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The List of Professions Banned for Women in Central Asia: Where Did It Come From and Why Is It Needed?

Despite the international organisations’ recommendations to terminate the list of professions banned for women, it still exists in almost all Central Asian countries.


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The material was prepared with assistance of the human rights lawyer Aigerim Kamidola from Kazakhstan Feminist Initiative “Feminita”, the founder of the “NeMolchi.Uz” [“Do not be silent!” – Tr.] project Irina Matvienko and an anonymous activist from Tajikistan.

The list of professions banned for women? Does it exist?

Unfortunately, it does. It exists in almost all Central Asian countries.

In Kazakhstan, it is regulated by the Decree No.944 of the Minister of Healthcare and Social Development of the Republic of Kazakhstan of December 8, 2015 and includes 229 professions. Women should not dream of becoming a diver, metro driver, truck driver, or locksmith.

In Tajikistan, the Labour Code contains Article 216 “Works Prohibited for Use of Women Labour”. Its first paragraph prohibits women from working in heavy, underground and hazardous works. The second paragraph refers to the list of works where the women’s employment is prohibited, which is approved by the government. It includes 326 professions.

The situation is similar in Kyrgyzstan: the Article 303 of the Labour Code and a list of 400 professions. For example, women cannot drive intercity buses with a capacity of more than 14 people, work as loaders (carry raw materials, fuel and other materials), as machinists on some types of special vehicles. They are also prohibited from chopping wood and digging manually.

In Uzbekistan, in 2019, the list of professions banned for women was terminated by Presidential decree. Prior to that, it included 44 professions that were considered harmful and dangerous for women: mining, oil and gas production, iron and steel industry, construction and installation works. However, this norm still exists in the Labour Code.

Where did it come from?

The list was created in the Soviet Union in 1978 and included 431 professions. Later, it was revised several times, and after the Soviet Union collapse, it was inherited by the Central Asian states.

Why is it needed?

During the Great Patriotic War, it was necessary to mobilize all resources, and both women and men were employed. In 1950s, there was a conservative rollback, and it was considered that the Soviet women achieved equality, and men had to be employed. Gender segregation intensified during that time.

The need for the list was justified by the fact that these professions are too difficult for women and can harm their reproductive system. The same rhetoric continues to this day.

What are these professions?

The lists of works banned for women slightly vary in each country. Most often, it includes professions in the mining and metal industry, oil-producing industry, construction and installation spheres: metal and alloy smelter, welder, locksmith, fitter, excavator operator, concrete worker, caisson worker, roofer, bricklayer, motor grader operator, bulldozer operator, steel and reinforced concrete constructions at height and climbing worker, communications technician, and antenna technician at heights.

In addition, women will not be employed in building underground structures, drilling oil wells, exploding ore, to extinguish fires in mines in rescue teams, to work as a trolley operator, drifter, shaft worker, ore crusher in the production of alumina, a worker and overseer of beneficiation and crushing-and-sorting plants, pits, mines and mining enterprises.

Most often, such jobs are highly paid, but women cannot work there.

That is, there are only technical specialties in the list?

It might seem that the list includes only technical specialties, but it is not true. Women also cannot be hired as industrial climbers, while this job is well paid. They cannot hold the professional positions in chemical, mining and processing industries, cannot operate commercial water and air transport.

Women cannot work as rescuers and firefighters: these are dangerous jobs. However, at the same time, they can be volunteers with about the same tasks and risks, but only for free. In developed countries such as the United States, Canada and countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, these jobs were always available to women.

The list includes difficult and dangerous professions. Would women want to work, for example, in mines?

Why not? According to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, everyone has the right “to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts”.

The termination of the list of banned professions does not mean that women will be forced to work in these professions. However, they should have the choice and the opportunity to work in such a job if they want to. Otherwise, it is gender discrimination. 

Can women cope with physically demanding job?

There are examples of women working in these jobs in other countries and doing it quite well. During the wartime, women were engaged in rear works and, in order to fulfil the work plans, they worked in the mines as well. As it turns out, when it is necessary for the state, it engages all the labour resources, and when something contradicts the ideology, then women are prohibited to work.

What about the children? After all, many professions from the list can really harm the women’s reproductive systems.

It is probable. However, they can also harm the men’s reproductive systems. A woman should have the right to choose, and the state or others should not decide for her. The termination of the list is an opportunity for everyone to work where she wants, regardless of others’ opinion and gender.

There are women who want to be rescuers, operate a crane or bulldozer and receive high salaries just like men. The mechanization makes such work less difficult.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the proportion of women of reproductive age (15-44 years of age) is quite stable and amounts to 25-30%. There are women of post-fertile age; there are infertile women; there are women who, for various reasons, decided not to have children; there are women who already have children, but want to work, for example, in marine occupations. 

Do women face this problem in real life?

Yes. At the same time, the paradox is that women can study in specialties from the list, but they cannot be employed for this job.

In 2019, Almagul addressed Kazakhstan Feminist Initiative “Feminita”. She wanted to become a truck driver, but the company’s security service forbade her, referring to the list. As a result, the young woman got this job, but she had to be registered as a passenger transport driver and a corresponding salary cut.

Almagul studied to be a driver of large-capacity vehicles and did not know about the existence of such a ban. She considers this a humiliation from the state and deprivation of her subjectivity, desires and the right to decide for herself.

Then, why is not the list terminated?

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and other international organisations repeatedly recommended Central Asian countries to terminate the list of banned professions and ensure the equal opportunities to work on these jobs for women.

In Kazakhstan, the Ministry of Labour announced its intention to work on these recommendations by 2021. In Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, no steps were taken in this direction so far. 

 

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