Civil society and gendered citizenship in Russia


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This is work in progress, please do not cite without the permission of the author


Abstract

The paper discusses women’s political and social citizenship and the relationship between civil society and citizenship in contemporary Russia. Citizenship is approached from the perspective of human agency, which emphasises participatory notion of citizenship and illuminates how actors constantly resist, challenge and negotiate the structural constraints.

The paper suggests that in order to civil society to be a useful concept for analysis, it has to be reformulated ‘from below’. Instead of first defining its content and characteristics, one should start by asking what kind of civil society do actors produce and how is the relationship between state and individual renegotiated.

It is argued in the paper that political and social citizenship rights are very much intertwined. Social citizenship rights can be considered to create preconditions for political citizenship and through political participation one can defend and redefine those social rights. Participation to a civil society organisation is in itself an expression of political citizenship.

Women’s political participation is examined in formal and informal level. Although women’s representation in the political decision-making bodies in Russia is relatively low, there exists plenty of local, independent women’s movements. Establishing a well functioning dialogue between the formal and informal spheres of politics would promote possibilities of civil society to exert influence on decision-making and to redefine conditions for citizenship.

Civil society and gendered citizenship in Russia


Introduction

The aim of this paper is to outline some perspectives and thoughts of women’s political and social citizenship and the relationship between civil [107] society and gender in contemporary Russia. The paper is based on my currently ongoing doctoral dissertation, in which I examine how citizenship, gender and public/private division is produced and negotiated in the everyday practices and discourses of some women’s movements and women dominated professional associations in Russia. The empirical data for the research will be collected in autumn this year. In this paper I intend to present the theoretical, conceptual and methodological starting points of my research and ponder on the conditions of women’s citizenship.

Women’s political participation in the Soviet Union and in Russia has been researched quite extensively, both in Russia and abroad 1. Mezentseva, Ashwin & Bowers, Bruno 2, among others, have carefully documented women’s changing positions in the labour market. However, the interaction between social movements and social and political citizenship in post-socialist societies has not attracted much attention so far, only with few exceptions 3.

Studying of gendered practises and conditions of citizenship is, however, highly important. If half the population might be denied substantive citizenship because of gender, then gender matters to citizenship, like Sylvia Walby 4 aptly concludes. Social and political systems still tend to build on the false universalism of a white, heterosexual, healthy male as a measuring stick for full citizenship. Making visible the gendered practices that construct man as a norm for citizenship and exclude women from full citizenship is of utmost importance in order to restructure and reinterpret conditions of citizenship. [108] Further, the social transformation process in Russia has not been gender-neutral, but instead has had different consequences to men and women. For example, women’s representation in the political decision-making bodies has decreased 5 and women with higher education are more often unemployed than men 6.

Citizenship and human agency

Citizenship, a crucial and contested concept of social theory, has attracted a lively academic discussion during the last decade. It has become actual in particular as a consequence of the crisis of Western welfare states and the social transformation process in the post-socialist societies 7. Also globalisation is challenging the concept of citizenship, traditionally attached to the notion of nation-state 8.

I approach citizenship as a practice; i.e. the focus is on social and political citizenship rights. Social citizenship rights refer to welfare: social security, education and reproductive rights etc. By political citizenship I mean participation: possibilities to take part to and influence society, to form movements and to articulate interests. Like Ruth Lister 9 writes, a rounded and fruitful theorisation of citizenship has to take into account both social rights and political participation and has to analyse the relationship between the two.

In my research I take as a starting point Ruth Lister’s 10 citizenship theory, which draws a synthesis of two historical traditions of citizenship, civic republicanism and liberal paradigm, with explicit feminist approach. Lister reaches beyond these two traditions by introducing a notion of human agency, which invites us to analyse the interplay of political and social citizenship rights. Human agency is a fruitful framework for exploring citizenship because it recognises that people can be at the same time active and self- [109] actualising citizens and objects of hierarchical power structures 11, i.e. there is a constant negotiation between an actor and a structure. Citizenship is socially constructed and its limits are renegotiated and shaped in the course of political struggles 12.

I understand human agency to be also an approach ‘from below’, i.e. interested in exploring actors’ own interpretations, experiences and meanings, in contrast to macro level analyses. Michael Burawoy and Katherine Verdery 13 suggest that the social transformation process in post-Soviet societies is a complex and multidirectional process with no clear-cut relationships between the practices of the past and of the present. Everyday practises and routines and the meanings and logic given to them is something that can be best explored and explained by the ethnographic approach ‘from below’.

