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Human rights in Ukraine – 2008. 20. WOMEN’S RIGHTS AND GENDER EQUALITY



In this unit gender inequality is viewed as a violation of human rights, while at the same time the issue of discrimination and infringement of women’s rights is also raised. This approach is in keeping with the principles of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and Council of Europe documents. For example, according to Council of Europe recommendations, there are two types of strategic directions focused on ensuring equality between the sees and these should supplement each other. The first is gender mainstreaming into already existing policy, and the second involves drawing up specific policy in the area of equality and creating the relevant mechanisms. The main difference between gender mainstreaming and carrying out specific policy on ensuring gender equality is in the participants and in the choice of areas of activity. The starting point for «traditional» forms of policy is a specific problem which has arisen as the result of gender inequality, while the starting point for mainstreaming is already existing policy. In this case the political process is reorganized in order that a gender perspective is taken into account by the participants in this process and in achieving the aim of gender equality.[2].


1. Main aspects of gender inequality in society

On 19 September during a meeting of the National Press Club on establishing gender equality, the results were made public of a study carried out by the Centre for Social Expert Assessments of the Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology. The results show that Ukrainians are aware of gender inequality in society (50% of those surveyed). At the same time 60% said that what was at issue was restrictions specifically of women’s rights, while 47% considered it harder for women to get a job in bodies of State governance. The general level of gender equality in Ukrainian society was assessed as five on a scale of one to ten. This is one point higher than five years ago. There is also a very serious problem of sexism in the media where in many programmes, films and advertisements the topic of sex is exploited, and of a discriminatory attitude to women. Experts have noted that such an approach in the media creates gender stereotypes with this in term having an adverse impact on Ukrainian families[3].

The main manifestations of gender discrimination::

-  Unemployment, both concealed and officially registered, is higher among women than men;

-  Women’s wages are 72, 5% of men’s;

-  Women usually work in those spheres (education, medicine, the social sphere, etc) where salaries are considerably lower than the average for the national economy with this leading to an increase in economic inequality between men and women;

-  In 20-30 years women’s pay will be only 40-50% of men’s;

-  Yet women make up 56% of employees with a higher education

-  A woman works 4-8 hours more than a man, work in the home is not considered as productive, and therefore not paid, nor is it taken into account for pension calculations;

-  Women with children who have been on maternity leave become unable to compete on the labour market;

-  Women make up an absolute majority of Ukraine’s labour migrants;

-  Women more often suffer domestic violence;

-  Women are virtually not represented in the higher echelons of power and management;

-  Almost one in three children is being brought up by a solo mother;

-  Only three of the 179 members of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences are women.

«Men’s domination in Ukraine is near the indicators for Arab countries, Maxim Boroda, expert from the International Centre for Policy Studies said during a roundtable in the Zaporizhya region.[4].

Manifestations of gender inequality with regard to men are seen in the following:

-  Life expectancy for men is on average 12 years less than for women;

-  A higher mortality rate in younger years. Over 40% of all 16-year-old males are unlikely to reach retirement age due to a reduction in male life expectancy;

-  It is mainly men who commit suicide;

-  Over 90% of prisoners are men;

-  Such diseases as tuberculosis, alcoholism and drug addiction are more common among men;

-  Alcoholism is 6 times more common with men then with women;

-  Over 30% of men will never have their own children due to a low level of reproductive health;

-  There are three times as many men with AIDS, as women;

-  Men’s labour is valued higher than women’s with men receiving 2.53 UAH per hour worked, while women receive 1.92 UAH;

-  92% of top positions are held by men. In the highest managerial positions in industry women make up 20.2%, while in agriculture the figure is 9.5%;

-  Men retire five years later than women although their life expectancy is 12 years lower;

-  Men control 90-95% of economic resources.

