The purpose of this book is twofold. It introduces Western readers to the very different lived experience of women in former state socialist countries. It also explores the difficulties in communication which still exist between East and West, even after the end of the Cold War. Women's status in East Central Europe is characterized by paradox and contradiction, both before and after 1989. This study attempts to unravel the legacy of state socialism, as well as the problems of transformation, in order to distinguish elements of continuity and change. State socialism attempted to achieve women's "emancipation" via legislation and social provision. But it focused almost exclusively on issues connected with the participation of women in the labour force, and was experienced less as emancipation and more as exploitation. Family life was valued as a "private" sphere protected ,to some degree, from State intervention. In contrast however, none of the newly-democratized regimes of East Central Europe have included the improvement of women's status on their agenda. Women's political representation in the new parliaments is dramatically lower than in the parliaments of state socialism.
Women currently form the majority of the unemployed in most of East Central Europe, yet there are few re-training programmes specifically designed for them. Childcare facilities and other social welfare rights are being lost in the atmosphere of wholesale rejection of the state socialist past. In addition, there is no tradition of fighting for rights. In the vacuum left by the demise of state socialism, growing nationalism and a resuscitated ideology of the family reinforce the economy's need to shed labour, relegating women to primary responsibility for the family. The attack on abortion rights in many countries is symptomatic of attitudes towards the role of women. There is a widespread "allergy" to feminism, which is associated with state socialism. Under state socialism civil society was suppressed, although women did play an important role in the dissident movements. In the new democracies, paradoxically, civil society has been marginalized. Understanding the reasons for the non-emergence of a grass roots women's movement can help us to understand why this has happened. This book is a guide to the past and present situation of women in Eastern and Central Europe.
It raises questions about the nature of democratic government and women's citizenship within any democratic society. Drawing on interviews and information gathered from a range of personal and professional contacts, Barbara Einhorn offers readers a commentary on the ways in which the changes in women's daily lives are being represented in literature and the media.
"This wide-ranging and up-to-date book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what is at issue in debates about gender and politics in post-communist Eastern Europe."--Maxine Molyneux, Birkbeck College