Eastern European women most suspicious of change EUROPE AT THE CROSSROADS: THE TIMES MIRROR SURVEYBY: Peter Honey

September 16, 1991|By Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Women consistently proved the most politically conservative and change-resistant group in every nation in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union surveyed in the Times Mirror poll.

The pollsters noted a "profound" difference between men and women on questions of democracy and a free-market economy, especially in the three Soviet republics -- Russia, the Ukraine and the now independent Lithuania.

"Gender differences go beyond women expressing less approval of these concepts," they wrote. "Women profess consistently less democratic values and appear to have absorbed more socialist thinking than have men."

The differences exist at all ages, in rural as well as urban areas and at all levels of education, they noted. All Eastern European countries surveyed showed similar results, but on a smaller scale.

While 69 percent of Russian men questioned before the Soviet coup attempt in August said that they favored a multiparty democracy, the poll noted that only 54 percent of the women shared that view.

In Russia and the Ukraine, gender comparisons were made on numerous issues such as independence of Soviet republics, private ownership, the right to sell and buy property and incentive vs. fixed pay. In each case, women showed themselves to be more conservative than men.

Most Eastern women were less committed to free speech than men and would more readily apply restrictions on political parties. The survey also found a general tendency for Eastern women to more ardently support social welfare programs, especially with state sponsorship, than men.

The reasons for women's conservatism are elusive: The researchers speculate that it may rise from the extreme difficulties of women's daily life in the Soviet Union, or to their role as nurturers.

In all Eastern European nations and Soviet republics, women were found to be losing interest in politics faster than men.

The most striking example of this was in Russia, where the researchers said that 60 percent of women, as opposed to only 44 percent of men, said they were now less politically motivated than under the old Communist system.

In Moscow, where one in three political candidates used to be a woman during Communist rule, only one in six ran in the first free Russian elections last year, the survey noted.

The poll also drew out an East-West gap on the issue: All the Soviet and Eastern European societies polled, except Bulgaria, felt that the ideal marriage was one in which the wife took care of the home and children while the husband worked. This contrasted strongly with the Western European and U.S. preference for both spouses to work and share responsibilities for the household and children.

"A wife staying at home evidently struck many East Europeans as a welcome novelty after so many decades under the communist system," the surveyors remarked.

Eastern women themselves admit that the past few years have had relatively little effect on their views of life:

Only 29 percent in Russia and 37 percent in Ukraine said that the changes had improved their outlook. Of the men, 44 percent of Russians and 46 percent of Ukrainians said their views had brightened.

Most Easterners of both sexes believed that women's social and legal rights would not improve under the new regimes.

In fact, an overwhelming proportion of East Germans thought women would have fewer rights than they had under communism. Hungarians were the most upbeat about women's prospects in the new democracies.

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