Friday, September 14, 2007

Meanwhile, in Russia

The government is offering a lottery for women to make more babies:

The governor of a central Russian province urged couples to skip work Wednesday and make love instead to help boost Russia's low birth-rate.

And if a woman gives birth in exactly nine months time -- on Russia's national day on June 12 -- she will qualify for a prize, perhaps even winning a new home.

"It's normally something for the home -- a fridge or a television set," Yelena Yakovleva at the Ulyanovsk regional administration press office, said.

"It doesn't matter if it's a girl or a boy."

Now read that little quote as a feminist. You will notice that last sentence, and its very presence suggests that it usually does matter if the baby is a boy or a girl. If you are like me you will also start feeling just a tiny bit nauseous, especially if you know the reason for this all.

The reason is that Russia is losing population at 700,000 people per year. The whys of that really have to do with the tumulteous changes the country has experienced in the last decades, but the mortality figures state high rates of suicide, alcoholism and AIDS. Hence the need to raise birth rates. And of course the way to do that is to promise women not even a toaster but a chance to win a toaster!

Demeaning, that's what it is. Let's look at some statistics on the lives of Russian women: Did you know that the gender gap in wages in Russia is enormous? Women earn on average somewhere around 50-60 % of what men earn. And did you know that the relative wages of women used to be quite a bit higher before the free market changes?

Did you know that the way women are treated in the labor market in Russia is pretty much the way women were treated in the labor markets here in the 1960s? An example:

Most employers think the burden of family duties reduces value of women as labor force and prefer to hire workers who are ready for harder and overtime work (i.e. males). Equal professional skills and qualification provided, 23% of the employers questioned would have preferred to dismiss a woman while only 12% - a man.

An analysis of job vacancy advertisements shows that up to 30% of these advertisements indicate a desired gender of applicants, even for professions for which distinguishing between the two sexes is not required at all.

In other words, gender discrimination is very common. This idea that the "burden of family duties reduces the value of women as labor" is something that cropped up elsewhere, too:

Average wages are rising in Russia but not everyone is benefiting to the same extent. Women in Russia are paid around 40% less for their work than men, according to the Federal Statistics service and the gap has only been growing.

Less than a decade ago, women were paid 30% less.

Asked if education is a factor, Dr Elena Zotova of the Center for Strategic Research, says Russia is a special case: "The general education level of women is higher than that of a man. We have the wage gap in education in favour of women. But unfortunately this education has no consequences when men and women come to the labour market."

Research suggests one of the main reasons for the imbalance is that women mainly work in low-paying sectors and hold low-paying positions in the corporate hierarchy.

It also arises from a mentality that believes women are better suited to jobs in the home.

Where did that mentality come from? Russia has had decades of communism and essentially all women had jobs outside the home? And how does all this relate to the rapidly disappearing preschool places for children:

For the last decade number of child preschool institutions declined from 87,900 in 1990 down to 50,000 in 2001. In 1990 66.4% of all the children attended preschool institutions, in 1995 — 55.5%, in 2001 — 57.2 %.

In early 90s 10% of all families with children at the preschool age could not afford to send them to preschool institutions. In 1999 only 42% of the households with children of the corresponding age could have recourse to child preschool institutions. In 1998 the average pay for these services constituted 16% of the minimum subsistence level. According to the 1997 Rybinsk survey data,
average monthly earnings of a woman under 30 were less than 300 Roubles while monthly pay for the kindergarten – 600 Roubles. Such a ratio of earnings to costs on preschool institutions made it unreasonable for the young mother to seek employment.

Let's combine some of these strands: Russia thinks it needs more babies. Women are not having those babies because they will lose their jobs if they do and in any case can't find affordable daycare. Then men are dying off at a much higher rate than women, so that any woman staying at home and relying on a husband's earnings may quite realistically find herself a single mother in a society with few safety nets.

The solution: Let's have a lottery!

See what angers me about this all? Because having babies is about sex and about women it's something silly in the minds of the powers that be. Something that can be solved with a lottery or by a few speeches yelling at people to get mating and so on. And the lottery doesn't have prizes such as "guaranteed lifetime employment for mother", "fully-paid daycare for ten years" or even "respect for women as full adult human beings."

Russia really needs feminism. Both men and women there need it.