A Male’s Face of Russia’s Politics
By Dr. Galina Mikhaleva
Special for YABLOKO’s web-site
The famous slogan “Democracy minus a woman is not a democracy” can be paraphrased as follows: the greater is the deficit of democracy in a country, the greater is discrimination of women in all spheres of life.
Our politics has a male’s face as of the personal and predominantly male composition of governments at all the levels, and a man’s style. The problem of a small number of women in the executive and legislative power has become notorious. Women’s community has been speaking about this for decades. All over the world for the past 20 years women have made a real breakthrough and took key government positions in many countries, for example, Angela Merkel, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, as well as our closest neighbour Yulia Tymoshenko.
We can not imagine a parliament or a government in modern developed countries without (at least) one third of women. Unlike other countries that demonstrate an increase of the share of women in the key positions in the power bodies, Russia in 2008 was rated an “honorable” 71st place (between Ethiopia and Togo) as of the number of women in executive power and shared the 84th place with Guinea-Bissau, however, being ahead of Cameroon as of the number of women in the legislative power; not so much has changed since then, and if there have been changes, they have been for the worse (Women in The Politics: 2008/ Based on United Nation Map 2008 Nr. 4136).
Moreover, in the recent years, the situation of women in all the spheres of life in Russia has been steadily deteriorating and discrimination has increased. Russia has begun increasingly lagging behind the developed countries of the world in this field. The gender equality rating which takes into account the situation of women in the fields of politics, employment and career building, education and healthcare, published in 2009 in the annual report of the World Economic Forum (WEF), ranks Russia the 51st in the world, behind not only many of the European states and the United States, but also behind a number of developing countries. Furthermore, Russia is raked 99th out of 115 places as of “participation of women in politics”.
The gender equality index is calculated by means of comparing the possibilities for men and women in four areas: politics, employment and career building, education and health. The authors of the rating specially emphasized that they took into account the difference in opportunities for men and women in these areas, rather than the best living conditions for women.
Traditionally, the first places in the rating, which has been made since 2005, are taken by the Nordic countries. For the leader of the rating Iceland is followed by Finland, Norway and Sweden. However, this year, the top ten countries also included South Africa, which was 22nd in 2008, and Lesotho, which rose from the 16th to the 10th place.
In 2009 the United States were ranked 31st between Cuba, Lithuania and Namibia. Russia’s rating was somewhat lower than those of Nicaragua and Poland, and the situation with the equality of the sexes in Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia was slightly worse than in Russia.
The overall rating is calculated on the basis of all four indicators, however, if we analyse each of them separately, rankings of many countries can change considerably. Thus, for example, South Africa has taken the second place as of the number of women deputies of the parliament, but it was ranked 61st as of participation of women in the economy.
Russia is ranked 24th as of the gender equality in employment and career building. Russia’s aggregate index has considerably worsened by low level of women’s participation in political life, Russia was ranked 99th as of this indicator. In 2008, Russia was ranked 42nd in the general index and 45th in 2007.
Saudi Arabia, Benin, Pakistan, Chad and Yemen round out the gender equality rating.
Article 19 of the Russian Constitution on provision of equal rights and equal opportunities for women and men is not implemented. Women’s organizations for many years and without success have been trying to “push through” the State Duma the law on the mechanism for provision of gender equality. But the bill has been continuously rejected. This is easy to understand, as the majority of deputies are men and why should they vote for women? By the way, this is not the only such attempt. In 2006, the Central Electoral Commission (on the initiative of Elena Dubrovina) proposed to introduce a norm envisaging that a party entering an election campaign must have women on its list. The Central Electoral Commission even tried to initiate an amendment to the law “On the Election of Deputies of the State Duma” stipulating that parties should have at least 30 per cent of women as their members. But this amendment rejected too.
Russia unlike its neighboring countries, and even the post-Soviet states, Russia has not yet adopted a law on domestic violence, and does not have a single institute professionally engaged in the protection of women: special ombudsmen, councils under the President or the Government or a relevant department in a ministry.
Meanwhile, all the studies, including the UN statistics, demonstrate that while there are less than 20 per cent of women in power, the problems of children are not effectively addressed, and if there are less than 30 per cent of women in power, then women’s problems are not solved.
