Transgender woman fights for her rights in Russian court – and wins
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It was a brave step for Anastasia Vasilyeva (not her real name) to take her case to court.
It is the first time a transgender woman has fought for her labour rights in a Russian courtroom – and a huge leap for women’s rights in Russia that she won.
Ms Vasilyeva was fired from her job at a St Petersburg printing press after she presented her employer with a new passport recognising her transition from male to female.
“They were aware of the gender correction but did nothing until the change of documents which took almost a year. I carried out my duties well throughout that time but when they received my new documents they immediately referred to the list of prohibited professions and fired me,” she said.
Ms Vasilyeva had been with the company for 10 years.
Russian law prohibits women from working in 456 different professions, citing protecting their reproductive Health. It is a hangover from Soviet days – but its continued existence reflects the patriarchal nature and demographic focus of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
This week, after a two-year legal battle, a court in St Petersburg ordered the Janoshka printworks to give Ms Vasilyeva her job back and to pay her 1.85 million roubles (£22,000) in lost income and 10,000 roubles (£120) in damages.
Ms Vasilyeva was stunned.
She told Sky News: “I don’t know why the stars aligned so well but I’m definitely happy.
“This law is discrimination. For me, the person comes first irrespective of gender. And each person should be aware of and understand all the risks associated with the profession they’re working in.”
Olga Abramenko, who heads the anti-discrimination centre Memorial in St Petersburg, said the ruling represents progress – but warned there is still a long way to go.
She added: “The decision of the court was that this woman was allowed to work in this profession because she can’t physically have children. But it’s the right of women to decide whether they have children or not and to choose a particular profession or not.”
Memorial also represented Svetlana Medvedeva, who won a landmark ruling in 2016 that a shipping company had been discriminatory by not allowing her to work as a captain.
She had taken her battle all the way to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which deemed Russia’s list of banned professions a violation of women’s rights. Only then and after a five-year legal process did a Russian court uphold her claim. Russia is a state party to CEDAW.
Ms Vasilyeva’s lawyer, Maksim Olenichev, believes this week’s ruling sets a precedent in Russia.
“This is very unique because we’ve won at already at a local level – at the St Petersburg level – and haven’t had to go to the higher courts,” he said.
Russia labour ministry says it’s reviewing the list of banned professions so as to expand opportunities for women.
Now for example, the rules won’t apply to women over 49 because they are considered above the reproductive age.
“We hope that the list will be reduced but of course it’s not enough,” says Ms Abramenko. “We would like it to be abolished totally.”