According to the results of an independent sociological study carried out by the Ukrainian Women’s Consortium in 2007-2008, named as a discriminatory factor in society barrier architecture of the infrastructure of populated areas, including internal and external planning of buildings, means of transportation, streets, subways, roads, premises. This factor restricts or makes it impossible for pregnant women with small children as well as for people with disabilities, to move about. There are no ramps, wide aisles for children’s prams and wheelchairs for people with disabilities and no possibility of taking buggies on public transport, etc This in turn leads to a restriction in access to various vital resources (hospitals, shops, educational institutions, banks, etc), cultural establishments and so forth.[5]


2. Discrimination on the labour market

It is often denied that discrimination of women is a problem on Ukraine’s labour market. In fact gender discrimination is typical both for the public and private sectors. This does not at all mean that there are no jobs or that women do not want to work. On the contrary, modern Ukrainian women wish to fulfil themselves in society. However even before the job interview, women already experience discrimination in the very content of job ads in the media. There are a huge number of advertisements for jobs making demands as to age, gender and even appearance. Women are particularly often not considered when it comes to highly-paid and prestigious positions.

Such advertisements can usually be seen in job agencies or event in State employment centres. Women are very often rejected on the grounds of marital status and age. Discrimination is experienced by unmarried women, women with young children and women over 40. Education, experience and professional qualities are simply not taken into consideration. As a rule, in higher educational institutions young women study better than male students, however the latter are preferred when it comes to dividing out «portfolios».

Women with small children also have problems on the labour market. Many Ukrainian women cut short their maternity leave. In the mobile communications company «Life» 16% of female employees who have children return to work before the child is six months old, and another 20% - before the child’s first birthday. In the company Kraft Foods Ukraine, most female employees return to work within 4 months of giving birth. The companies only pay maternity leave for that long. The heads of the companies explain earl returns from maternity leave as being due to the employees themselves not wanting to lose their professional skills. However employees acknowledge that lengthy absence of female staff who have given birth, albeit not openly, is not welcomed. Women are forced into this in the main because they don’t want to ruin a career that was not easy to develop. For some active women lengthy leave for looking after a child can turn into a real punishment, psychologists believe.[6].

There are also bureaucratic obstacles towards receiving the payments and benefits due mothers with small children. These obstacles are so serious, and the payments small anyway, that some women simply don’t bother to get them. This trend which is increasing with each year has received coverage in the media.[7].

However there are also positive moves in this area. In the combined sixth and seventh State report on implementation by Ukraine of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, submitted in 2008 to the UN Committee, detailed information is provided about benefits to pregnant women, women after childbirth and women with children. In 2008 payments to families following the birth oft heir first child were increased to 12, 240 UAH, and the same amounts have been introduced for those families which have adopted a child. Furthermore, adopting fathers received paternity leave of 56 days.

The need to make some payments according to place of work is leading to certain problems since employers are not in a hurry to honour this right. Private employers are sometimes not informed about the fact that payments, specifically for maternity leave, looking after a child up till the age of 3 is carried out from budget and insurance funds. Due to the lack of understanding of this by employers additional problems when employing women arise[8].


3. The right to healthcare and access to high-quality medical services

Violation of people’s rights, and in the first instance women’s, in the sphere of healthcare is addressed in a separate section. Free medicine as declared by legislation has long turned into a source of great expense in practice for those requiring medical services.[9]

Fees have been brought in also for gynaecological services, including for pregnant women, making access to medicine dependent on the economic position of the women or their families.

Some illnesses are also gender specific, for example, breast cancer. In Ukraine each year 16 thousand new cases are diagnosed, and 8 thousand women die of breast cancer.[10]. The State should finance prosthesis. In 2007 the procedure for providing breast prosthesis in the post-operative period changed. Besides medical documents, one also needs documents from the local Department of Employment and Social Policy. The number of bureaucratic obstacles has thus risen. Furthermore, women’s right to privacy is infringed with their medical details being divulged, etc. There are a growing number of women who reject such free assistance and prefer to buy prosthesis themselves.


4. Problems with the rights of women in rural areas

When speaking of violations of women’s rights, mention is seldom given to women from rural areas, who make up a specific socio-demographic group. The only comprehensive study in this area was carried out in 1997-1998.[11]. At the same time, the majority of rural dwellers are women. The poor development of infrastructure, the lack in most populated areas of plumbing, running water and gas means that women’s efforts to run their homes remain on the level of last century or earlier. Engagement in hard physical labour, a low level of mechanization and production processes overload women. Disproportionately low prices for agricultural produce lead to a low level of workers employed soled in agricultural production. Rural women have worse access to medical, cultural and everyday services than their urban counterparts, For example, over recent years centres for medical assistant and midwife services have closed in many rural areas.