Discourses of citizenship

How then to conceptualise citizenship? We can identify here two discourses of citizenship. They construct on the axes of ‘rights’ and ‘duties’ respectively. They form a continuum, not a mutually exclusive dichotomy.

‘Rights discourse’ emphasises social and political citizenship rights as a condition for people to act as agents 14. It stresses the importance of citizens’ rights to welfare services and possibilities to participate to the public sphere as a member of a community (=nation-state). Here emerge also the exclusionary tendencies — rights cover and belong only to those who fulfil the defined criteria, not equally to all members of society (immigrants, ethnic minorities etc.).

‘Duties discourse’ stresses citizen’s responsibilities towards the state and society. Duties are a condition for citizenship rights. Rights are not something that are unconditionally granted, but there is a link between rights and responsibilities. A rather extreme example of linking duties and rights is the British model of «workfare» 15. For example, unemployed people are after a certain time-period obligated to perform community service and this way «earn» their benefit.
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In the Soviet Union citizenship was constructed mainly in the framework of ‘duties’. Citizenship was conceptualised as an aggregate of obligations that citizen had towards the state. This duties discourse manifested itself particularly in the labour market and industrial life: work was considered a duty of every citizen towards the communist state 16. ‘Rights discourse’ was less prominent because citizenship rights were handed down from the state and did not evolve as a result of a grassroots level struggle. The rights enshrined in the constitution, like freedom of expression or gender equality, did not genuinely materialise and hence became categories devoid of real substance.

How then is citizenship produced and defined in contemporary Russian civil society organisations? On what kind of axes citizenship is constructed, what kind of rhetorical strategies are used to legitimise it and how is gender reflected in these discourses? Is it in terms of duties or rights, or of something else? I suggest that civil society organisations are a loci of struggle for competing discourses of citizenship. There exist multiple definitions and views of citizenship, they can contradict or be complementary to each other, there can be many equally strong discourses or hegemony of one. In the absence of empirical data I cannot give answers to these questions yet. In the following I will instead sketch out some perspectives on women’s social and political citizenship in contemporary Russia, the interaction between the two and what would be the role of civil society organisations in this constellation.

Reorganising state, individual and society

Civil society organisations are expressions of political participation and collective action. They are one of the channels people use, or alternatively decide not to use, in order to reinterpret and challenge definitions of citizenship. Bryan S. Turner 17 emphasises in his citizenship theory the role of social movements for bending the boundaries of citizenship. This sphere of informal politics, however, still tends to be marginalised in political theory and in practice.

Feminist scholars have criticised civil society theories for being gender-blind. Feminist civil society analyses, like Peggy Watson’s 18 or Hilary Pilkington’s 19, [111] address the question of power relations. Watson 20 approaches civil society by defining it as a politically «curved space» by which she refers to the fact that there is no absolute space devoid of power relations called «civil society», but instead actors in any space always «bend» and construct it. Hilary Pilkington 21 notes in similar vein that civil society is not a universal public realm or uncharted territory but a gendered space which constructs gendered notion of citizenship. She asks a fundamental question in the title of her article: «Whose space is it anyway?»

When thinking about civil society in Russia we collide immediately with the very concept. The concept of civil society is so bound with classical liberal tradition and Western history and context. Can it be in any way applied to Russia, or to any non-western culture for that matter? The Russian translation »grazhdanskoe obshchestvo« does not carry much history or meaning with it. Volkov 22 writes that it has rather been an inspiring symbol than a fruitful concept for analysis.

I would not, however, dismiss the concept of civil society, but instead reformulate it ‘from below’. Instead of defining strictly its content and characteristics and then applying it as such to Russia, I would start by asking, what is the ‘Russian civil society’? What kind of civil society do the social movements produce, how is the relationship between state and individual reworked, and under which conditions and power relations? Civil society in Russia may be constructed differently from the West, e.g. kinship and social networks seem to play more important role than in the West 23. But that does not make it ‘any less civil society’, as the (Western) liberal civil society can be considered only one of many possible versions of civil society, like Peggy Watson 24 notes.

The question of citizenship is linked to the interaction between the private and the public spheres. The public/private division is a shifting political [112] construction, which is constantly under renegotiation and reflects the power relations of different social groups 25. The public and the private are defined and constructed in relation to each other. Public/private division is far from being clear-cut, but can rather be considered a continuum. The classical citizenship and political theory, however, constructs on the rigid separation of the spheres and tends to idealise the public arena and undervalue the private. This has been criticised by many feminist scholars 26. Nira Yuval-Davis 27 calls for a theory of citizenship that dismantles the identification of the private with the family domain and the political with the public domain and instead constructs citizenship as a multi-tier concept and cuts it off from an exclusive relation to the state.