Today, the government does not have the 20 per cent of women required for its efficiency, only two ministerial posts out of 29 are given to women (Olga Golodets, Deputy Prime Minister, and Veronika Skvortsova, Minister of Health Care). The situation in the State Duma is even worse: only 14 per cent out of total 450 MPs are women. And in the legislative assemblies of territories, regions and republics the number of women is even under 10 per cent. For example, the Moscow City Duma which has 35 deputies, has only five women (14%); whereas there were six women or 17 per cent in the previous convocation. There are only six women in the new State Council of the Republic of Mari El, however, previously there were 51 members and now there are 52. If we examine other regions, we will not find much difference three
In some regional parliaments, for instance, in the Magadan Region Duma, there are no women at all. At the municipal level, the share of women deputies is only 26%. According to experts, the only power bodies where they began to let women in is local self-government bodies, which means much work basically without pay. However, women are not allowed to the spheres with real concentration of power and resources. For example, there is only one woman – Natalia Komarova – among Russian governors.
If “a successful and strong woman” could be given an opportunity to top a party list or to be nominated as a presidential candidate, voters would vote for her (certainly, if elections become again free and fair). According to the sociological service “Bashkirov and Partners”, 63.8 per cent of Russians have nothing against the fact if a woman could take the highest state post in our country. The society is ready for this. And really women are elected where there are still free elections at the local level. Voters expect less evil from women than from men: they will steal less and will care more about people.
At the same professional qualities of women in politics are often higher than those of male politicians, at least because it is more difficult for women to get through. In Russia, as in Belarus where Alexander Lukashenko openly said “women are like flowers and should decorate the parliament” (in connection with the introduction of a 30 per cent quota as was in the Soviet model), only “sportswomen and beauties” are included on the guaranteed “passed through” positions in the lists of the ruling party. And the latter due to their young age or other personal qualities read there only glamour magazines and clown at the sessions giving grounds for making fun of women- legislators in general. For example, such things as the title of a radio programme “Do We Need Women in Politics?” causing shock to every modern person have become a norm (The radio programme of the Ekho Moskvi radio station widely recognised as liberal on the threashold of the 8th of March, 2009).
And the present Russian trends towards emasculation of democratic institutions, abolishing of competition, checks and balances and public control over the institutions of power further complicate the task of promotion for women. Instead of fair competition, at elections inclusive, a Soviet-type “recruitment” based on the clientele principle (that of “knowing each other”, nepotism and joint business) is used. In such circumstances, women can get through only if they are already part of the existing communities. This is very close to oriental practices, similar to the “dynasty” principle, when a woman in power is, as a rule, a mother, a wife or a sister of a politician in a key position. However, Russian politicians go even further allowing themselves to say that the place of a woman in politics is the role of a wife, a daughter or a sister of a politician(Speech by Vladimir Zhirinovsky before representatives of women’s organisations at the State Duma hearings devoted to the gender equality problems on December 1, 2008).
A widespread transition to party lists in regional elections and unrelated to the mixed system in local elections have only made the situation worse. There is not a single woman among the leaders of our parties that are registered and lead a real rather than virtual political activity both in the parliament and outside the parliament, and there are few women in the governing bodies of the registered parties. The situation with formation of party lists, especially in the parties represented in the State Duma with a high guarantee of “passing through” looks much the same, and this is even more true for the ruling party with a high level of inter-party competition, some presence of women in their lists results exclusively from the will of their leaders. Consequently, it is no surprise that programmes of these parties lack the gender component.
The Russian United Democratic Party YABLOKO is the only exception here with a Gender Faction inside the party and a detailed section “Equal Rights and Opportunities for Men and Women” in the party programme. The party understands the task of leveling off of gender roles as a political problem and is committed to building a modern civilized society in which women and men are free and equal and build their relationships in all the spheres of life – politics, economy, culture, and family life – on the principles of solidarity and mutual aid.
The programme innumerates the specific tasks to be addressed so that to hit this goal in the field of legislation, facilitation of women’s entrepreneurship and development of women’s non-profit organisations, as well as improvement of social protection of women. However, without access to mass media and in the absence of representation in the State Duma for the second term already the last remaining oppositional democratic Russian party has not many chances to the heard.
Non-registered (or those that lost their registration) oppositional political movements also demonstrate that they have women only in secondary roles. However, where there is no power and the resources are minimal – in the nonprofit sector, and NGOs – women represent a vast majority. For example, a 75 per cent of NGO in Moscow are headed by women(Data by the Moscow City Government given at the Moscow Conference Towards the Second All-Russia Women’s Congress in September 2008).
