April 25, 2000
by Julia Urakcheeva
Because of certain cultural and historical reasons, the emancipation in Russia is developing slowly. So the problem of women' representation in the sphere of politics doesn't bother us too much. We now have many other problems to resolve. Russia is the East and the West combined in one. It means that, from one hand, the statement "The kitchen is the only proper place for woman" still has its followers, and from the other hand, in 2000 a woman (Ella Pamphilova) became a candidate for the Presidential position and a woman (Valentina Matvienko) took part in the Saint-Petersburg city mayor election campaign. Pamphilova, being much less popular than Vladimir Putin, got only a few percent of voices. In the case of Matvienko there were serious reasons for her to quit the election campaign. But still she is the vice-Prime Minister known for her active social activities.
Jackets, trousers and neckties have filled up the Russian parliament - the State Duma. Here we have 90% of male representatives of only 10% of females. Whatever level of power we take, everywhere women are scarcely presented, and thus their influence on the political life of the country is rather low. The situation was nearly the same when the USSR existed, but at that time certain rules were established by the law providing a settled (very low) percentage of women representatives in legislative bodies of power. Afterwards the quotas were abolished together with the whole old order of things, and a woman must now be a really outstanding person to be elected and to keep up with men in the political field.
Recently Lubov Sliska got the position of vice-speaker in the State Duma. She was absolutely unknown before. She gives an air of being an extremely intelligent and rather harsh politician, but the functions of vice-speaker that she fulfills can't bring out her talents.
A list of Duma-members can be continued. Galina Starovoytova was a member of parliament and a very popular fighter for human rights, well-known for her radical views. She was killed in November 1998 in Saint Petersburg that is now often referred to as "the criminal capital" of Russia. The murderer(s) haven't been found yet.
One of the most popular politicians in Russia is Irina Khakamada, who is Japanese in origin. She is one of the leaders of the Right Powers Union, a block that was formed to participate in the last elections in the Duma. She belongs to the so-called "young reformers" (term set by Yeltsin) - an enthusiastic generation going for the democratic reformation. 45-year old Khakamada is called the most elegant lady of the political beaumonde.
In a definite sense the popularity of the politician can be measured by the frequency of his appearances in the "Puppets" TV-show. It is a scandal show, but it's better to BE mentioned in it, as it adds to the popularity anyway. The anger of the prototypes is usually aroused only by puppets that don't visually resemble the originals. Valeria Novodvorskaya is the only woman that was given an honour of being personified as a puppet. The fat puppet in thick glasses blames everybody and everything, and when being tied to chair she jerks and spits. Novodvorskaya has always been a rebel and opposed power whatever it was. She never had any official position in government, but her influence as a truth-teller has always been great. She began her activities in 1970s and was even put into prison several times. Now she struggles again, in opposition to whomever makes the state policy.
Being the first lady doesn't necessary involve being an independent politician. In most cases "the first wives" hold one step away and serve as an invisible, but firm support for their husbands. They cook their favorite dishes and visit asylums with charity actions. This was the way Naina Yeltsin as well as all "Kremlin wives" before her behaved. But there was one exception -- Raisa Gorbachev, the wife of the first and only President of the USSR. We saw that she always accompanied Mikhail Gorbachev in his visits and journeys. She was his first advisor, thus giving even cause for jokes.
The present first lady, Ludmila Putin, a former stewardess, is, however, an absolutely shadowy figure. She appeared only occasionally in the media during the election campaign of her husband.
There is a party in our country named "The Women Of Russia". One can't call it very influential. It seems to me the very existence of it indicates that "the opposite sex" is still only defending its political rights. It doesn't occur to anyone to form a party called "The Men Of Russia." Only those who are in minority need to unite.
The President of neighboring Finland is a woman. In Great Britain young mamas not only sit in the Parliament, but feed their babies within its walls. And in our Duma some members allow themselves to insult their colleagues, no matter whether they are men or women. So "to fight for the rights" in the Duma implies having not only mental, but also physical strength. Does it sound like emancipation?
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Editor’s note: Julia is a college student in Rostov-on-Don, Mobile’s sister city in Russia. She will be filing periodically stories on life in Russia.