Women And The Postcommunist Transition

BUDAPEST / VIENNA: Economists are often unconcerned about the social context of their work. In the transition from communism, many simply failed to ponder the full consequences of their proposals on the poor, the elderly, children, the Roma minority, or women.

Take the example of women. In theory, the state and the market are gender-blind: in practice, they are not. Feminist analysts, such as Patricia Williams, have shown that gender biases are built into society. That critique was valid for socialist societies, too. No matter where, elimination of state sponsored gender bias needs deliberate intervention. Here an irony intrudes: usually prompted by civil movements, removal of such biases only becomes effective when these movements have their goals implemented by direct state action.

The same applies to the market, which also appears gender-blind. Left to itself, however, the market is not. Powerful interests usually prevail. Mechanisms of correction are also similar. The 'voice' of citizens, civil discontent and pressure, are sometimes sufficient to curb 'stronger' market forces (victorious strikes are a good example). More often, only state legislation can enforce the will of citizens; strikes, for example, may be made legal or illegal depending on state regulation.

In the post-socialist countries the oft-proclaimed gender-equality of state socialism left much to be desired. One hopes that women will use today’s new political, economic, and social freedoms to redress the old system’s flaws and move forward toward gender emancipation. So you might expect, then, that alongside other groups, women would begin grassroots movements, initiating a general discourse on gender-relations and "women’s issues", and pressuring politicians to take gender issues seriously. You would be wrong: gender is seldom on the political agenda, and civil movements for gender emancipation are weak.