Activities of civil society organisations illustrate how public and private intersect. For example, many organisations start on the basis of friendship and personal networks. Organisation may work at someone’s home and all family members may be involved in the work. Local activism, for example neighbourhood groups, is not private in the sense of belonging (solely) to the family domain, but it is not often considered to be political participation, either. Civic activism is, however, considered an expression of political citizenship, when approached from the human agency perspective. For example a neighbourhood community, cherishing cultural traditions or providing services for the community members, is one expression of collective action. So it is not clear-cut when activity is private and exactly when it turns into public. The line is blurred, activities cut across the spheres. There is not either any need for trying to draw solid lines between the public and the private.

While emphasising the participatory notion of citizenship, we have to be careful not to turn participation into an obligation. In order to participate to the public sphere one need to have necessary resources, which are by no means equally shared or to which people do not have equal access. One gendered resource is for example time. As a consequence of sexual division of labour in the family, women often experience lack of time, which effectively curbs down their possibilities to act as citizens. Ruth Lister 28 notes that citizenship as an obligation together with the idealisation of collective political [113] activity «runs the danger of casting out from the body of citizens all those unable or unwilling to match up its demanding requirements and creating another source of guilt for already overburdened women». This account applies very well to the women’s experiences in the Soviet system. Taking part to political activities was experienced by many as a state-imposed obligation, a third burden on top of a double-burden of paid work and unpaid household work.

Interaction between political and social citizenship

How do women’s social rights materialise and how are they related to political participation in contemporary Russia? It is argued that social citizenship rights increase effective exercise of civil and political rights by disadvantaged groups (e.g. women, ethnic minorities) in terms of political power and resources. Many scholars have pointed out that the interaction between the social and political citizenship has been a crucial factor in the development of women’s position as citizens in the twentieth century. Social rights have emerged in part as a reflection of the extent that women are included in their construction and formulation, and the extent of women’s political participation has become possible, among other things, because of the social rights women have achieved 29.

On the basis of these remarks we can ask two questions concerning women’s political and social citizenship in Russia:

Is women’s relatively low representation in the political institutions an indication or a sign of general decrease in women’s political participation?

How is political participation related to the materialisation of women’s social rights?

Women’s representation in political institutions has dropped markedly since the collapse of the Soviet Union 30, but it does not, however, give the full picture of women’s political activism in Russia. The big number of women’s organisations, which one can easily discover for example by going to Women’s online in the Internet 31, and by the multiplicity of their agendas [114] and fields of interest, would suggest that women’s political participation is lively and active. This argument is also supported by empirical studies 32.

Thereby I would argue that women’s political participation, instead of having decreased, has become qualitatively different. Instead of formal politics, women can participate to civil society organisations and pursue their goals through them. If we explore political participation from human agency perspective, we have to extend political participation to include also social movements and local activism (i.e. civil society) instead of only formal politics (parties, parliaments etc.). This is important from the point of view of women, because they often participate more actively in the local community level than in the formal political sphere 33. If this civil society activism is not taken into account and accepted as a form of political participation, women’s political citizenship is essentially disregarded and silenced. In large countries, like also in Russia, the most important locus for citizens’ activism seems to be the local level 34.

This is not to say, however, that women’s representation in the upper echelons of political decision-making does not play a role. At the moment only 8% of the members of the Duma are women 35. Women’s underrepresentation in the sphere of official politics is a problem, because the perspective for legislation and policy becomes narrow and thin, if women (and other disadvantaged groups for that matter) are not represented. Bringing women to the arena of formal politics is important in order to reinterpret and challenge the definitions and conditions of citizenship. Excluding women from the decision-making process means also wasting a huge amount of talent and skills 36.

One way of defending women’s citizenship rights more effectively would be to establish a functioning link between informal and formal politics. Women’s movements should be able to effectively lobby women’s rights and exert influence to political decision-making. There are some positive examples of this kind of activity. Sperling 37 describes in her book that in Chebokshary, Council of Women lobbied successfully the Chuvash State Council to reduce [115] the price of childcare at state owned kindergartens and the Council of Women was also consulted in connection to planned changes to welfare benefits.

