Russian Women Seek Reforms

Russian women have never had it so bad, representatives of Russian women's groups said in May at a meeting set up to address women's issues. The parliament meeting was attended by representatives of over 100 groups. Several hundred male politicians were invited, but only four chose to attend.

Those who did attend denounced the post-Soviet, pro-corporate “free-market” for eating away at women’s wages and for turning politics into a “men-only” club. The female politicians unveiled measures designed to restore the position of women, which they said had plummeted since Communist times.

"Women were the victims of the reform years," said First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska, one of the few female elected officials in Russia. She said that women have been relegated to low paying, subservient positions, leaving them vulnerable economically, and without a strong political voice. Market reforms and high inflation had forced more women than men out of the workplace despite an often superior standard of education.

Yekaterina Lakhova, head of the Women of Russia political party, proposed changes such as a legally enforceable minimum wage. But without the support of male politicians, change is nearly impossible. Women occupy only 29 seats, or 16 percent, of the Duma's 450 seats. The old Communist quota system secured nearly one third of those seats for women. Lakhova called Russian politics a "closed shop." Only two women now hold high political offices: Valentina Matviyenko, a cabinet member as a deputy prime minister, and Tatyana Paramonova, first deputy head of the central bank.

(source: Reuters, May 22)



The She Zone: Male-Free Shopping

Women in the United Arab Emirates now have a male-free mall. "The She Zone," located in Abu Dhabi, offers privacy in a public setting for women and their children. Among the 32 outlets are a mosque, a cinema, a gym, a business center, a perfumery, a chocolate shop, and a video arcade--and all the jobs are done by women. Maintenance or emergency services that must be done by male employees are done after hours or with ample warning to the clientele.

According to Islamic tradition, women who wear a veil reveal their faces only to men in their immediate family. The mall provides them the privacy and freedom to go unencumbered without violating this tradition.

Arab men have long enjoyed malls as a place to congregate, drink coffee, and see friends. Women can now enjoy the same pleasantries. Although the UAE is very liberal, women-only facilitates are frequently set up for conservative Moslem women. One visitor stated, “It’s good for the traditional ladies who don't go out much, as they can come here with their kids and meet their friends and feel as if they are at home."

(source: Reuters, May 22)

--Trudy Mercer

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