Lithuania's generous maternity leave provisions only lock women out of the labour market, says gender studies professor. Having previously made strides towards gender equality, the country has slackened its effort.
Dalia Leinartė, professor at Kaunas-based Vytautas Magnus University, has told LRT RADIO that Lithuania should judge itself against Scandinavian countries and do more to further gender equality.
The current situation puts Lithuania in the company of Eastern European countries whose leaders insist that there are no men and women, only people, she says. This reminds her of the Soviet Union.
“Back then, we would also speak not about men and women, but about a person,” Leinartė says.
Leaders in these same countries now argue against quotas for women, insisting that they would lead to less qualified women in important positions.
“Even if one could prove that there are fewer competent women, I'd then ask, why? Everyone has the same brain, don't they?” according to Leinartė.
She has spoken about the main areas where Lithuanian policymakers should step up.
The law allows Lithuanian women up to two years of paid maternity leave and employers must keep their jobs for three years.
This policy provides considerable financial help to mothers, Leinartė says, but at the same time keeps women out of the labour market.
“They are trying to keep women in Lithuania at home raising children for as long as possible. Even if you have highest academic degrees, your competences gradually decline,” Leinartė warns.
She believes that two years is too long for women to stay out of work and the law makes no provision to make their re-entry easier.
“No other country has women spend two years on maternity leave and proposes to increase it to three years. These days, when the labour market moves at lightning speed, if you are encouraged to have up to three children, how many years would that keep you at home?” Leinartė asks.
Attacks at abortion rights
Lithuania allows women to terminate pregnancy. However, almost each year the country's parliament considers proposal to outlaw abortion.
“Purposefully denying women access to abortion could be considered not just violence, but torture,” says Leinartė, quoting examples from countries where women are forced to give birth after being raped or carry to term seriously malformed babies with little chance of survival.
Punishing victims of prostitution
Leinartė says that even though Lithuania's law enforcement are trying to fight prostitution by putting more pressure on clients, in practice it is women, who are often forced into prostitution, who are still the ones being disproportionally punished.
“Prostitution isn't anyone's dream job. So we've had proposals in Lithuania to punish clients in order to fight prostitution and not punish women,” but the moves were rejected by members of parliament.
Women selling sex are victims of the crime and should be given help, she insists.
Lithuania was ahead of the rest of the region when it introduced protection from domestic violence law in 2011. But now, Leinartė says, the country's politicians refuse to ratify the Istanbul Convention for ideological reasons.
The conflict over the Council of Europe's document on fighting violence against women is completely artificial, Leinartė says.
“This conflict includes countries like Russia and Azerbaijan that haven't even signed the Istanbul Convention. All Western Countries and the EU are signatories,” she explains.
“The Istanbul Convention is just a technical instruction about how the society and the government can best tackle domestic violence,” Leinartė says. “There is no ideology there.”