The male face of the Russian politics determines not only widespread rough style and political language that have criminal vocabulary with “crackdowns”, “wasting them in the outhouse” and insulting of political opponents as a norm, but even demonstrates punchfests.
Another thing is even worse: Russian politics has been increasingly often applying strategies of force, using force in conflicts with other countries and force in suppression of civil protests. If there were more women in key positions, Russia would have never brought the situation to the mass-scale use of force in Chechnya and South Ossetia. In Russia the task of “rising from the knees” and ensuring of the territorial integrity of the country is presented and implemented in such a way, that it results in humanitarian catastrophes, fear on behalf of all the neighbors and the threat of isolation of the country. Instead of increasing the number of friends and allies, Russia has recently increased the number of countries fearing and mistrusting it.
As for the domestic policies, the problems associated with human life, such as safety, healthcare and education, are always subordinated to the tasks of “national importance”. The present social policies can be described only as “antisocial”: the pension system is in collapse, unemployment benefits and social benefits are at a low level, not to mention the growing gap between the rich and the poor (whereas the majority of the latter are women) contrasting sharply with the huge wages of state corporations heads and privileges of state officials. If people try to assert their constitutional rights in the form of a protest, the authorities often prefer to use the riot police for their dispersing and detention, as it was at the end of last year in the Maritime Territory with those protesting against the increase of custom duties on foreign cars.
The situation with the provision of equal rights and opportunities for women guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation has been very bad (as well as with other constitutional rights), and last year did not bring about any positive changes. The retreat has been observed on virtually all the fronts.
Also women who received two-thirds of a man’s wage on the average were hit by the financial and economic crisis most of all: they were the first victims of jobs dismissals, it was more difficult for them to find new jobs, and they were the first who were cut their wages. Considering that fact that more than half of marriages break up, and 95% of single parent families represent a mother with a child or several children (Data by the Committee for Family and Childhood given at Elena Mizulina’s speech at the Second Women’s Congress), this pushes such families below the poverty line. Even more so that during all the years of high oil prices our government did not bother to raise the child allowance to at least a minimum subsistence level. In addition regional budgets with rapidly shrinking income parts are responsible for such payments. Thus, as of summer 2007, a monthly child allowance varied from 70 roubles (Kalmykia, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, etc.) to 300 roubles (USD 10) in Khanty-Mansiysk (Comparative table of monthly child allowances in some regions of the Russian Federation, demonstrating implementation of the Federal Law No 122. Prava Zhenschin v Rossiyi. (Women’s Rights in Russia). Zakonodatalsvo I Praktika (Law and Practices). 2008, No 1-2. pp. 3 -5). It is clear that these amounts are symbolic. Even two years ago, when the budget was in surplus and the government accumulated money in the Stabilization Fund proclaiming “demographics” programmes and projects their top priority, the state was not ready to provide real support to parents with children. By 2010, a catastrophic shortage of places in kindergartens had become obvious, the total number of those waiting for a place in a kindergarten rose to two million in 2012. The statistics related to domestic violence is horrifying. Every year about 14,000 women and children die from domestic violence, but the number of crisis centres in the cities is minimal and regional budgets do not allocate resources to such centres.
In general, the Soviet and Russian history has played a cruel joke with women: in 1917 they got formally all rights. But the country remained deeply patriarchal, radical attempts to socialize housework failed, and the entire Soviet period women lived with a double burden: at work and at home. A Soviet woman found herself in a trap: she was deceived by the men’s state where life was arranged primarily for their benefit. Women do better in school and have on the average a better educational background than men, but they almost never become bosses. However, the socialist state still guaranteed a social minimum: a paid maternity leave and a paid child care leave. A pregnant woman or a woman with a child was not sacked (but was not employed in a well-paid job). There were women in the Supreme Council, there were many women among lower-level judges and lay judges. There were women heads of departments in universities and chief doctors. Formal equality signs were observed: women were on quotas on the boards and governing bodies of the party’s grassroots structures and public organisations.
But there were no women on the levels where they really adopted decisions: in the Political Bureau, the Central Committee of the Communist Party and among directors of large enterprises.
And there was a total ban on sexuality (“there is no sex in our country”), which means that women were not openly assessed as a sexual object.
Thus, the Soviet woman has acquired maximum of duties and minimum of social rights. The political rights for them, as well as for men, remained on paper only.
The years of robber-barons capitalism brought most bitter fruit to women. What was once shamefully hidden, was explicitly promoted on television. What used to be forbidden, became a way of behavior.
