties do not want to reevaluate the current laws with respect to this situation. Some advantages to women include that women may take maternity leave for one and a half years.

After comparing the advantages and limitations provided to women in the Labor Code, Zavadskaya concluded that the solution lies in the hands of women. "If we do not do it today, in a couple of months, the New Labor Code will pass and these limitations will remain. This would automatically mean that women will be excluded from working at night and in the so-called dangerous production jobs." Zavadskaya ended her presentation by asking: "Why should the State decide for women where, when and how we should work?"

Daniela Lupas (Romania)
juxtaposed the Communist ideals of equality and women's true belief that they were "equal" with the current reality that women are being actively discriminated against in the work environment and yet not bringing lawsuits in the courts. Lupas used the example of the common classified ads found in newspapers expressly seeking secretaries who will perform sex as part of the necessary qualifications for the job. In considering the rule of law issues, Lupas compared the express provisions in the legislative codes stating that "men and women are equal under the law," followed by "No one is above the law" with the fact that such provisions are not taken seriously.

Today, because the trend is toward market economies and away from Communism, consequently, even the positive aspects of Communism are shunned, including equality. For example, "previously, there was a quota for women in particular jobs, thus no legislation was required. Today, there are no quotas, no legislation, and no interest... especially since there are much fewer women in Parliament today as compared with during the Communist times." Lupas advises women from the region to "not get defensive when they are asked if they were really equal under the former (regime) and not to succumb to Western notions that the ideal of equality was not a reality and offered nothing positive since it was not true." Instead, Lupas stresses that the ideal of equality was valuable because "it helped women to create a good self-image. Certain gates were open to women, including education and jobs, that are no longer available to them today."

Irena Mouleshkova(Bulgaria)
analyzed the current discrimination against women in the workplace in light of the history of the region and the economic crisis today. The historical considerations include the influence of Moslem religion on Bulgarian culture and the tradition of patriarchy despite the socialist era. The rights in the Labor Code, although theoretically beneficial to women, cannot be guaranteed by the State. For example, despite the modern legislation's conformity to international standards, it is inadequate because reality fails to conform with such legislation.

Mouleshkova also described the three areas of legal protections for women provided in the Labor Code, all of which are conditioned upon women's physiology. The Labor Code prohibits women from working in dangerous jobs; protections for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding; and protections for working women with small children. Mouleshkova described the new amendments proposed to the Labor Code in October 1995. These included the "so-called civil contracts and do not contain obligations, such as social and labor benefits for workers. For example, the new law states that if you have a full time job, then you cannot be hired on a civil contract, but that you must be hired on the basis of a labor contract."

Csilla Kollonay Lehoczky (Hungary)
considered the factors contributing to the discrimination of women in the labor market, including protective discriminatory regulations that prevent women from working and the series of beneficial rules that have made women undesirable in the labor market. For example, there is a law created in 1962 that is still in effect that prohibits women from working in a job that endangers their life or that threatens the life of a fetus, or that endangers the lives of others simply because they are women.
Lehoczky insists that we must rethink fundamental social, political, and human rights as we "make new or re-do old Constitutions." For example, Lehoczky suggests taxation preferences for companies that hire pregnant women or that encourage non-sexual harassment. In conclusion, she reminds us that during the Communist times, "we got used to things being arranged behind the curtain...the number one priority now is to get the issues up front and on the table for discussion."

Anita Hill (U.S.)
began by illustrating the need to link gender, racial and class equality by telling a story about a conversation between 2 women just after the turn of the century.
Susan Anthony, a white woman and leading suffragette, spoke often with Ida B Wells, a black woman and advocate for equality in black communities who was active in anti-lynching movements. During such conversations, Wells would remind Anthony that "Black women's rights must be included once women got the vote."
"Well, now," Anthony responded, "when women get the vote all that will change." To which Ivy would ask, "Do you really believe that women will get the chance to vote?" Hill compared the U.S.' transition from a slave-economy to a market economy with the "countries in transitions'" current transformation to a market economy. She stressed that the need for coalition building must include a progressive concept of equality. For example, in the U.S., 75-76 years ago, the ballot granted to women was not necessarily attached to the workplace. It was not until 1964, that the political and the workplace became part of the agenda. Similarly, women cannot afford to disenfranchise any community because what seems like an equality issue for one group may not be an equality issue for another. Hill emphasizes that we must consider what we omit: gender and ethnicity; gender and social class; and gender and economic class. These topics are needed in order to have a complete dialogue. She concluded by stating, "We must not just see equality in national terms but in global terms, as well... But let's not omit the local concepts. All women includes women from different ethnicities and cultures that we must listen to."

Marley Weiss (U.S.)
summed up the panelists' presentations with a list of key differences between the legal, political, and social environments in the U.S. and "the region."

  1. Pre-transition heritage of Communist law is law that is enforceable from the top down. Therefore, there is a growing gap amongst efforts to enforce laws between private actors and vis-a-vis the State.
  2. Most countries have adopted a Parliamentary type of government and therefore may be quicker or more ephemeral. For example, a new political party can take over and override all the previous laws.
  3. Civil law is distinguishable from Common law and the idea that feminists should tackle or change Civil law to Common law is absurd. Given that all judges have their own biases in both systems, it is not necessarily a good idea to encourage Civil law judges to use Common law principles which would legitimize these biases.
  4. The idea of using litigation to foster social change must be carefully thought through since Civil law countries do not utilize the precedent system.
  5. Most of the countries in "the region" have Constitutional Courts with separate jurisdiction that may have precedential authority, yet the cases decided in these courts have no precedential value with respect to other courts.
  6. There are basic social and institutional differences.
  7. The countries from this region can be divided into different categories depending on their develpmental trajectory.


Comments and Questions

Many of the comments from participants reiterated the need for feminists to consider:

Current Labor Code provisions regarding women and what regulations would be an improvement, as well as whether these provisions will actually have a concrete benefit to women;

Whether and how women in power positions can help the women's movement;

The three different points of view that people working on the new Russian Constition have with respect to expressly including an equality provision:


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