Bozhkova Elisaveta Alekseevna
Director of the Informational Center of the Independent Women's Forum
"According to the latest surveys 56% of our citizens consider that women should go to big politics. This is a very high index of the changes in the mass opinion."
"Personal - is political. This is idea of Western feminists and now this is my position as well, to which I came through my personal experience".
"I think that a woman is introducing the new experience of responsibility for all that is surrounding her - that means politics and power as I see it. Power is not force but responsibility: when you undertake some obligations towards life order".
"When woman is passive concerning politics than she becomes an object of someone else's political decisions and an object of political manipulations. When she wants to become a subject, she will enter the decision-making level. But she must want it by herself".
I graduated from the Moscow Physical and Engineering Institute in 1969 and afterwards started my post-graduate studies. My profession is applied-physics engineer. Until recently, I was working in the sector of perspective research in TsAGI (Zhukovskiy). I am engaged in the women's movement from 1987 when I started to cooperate with the Women's Council of TsAGI. In the end of 80-s the Women's Council of TsAGI introduced political elements to its activities and expanded opportunities of women's councils at enterprises: we cooperated with women's council of scientific towns, actively entered into the People's Deputies of USSR election campaign. These steps of the Women's Council might be considered as entering into the higher political level: we started to collaborate with the Central Election Committee, with the newspaper "Moscow News". Activities of the Women's Council obtained political nuances: at our proposal the newspaper "Moscow News" published articles about participation of public organizations in the election campaigns.
Working experience in the state power structures
In 1990 I was elected a Deputy and after a time I became Presidium Member of the City Council. In that way, I had occasion to be a participant and a witness of the formation of the Russian politics on the local level. I gained great personal experience, what "voting" means and how it was possible to "promote" or to "obstruct" this or other question and more else. After taking leading positions in the state power structures even on the local level I understood very clearly: whatever good decisions we would take, we take them not for ourselves but for somebody. And decisions will be observed only than when you personally take this decision. In that way it happened that we made decisions but did not realized them. In that time (do you remember end of 80s - beginning of 90-s), people's attitude to life was purely consuming: it was a society without social organizations, without citizen's structures. Council made decisions but the population and state structures did not fulfill them. Both City Council and the State Duma took many very good decisions but nobody fulfilled them. A striking example for this fact - decisions aimed at women's status improvement made in 1995 have not been fulfilled yet. And than I understood that until we do not have strong public organizations everything I want to achieve will never be realized. In that way, my activities converted from the state sector to the public sector.
Experience of public activities
We founded the first public organization as early as in 1990 in Zhukovskiy. We even received a grant for an informational and educational project for women under conditions of the society's transformation - we conducted a number of educational seminars.
In 1995, we established the Informational Center of the Independent Women's Forum, which fulfilled 19 projects since that time. Besides informational, educational and publishing activities, we have a program aimed at stimulations of women's participation in the city politics. I think that a woman is introducing the new experience of responsibility for all that is surrounding her - that means politics and power as I see it. Power is not force but responsibility: when you undertake some obligations towards life order.
When you start to be engaged in the city politics, you understand that cleaning up the territory is a political problem, breast-feeding or artificial feeding - these are political and economical problems. When a woman is passive concerning politics than she becomes an object of someone else's political decisions and an object of political manipulations. When she wants to become a subject, she will enter the decision-making level. However, she must want it by herself. In Russia this can happen only when women will understand, that everything that is happening around them and everything that is happening with them - all this is their personal business, care and responsibility.
A decision should be taken jointly - by a public organization, which would fulfill it and by the structure which has legislative right to take such a decision or a low. Only than public organization can consciously realize this decision. For example, someone proposes you to realize a certain project. You agree and even sign an agreement, but you do not know how to realize it - it was not you who developed it. A situation like that is traditional for Russia: for many years we lived under conditions of planned economy, which provided standards for every case (number of hospitals, schools, shops etc.). Any problem produced a standard ready-for-use decision. However, in the situation when everything depended only on you (let us take getting building materials or collecting a collective etc.) the approach was quite different.
About partnership and solidarity of women
From my first project and until now - all our projects were and are partner projects between public organizations. At the realization of the last two projects, when we entered into the sphere of city politics, we collaborated with city authorities - of cities of Saratov, Nizhniy Novgorod, towns of Karelia. The scheme was as follows: a public organization, which is working in the city builds a bridge of partnership to city authorities and we are collaborating with them as coordinating organization of the project in whole. The name of the project is "City politics and women's status". In the frames of the project, we are collaborating not only with women's organizations but also City Councils and we should admit that women are leaders there.
