Gender Roles in Economics

In Ukraine, spheres of labor are frequently divided along gender lines, a phenomenon rooted both in traditional ideas about men and women's unique capabilities, and in discrimination against women in the context of postSoviet economic crisis. These trends are also influenced by cultural norms in the area of education. Women are considered to be specially suited for the humanities, especially languages and pedagogy. Science is often viewed as a male sphere, and in institutes and universities the departments of computer science, engineering, and mathematics and physics are dominated by men. It follows that the career choices available to men and women based on their educational backgrounds are oftentimes inherently different.

Men dominate in the spheres of business, mining, construction, and transportation, while women dominate in public health, education, and communications. Despite a situation where women enjoy higher levels of professional and education training than men, women usually occupy less prestigious and less remunerative posts. For example, women dominate in spheres such as secretarial work (81%), healthcare (82%), low-level buying and selling (76.6%), education (75.2%), and culture (70.2%). Only 5% of women in these professions occupy managerial positions (Dovzhenko, 1998). While women make up around 53% of personnel in institutions of higher education, they are very poorly represented in positions of administrative power and decision-making authority (Averianova, 1998).

Ukraine's market economy is still developing. In general, business (which is often associated with criminality)

is not perceived as an appropriate occupation for women, and men dominate in the private business sphere. Women occupy only 21% of administrative posts in small businesses, and just 13% in large businesses (Koval', Mel'nik & Godovanets, 1999). However, there are some marginal niches where women dominate. These are market spheres that are organized around household provision and consumption, tasks that had traditionally been women's responsibilities (Zhurzhenko, 2001). These occupations include street trading and "shuttle trading" (traveling across national borders to buy and sell goods) in neighbouring countries.

The economic crisis in the Ukraine since perestroika (Gorbachev's program for economic restructuring, which began in the mid-1980s) has had especially deleterious effects for women's position in the labor market. Whereas in the Soviet Union women constituted 51% of the work force in the late 1980s (du Plessix Gray, 1989), women in contemporary Ukraine make up the majority of the unemployed, around 70%. This is partially because women are seen as burdensome and unreliable employees due to their responsibilities as mothers. Eighty percent of workers who perform jobs that carry no social security benefits are women. Some estimates suggest that, in the total economy, women's salary constitutes only 54% of men's (United Nations Development Programme, 2001). In no sector of the economy do women's earnings exceed those of men, even those such as healthcare where the majority of workers are women.

In the family, women are responsible for carrying out almost all domestic chores. While there are some exceptions to this rule (men may sometimes help), they are very rare. Women cook, wash dishes, launder, mend clothing, tidy the home, shop for foodstuffs, and care for children. These tasks are usually very labor intensive, since most Ukrainians do not own labor-saving devices such as electric kitchen utensils, washing machines, dishwashers, and vacuum cleaners. In the home, men do repairs and other physical tasks such as lifting heavy objects and moving furniture.

Separate work spheres for men and women in the household are adhered to most rigidly in rural settings. In addition to the division of men and women's chores in the home, farming tasks are also divided along gender lines. Many of these divisions are based on the belief that women are better suited for tasks that are less physically demanding but require a great deal of stamina (e.g., hoeing), while men possess the capacity to carry out work that requires short bursts of intense energy (e.g., threshing). Traditional women's tasks include milking, hoeing, berry picking, preparing milk products such as sour cream, butter, and cheese, and whitewashing the home. In the past, harvesting wheat was considered a job for women, but today combine harvesters are used. Men's tasks include plowing with horses, threshing hay, chopping firewood, and butchering farm animals. Both men and women take part in grazing farm animals, planting and harvesting crops, baling hay, building fires, and painting the home.

Legislation provides equal rights for men and women to own and inherit property. Traditionally, in rural areas, the youngest son was expected to care for his aging parents until their deaths. As part of this arrangement, he was often the sole inheritor of his parents' property and land. Today, it is more common for spouses to bequeath inheritance to the surviving spouse, or for parents to divide the inheritance among all their children. Decisions concerning inheritance are carried out on a family-by-family basis. Most families are conscientious about making inheritance arrangements, since if no official arrangements are made property and land will be appropriated by the state. Same-sex partners possess no inheritance rights.

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