Social rights have become uncertain and threatened in the course of social transformation and pressing economic problems. Instead of curling up to themselves or getting paralysed in front of these problems, women have, however, been active agents and participated to the public sphere in order to promote their social rights. And this is hardly surprising, because women cannot afford to be victims or only objects of change. In order to survive they have to be proactive and utilise all the personal powers and networks they possess. According to Valerie Sperling 38, many contemporary women’s organisations in Russia were established as women’s status in the labour market deteriorated. Due to the privatisation of former state enterprises, social services, previously provided by the work place, are nowadays rapidly disappearing. Civil society organisations have started to patch up the situation by performing some of those tasks that used to be taken care of by the state. They provide professional re-education, help to find new jobs and offer psychological, legal and social worker’s consultation. The weak and not yet established social protection system is one crucial dimension involved in the redefining the relationship between the public and the private and shaping the conditions of citizenship.

Uncertainty of livelihood has become a crucial issue in people’s everyday lives. Anna Rotkirch 39 has talked about monetarisation of family life, which means that earning one’s living has become a key issue organising everyday life. Hence the question of economic rights has become more and more important. Sylvia Walby 40 writes that much of the writing on women and social citizenship has concentrated on women’s welfare needs instead of addressing women’s social and economic contributions. Social transformation process in Russia has had an adverse effect on women’s chances and positions in the labour market. Women’s full participation in paid work, or their full economic citizenship, is however a contributor to a country’s economic success 41. This argument further stresses the importance of creating equal chances for women to participate to the public sphere, i.e. labour market and politics.

Conclusion


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In this paper I have analysed the relationship between civil society and citizenship. I suggest that in order to ‘civil society’ to be a fruitful concept for analysis, it has to be reformulated ‘from below’, by asking what kind of civil society do the various discourses and practices of social movements produce. Civil society organisations, being a sphere in between and (at least some degree) independent of state and economy, offer a good case for tracking down how the state-individual relations are renegotiated and reorganised. They are also a good case to study how the public and the private spheres restructure and intersect. This space where public and private encounter provides new models for active citizenship and contributes to a more pluralist framework of citizenship 42.

Civil society organisations offer resources, opportunities and tools for women to participate to the public sphere and to act as citizens. Civic activity can also involve an emancipatory dimension: it can offer a space for women to question, resist and challenge the conditions of citizenship and existing ways of organising social relations. Hence it can contribute to the expanding of the boundaries of citizenship. It is, however, obvious that not only civil society organisations can be defenders and promotors of social and political rights, but there needs to be an effective dialogue and co-operation with the state institutions. Developing well functioning relations between informal and formal politics is important in order to civil society to exert influence on decision-making.

Political and social citizenship rights are very much intertwined. Social rights — health, education, social security — can be seen to create and promote possibilities for political citizenship and through political participation one can defend and redefine those social rights. Participation to a civil society organisation is in itself an expression of political citizenship. Social movements are hence an important condition for citizenship. This relationship between political participation and social rights is, however, a complex one and requires a thorough empirical analysis.

