Since the Soviet era, more Russian women than men have received university degrees, yet their earnings and position in the job market are far lower than those of men.
According to a 2010 report into gender research by the Russian Federation Statistics Service Rosstat, in 1989 there were 6.73 million women who had studied in institutions of higher learning compared with 6 million men. In 2002, the difference was even more striking: there were 10.76 million women who had studied at universities compared with 8.61 million men.
"It is a vicious circle: Without completing their studies, men receive higher salaries than better-educated women, and as a result there is no incentive for the men to study. For their part, women, already realizing they are at a disadvantage, try to make up ground and specialize more and more," said Zoya Khotkina, a specialist in the study of female employment placement at the Moscow Center for Gender Research. According to her, Russian women’s salaries are 40 percent of men’s.
According to sociologist Marilia Moschkovich, who researches gender in education at the University of Campinas in Brazil, such disparities reflect a general trend in Western countries such as Brazil, the United States, France and Germany.
"In the words of the French sociologist Christian Baudelot, it is as if schools have created the feeling that there is more equality of opportunity, therefore women manage to go to school and succeed, but it seems that society does not support such equality of opportunities outside the institutions," said Moschkovich.
"There are two factors which go hand in hand: the horizontal concentration of women in highly-specialized, but less prestigious and less well paid areas; and vertical concentration, where, within each field, there are very high and very low positions, with women tending to hold the latter, even where they are better educated than the men," Moschkovich added.
With the recent global financial crisis and resulting unemployment, the unequal treatment received by women in the employment market has been even more apparent. In 2008, 416,800 women held executive positions compared with 645,640 men; by 2009, however only 33.7 percent of these positions were held by women compared with 66.3 percent of positions held by men.
In Russia, equality between men and women is guaranteed by Paragraph 19 of Article 3 of the Constitution, according to which "men and women enjoy equal rights and freedoms and have equal possibilities to exercise them." However, Article 253 of the Russian Employment Code lists approximately 600 jobs "where the use of female labor is prohibited."
"Included in those are really strenuous jobs such as mining and other underground work, but where something is prohibited, there is then the possibility to restrict to jobs where there is no danger whatsoever. This results in a scenario where, underground, a woman cannot work as a machine operator, which is a highly skilled and well-paid job, but she can clean the dirt from the floor," said Khotinka.
In 2009, Anna Klevets, then 22, brought an lawsuit in St. Petersburg challenging the ban on women working as machine operators underground, after she was not allowed to do so the previous year by a state-run company. The court, referring to the Russian Employment Code, found against Klevets.
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