Organizing Women in Contemporary Russia: Engendering Transition

Organizing Women in Contemporary Russia: Engendering Transition

Organizing Women in Contemporary Russia: Engendering Transition

Organizing Women in Contemporary Russia: Engendering Transition

Synopsis

This book offers a rich and clearly-written analysis of the women's movement in contemporary Russia. It tells the engaging story of the women's movement's formation and development in a country undergoing a radical economic and political transition from communist rule. Based on extensive interviews with the activists themselves, the book vividly documents the specific challenges facing women's groups in Russia, including societal attitudes toward feminism, the difficulty of organizing in post-communist countries, and the ways that the international environment has affected the women's movement.

Excerpt

Around noon on a chilly day in early March – International Women's Day, 1996 – a group of women gathers in Moscow's Pushkin Square. They are there for a demonstration: Women in Black Against Violence. The women mill around, waiting for the protest march to begin; they plan to walk to the Nikitskie Gates, a few blocks away. More women trickle into the square in twos and threes. Soon, the group has expanded to about sixty. A few stand silently, dressed in black, holding a banner reading “Women in Black Against Violence. ” Two young women hold a large blue banner with white felt letters, spelling out a slogan strange and unfamiliar to Russian passersby: “There are no free men without free women. Amazons: Women Smashing Stereotypes!” The “O” letters are drawn as woman-symbols, a little cross beneath each one. Representatives of the “Sisters” Rape Crisis Center circulate, handing out business cards and leaflets advertising their services for victims of rape. One woman holds a poster decrying Soviet agitprop about International Women's Day. It is a three-frame cartoon. In the first frame, dated “March 7th, ” a man is shown threatening a woman with his fist. The second frame, “March 8th, ” shows him presenting her with a bouquet of flowers. The third frame, “March 9th, ” simply repeats the image from the first frame. In a similar vein, a middle-aged woman carries a poster reading, “We demand the adoption of a law against domestic violence. ” These posters are a bitter response to the government's failure to do anything to stem the widespread violence against women in Russia, where approximately 14, 000 women are murdered each year by their husbands and partners. A kind-looking woman with gray hair holds a hand-lettered sign: “TV creates new rapist-Chikatilos” (Chikatilo was a serial killer, rapist, and cannibal). A television camera crew strolls around, filming the banners and posters; in an attempt to be an anonymous observer, I try to avoid them (and, as it turns out, I fail).

When it comes time to march, we move out of the square and tramp down the snowy sidewalk in a relatively cheery mood: the sun is shining.

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