Woman Plus...
  N 2, 2002

Is a civilized approach to gender equality possible in Russia?

        We asked Ekaterina Philipovna Lakhova, deputy of the State Duma of Russia, Chairman of All Russian public political movement of women, candidate of political science, to tell us about draft Law "On state guarantees of equal rights and liberties and equal possibilities for men and women in the Russian Federation".

Tell us, please, about history of working out of the draft bill. 1996-1997 were years of break-through of gender theme on the state level: Presidents Decrees, Government decisions, Concept on elaboration of laws to provide equal rights for women and men and other documents. Why only three years later the present draft bill was born? When was the work on it begun, who are the authors of the law, experience of what countries was used in its elaboration?

E. L.: For the first time the necessity of working out of a special legislation in the field of gender equality was raised by women-deputies of the parliament group "Women of Russia", which worked at the State Duma in 1993-1995. They, in particular, prepared the Family Code and laid down the foundation of the document, which was later accepted as Concept on elaboration of laws to provide equal rights for women and men. Failure at the parliament elections in 1995 put an end to the activity of this group. Only several people from this group, working in different committees and parliament groups, remained in the next parliament. This is the reason for weakening in the work over gender equality. When this concrete group of deputies ceased to generate creative urge, at first the activity went on from the force of inertia but later it stopped completely. And only at the beginning of the year of 2000 the initiative to lobby legislation in favor of women was taken by the women organizations, in particular, Consortium of women non-governmental organizations, where Elena Ershova was a coordinator. In 2000 the Consortium addressed to the Committee of public relations with public and religious organizations of the State Duma with a proposal to start elaboration of law "On state guarantees of equal rights and liberties and equal possibilities for men and women in the Russian Federation". In order to understand, whether this draft bill was pressing, the Committee prepared and held special parliament hearings, which convinced the deputies of the necessity of the draft bill. After that a special working group was established, which began to prepare concept and text of the draft bill. I was charged to head its activity. In our work we used the experience of Canada, Scandinavian countries, Germany, France and Italy. But mainly we paid attention to our Russian reality, especially to factors, which hampered the realization of the principle of men and women equality.

Why the draft bill is so timely?

E. L.: Our women organizations, initiating this law, rather often refer to the opinion of UN experts, who believe that only when deputy corps of this or that country includes more than 20% of women, law-makers seriously begin to work out laws in favor of children interests. And only when their share is close to 30%, the laws and state programs, answering the interests of women, are issued.

UN takes into account the experience of those countries, where women actively participate in ruling the state. These conclusions are true. Let us for a minute think of what is any state in fact? It is a kind of a large family, in which men and women live. Men have their experience and attitude to life, women - their own ones. Contribution from everybody to the economy allows to improve considerably general welfare, to make life of common people - men and women - more successful, valuable and comfortable.

Parity participation of men and women in the state power bodies guaranties acceptation of right political, social, economic decisions and thus provides for stable development of any country. Steadiness and stability are very necessary for our society always, especially nowadays. From that point of view the law on gender equality is very pressing.

Can you formulate the essence of the draft bill?

E. L.: I would distinguish as the most important the following issues:

  • It determines the main directions of the state policy in gender equality, including gender expertise of draft bills and any other normative documents in all fields of society activity; it stipulates gender education.
  • The draft bill deals with fundamentally important issues, pertaining social economic status of women, including gender norms for discharge or retiring. Nowadays Russia is going to join VTO (World Trade Organization), mass unemployment will begin and, as always, it will be women one. In order to prevent it there should be norms stipulating that the number of fired persons of different gender is pro rata the gender composition of the employees. It is a very important rule, it has never been secured by law in the past.
  • Our law fixes the rate of equal representation to the state power (in parallel we propose to fix this rate in the law on elections). These vacancies are as well working places - in political parties, the deputy ones - and highly paid jobs.
  • The law stipulates system of control over realization of equal rights and equal possibilities of men and women. At present this control is lawful under decrees, not under the law. Still decree can be accepted today and cancelled tomorrow, but a law is a law.
  • In the last 10 years Russia twice reported to UN about fulfillment of Convention on liquidation of any forms of discrimination towards women. But this report has never been presented to the Duma. The new law stipulates that once in two years, during the preparation of this report, the deputies will hear the report and discuss problems, connected with it, considering them as priority state goals.
  • Representative on the human rights is charged with supervision over realization of equal rights and equal possibilities of men and women. In principle, he should do it right now, but unfortunately he does not do it.

What is your opinion: the law is a radical one or the society and law-makers are ready to perceive it?