In jobs advertisements employers indicated the required breast and hips size for women, or simply openly stated that only men could apply. Popular newspapers and magazines, and outdoor advertising looked like porno shop goods.
MPs restrict the right to abortion, are trying to force women to give birth to the second and the third child. A woman becomes what she was not in the Soviet period – a sexual object or a commodity offered to man.
Otherwise, the situation does not change much: the majority of women are still working, but their wages are considerably lower than those of men (on average two-thirds of a man’s wage). Living for young mothers who do not have a rich husband is very difficult: they would not be employed if the employer learns about their pregnancy or a young child, or they rare fired if they decide to give birth to a child.
Working women are still responsible for the household and children.
Formal quotas are gone and representation of women in government declined. The structure of employment also changed, and women, especially those approaching the retirement age, were thrown on the street, or had to face unemployment. The system of social guarantees which somehow functioned in the Soviet period stopped functioning at all: private companies do not employ pregnant women, and the state does not pay child allowances.
Women constitute the majority in the economically weakest groups of population: pensioners, the unemployed and budget sector employees. Censorship was lifted, and the ideas that women are in the first place sexual objects spread rapidly. Newspapers are full of advertisements about the invitation to work for young girls with indication of the required height and breast size. The number of underage prostitutes and sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers grows.
From time to time one of the aforementioned problems is raised, but all these problems are usually not linked with each other.
A modern Russian woman is a double victim, tough market conditions and patriarchal stereotypes force her to give up either a family life and motherhood or her professional growth. The society suffers from this. Birth rate declines leading to depopulation, the extinction of population. On the other hand, slow professional growth of women or ousting of them from the social labor reduce their contribution in production, science and education.
Absence of women in the adoption of socially significant political decisions, men’s politics, leads to choosing of strategies of force rather than compromise. It affects both men and women.
The society lacks critical mass of those who are able to raise the issue of gender equality as a political problem.
In spite of the fact that there are many women’s organisations in Russia, both large and small, there are less than a dozen of large nation-wide women’s organisations. Some of them are engaged in solution of very useful, but limited problems: helping to children, the disabled and women who experienced violence. There are women’s information networks, but they include a limited number of users, and only women. There are many groups involved in feminism as a school of thought. And small groups of active feminists who are ready to go in the street emerged on the peak of mass-scale protests.
However, yet there has been even no language the feminist organizations could use to talk with the society. The problem of real discrimination against women is virtually absent in the media, it exists as a separate problem of women or groups of women, but not as a problem of the society as a whole. Only very few men, mostly engaged in the human rights work, realize this.
Russian women’s community has been yet unable to provide guarantees of equal rights and opportunities for women and create channels for their promotion. Gender equality and the entire block of issues related to discrimination, feminization of poverty, domestic violence, sexual violence and imposing of social roles has not become a topic of serious public debate. On the opposite, the overall situation has been getting worse and patriarchal tendencies have intensified. Public attitude to violence against women, including family violence, sexual harassment at work, attitude to woman in the “glamorous culture” as an object of purchase – sale has not changed. The increasing role of the Orthodox Church has a negative impact on the promotion of gender equality: the Church actively promotes the idea of a traditional, God-given roles of women, lobbies restrictive laws and vigorously criticises feminism and feminists.
Russian women’s movement is still very weak and fragmented, and is only trying to articulate its demands.
Certainly, an increase of representation of women in government can not fundamentally change the nature of the political system and the regime. But, as world experience shows, there is a direct correlation between the effectiveness of democratic institutions and the social orientation of economic policy and the number of women in government.
The difference of today’s world from the previous millennia is that a woman ceased to be such a property as cattle. The biological nature of men and women does not strictly define his or her social role and place in the social hierarchy anymore. Actually there are only two ways: forward and towards changing of conservative social traditions and abandonment of traditional stereotypes, or back to the past. Where the second way leads we have been demonstrated by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
But to follow the first way Russia needs to put forward a political task of attaining gender equality, which means this should be a task not only for women, but also for men who share the views on the need for solidarity and joint work over common problems. Solidarity is a key word in the new understanding of social roles of men and women who do not lead to the “war of the sexes”, and consciously and consistently change these roles. Thus, men take on a significant share of domestic and family functions getting more rights, such as raising of children in a divorce. And women with the help of men get more opportunities to build a carrier or participate in political decision making.