5. Human rights issues for elderly women

Women are in the majority among those people of retirement age, due to their longer life expectancy. Nonetheless, yet one can observe a reduction in the size of women’s pensions as against men’s[12]. According to information from «Care of the Elderly in Ukraine», elderly women also suffer from violence and ill-treatment in the family, lack of respect from people in authority, especially in the social services and medicine, from poverty and lack of money to buy food and the most basic medicine.[13]. For example, 55.1 % of respondents in Ivano-Frankivsk and 54, 6 % in Khmelnytsky answered yes when asked if they know of cases where elderly people have been refused medical treatment purely because of their age.[14]. Three thirds of those questioned in Ternopil and Donetsk had experienced this themselves. Two thirds of those surveyed were women.


6. Sexism in the media and advertising

Studies carried out from 2007-2008 continued to find set gender stereotypes in society. For example, , 36, 4 % see such stereotypes as constant, while 45.4% say they encounter them periodically.[15].

Advertisements contain a huge amount of sexism and discrimination of women, including the sexualizing of women’s bodies, comparison of women with the goods advertised and flagrant lack of respect for women. Women’s bodies are used to advertise floor tiles, beer, furniture, cars, etc.

Numerous appeals have been made to the Ministry for the Family, Youth and Sport, the State Committee on Television and Radio Broadcasting, the President and others, but to no avail.

This is despite the fact that Article 3 of the Law «On ensuring equal rights and opportunities for men and women», names among the main areas of State policy in this area «development and promotion among the public of a respect for gender equality, and development of educational activities in this sphere», as well as «protection of society from information aimed at sexual discrimination».

One positive note is that in 2008 there were more professional and analytical articles devoted to women’s rights and gender equality.


7. The rights of women prisoners

The number of women prisoners is comparatively low and is steadily falling. Although their needs are very different from those of men, the rules and regulations in penal colonies virtually do not take this into consideration. At the present time the penal system is made up of 183 penal institutions holding around 117.3 thousand prisoners. Over 25.5 thousand remand prisoners and 7.7 thousand convicted prisoners are held in 32 pre-trial detention centres. In some of these institutions, as well as in medical units, there are 6.5 thousand convicted women prisoners of whom 100 are underage, and most are of child-bearing age.

The situation is difficult for pregnant women and mothers with children in penal institutions. Clearly this situation is stressful both for the unborn children, and for children living with their mother in these conditions.

At present women prisoners are held in 11 penal colonies, a corrective centre and the Melitopol Educational Colony for Juvenile Offenders. In Odessa and Chernihiv there are facilities for women with children up to the age of 3. in 2007 71 women prisoners had babies.

A significant step in improving the provision of services to pregnant HIV-positive women prisoners was the addition to the Inter-departmental Order «On measures aimed at organizing prevention of transmission of HIV from mother to child, medical assistance and social accompaniment of HIV-positive children and their families» from 23 November 2007 of an Instruction «On procedure for prevention of transmission of HIV from mother to child in institutions of the State Penal Service of Ukraine».[16]. There is also an urgent issue regarding timely examination and provision of the relevant medication for antiretroviral therapy of pregnant women in colonies, as well as a problem with pregnant HIV-positive prisoners being poorly informed on HIV issues, this making it difficult to form a positive approach to the therapy. There is also insufficient psychological accompaniment. More needs to be done to raise staff motivation to create the conditions for pregnant women to be able to carry out measures aimed at preventing HIV being passed to the child. The use of caesarean operations should also become more widespread for women who are transported under guard to healthcare institutions to give birth. There is urgent need for a concept strategy for protecting the reproductive health of women prisoners of child-bearing age and formulating a positive and responsible attitude to parenthood and family values

Although women prisoners, especially mothers, are viewed as vulnerable, the penal system has still not developed comprehensive measures for their full socialization. A major factor in combating dangerous infections is the fact that prisoners are held in premises with up to 100 prisoners together. In this Ukraine differs from other European countries where prisoners are held in cells, with 3-5 in each. These issues were discussed at an international conference on «Healthcare of women in places of deprivation of liberty» held in Kyiv in November 2008.[17].

