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Womens Economic Role in Russia

Women in post-Communist Russia face violent crime, high unemployment, low wages and bear most of the responsibility for domestic duties. A colossal rate of alcoholism have given Russia one of the highest proportions of widows of any nation. The vast majority of Russian women must work full time to survive. They are also expected to do the bulk of the cooking, shopping, and childcare. Yet women earn, on average, only 40 percent as much as men and are three times as likely to be unemployed. Violent crime against women, including rape and spousal abuse, has also increased.

Women’s participation in paid labor outside the home was one of the defining features of economic life in the former Soviet Union. Levels of women’s employment increased rapidly following the introduction of a communist system in 1917. Since 1989, women have comprised 53 percent of the Russian population reflecting the WWII casualties. Women’s share of the labor force decreased somewhat after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, when they comprised 53 percent of the labor force. At 51 percent in 1995, it is still among the highest in the world, and most women continue to be employed outside the home.

During the Soviet era (1917-1991), women were employed in all sectors of the economy. Today, as then, some sectors have a proportionately higher share of women than men, such as trade and food services, information, health and social welfare, education, culture and the arts, science, credit, insurance and finance, and state administration. Women’s proportion of the labor force in these areas has declined since 1991. The level of accessibility of income-producing occupations for those who desire and are able to work depends first of all on the competitive conditions in the labor market that determine the over-all dynamic of employment.

Since the beginning of shock therapy and until the end of 1998, employment had a steady downward trend, but it started to increase after the crisis was surmounted. According to data from R. F. Goskomstat, in 1992-1998 the number of employed dropped from 72 million to 63 million people, and the number of unemployed (according to the definition of the International Labor Organization) rose from 4 million to 9 million, but these values had been 65. 1 million and 8. 7 million people, respectively, as early as November of 1999.

During a period of economic decline, the employment of women declined more quickly than the employment of men (19. 3 and 17. 9 percent over 1992-98), but the expansion that has begun has made it possible to increase the number of female employees to a greater extent, and the gain in employment among women has been twice that of men. Nevertheless, the number of unemployed women rose by a factor of 2. 2, and men by 2. 4, over this period. This is explained by the fact that when there is a decline in demand for labor power, some able-bodied citizens leave the economically active population.

Many researchers regard this phenomenon as a latent form of unemployment (the “discouraged”), that it has specific gender features. Women’s educational levels continue to exceed those of men. In 1995, 20. 1 percent of employed women had higher education, compared to 17 percent of employed men. Approximately 69 percent of women, compared to 65. 7 percent of men, had secondary education. In the 1980s and 1990s, although the number of men and women receiving education in universities and technical colleges declined sharply, women’s proportion of the total receiving such training remained consistently above 50 percent.

Despite women’s high education levels, public sector employment figures from the fields of education and medicine indicate that women do not share equal opportunities in the workplace. Even in fields in which women predominate, men hold higher and more prestigious leadership positions. Women comprise a much higher, but decreasing proportion, of the unemployed who have registered with unemployment offices. In 1992, 72. 1 percent of the registered unemployed were women. This percentage decreased to 60. 3 in 1996.

The strong social stigma associated with unemployment, and the meager benefits available, suggest that under-registration of official unemployment is likely. Contributing to this problem is the hidden unemployment that has resulted from required reductions in hours or mandatory administrative leave, both of which have greatly increased. In 1995, 33 percent of unemployed women compared to 23 percent of unemployed men had secondary professional education. Many women who are nominally employed have shortened work weeks or are on required leave.

In areas with a proportionately greater share of women – such as insurance, finance, trade, and food service – women are experiencing greater competition from men as these fields become more lucrative. Discriminatory hiring practices in the workplace abound. Protective labor legislation serves as a deterrent for private business owners to hire young women of childbearing age. Bylaw, women are given up to two years of maternity leave, without losing their jobs. Many other provisions, such as those that prohibit the dismissal of single mothers, are not widely enforced.

