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Russian women: breadwinners at home, outcasts in politics


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Olga Sobolevskaya)

As Russian women accept congratulations on the International Women's Day, 8th of March, they often think to themselves that although the Constitution grants equal rights to women and men, in real life their opportunities are very unequal.

Not many women in Russia are feminists - they tend to lean towards patriarchal views and way of life. But life itself compels them to reproach men. Sociologists talk about "gender asymmetry" with good reason. On average, women earn only 70% of men's salaries, and get 40%-50% of their pensions. For a long time, they have been doomed to low-paid spheres - healthcare, education and culture. It is no surprise that women working two or three jobs at the same time has become a typically Russian phenomenon.

Women are more flexible than men on the jobs market; they are keener on getting new qualifications, and are better at dealing with challenges. In the estimate of the Romir Monitoring research holding, 43% of women are interested in their careers as compared with 54% of men. As a result, more than half of managers at different levels are women, concludes President of the Russian Business Academy Irina Gorbulina. But Russian women are well aware of the "glass ceiling" - an artificial career limit on the grounds of sex, says Vice President of Mediasoyuz Yelena Zelinskaya.

She believes that women's participation in politics is "barely visible under the microscope." Valentina Matviyenko, the current governor of St. Petersburg, and Galina Karelova supervised the ministries in charge of social issues in the early 21st century. But they have been the most brilliant women in the government in recent times. Russia ranks 80th in the world in the ratio of female members of the parliament's lower chamber (10%). Women occupy a meager five percent of seats in the upper chamber. There are no women among leaders of major political parties, except Irina Khakamada, who was one of the leaders of the Union of Right Forces, a liberal opposition party, and later on started her own party. There are only 20% women among the 126 members of the Public Chamber, which was set up as an institute of civil society.

Senior research associate of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Comparative Political Studies Svetlana Aivazova points out that women's negligible role in politics has absolutely clear consequences. For most women, politics is an alien domain; their political behavior is driven by inertia, and they tend to "live according to someone else's values, and to make their choices based on emotions rather than reason," she explains. This has led to a number of social problems, concludes Aivazova. Chairperson of the Russian Public Chamber on social development Alexandra Ochirova agrees that without promoting women to positions of power, the government will not be able to cope with its national projects, the four key areas of social and economic development, which are designed to make major changes in healthcare, education, housing and agriculture.

As for non-government organizations (NGOs) established and run by women, there were hundreds of them at a national level in the late 1990s. Three fifths of such NGOs defend the rights of women, soldiers, and children. The second place belongs to the associations that focus on education for women, ensuring they have the training and qualifications to diminish discrimination in the jobs market. Educational, charity, and business organizations come next. But no matter how many public and government agencies deal with discrimination against women, the gender asymmetry does not go away.

But equal rights are increasingly gaining a foothold in the family. More often than not, spouses share household chores together, which is hardly a surprise considering that many women make more money than their husbands. The growing education level also contributes to promoting democracy in the family. 58% of all university students are girls. Although young people tend to be career-minded and believe it is best to get married at 27-29 (rather than 22-24 as they used to), a mere eight percent of young women have said that are not planning to have children after marriage.

Valentina Tereshkova was the world's first female cosmonaut; revolutionary and feminist Alexandra Kollontai was the first female ambassador; Russian women have reached the acme of perfection in poetry and science (there are 40 women among members of the Russian Academy of Sciences today). But they have one more major achievement to their credit - incredible patience with which they carry the burden of gender imbalance.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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