E. L.: With due regard of a number of clauses the law is very revolutionary for Russia, but I do not believe that the society is not ready to perceive it. Almost a year ago, on March 8, 2001, fund "Public opinion" arranged a questioning. When questioned: "What do you connect the future of your daughter with - with good career or marriage?" 65% of the interrogated Russian citizens responded: "With good job". But it is a pure feminism since in the traditional society the career of a woman is her husband. So it was all over the world in the past, but the situation has changed in the last century and today we can state mass perception of it by our compatriots. When questioned: "Will participation of women in policy improve the situation in the country?" 65% of the interrogated answer "Yes".

Nevertheless they do not vote for women…

E. L.: It is wrong - among those, who vote for women, women prevail. Those women-deputies, who consider that they were elected by men, are wrong: they had a bad mark for sociology. The majority of voters in our country are women since, in the first place, they constitute the biggest social group, and , in the second place, it is the most disciplined group of voters. Their voices provide election of any candidate.

But there is another aspect of this question. It is connected with the fact that the majority of candidates, who stand for the elections, are men. They come to 90% of candidates from the parties' list and almost as many among the single-mandate ones. Until recently the political parties did not support women during the elections. In order to change it we need a law, a certain rate. Everybody repeats the word "quota". And we talk not about quota, but about a certain rate -rate of social relations. If the majority of living and working in our country are women, it's quite natural that they should be represented in governmental bodies in an appropriate proportion, which, in its turn, should be fixed in the legislation.

What reaction of the society did the authors of the draft bill forecast? What is the first rough estimate?

E. L.: We considered that clever advisers could explain to our leading politicians that this law was very advantageous for our authorities. A weak point in our home policy, for which we are criticized by everybody - journalists, western politicians and public figures, international organizations, defenders of justice - is the problem of human rights. International community admits that gender equality today is the most pressing part of the human rights problems. Level of democracy development in the society is determined by functioning of the mechanism of realization of equal rights and equal possibilities for all its citizens. Should the law on gender equality is passed our state would receive a forcible argument, proving that our state successively follow up the policy of observance of human rights. For the time being this understanding does not exist.

It's quite natural that women public organizations support the law in question. Russian defenders of justice do not support it. They do not consider that the problem of women rights is an integral part of the problem of human rights. It seems to me that our defenders of justice mastered only those categories of human rights, which existed in the epoque of early bourgeoisie: for them human rights are understood as rights of a white and rich man. When the law on political parties was in the process of elaboration we prepared for it certain clauses: for example, Part 4 of Article 8, stipulating that the parties should see to observance of constitutional principle of equal rights and equal possibilities in inner-party life as well as to preparation of the candidate lists for election. Who opposed it? Deputies-defenders of justice did. But setting the law-makers a task to work out the law "On equal rights and equal possibilities" the women organizations thus aimed to have influence not only on the women status but upon the general situation in our country. We do not rise in opposition to men, we crave for sharing our knowledge, our skill, our experience with our country. And I think that the main motive for behavior of defenders of justice, opposing our draft bill, is a common men's chauvinism. We held a joint press conference of defenders of justice, ecologists and representatives of women organizations, where we discussed questions of preparation for the next elections and tried to designate a range of problems, which we could deal with together. But when Elena Nikolaevna Ershova, Coordinator in Consortium of women non-governmental organizations, talked about women rights, we could hear from men, sitting in the hall: "And who will wash our socks?"

As for deputies of the State Duma the opinions differ: there are ardent opponents of the law, including women. Some of them consider that women do not need any additional support, it will debase themselves. Other deputies consider that a separate law is not necessary for providing equality for men and women, introduction of amendments to the laws, currently in force, will do.

At the same time many men-deputies support us, partly guided by a sound pragmatism: they have daughters, whom they give a good education, and they do not like to limit their life opportunities. Besides, men realize, that support of similar initiatives can strengthen their own political positions, since most popular western political leaders support ideas of men and women equality, sometimes they even declare them to be feminism advocates. Antony Blaire, British premier, is a fine example.

What arouses the biggest disgust and aversion in the draft bill? What clauses are accepted more calm? Are there any positively accepted provisions?

E. L.: Its most radical provision is a 70% quota for representation of one sex in the lists of candidates for highest state posts.

Provisions on general vector of the state policy in equality can be rather smoothly accepted: gender expertise in the process of preparation of decisions at any level of the state power, in all spheres of public relations, including expertise of draft bills or collective agreements in organizations, which exists at present in some regions; gender education, which as well becomes habitual; responsibility of the state for functioning of national mechanism of gender equality.

Is there any date fixed for submission of the draft bill to the Duma for consideration?

E. L.: There is no fixed date but we count to give the bill its first reading either during this session or in autumn.

What can public women regional organizations do in support of the bill?

E. L.: The answer is very simple. You should initiate passing of the similar laws in your regions by local legislative bodies, to find and support the deputies, who are ready to draft and pass such bills.