From Wed Jun 14 17:44:05 2000
Date: Tue, 13 Jun 2000 23:12:23 -0500 (CDT)
From: MichaelP <>
Subject: Benefits of neolib trade policies after the fall of communism
Article: 98287
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

After the fall, traffic in flesh, not dreams

By Alison Smale, New York Times, 11 June 2000

IF anybody has borne the brunt of the changes in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union since the fall of Communism, it has been women. While the picture varies wildly from the relatively developed countries of central Europe to the huge, impoverished swaths of the Balkans, Russia and central Asia, women have not benefited from any economic gains as men have. At the same time, they appear to have disproportionately shouldered the stresses brought by a total change of life style.

Health care and child care have all but collapsed in many places. In some, fewer girls are finishing high school than 10 years ago. Between 1985 and 1997, a recently released United Nations study found, the transition to a market economy meant that the number of working women fell by 40 percent in Hungary, 21 percent in Russia and 24 to 31 percent in the Baltic states. Of course, men have lost jobs, too, and they often sink into apathy and alcoholism, women say.

Women who might have hoped for a clerical or professional job under Communism find themselves forced into menial work—frequently in the unprotected realm of the black economy—to make ends meet while caring for children and keeping their family together. Some, indeed, are forced into prostitution, often after being trafficked abroad on the pretense that they will work as a maid or waitress.

“Women take the role of savior—they try to save themselves, their family,” said Olga Gerasymyuk, the host of a popular television program on social affairs in Ukraine.

Women's magazines there promote what may seem to the West an idiosyncratic message of empowerment: “They teach them to save the gentle spirit of their husbands, who are at a loss,” Ms. Gerasymyuk said.

Zina Mounla, who coordinates programs across the former Soviet bloc for the United Nations Development Fund for Women, said that statistics are hard to come by on how poorly women are doing compared to men in this shifting environment.

One area in which east European women have clearly regressed is in political representation. Under Communism, quotas ensured that one-third of the seats in the often nominal parliaments went to women. “Even now,” said Gulmira Asanbayeva, an activist from Kyrgyzstan who promotes women's leadership, “we remember the names of famous women from the Soviet period,” women who had the kind of political sway now exercised almost exclusively by men.

Ms. Asanbayeva, 22, was one of the 10,000 women estimated to have attended a conference in New York last week titled Beijing Plus Five, which examined the worldwide status of women five years after a giant gathering in Beijing that was attended by, among others, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who inspired heated debate in the United States over the wisdom of a first lady visiting China, with its poor human rights record. In hundreds of meetings, formally and informally, women discussed the gains made toward equality and set goals for the future.

Although Ms. Asanbayeva and several other eastern Europeans spoke out on women's causes, there was little indication that they would succeed at home any time soon. Lenka Simerska, 24, who works with the Gender Studies Center in Prague, said she feels far removed from the stresses of poverty described by women from the Balkans or the former Soviet Union. In the Czech Republic, she said, men were so long frustrated by the deadening hand of Communism that they took over everything after its fall in 1989. As a result, educated women seeking a good job often fall prey to chauvinist prejudices about leaving work to have children (paid maternity leave in the Czech Republic lasts up to three years) or taking time off to rear them; above all they lack mechanisms for righting perceived wrongs.

“Women's consciousness and solidarity are not great,” Ms. Simerska said, predicting change only when “young women will slowly get angry, and something will happen.”

For some women and girls, particularly the poor and undereducated, notions of power are unimaginable. Indeed the poorer and more uneducated the women are, the more likely it is that they will become involved in prostitution. Irene Freudenschuss-Reichl, Austria's delegate to Beijing Plus Five, estimated that half a million women from central and Eastern Europe are shipped abroad each year as part of the worldwide trafficking in prostitutes. A recent American study shows that an increasing share of the 45,000 to 50,000 such women traveling to the United States each year come from the former Soviet bloc.

Selma Gasi, 20, an activist with the Women to Women group in Bosnia, tells a particularly chilling tale of pimps, accompanied by older women, scouring the war-devastated villages, ostensibly for sitters or housemaids, and taking girls as young as 14 to strip-dancing bars where they become prostitutes.

Ms. Mounla said this is not unique to the Balkans; it is seen in Ukraine and Russia, where pimps have been known to take teenagers from orphanages that release them at age 16. Some women know they are going to work as prostitutes, she said, but that doesn't mean they should forfeit all their rights.

Yasmina Dimiskovska, of the Union of Women in Macedonia, said Russian and Ukrainian women are trafficked through her country to Italy, or their passports seized locally and they are sent to strip-dancing bars. Again, statistics are hard to come by, but 40 women came from Ukraine last month alone, she said.

“We can talk to them, go to the police,” Ms. Dimiskovska said. But “there is no shelter willing to help” women who lack official identity papers. If they are shipped home, she added, they risk repercussions from the criminals who first sent them abroad. “It's a circle which can't be stopped,” she said. “I think they cannot do anything.”