Gender, Work and Household in Post-Soviet Transformations
(Session organiser: Sarah Ashwin, London School of Economics)
The socialist states of the former Soviet bloc were characterized by distinctive and contradictory gender orders. On the one hand, women’s labour participation was very high by international standards. Women’s autonomy was also boosted by liberal divorce laws and state support for single mothers. But on the other hand, the gender division of labour in households remained highly unequal, with women performing the lion’s share of domestic labour and child care. The ideology of the male breadwinner also remained potent even though dual-income families with women working full-time were the norm. In line with this preservation of tradition, gender hierarchy was reproduced within the labour market, with pronounced vertical segregation and a large gender pay gap existing throughout the former Soviet bloc. This panel examines the changing contours of this gender order in the labour market and the household.
Two papers examine different aspects of the changing pattern of gender segregation in post-soviet labour markets. Focusing on the national level, Sonja Avlijas asks how Baltic countries have retained high levels of female labour force participation during post-socialist transition. This trend stands in stark contrast to Central and Eastern European countries (CEECs), where women’s participation rates have fallen significantly. Avlijas shows the crucial role of state industrial policy in influencing women’s employment levels during transition. She also reveals the way in which gender hierarchy has been re-inscribed within a transformed labour market. Meanwhile, Sarah Ashwin, Irina Kozina and Roberto M. Fernandez examine women’s participation in engineering in (post-)Soviet Russia. The achievement of gender parity in engineering employment in Soviet Russia in the late 1970s reveals the capacity of Soviet states to shift gender norms in some areas. Using this case to interrogate contemporary theories of gender segregation, Ashwin et al. examine how women were drawn into ‘masculine’ professions during the Soviet era, and the durability of soviet gender ‘engineering’ in the post-Soviet era.
Changing gender dynamics within the household are revealed by two papers on household budgets and bargaining. Using mixed methods, Alya Guseva and Dilyara Ibragimova examine how the erosion of the near-universal dual-earner family in Russia has impacted patterns of household budgetary management. Meanwhile, Marta Olcoń-Kubicka analyses negotiations within dual-earner couples in Poland using qualitative data from couples. These contributions reveal the way in which gender hierarchies in the labour market are reflected in household bargaining. Together, they tackle the crucial question of the ways in which post-Soviet transformation is impacting gender power relations in the household.
Juxtaposing these papers highlights the close interconnection between household and labour market in the reproduction of gender inequality. Together the contributions reveal complex patterns of continuity and change in the gendering of the labour market and domestic area in the post-Soviet bloc.