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Strengthening Human Rights for Women and Men in Matters Relating to Sexual Behavior and Reproduction Eleonora Zielinska and Jolanta Plakwicz The coUapse of the sodalist states in Eastern and Central Europe started a series of transformations in this region aimed at establishing a free market in the economic sphere and parliamentary democracy in the political sphere. The development of these processes has taken specific forms in the various countries of the region. Although it is difficult to draw general conclusions, we may say that the common feature of these processes at this particular stage is the elimination of the old system rather than the creation of new structures. This results in the risk of global rejection of everything which is associated with the previous system, even if it was positive. The risk includes, among other things, the rejedion of the very idea of equaUty between men and women. Unfortunately, aspirations toward democracy in Eastern and Central Europe are not often accompanied by fuU awareness that defacto equaUty between men and women is a prerequisite of democracy. The legal and de facto situation of women and men in Eastern and Central Europe was essentiaUy determined by over forty years of Communist rule in this region. Men and women had equal legal status within the ideology but at the same time women were deprived of the chance to put the law into practice. Legislation on sex equaUty was shaped by an ideology that favored the emahdpation of various sodal groups, induding women. Legal regulations aUowed women to partidpate in pubUc Ufe as weU as to be independent economicaUy. Practice, however, was different. The partidpation of women in pubUc Ufe and decision-making at the state level, although visible, in reaüty only confirmed their role as tokens. Wide access to work for women was a result of the needs of the sodalist economy that aimed at extensive development and rarely meant the creation of conditions for women's free choice. In general, women worked because of economic necessity and often regardless of personal aspirations. Having a job did not mean being released from domestic duties, which remained exclusively women's domain. The state declared various forms of help with household duties and chüd care but, espedaUy in Poland, the help feU far short of what was needed. The implementation of the idea of women's wide partidpation in the labor market necessitated the acceptance of famüy planning options, © 1994 Journal of Women-s History, Vol s No. 3 OMnter) 92 Journal of Women's History Winter induding abortion. In some countries giving women the possibiUty of controting their own fertility did not mean that women's right to dedde was recognized. Rather it should be seen in terms of an arbitrary ad of "granting" women some freedom in particular circumstances. "Granting" meant that the state always fdt authorized either to take it away or to restrict it, according to its wiU. The radical changes in abortion poUdes that are part of the experience of women Uving under communism demonstrates this. Unlike Western experience, the status of women and the range of their freedom in Eastern and Central Europe at the moment of the system's coUapse was not a result of their own struggle. Rather, it was percdved as "granted" or "owed" which conditioned women's consdousness in a specific way. Initially, the poUtical, social, and economic changes connected with "People's Autumn" were percdved by women as an opportunity to improve their de facto situation. However, as it soon turned out, these expedations were futile. After two years, it can be said that the transformations of the system constitute a serious threat to women's status and partidpation in the Ufe of the country, because many regulations that were the basis for women's equaUty are being abolished. The transition to a markd economy is leading to the pauperization of the weakest sodal groups (women in general and single mothers and old age pensioners in particular). Growing unemployment is hitting mainly women workers and group lay-offs concern fidds of the economy dominated by women employees. The CathoUc Church in Poland is adding to the general atmosphere of inequaUty...


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