Globalization – a Remedy or a Quest?
The Russian Experience


Olga Lipovskaya

Globalization as a process and phenomenon is a new and widely unknown term in Russia. First and very painful realization of deep connection of global processes and our country’s development came with the economic crisis in mid-August of 1998. Articles in the press, analyzing the situation, have demonstrated to us the close connection of global economical and political events to transformative changes in Russian politics as well as to sudden impoverishment in millions of Russian households. And as it happened very often before this current disaster, we found out that our state, the President, the Government and Parliament are not accountable for what they say and what they do.

The question of accountability, though, is not only about how the State performs its responsibility towards people; it also means how the people pursue the State in order to make it responsible. Unfortunately, in this domain the Russian people appear to be totally unprepared. In existing reality we have to admit that the relationship between the State and the people in Russia is not a happy one. This problem concerns all the society in general and women in particular.

As we all know in the “countries in transition”, the introduction of the economic liberalization, democratization and social, religious, political pluralism has meant losses for women in all areas of their lives. Severe decrease in political representation, growing impoverishment, reduction in welfare provision and revival of patriarchal values in social and cultural spheres – these are the characteristics for recent development in all these countries. In Poland and Hungary where we can witness a revival of Catholic Church, in former Yugoslavia torn up with nationalist and ethnic wars, in the former Soviet Union defragmented by political and economic clashes, national and fundamentalist resurgence – everywhere women lose whatever little they have had before. What are we, as women, going to do with it in order not only to regain what we had, but to achieve as an ultimate goal a real equality and a real access to equal opportunities? Would the global governance solve the problem? Is it really a successful strategy that can work to our own good?

On one hand globalization processes mean introduction of new information technologies, which can be used by women and women’s NGOs worldwide to cooperate in solidarity. The more permeable borders between countries can serve us as channels for new labor markets and new opportunities to travel and to learn the global experience.

On the other hand, the question of access to new information technologies brings new forms of marginalization of women within this informational space. The new labor markets turn up to be the new areas of exploitation and enslavery of women in such cases as cheap labor and trafficking in women. All in all the process of globalization is not so simple and so entirely positive.

In the globalization process the state is weakened, which means that women’s access to domestic resources is usually reduced. The policies of such global institutions as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund as well as multinational corporations governed by patriarchal rule and paternal figures do affect the status of women in my country. As an example, Russia, now dependent on the enormous loans from these structures is gradually reducing most of the social provisions on which women rely in most cases.

Recent discoveries made by a research on public awareness on human rights in a small provincial town of Russia (1) had proven that although almost half of the respondents (49.3%) insist that human and individual rights have always been violated in our country, major concerns of the citizens do not go beyond safety in life, decent income and free medical services. While in relation to the human rights of women people referred only to political sphere, where it is too obvious that women are underrepresented on the level of political decision-making. On the other hand, the most important and interesting discovery of this research shows that women try to address various state institutions in order to defend their rights 1.6 times more than men. Can we conclude here, that women’s social and public consciousness is higher than men’s?

If it is so, we have a trace of hope here. Besides the weakening of the state, globalization also impacts on the civil societies. Although civil society in Russia is only in its first stage of development, women play a very important role in it both in women’s and other non-governmental structures. In various NGOs women play crucial role on the everyday basis, but ruling and decision making power is relegated mostly to men with a few exceptions.

At the same time women’s organizations are growing in numbers in Russia and former Soviet Union. In most cases their function is located in areas of social and economic provision, but some of them have already reached levels of political and international consciousness. The largest women’s NGO – the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers – that has its local departments in several regions of Russia and some former Soviet republics can be an example of such development. These women had to unite in order to deal with the consequences of war in Afghanistan and later in Chechnya. The most significant step in their development was the organizing of the Mutual Peace March of Russian and Chechenian women in 1996 as well as two international conferences in 1997 and 1998 called “Women against War and Violence”. Until today these women from two opposing enemy states work in solidarity helping each other to find their sons that have been lost, captured or killed and not yet found.

Cooperation between women’s groups and organizations takes place today also in a wider range. Such are several international women’s networks that operate between East and West. It is important to say that the leading role in developing of all these international networks belongs to feminist leaders in the East and West, although contacts do not develop so quickly between South and East. This phenomenon can also be explained by the fact that Western feminists still are the center of such a communication. Does the West take a leading or controlling function in this dynamic? Do we sacrifice certain cultural specificities and our diversity in this exchange?

We should not overlook the dangers of power relations and of building up hierarchical relations in our exchange. On the other hand feminist and women’s organizations of Eastern and Central Europe have been able to cooperate, to build mutual projects and find access to their developmental resources with an indispensable help, support and shared experience of Western feminist groups and individuals.

It is crucial for us as women to reach a level of political representation in the state and in international governing structures through direct influence, through lobbying and promotion of our best leaders to power positions. On a governmental level women’s agenda is missing in Russia today, although our state had ratified CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women) and other UN conventions as well as the Beijing Platform of Action. How can we persuade our legislators and make them listen to what we say? In order to make the state accountable and force it to transfer from words to deeds we still need to overcome serious obstacles, such as: The very underdeveloped civil society and public institutions in Russia; lack of political consciousness among citizens in general; “Big Empire mentality”, which is widespread in Russian culture – a factor causing blockage to development of global perceptions; lack of solidarity among women’s NGOs and activists, and some others.

We should not be too idealistic about such global structures as United Nations and Council of Europe. UN structures have not been responsive to people, because they have been absorbed in relations with governments. Large entities are too inflexible and less mobile. They have to absorb, generalize, include and, by nature, overlook the little species. Being a feminist I may perceive myself a little species easily – may be confronted by 60 bus passengers as soon as I decide to declare myself a “feminist”. Concerning the common language used by international structures – can our radical language be accepted and included in their agenda? The official expression used for the non-governmental Reports on the Status of Women – “Shadowing Reports” – is indicative in itself – the term that brings to my mind associations with being in a shadow, being marginalized, invisible, spying behind somebody’s back.

In our Eastern-European experience during the preparation to Beijing Conference we have learned a lesson how the UN global mega-system operates. Preparatory meetings were organized according to such regional division, where the transition countries were lost in the huge trans-atlantic conglomerate that included USA and Western Europe. Our delegates were also lost in the non-governmental conference where we realized our backwardness in political and activist experience in comparison to American, West-European and African women.

Still that was a good lesson to learn. With this knowledge in our baggage, with existing networks and future cooperation projects we may hope that our daughters’ generation would be able to use all the positive aspects of globalization processes in order to overcome the negative ones.

(1) Research study performed by a group of scholars from the Moscow Center for Gender Studies in Summer of 1997 in Rybinsk, supported by MacArthur Foundation.

Olga Lipovskaya, born in 1954, is journalist, translator, interpreter, chairperson of Petersburg Center for Gender Issues and full-time feminist. e-mail: pcgi@mail.dux.ru

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