There are civic organizations which give attention to women prisoners’ rights, like for example, the Information and Consultation Women’s Centre in Kyiv [the Centre] and other organizations. The Centre published its study «Women and mothers with children in prison». The following were given as the main infringements of women prisoners’ rights:

Ø  Within the penal system women and mothers with children are still not viewed as a vulnerable group with special needs and problems

Ø  In penal institutions mothers and children do not live together as family units;

Ø  After leaving the colony, women with children are not provided with assistance although it is well-known that women experience more problems of a social and material nature than men on release.[18].

A study carried out by the civic organization «Convictus-Ukraine» in 8 regions in order to choose a region for a pilot project «Comprehensive programme of reintegration into society of released prisoners» recommended the Kharkiv region as most suitable. The project is aimed at developing a system of social adaptation for released prisoners in one region, then drawing up and creating a model of a Centre for Social Adaptation for people about to be released from imprisonment. During preliminary visits, members of «Convictus-Ukraine» examined premises of a former hospital which it is intended will house the Adaptation Centre.


8. Discrimination against men

One group of men whose rights are violated are those bringing up children alone with legislation not allowing them the same rights as those of mothers.

This can be seen by an analysis of a number of laws including the Law «On State assistance to families with children» and «On leave». This was published in 2008 by the Programme for Equal Opportunities and Women’s Rights.[19].

For example, according to Article 1 of the Law «On State assistance to families with children», all Ukrainian citizens in families where children are being raised or are living have the right to State assistance, in cases and under conditions set out in the Law and other laws. Thus Article 1 does not discriminate between men and women, however later in the text a separate type of assistance is allowed for: «assistance to children of single mothers», thus excluding single fathers.

There are norms discriminating between men and women in some articles of the Law «On leave» and in the Code of Labour Laws.

For example, according to Article 19 of this Law and Article 73 of the Code of Labour Laws, a women who is working and has two or more children under 15, or a disabled child, or has adopted a child; a father who is bringing up a child without its mother (including where the mother is in hospital for a long period), as well as a person who has taken a child into his or her care, is entitled to 7 calendar days extra fully-paid annual leave. If there are several grounds for providing this leave, the overall amount may not exceed 14 calendar days. These articles thus treat men and women with family commitments differently.

In defence of their rights several hundred single fathers held a rally in Kyiv on 20 September 2008 demanding that State officials pay heed to their problems. The event was organized and run by the All Ukrainian Association of Brave Dads. The men called for the introduction of paternity leave, as well as a nationwide Fathers’ Day on 27 October.

According to legislation a woman bringing up a disabled child is entitled to retire five years early. Men do not have this right.[20]

In Kharkiv the women’s organization «Krona» submitted for public discussion men’s social problems. Researchers into gender issues have reached the conclusion that equality of rights and opportunities for men and women needs to be considered from both sides.[21].


9. Overview of amendments to legislation pertaining to gender equality

In April 2008 the Verkhovna Rada with a large majority passed the Law «On amendments to some legislative acts in connection with the adoption of the Law «On ensuring equal rights and opportunities for men and women».

The law adds a provision to Article 20 of the Law on citizens’ associations stating that such associations are entitled to take part in drawing up draft decisions on issues of gender equality adopted by the authorities and bodies of local self-government; to delegate their representatives to consultative and advisory bodies on ensuring gender equality created by the authorities and bodies of local self-government and to carry out monitoring in this area.[22].

However analysis of specific changes made to legislation shows that they do not move society any closer towards an affirmation of gender equality since they effectively repeat already existing norms. At the same time the changes really needed were not discussed at all. This includes for example the creation of a mechanism and system for complaining about sexual harassment at the workplace, establishing liability of legal entities and individuals for sexual discrimination, the creation of the office of Ombudsperson on issues of equal rights and opportunities for men and women, etc.