While discrimination is officially discouraged, it exists. Open discrimination and mistreatment of women appear to be particularly widespread in the private sector where women may be requested to provide sexual favors or are sexually abused by their bosses. Older women who lose their jobs often encounter age discrimination. Job advertisements often read ‘young, attractive,’ or ‘over 25 need not apply. ‘ Western firms that would not be allowed to engage in these practices in their own countries frequently engage in them in Russia.

This is all prevalent because government employers discriminate against women workers constantly setting an example for the private sector. They discriminate by firing them in disproportionate numbers and by refusing to employ women because of their sex. Far from attacking such practices, the government has failed to enforce its own laws prohibiting sex discrimination. The Russian government, particularly its law enforcement agencies, has refused to investigate and prosecute domestic violence, dismissing women’s complaints as a ‘family affair.

Police in some instances have harassed women reporting sexual assault and refused to investigate their claims. Rural women, who have suffered particularly badly from the economic crisis in the former Soviet Union, are facing new problems such as longer working days and heavy manual labor. Increasingly, the rejection of manual farm work by young women produces a segregated female workforce, with middle-aged to elderly women working as laborers and livestock workers. Most rural areas have been steadily losing population.

More than 70 percent of the new rural unemployed are women, the majority under thirty, with young children. Women from rural areas who see no other prospect for employment are being enticed into joining prostitution rings. Despite the greater proportion of women in the labor force and women’s high educational levels, their earnings were approximately 65 to 75 percent of men’s during the Soviet period. Women’s concentration in sectors of the economy that had lower than average wages, as well as their low representation in leading economic and political positions accounted for part of this difference.

Many women with higher or secondary education were in skill categories that did not fully utilize their qualifications. The shift to the market in Russia has led to greater variation in earnings. Women and men with skills that are in demand in the economy -such as foreign languages, computer skills, and accounting – earn higher wages. Women’s monthly salaries from formal employment remained at 65 percent of men’s in 1992 and 1995. Differences between men’s and women’s wages decreased from 36 percent to 14 percent at the lower end of the wage distribution scale between 1992 and 1995.

Differences increased at the upper end of the scale. Men in the 90th percentile of wages earned almost 50 percent more than women in the 90th percentile in 1995. The private sector has expanded rapidly as a result of the privatization of state enterprises and the creation of new private businesses. Since 1993, many private and public initiatives have been launched to help privatized enterprises become viable and competitive in both domestic and international markets. Efforts have also been underway to foster the growth of new businesses, particularly small business.

But lack of start-up capital and access to loans with reasonable interest rates as well as corruption, are serious obstacles. Women confront additional hurdles. These include cultural and social biases and negative stereotypes of businesswomen in the media. Women’s low representation in positions of economic and political decision making in the national and local governments also limits their access to connections that their male counterparts have to set themselves up as entrepreneurs.

Some local governments have taken the initiative to foster skills training for women entrepreneurs and are offering information about financing alternatives. Progress on these fronts is slow. As women’s experience in other countries indicates, economic prosperity alone is insufficient to remedy persistent gender inequalities in the labor force and other areas. Women’s ability to change government policies is hindered by their limited representation in political leadership as well as by cultural and social attitudes.

The existence of a women’s party in Russia (Zhenshina Rossii) reveals a willingness on the part of women to engage in partisan politics. Although the women’s movement is small and fragmented, women’s explicitly feminist groups are raising political and economic issues as matters of public discussion. New organizations, such as the All-Russia Business Women’s Federation, are engaged in a variety of practical efforts including, training in business, negotiating, and advocacy skills to deal with the problems that economic change has created for women.

Starting in 1996, women’s issues were more prominent in government-issued special decrees and resolutions. In an effort to overcome the fragmentation of the women’s movement, as well as the lack of communication between women’s groups and government officials, representatives of forty women’s groups met with political leaders in March 1997. They signed a Charter of Women’s Solidarity. Effective action to deal with the impact of economic change on women will require a combination of government and private efforts.

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