Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

In Russia Peace Train Crusaders Find Women's Revolution Has Only Begun

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

In Russia Peace Train Crusaders Find Women's Revolution Has Only Begun

Article excerpt

The Peace Train with its 230 delegates to the Fourth U.N. World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, is grumbling along toward the Ukrainian border now, past patch after patch of villages grown up like wildflowers along the route.

All of them are somberly the same: There are no streets in them, only mud paths between the houses; no water lines, only pumps and wells; no landscaping, no sewage systems, no cars.

The country that the United States was led to believe was the technological wonderland of the 20th century in order to justify our own military economy stands poor and underdeveloped in front of us. There are foresters with hand tools, old women tending goats and row after row of gingerbread houses with corrugated roofs.

It seems to be a strange place to even think of having discussions about things so erudite as U.N. draft documents on women and global liberation movements. But it is not.

This is exactly what the women's movement is all about. And all the women on this train -- stereotypical images, some would say, of what we like to think of as a white, Western fad: posh, manicured, middle-aged, cultivated and rebellious -- know it.

The truth is that if the image of feminists in either church or state is that feminism is superficial, something that will disappear with the next generation, the next new intellectual fling, the image is wrong. Feminism, it seems, is something that does not go away easily, is disturbingly perduring, is everywhere now and cuts across all cultures and all age levels.

There is an 80-year-old woman on this train. There is a woman on crutches who has walked every set of steps to every meeting. There are young women from everywhere -- from Sweden and Germany and India and Africa and Baltimore. There are women from 42 separate countries from Oceania to Vancouver, Canada, on this train.

For the first time in history, feminism has begun to found its global self. Yesterday in St. Petersburg, we saw a face of it that touched far too many nerves.

In 1989, on a previous delegation, the Russian women we met with told us with vehemence that they had no problems: Communism had made them equal, they said. They were just like the men, they said. They didn't even know what we were talking about when we asked them what life was like for women in the Soviet Union. "Why, just like it is for men," they said.

If that were ever true, it certainly is not true anymore.

This time we heard the wails of women who have been displaced, made poor, ignored, redefined as useless. With the advent of the market economy, industries reorganized -- and women lost their jobs. Suddenly, in a society that had long known suffering, life took on a peculiarly precarious tilt for women. Questions that women in a communist state never dreamed they would have to deal with arose with the ubiquity of Surround-sound.

Education became a major problem: Should women go on being prepared for professions -- science, business, professional work -- they would possibly never attain again? Or, on the other hand, did women have any hope whatsoever in this new capitalist society if they were not highly educated? …

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