According to experts, there are major problems with application of the norms of the Law «On ensuring equal rights and opportunities for men and women» due to the difficulty of applying the norms and the lack of sanctions in cases of gender discrimination.[23] A good example of this is Article 23 which says that a person is entitled to material and moral compensation for damages as the result of sexual discrimination or sexual harassment. Moral damages are compensated regardless of material losses and are not linked with the size of these losses. The Article goes on to say that the procedure for compensating material losses and moral damages in such cases is established by law however there is still no law setting out this procedure.

One should, nonetheless, note that at the initiative of the Department of Family and Gender Policy of the Ministry for the Family, Youth and Sport, at the end of 2008 an expert working group was created to draw up provisions on procedure for receiving complaints regarding gender discrimination and sexual harassment, as defined in law, as well as preparing an expert commentary to the Law On ensuring equal rights and opportunities for men and women»

In the Ministry of Internal Affairs, in implementation of a decision by the MIA Public Council on safeguarding human rights in police activity No. 8 from 24 January 2008, and in accordance with a proposal of the Ministry for the Family, Youth and Sport 28 April 2007 № 5.2/3876 and with the MIA action plan on the State Programme for affirming gender equality in Ukrainian society for the period up till 2010, a working group was set up for implementing a gender approach. It is made up of 10 specialists from the MIA, higher educational institutions of the MIA and civic organizations (Instruction No. 105 from 6 February 2008). A meeting took place from 18-20 February 2008 in order to draw up a department concept framework for a Programme on ensuring gender equality in police stations.

In accordance with this concept framework, in 2008 the Department for Monitoring Human Rights in the Police Force drew up a draft Programme for ensuring gender policy in the Police for the period up to 2011. This Programme was approved by the MIA Public Council on 12 June 2008, Protocol № 9)[24].


10. Recommendations

1. On countering gender discrimination on the labour market

The recommendations put forward in the Human Rights Watch study on eliminating discrimination against women on the Ukrainian labour market remain valid. They include the following calls:

1.1. High-ranking public officials should publicly condemn discrimination and organize nationwide anti-discrimination training programmes, both for civil servants at all levels of power, and for trade union figures and employers.

1.2. The Verkhovna Rada should take steps towards changing legislation so as to ban job advertisements specifying a particular sex, and removing gender restricts when providing concessions for those taking care of a child.

1.3. The Ministry of Employment and Social Policy should carry out work-based investigations regarding employers suspected of gender discrimination.

1.4. The State Employment Service should refrain from any practice based on supporting employment dependent on gender.

1.5. The EU should cooperate with Ukraine in order to bring the latter’s legislation and practice into line with EU anti-discrimination norms.

1.6. The relevant UN bodies overseeing compliance with agreements should investigate whether the Ukrainian government’s actions are in accordance with its commitments on gender equality.

1.7. International financial institutions should recognize the role discrimination plays in restricting economic opportunities for women and among the poor and make their level of support for Ukraine dependent on its reasonable progress on eliminating discrimination on the labour market.

2. According to the results of a comprehensive study on sexual harassment carried out by the International Women’s Human Rights Centre «La Strada – Ukraine», a number of measures need to be carried out in order to combat sexual harassment at work. The following should be implemented:

2.1. Comprehensive State policy against discrimination in the workplace should be created, including though widespread information campaigns.

2.2. Carry out awareness-raising and educational work with representatives of trade unions and employers’ associations in order to protect the interests of victims of sexual harassment

2.3. Improve legislation in this sphere, including preparing a mechanism for implementing the provisions of the Law «On ensuring equal rights and opportunities for men and women» with regard to complaining about sexual harassment at work

3. Protection of the rights of women prisoners

In the study «Women, mothers with children in prison» there are a number of recommendations.

3.1. Changes to legislation regarding conditions for women and mothers with children in prison should be of first priority in making changes.

3.2. There is an urgent need to draw up special prison police with regard to mothers and children based on international standards and norms, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

3.3. Analyze the viability of changes to legislation on giving equal opportunities to fathers and mothers in bringing up their children if one of the parents is serving a term of imprisonment. .

4. Creation of a system (or mechanism) for complaints of gender discrimination

4.1. Draw up and introduce amendments to the Law «On ensuring equal rights and opportunities for men and women» with regard to specifying a mechanism for complaining about cases of gender discrimination.

4.2. Draw up and approve provisions on the procedure for receiving and dealing with complaints about cases of gender discrimination by subdivisions of the Ministry for the Family, Youth and Sport.

