Thursday, December 2, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Ever Fewer Women in Positions of Political Power in Russia

Paul Goble

Staunton, December 2 – Despite President Dmitry Medvedev’s recent celebration of the roles women are playing in Russian political life, female politicians in that country say that their share of positions at most levels has fallen, with some arguing that the only way to reverse the situation is to introduce gender quotas in parliament and perhaps other institutions.
Today’s “Novyye izvestiya” notes that “only three of the almost 30 positions in the government” are women. And of the 83 leaders of the federal subjects, until recently, there was only one – Valentina Matvienko – although now there are is a second, with Natalya Komarova headed for Yugra (
In the Duma is concerned, the situation is no better. The Just Russia Party contingent has the largest share of women, 29 percent of its members. The ruling United Russia, in contrast, has only 14 percent, with the KPRF having seven percent, and the LDPR having ten percent. And in the regions, the situation is equally bad: In eight of them, there are no female deputies at all.
Despite these disappointing numbers, Elena Panina, the secretary of United Russia’s Moscow section, told the paper that she does not consider this pattern reflects any form of “political discrimination.” Rather she said, the low female share “corresponds to the realities of daily life.”
“Women in politics have become fewer,” she suggested, “because life is becoming harsher.” No one is keeping women out, but “in order to get involved in politics, one must have a certain amount of freedom. And if you are overloaded with concerns of home, family and the need to earn your keep, then there is no time to get involved in political activity.”
But Galina Mikhaleva, the head of the women’s fraction of the opposition Yabloko party disagreed. She said that “discrimination exists.” How can one claim otherwise, she said when Russia today ranks 80th among the countries of the world in terms of female representation in politics, “right alongside Togo.”
The reasons for this, she said, include “the patriarchal traditions which have historically existed in Russia and also the Soviet inheritance when formally women had rights, but all of them remained only on paper and in slogans.” Today, women have no chance to move upward for another reason: all seven of the registered parties are headed by men.
While her own party, Yabloko, remains “a happy exception” to the sexism of other political organizations, the situation as a whole is dispiriting. That is all the more so because the 1990s were a kind of “golden age” for women in Russian political life with so many women playing a major public role.
One of the women who rose to prominence at that time, Irina Khakamada, who was a leader of the Union of Right Forces, explained why she believes the number of women in politics has fallen. “Now, politics in Russia is connected with very large amounts of money and is corrupt,” in contrast to the 1990s, when “independent women” could play a public role.
Now, she said, the Duma is little more than a staged affair, and consequently, there is little or no room for independent female participation. Just Russia’s Svetlana Goryacheva agreed that the current situation of female representation in positions of power is “sad,” although she said a few female deputies continued to play a big role despite their small numbers.
But Khakamada suggested that ever more frequently those women who do get into the Duma are chosen for their looks or their fame in sports or some other activity because the Russian legislation has been “transformed into a showplace” rather than a parliament. As a result, it consists of businessmen, “experienced bureaucrats, and “for attraction beautiful girls.”
Many Russian women who aspire to a great political role look to Scandinavia and Western Europe where the share of women in office is vastly higher. But many of them, like Khakamada, are convinced that Russian politics would have to become more transparent and competitive and women more professionally prepared to achieve similar numbers.
Mikhaleva, for her part, argued that a quota system needs to be introduced. Victims of discrimination must be helped with such “positive discrimination.” That exists in some other countries such as Germany. “For Russia,” she said, “I would like [the female quota] to be 50 percent, but even 30 percent would be good,” and a vast improvement on the current levels.
But there appears to be little chance of that anytime soon. “For real proportional representation of women in the power sphere, there needs to be a real political force which supports such an ideology,” Viktor Militaryev, the vice president of the Moscow Institute of National Strategy said. “But at present, Russia does not have any such force.”

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