I am for women's solidarity and I think that solidarity is necessary and possible. We as Informational Center are uniting with the organizations, which collaborate with us. Solidarity and partnership allowed bringing regional organizations to the new level of activities.
My understanding of "women's leadership"
What do we have in mind when we say "Woman leader"? If we want a serious discussion on this subject, we should understand in what space she is a leader. In many families women play leading roles: they are responsible for financial and household issues. If we consider another structure, let us take as example an enterprise - it might be build basing on other principle - hierarchy and power. I think that woman will not wish to be leader there because the structure itself does not make her inclined to be a leader. Certainly, very much depends on the character. Therefore, we are talking about development of other type of relations, not hierarchical but partner relations. Exactly there women can be different type of a leader. I think, that women do not enter into politics right now, but into traditional power structures. Many women do not want to enter into this competitive struggle, to take part in different PR-campaigns. Many of them do not have a sufficient strength reserve to stand the election race. Recently one ecologist said that our ecologists are mostly "against-ecologists" but there are only few "ecologists-for". "Ecologists-against" fight for their rights. On the contrary, "ecologists-for" popularize "ecological" life and live in accordance with this principle themselves. The same situation is among women: if a women's group consists of "women-for" but not of "women-against" than all the women will be leaders there. Very often women are playing the role of an organizer and non-formal leader of an initiative. But very often happens that after concluding the preliminary process a man comes and displaces her: "When money is granted and all the formalities are observed etc. - than I become a leader". And than woman gives her place up because she does not want to fight.
Notice: women are equally participating in all the liberation processes and reforms - but when division of power begins, which is connected with the property division - women step aside - they do not want to struggle. This power does not deserve fighting for it! We should create other structures and spaces for our own leadership.
Public organizations themselves create other structure, relations and principles. Moreover, we should notice that the capacity of a small public organization comparing with an analogical institute where hundreds of people are working is much higher.
Why do women vote for men now?
Our women do not have political experience yet. Woman cannot take an independent decision yet. In 1993, we conducted a questioning to clarify the voting motivation of women. We received following answers: "I vote like my husband does", "I vote as I was told to do". In that way the history developed that Russian women did not have political experience. The more public organizations women will establish the more experience they will gain.
Women in Russia do not have enough public experience. Western women are more experienced in public appearance unlike we are. Public sphere is very weak developed here. I do not agree with the statements that women are more emotional both in life and by decision-making. The attitude of the society is so, that in case woman dares to say something annoying from the tribune - everybody will remember it, and if a man says a nonsense - very often it goes unnoticed.
"Woman President" today? According to survey of the magazine "Profile" (15-16/2000) 56% would vote for a woman President
I would vote "against". Very little depends on the President. Everything depends on the citizens. When citizens will change, President will change as well. And this 56% just agreed. Moreover, irresponsible agreed. They do not put anything in this decision; they just emotionally believe that a woman can be a President. That is good, but it does not change anything. Today I would not vote "for", because I do not want to discredit women in the power structures. In case it happens, the status of women will change for worse. The society expects too much from the power structures. We should expect much from ourselves and to take more responsibility upon ourselves.
It is the time right now to talk about a woman President and to make the society be ready for it. An example of a woman in politics for me is Mary Robinson - UN Commissar on human rights, ex-President of Island. She was always advocating human rights.
Contemporary women's movement in Russia
I think that women's movement has a big importance. There are not many functioning women's organizations, but they succeed in changing of the society's attitude towards women's issues. They say that social programs for support of women are needed. It turned out that we spoke simple and popular. We should realize that women's movement in Russia has its own great experience, which began from the women's philanthropy organizations and movement in support of women's rights. Now we shall make next step. Which one? One organization cannot develop it only all of us - partnership - can do it. When representatives from other organizations come to us - we tell them everything about our activities. Openness and accessibility of our organization are sometimes surprising regional organizations. However, we think that the more informed people will be the more we can do.
Personal - is political. This is idea of Western feminists and now this is my position as well, to which I came through my personal experience. This statement does not pretend to be a new definition of the politics but makes it more dynamic. Women's movement as nothing else preserves its values, ideas and moves forward.