4.3. The Human Rights Ombudsperson should make public information about reaction to complaints about cases of gender discrimination.

4.4. In preparing an annual report, the Human Rights Ombudsperson should provide a separate section on fighting gender discrimination and protecting women’s rights.

5. Teaching in the field of women’s rights and gender equality

5.1. Carry out monitoring of the State programme for establishing gender equality with regard to carrying out training for civil servants on gender equality.

6. Information support for establishing gender equality and breaking down gender stereotypes in the media and advertising

6.1. Devote one of the meetings of the Interdepartmental Coordination Council on Family and Gender Policy to problems of gender discrimination in the media and advertising.

6.2. The State Committee on Television and Radio Broadcasting, the Ministry for the Family, Youth and Sport and civic organizations should carry out regular monitoring of advertising and the media for gender stereotypes and discrimination. An analytical report should be prepared on the results.

6.3. Add sections of gender policy to the official websites of the central authorities.

[1] By K. Cherepakha , O. Kalashnyk, K. Levchenko, and M.V. Yevsyukova, specialists from the International Women’s Human Rights Centre “La Strada – Ukraine”

[2] Gender mainstreaming: conceptual framework, methodology and presentation of good practices: Final report of the Group of Specialists on Mainstreaming”. – Strasbourg: Council of Europe, – 1998, с.16

[3] “Problems of gender inequality in Ukraine remain an issue”, the information and educational centre “Women’s Network”, 08.09.2008р.,

[4] “The status of a woman in Ukraine is close to the situation in Arab countries” :, the information and educational centre “Women’s Network”, 09.06.2008р.,

[5] Alternative report on implementation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in Ukraine – prepared by a network of civic organizations on the initiative of the Ukrainian Women’s Consortium – Ukraine, 2008 – p. 17

[6] “Ukrainian women don’t value maternity leave” » // 04.04.2008,

[7] «Carefree life» // Journal “Korrespondent”», 2009, № 14, – pp. 19-20.

[8] Alternative report on implementation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in Ukraine – prepared by a network of civic organizations on the initiative of the Ukrainian Women’s Consortium – Ukraine, 2008 – p.. 38

[9] More detail in the section on healthcare.

[10] Alternative report on implementation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in Ukraine – prepared by a network of civic organizations on the initiative of the Ukrainian Women’s Consortium – Ukraine, 2008 – p.. 36

[11] The social position of the rural woman in Ukraine – Kyiv – UKSD – Academpress, 1998.

[12] According to figures from E. Libanova, Director of the Academy of Sciences Institute of Demography.

[13] 1500 people aged between 55 and 97 were surveyed. Among them 66, 7 % were women and 33, 3 % – men. The survey was carried out in Cherkasy, Chernihiv, the Crimea, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kyiv, Mykolaiv, the Sumy region, Ternopil, Donetsk and Khmelnytsky.

[14] “Discrimination of the elderly in Ukraine” p. 3

[15] Alternative report on implementation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in Ukraine – prepared by a network of civic organizations on the initiative of the Ukrainian Women’s Consortium – Ukraine, 2008 – p.. 16.

[16] Ministry of Health website,

[17] The international conference on “Healthcare of women in places of deprivation of liberty” is underway // Ministry of Health website, 14.11.2008.,

[18] Women and mothers with children in prison – Kyiv, 2008, pp 5-6.

[19] K.B. Levchenko: Methodological approaches to carrying out gender and legal assessments of domestic legislation – UNDP

[20] Single fathers in Kyiv protested against infringements of their rights // The information and educational centre “Women’s Network” 21.09.2008.,

[21] «Lack of protection for men’s rights criticised in Kharkiv” // Deutsche Welle, 25.06.2008.;«Women in the Kharkiv region come out in defence of men’s rights // 25.06.2008,

[22]«The Verkhovna Rada has changed the concept of gender equality // 15.04.2008,

[23] Alternative report on implementation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in Ukraine – prepared by a network of civic organizations on the initiative of the Ukrainian Women’s Consortium – Ukraine, 2008 – p.. 8

[24] Programme for gender development of Internal Affairs structures

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