Footnotes


[*] See e.g.: Buckley M. Women and Ideology in the Soviet Union. Hertfordshire,1989; Konstantinova V. Women’s Political Coalitions in Russia 1990-1994 // Women’s Voices in Russia today. Aldershot,1996; Racioppi L., O’Sullivan K. Women’s Activism in Contemporary Russia. Philadelphia, 1997; Sperling V. Organising Women in Contemporary Russia. Engendering Transition. Cambridge, 1999.
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[*] Mezentseva Y. What does the future hold? (Some thoughts on the prospects for women’s employment) // Women in Russia. A new Era in Russian Feminism. London,1994; Ashwin S., Bowers E. Do Russian Women want to work? // Post-Soviet Women: from the Baltic to Central Asia. Cambridge, 1997; Bruno M. Employment Strategies and the Formation of the New Identities in the Service Sector in Moscow // Gender, Generation and Identity in Contemporary Russia. London,1996; Bruno M. Women and the Culture of Entrepreneurship // Post-Soviet Women: from the Baltic to Central Asia. Cambridge,1997.
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[*] Einhorn B. Cinderella goes to market. Citizenship, Gender and Women’s Movements in East Central Europe. London,1993.
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[*] Walby S. Gender Transformations. London, 1997. P.178.
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[*] Konstantinova V. Women’s Political Coalitions in Russia 1990-1994. P.235-249.
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[*] Zhenshchiny i Muzhchiny Rossii. 2000. Goskomstat Rossii. Moskva.
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[*] Offe C. Modernity and the state. Cambridge, 1996; van Steenbergen B. The Condition of Citizenship: An Introduction // The Condition of Citizenship. London, 1994; Adriaansens H. Citizenship, Work and Welfare // The Condition of citizenship. London, 1994.
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[*] Giddens A. The Consequences of Modernity. Stanford,1990. P.16; Lister R. Citizenship. Feminist Perspectives. Basingstoke,1997. P.3-4.
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[*] Lister R. Citizenship. Feminist Perspectives. P.23-33.
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[*] Lister R. Citizenship. Feminist Perspectives; Lister R. Citizenship: Towards a feminist synthesis // Feminist review. №57, Autumn,1997.
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[*] Giddens A. The Consequences of Modernity; Lister R. Citizenship. Feminist Perspectives. P.23-33.
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[*] Lister R. Citizenship. Feminist Perspectives. P.119-122; Turner B.S. Outline of a Theory of Citizenship / Sociology 24:2. 1990. Р.189-217.
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[*] Burawoy M., Verdery K. Introduction // Uncertain Transition: Ethnographies of Change in the Postsocialist World. Lanham MD, 1999. P.1-17.
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[*] See e.g.: Lister R. Citizenship: Towards a feminist synthesis // Feminist review. №57, Autumn,1997.
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[*] Lister R. Citizenship. Feminist Perspectives. Basingstoke,1997.
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[*] Avis G. The Making of the Soviet Citizen. Character Formation and Civic Training in Soviet Education. London, 1987.
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[*] Turner B.S. Outline of a Theory of Citizenship. Р.194-195.
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[*] Watson P. Civil Society and the Politics of Difference in Eastern Europe // Transitions Environments. Translation Feminisms in International Politics. New York, 1997.
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[*] Pilkington H. Whose space is it anyway? Youth, gender and civil society in the Soviet Union // Women in the face of change. The Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and China. London, 1992.
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[*] Watson P. Civil Society and the Politics of Difference in Eastern Europe. P.23-24.
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[*] Pilkington H. Whose space is it anyway? Youth, gender and civil society in the Soviet Union. P. 107-108.
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[*] Cit. in: Alapuro R. Reflections on Social Networks and Collective Action in Russia. Unpublished manuscript. 2001.
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[*] See e.g.: Heikkinen K. Ethnicity and Nationalism in Contemporary Russian Ethnography // The Fall of an Empire, the Birth of a Nation. National Identities in Russia. Aldershot,2000. P.110.
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[*] Watson P. Civil Society and the Politics of Difference in Eastern Europe. P.24.
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[*] Lister R. Citizenship: Towards a feminist synthesis. P.42.
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[*] See e.g.: Lister R. Citizenship. Feminist Perspectives. P.119-133; Walby S. Gender Transformations. P.166-179; Pateman C. The Patriarchal Welfare State // Feminism, the Public and the Private. Oxford, 1998. Р.241-276.
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[*] Yuval-Davis N. Women, Citizenship and Difference //Feminist Review. №57. Аutumn, 4-27. P.22.
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[*] Lister R. Citizenship. Feminist Perspectives. P.23-33.
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[*] See: Lister R. Citizenship. Feminist Perspectives. P.14-15; Lister R. Citizenship: Towards a feminist synthesis. P.34-35.
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[*] See e.g.: Konstantinova V. Women’s Political Coalitions in Russia 1990-1994. P.235-249; Einhorn B. Cinderella goes to market. Citizenship, Gender and Women’s Movements in East Central Europe. London,1993.
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[*] www.owl.ru
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[*] Sperling V. Organising Women in Contemporary Russia. Engendering Transition. Cambridge, 1999; Konstantinova V. Women’s Political Coalitions in Russia 1990-1994. P.235-249.
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[*] Lister R. Citizenship. Feminist Perspectives. P.22-23.
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[*] Cf. ibid. P.22-33.
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[*] Zhenshchiny i Muzhchiny Rossii. 2000.
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[*] Voet R. Feminism and Citizenship. London, 1998. P.112.
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[*] Sperling V. Organising Women in Contemporary Russia. Engendering Transition. P.135.
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[*] Sperling V. Organising Women in Contemporary Russia. Engendering Transition.
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[*] Rotkirch A. The Man Question. Loves and Lives in Late 20th Century Russia // University of Helsinki, Department of Social Policy Reports 1/2000. Helsinki, 2000. P.250.
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[*] Walby S. Gender Transformations. London, 1997. P.177.
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[*] Ibid.
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[*] Lister R. Citizenship. Feminist Perspectives. Basingstoke,1997.
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