Amendment to Labour Code: I demand more!

Iryna Fedorofych

After I had found out that the Parliament of Ukraine had passed the anti-discrimination amendment to the Labour Code of Ukraine, I reminded myself the whole day that was a victory and I should be happy, but I could not. Having given under at the end of the day, I decided to try to write why I still feel that the Christmas tree decorations are fake and, subsequently, do not bring joy.

The fact that four completely new words - sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) -have appeared in the Ukrainian legislation after the vote in the Parliament is surely the victory. By itself, this fact is of great historical and symbolic significance. The historical significance is evident: it is for the first time, it has not yet happened. We have recognized at the legislative level that people have different sexual orientation! And there is gender identity as well and it is also different!

Everything seems to be clear with symbolism as well - the legislative reference to SOGI abolishes marginalization of the LGBT people, where they usually stay. However, it is not their choice, but that of the majority who still believe that sexual orientation can only be the same as the majority have while it’s better not to mention the gender identity at all.

My joy of “victory” ends at these two points of historicity and symbolism, followed by reflection on the "fake Christmas tree decorations" and search for answers to the question "what do I need to be happy?"

The human rights slang has the expression of "advocacy window" which means the following: the ability to enhance your message (for example, the requirement of any changes from the government) with similar message/requirement from the other "players." That is what is happening in Ukraine with regard to the requirements stipulated in the Action Plan on Visa Liberalization and the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.

Thus, the Action Plan on Visa Liberalization with the requirement to adopt the anti-discrimination legislation, in my view, has played the key role in the adoption of the framework anti-discrimination law in 2012 and in the appearance of the SOGI in the Labour Code. Earlier, all the requirements of the human rights community to adopt such a law faced the flat refusal of the government and MPs, roughly with the same wording that we have heard in recent days: "There is no discrimination in Ukraine. Who discriminates them?"

But what usually happens when MPs press button under the influence of external factors? They press it without thinking! They press it "just to tick the box". And this "just to tick the box" makes me think about "fake Christmas tree decorations."

Let me explain.

First, the amendment was introduced in the old version of the Labour Code, although there is a new draft, which lacks the signs of SOGI. That is, the wave of homophobia will again arise when the new version of the Code will be adopted and we’ll need to follow so that the anti-discrimination amendment would not fall out from the Labour Code.

Second, the anti-discrimination provision itself does not guarantee anything and gives very symbolic protection. The entire set of complaints about the existing mechanism for protection against discrimination is completely ignored by our lawmakers.

Third, no steps are made towards amending the relevant laws to create an effective mechanism for appealing against discrimination, which could be used by everyone with any feature.

Fourth, no anti-discrimination law works on paper by itself. We need the information campaigns, outreach campaigns, as well as the confidence in the judicial system. This concerns everyone, not just LGBT people! The Ukrainian government does not take such measures, too.

So, though it has historical and symbolic significance, this is only the first step on the long road to overcome homophobia and denial of discrimination in Ukraine.

I also should mention the circumstances of the vote and the statements made by the Parliament’s speaker and the President - "Same-sex marriage will not work, we defend the family values" - shows how far our people’s representative are from the understanding of human rights. They are focused on how to keep the voter not by implementation of election promises but by cheap populism and manipulating stereotypes and fears.

I do not understand how a family may be affected by a gay marriage. In my opinion, giving people recognition and legal protection of their families is the best promotion of family values . But this is a topic for a separate column.

Meanwhile, I wish the next step in the direction of protection against discrimination was not the pressure of the EU on the Parliament of Ukraine, but the conscious vote to create effective protection against discrimination. In the end, four terrible letters SOGI are already in the law, and nothing has happened. So maybe it's time to stop intimidating and deceiving the voters?

Iryna Fedorovych, "Without Borders" project of the "Social Action" Center for the Human Rights Information Centre

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