Assessing the Implications of Political and Economic Reform in the Post-Socialist Era: The Case of Czech and Slovak Women

Article excerpt

The collapse of socialism in late 1989 has propelled dramatic economic and political reforms for Central and Eastern European countries. A shift from command to market economies, democratization, and a rapprochement with Western nations typify recent Central and Eastern European endeavors. Extensive interest in and analysis of the course of political and economic reforms in Central and Eastern Europe developed among scholars in the late 1980s, however, attention to the concomitant social changes has been limited. There has been comparatively little discussion of men's and women's productive and reproductive roles in the post-socialist era. Valentine M. Moghadam, in the introduction to Democratic Reform and the Position of Women in Transitional Economies (1993), points to the lack of gender analysis in both discussion and literature addressing the problems of political and economic reform in Central and Eastern Europe:

this despite the fact that two decades of feminist scholarship

and women-in-development (WID) research [in various parts

of the world] have revealed the unique impact on women's

roles and status of economic development, economic crisis,

social breakdown, state formation, and juridical reorganization

(Moghadam 1993:1).

I hypothesize that the demise of socialism has significant implications for gender. In this paper, I consider some of the "gender dynamics" of the reform process for Czechs and Slovaks(1) (Moghadam 1993:1). I examine how the question of women's emancipation was addressed in socialist thought and socialist state practice. I question whether and how the effects of stabilization and structural adjustment are particularly detrimental to Czech and Slovak women's status and welfare. I also consider how their decision-making power is altered by changes in the political sphere. I suggest that many of the realities and potentialities of reform for women in the Czech Republic and Slovakia are true for women throughout Central and Eastern Europe.

SOCIALISM AND THE "WOMAN QUESTION"

In the words of Friedrich Engels,

The emancipation of women will only be possible when

women can take part in production on a large social scale,

and domestic work no longer claims anything but an insignificant

amount of time. And only now does that become

possible through modern large-scale industry, which does

not merely permit the employment of female labor over a

wide range but positively demands it, while it also tends

toward ending private domestic labor by changing it more

and more into a public industry (Engels 1972:221).

Engels argued that the oppression of women in capitalist societies was attributable to women's limited or non-ownership of property, their material dependence on men, and the containment of women's work in the home. Accordingly, the eradication of private property ownership, the integration of women into the labor force, and the socialization of domestic tasks would emancipate women, eliminate patriarchy, and alleviate gender inequality (Engels 1972). Engels' explanation of women's subordination served as much of the foundation of Marxist revolutionary strategy and ultimately, socialist state policy.

In the Central and Eastern European countries during the socialist period, constitutions, labor codes, and family laws guaranteed women full equality in political life and employment (Kroupova 1991:1). Kroupova states that none of the legislation enacted during the socialist era contained clauses which were perceived as "directly discriminatory" against women. However, she claims that "achieving de jure rights does not mean equality de facto." Despite an official ideology of sexual equality, there was still discrimination against women (Kroupova 1991:1).

Molyneux's conceptualization of "practical gender interests" and "strategic gender interests" is useful in evaluating state support of women's emancipation. …

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