The Adaptation of Russian Women in a Reformed Information Society: Chances and Risks

by Elena Gvozdeva, Siberian Youth Initiative, Russia

The economic and political transformations in Russia not only coincide in time with the establishment of an information society but, to a certain degree, were initiated by a strong information flow from the "external" world. The coincidence of these two processes has led to that in postcommunist Russia simultaneously proceed adaptations to new market values and realities and to new information technologies and way of life.

We hope to attract attention to the social problems of women's adaptation in the postcommunist period taking in consideration that women's social well-being is rather important for the society's steady and conflict-free development.

Unemployment

One of the urgent problems confronted by women on the threshold of the arising information society is the contracting employment in the sphere of production of goods, tight situation at the labour market, and structural unemployment. The Club of Rome describes this problem as global, as a consequence of the First Global Revolution threatening mankind in the end of the twentieth century [1]. On the new stage of the social development the main part of the employed in the economy will be concentrated in branches connected with the dissemination and processing of information, in the sphere of services.And for the new vacancies most of which require from claimants special training and skills only highly qualified workers can apply. Unfortunately, women, burdened with domestic duties and care for children, have as a rule, very limited opportunities for quick and good-quality professional retraining.

Transition to the information society considerably expands the choice of behaviour strategies which increasing women's chances for successful adaptation. Not small chances to master and assimilate new forms and channels of information are available to academic and expressive brainworkers, managers, businesswomen. The chief bulk of women, mostly of young age, will have to undergo special training, for which special programmes must be developed. Less educated women employed on heavy manual jobs will be left outside modern technologies.

Entrepreneurship?

Increased misunderstanding and even social tensions can be expected between different social groups: those who can benefit from the advantages of the information society and those who are alienated from them.

One way of adaptation can be entrepreneurship, which, on the one hand, expands the freedom of working activity, and, on the other, requires of women special efforts. Even if a woman has all necessary qualities, she is less apt to bear the burden of liabilities, credits, risks.

A special danger is in connection with the growing criminal situation in business and the risk for women who are in it to be attacked or plundered.

The studies of people's market adaptation conducted at the Department of Sociology (Institute of Economics, SO RAN) have confirmed that women are perceivably worse adaptable to the newly arising type of society [2]. The study was based on the results of the survey carried out on Sakhalin and in the Novosibirsk oblast in 1992-1993. Indeed, about two thirds of women (60%) faced difficulties in trying to adjust to the changing environment. In 1993 only 4% of them fit themselves into the market situation, 8% hoped to achieve it after 1-5 years, 3% hoped to do it in a longer run, 29% thought they never would be able to (among men the answers were 8, 10, 5 and 22%, respectively). Over a half of women could not weigh their prospects at all.

For many women, 1992 - the year of the start of the economic reforms - became the year of continuous troubles about how to get the "daily bread" (42%), worries and fears (35%), loneliness (7%), worries about one's own or near relations' health (18%). Men less often suffered from loneliness and more often felt peace of mind and satisfaction for fulfilled plans and hopes. Women are more vulnerable to negative social consequences: among them the share of those who had to deny themselves medical treatment in health resorts, medical services, tourist travels within the country and abroad is higher. This was caused mainly by high cost of living and lack of safeness. Women more than men are troubled by the danger of poverty, unemployment, lack of medical services, lack of money to provide first-rate education for children. At the same time, they 1.5 times more often than men (17 against 11 percent, respectively) hope to get opportunities to increase the quality of education and of medical services under the new conditions.

Women are adapting to the market setting with noticeably more difficulties and much slower than men. They were a third as many who had already found their place in market arrangements (3% of women against 9 % of men) and half as many who were mentally prepared to them (9% of women and 15% of men) [2].

Barriers

What is behind the difficulties in adjustment felt by Russian women in the changing environment? There are 3 types of barriers, i.e. social-psychological, status and societal, which act with about the same force [2]. But if we compare the significance of these barriers for men and for women, then we find that for men more significant are the factors of socio-economic and political situation in the country and the policy of the implementation of the reform, and for women more important are social-psychological barriers and characteristics of their position in the society. Thus, women much more often refer to the lack of entrepreneurship quality (31 percent of women, 20 percent of men), fighter's qualities (23 and 6%), lack of confidence in oneself and in success (22 and 13%). As regards the position in the society, the chief barrier for both women and men is lack of funds to organize own business and of social connections in the world of business. For women, however, more significant are such barriers as lack of appropriate knowledges and skills to orientate oneself in the changing environment, poor state of health and the need to care about young children and other dependent members of the family.

In Russia there is a danger that the adaptation will be not to the market economy but to the transition type of the society. In order to avoid this, it is necessary to pay a special attention to the Soviet mentality, specifics of the generally accepted values of the Russian people, otherwise the false norms can be assimilated which can arise and are indeed arising in the transition (in particular, the possibility to "get" much more money through crimes than in the result of honest work). Women also have the dominant role in raising their children in accordance with the requirements of a civilized information society.

Politics

An important problem is women's participation in parliaments and power bodies. Women of Russia are badly organized, they less participate in political movements and in self-government bodies, and the feminist movement is at its very beginning. This lowers their chances to take a leading position in the society. In the early 1990s the percentage of women parliament members was in Russia only 5 %, while in Sweden they are 38 %, in Norway 34, in Germany 19% [3]. Many women feel they are estranged from political activity, do not understand it. If women wish to be more than only the object of state social policy, they are to make some efforts and become active participants of the ongoing changes [4].

New social reality gives rise also to new problems of the female socium in Russia, concurrently expanding the opportunities for tackling the traditional problems. In the rising information society the women of Russia get more chances to implement their life potential and, at the same time, a risk "not to cope with" social transformations is increasing.

References

  1. King A., and B. Schneider. The First Global Revolution. A Paper of the Club of Rome. - Moscow: Progress Publisher, 1991.
  2. Korel L., M. Shabanova, O. Sharnina, and Yu. Tchistiakova. Tchelovek i rynok: problemy sotsialnoi adaptatsii (Man and Market: Problems of Social Adaptation), in: Sociological Aspects of Transition to a Market Economy (Proceedings of the XIII World Congress of Sociology) - Novosibirsk, 1994
  3. Stepanova N. Zhenshchiny v parlamente: "roskosh" ili neobkhodimost (Women in the Parliament: Is It a "Luxury" or the Need./ Obshchestvennye nauki i sovremennost, 1992, No.3, p.176.
  4. Gruzdeva E., L. Rzhanitsyna, and Z. Khotnina. Zhenshchina na rynke truda (The Woman at the Labour Market), Obshchestvennye nauki i sovremennost, 1993, No.3, p.178.
Siberian Youth Initiative, International Youth Forum Interweek
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