Worcester Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Posted on July 13, 2003
By Mark Melady
WORCESTER: Despite the language barrier, Russian and American women were often ahead of the translator empathizing with one another over universal gender issues such as pay equity, family work, rape, domestic violence and the traditional values of the male of the species east and west.
''Every man wants his wife to be at home waiting for him with a hot dinner,'' said Tatyana Zykova, deputy chair of the St. Petersburg education council, one of three visiting Russian women political leaders who spent much of last week observing and talking to their Worcester counterparts, part of a cultural exchange sponsored by the Open World Program based in Washington, D.C.
Besides Ms. Zykova, the Russian group included Veronika Ilina, who heads the committee for social policy and rights protection in the Primorski Krai Legislative Assembly; Anita Ustinova, a city councilor in Vyborg; and Olga Beglova, interpreter and facilitator.
They were hosted by the International Center of Worcester during a full week that included a visit at the Statehouse with Sen. Harriette L. Chandler, D -Worcester, and conversations with City Manager Thomas R. Hoover and women in the administration: Human Rights Director Shirley A. Wright; Jill C. Dagilis, commissioner of public code; Janice Borg Silverman, director of human resources; Penelope B. Johnson, head librarian of the Worcester Public Library, and Kathleen G. Johnson, assistant treasurer and tax collector.
Thursday night, as the visit was coming to an end, the Russian women met across a City Hall table with members of the City Manager's Committee on the Status of Women for what committee member Sarah Sadowski described as an ''open and intimate discussion of the problems, perspectives and privileges of being women in Russia and America.''
Their conversation made clear that while the cause of women and awareness of domestic matters most closely associated with women may be more advanced here, it is only a matter of degree.
''Women and children are still not given the attention they should be,'' said Councilor-at-Large Konstantina B. Lukes, the woman most responsible for the existence of the Status of Women Committee in Worcester.
Mrs. Lukes recalled the city's less than progressive attitude toward women in 1978 when she agitated for the committee, and gave the Russians a tip: Rely on yourselves for change.
''Women couldn't even walk in the front door of the Worcester Club,'' she said. ''Worcester was way behind the times in dealing with rape and other issues, but instead of outside influence, we worked from the inside.''
The Russian constitution guarantees equal rights to women.
''They have our ERA,'' said one Worcester woman, referring to the failed American effort to add an equal rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
But, Ms. Zykova said, having protection in the Russian constitution and in reality are very different.
''It has to be enforced,'' she said, ''and it's not very much.''
Committee member Karen Fine raised the issue of pay equity, noting that white American working women make on average 76 cents an hour less than men and that the gap is even wider for black and Latino women.
''It cuts across all professions,'' Dr. Fine, a veterinarian, told the Russians. ''Some of the discrepancy has to do with women taking time off to raise families, but most of it is due to discrimination.''
Because most families are supported by husband-and-wife incomes, Dr. Fine said, the loss of income can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime.
Ms. Ilina shook her head incredulously when Dr. Fine said that parking lot attendants, who are mostly men, make 24 percent more to look after cars than day care workers, who are mostly women, to look after children.
The pay equity issue in Russia is simple.
''Men make more money than women,'' Ms. Ustinova said.
Rape crisis centers and women shelters in Russia operate without state support, relying entirely on the largess of foundations and the cash-strapped federal government.
''Our centers are not evolving,'' Ms. Ilina said.
Marianne Winters, executive director of the Rape Crisis Center of Central Massachusetts - one of 17 in the state- said government funding can be as fickle as charity.
She said a 75 percent reduction in state aid accounted for about one-fourth of the center's fiscal 2004 operating budget and caused her to lay off four people.
Ms. Ustinova wondered if rape carries the stigma here that it does in Russia.
''In Russia women are embarrassed to say they are the victim of rape,'' she said.
''It's a huge stigma here,'' said Ms. Winters, who also heads the city's Sexual Assault Task Force that was created last fall. ''Rape is one of our most highly charged issues.''
She said the hot line's guarantee of anonymity has helped rape victims at least talk about what happened to them.
''In our first year (1973) we had 15 calls,'' Ms. Winters said. ''Last year we had 700. There's been a consciousness-raising, but it's still common that women will pick up the phone six times before they dial the last number for the hot line.''
Restraining orders do not exist in Russia and the Russian women took notes as Ms. Winters explained how they work as a preventive measure against domestic violence, especially in the face of threats or a history of violence.
''Now we have no such legal remedy,'' Ms. Zykova said. ''Women run off to their friends.''
Ms. Winters said running off to friends was the start of the shelter movement here for victims of domestic violence.
The Russian women were interested in how American women achieve political power. They are motivated to run for elected office, said Ms. Ilina, by the notion that ''just as they bring order to households, they will do the same for government as soon as we get there.''
Getting there presents a very similar problem to both American and Russian candidates - money.
[Reprinted with Permission]