Magazine article Connexions

The Gender Agenda

Magazine article Connexions

The Gender Agenda

Article excerpt

Russia

(Translated from "Mit einem Sprung in die Duma," by Sonia Mikich, in Emma, German feminist monthly, March 1994.)

I was met with scorn and mockery at my office when I proclaimed that I was going to write about the party "Women in Russia." "That is completely uninteresting, it's an artificial product and on top of that, they are not political." This judgment by my assistant Natasha was crushing. And she is not alone in that opinion. It is common in Russia for women to think poorly of other women and to think of feminism as a western perversion. Despite this, the "Women in Russia" have passed the hurdle into parliament easily; with 8 percent of the vote, they now have 23 representatives in the new Duma, the 450-seat lower house. The triumphant move of the women's party surprised most political observers. Not long ago, before the elections, the advancement of women candidates was smiled at as something exotic.

I visited the central office of the women's party. From a distance shines a bronze emblem that depicts the two poets: Pushkin and Michievich. The beautiful mansion at the Nemerovitch-Dantshenko Street belongs to the Women's Union, formerly one of the social structures of the Soviet Union. That means the Union represented the interests of women primarily as seen by the Communist Party. Its representatives, officers and cultural workers were everywhere in this big country.

This outstanding network came in handy for the new party when it was established in October 1993. It was headed by teacher Aleltina Fedulova, who had been active in the women's union during the Soviet period. Because of the candidacy of Fedulova and others, the women's party was slandered as "Apparatici-Unic," or members of the apparatus. This was unjust, as many different associations belong to the "Women in Russia" movement, including the "Association of Russian Businesswomen" and the unsuspicious group of Wives of Officers. Because of this, "Women in Russia" prefer to call themselves a movement and not a party.

The political points of view and interests of individual members are indeed quite different. What is it that unites the female lawyers, managers, artists, physicians, and teachers who are the basis of the new women's party?

"We stand for the center, for healthy human common sense. We are not concerned with abstract programs and political etiquette. We are concerned about the situation here and now, the questions of today, the present sorrows of the people," says Marina Govdeyeva.

So what are these questions?

Problem Number 1: The Economic Crisis

Seventy percent of all unemployed are women. In the market economy of the new Russia, whenever a company has to close or cut back, women are the first to go. In the slowly unfolding private economy, women represent only 16 percent of the new business people. Salaries for women are 20 percent lower than for men doing the same work. When they retire, they receive a pension only two-thirds the size of their husband's. Equality between men and women in the Soviet Union was an empty promise and this fact has led politicians from both the right and the left to ignore the subject of women.

Problem Number 2: The Breakdown of Social Networks

In the former Soviet Union, kolhozes [collective farms], companies, and institutes took care of the workers with regard to child care, vacation homes, and medical treatment. Not all institutions were well-equipped, but at least there was a fundamental right to be taken care of. In today's world, neither the government nor the institutions has money for social contributions. …

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