The ILO Subregional office in Moscow covers 10 countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The countries are at different stages of economic development, income levels, styles of government and adherence to traditions and societal stereotypes in respect to equality between men and women. The diversity requires a regionally differentiated approach to gender issues, and even within a single country; men and women may encounter totally different problems in urban and rural areas. However, there is a number of common features characterizing the situation with gender equality in these countries.
In almost every country of the region women have reached a high level of education (in Russia, for example, women in the labour market generally have even a higher level of education than men and they constitute more than 50% of university students), along with professional training, high economic activity and active participation in public life. At the same time, women’s share in fast-developing and highly paid sectors is decreasing and industrial and occupational segregation is growing. As economic restructuring continues and labour market becomes more competitive, employers in some perspective sectors tend to hire male employees. In some CIS countries, especially in Central Asia, the equal access to employment remains a priority concern for women at the labour market.
As a rule, women constitute the majority of the officially registered and long-term unemployed workers, though these figures most often fail to reflect the real scale of the problem. A substantial number of unemployed is not registered, and among them men are definitely dominating.
Generally, women are paid 30% to 50% less than men, depending on country and sector (in Russia, women’s salaries make 63% of men’s). Unequal pay is the top priority issue in all the CIS countries, and there is a political and public understanding for this demand.
Access to justice for women is deficient in the region, as well as the information on the rights and legislation. Equality between women and men is constitutionally guaranteed in all CIS countries, and the ILO Conventions 100 and 111 are ratified in all CIS countries. At the same time, there is a huge gap between theory and practice of implementation of basic equality standards. There is neither specialized anti-discriminatory legislation existing nor the institutions to make justice accessible. Some countries have started drafting anti-discrimination laws (Russia, Ukraine), but this process takes plenty of time and efforts.
Throughout the entire region women are severely underrepresented in political life. In Russia, there is only 7,7% of women in the State Duma (among the CIS countries, women have the highest representation in the Parliament of Azerbaijan where they constitute 13%).
Most of the CIS countries have started reforming their social security systems, but the gender impact of social security has not yet become a central concern during such reforms. The cutback in social, healthcare and educational facilities meant that motherhood has become a largely private institution. The collapse of the soviet pre-school childcare system and the withdrawal of practically all state social services have resulted in women’s increase care obligations. Maternity and family benefits and childcare, as well as old-age security are areas where positive changes would have been of paramount importance for gender equality.
In general, one may state that there is a considerable high-level resistance across the CIS to a gender equality issue and its interpretation. The reason for that is, probably, a longstanding tradition of at least verbal commitment to equality inherited from the soviet times. Most of the people are confident that equality between men and women has been achieved and is an integral part of their life. In this respect national mentality and societal stereotypes are the main barriers to overcome.
In conclusion we have to objectively admit that as compared to most countries of the world the CIS states are far ahead in the issues related to equal possibilities for men and women in the world of work. They have reached such a stage in their respective development processes, when decisions have to be made and orientations taken towards further progress and consolidation of efforts of all social partners in mainstreaming gender concerns in their policies and practices.