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East: Report Indicates Women Participating Less In Labor Market

An elderly woman begs for alms on the eve of women's day, Kyiv, March, 2006 (epa) According to a new UN report, women are working less in the postcommunist world. The United Nations Development Fund For Women (UNIFEM) released on June 14 the first extensive study of women's participation in labor markets in 16 Central and Eastern European countries and four countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States.

UNITED NATIONS, June 16, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Not only are women working less now in postcommunist societies, they're also working more in the gray economy.

The UN report says that women (as well as men) have become active participants in the growing informal economy, where many receive minimum wages in unstable jobs that offer no benefits at all.

Eva Fodor, an assistant professor at the Central European University in Budapest, is one of the report's principal consultants. Fodor tells RFE/RL that the study revealed that women were better off during the communist era.

"Women did quite well in the labor markets before 1989. The communist parties and state socialist countries placed a lot of emphasis on including women in the paid labor force. So the vast majority of working age women were working," Fodor says. "And not only were they working, but because employers were used to having female employees and they understood that women are an integral part of the labor force, the whole labor force itself was a little more friendly towards women."


Among other findings in the report -- titled "The Story Behind The Numbers" and examining the period between 1990 and 2004 -- is that on average more than 40 percent of the women in the 20 countries examined are long-term unemployed. And women are increasingly crowded in less prestigious, underpaid public-sector jobs.

And women, on average, the report says, are better educated than men but are paid significantly less no matter what sector or occupation they work in.

Men and women working together at the Azerbaijan Agricultural Academy in Baku (courtesy photo)

Asya Varbanova is the report's coordinator. She says that a significant share of the female population has not been examined. Those women are not on the labor-market radar as they are either unemployed, on maternity leave, or housewives. Age is also a factor.

"There are big differences between women and men from different age groups and if you look, for example at the economic activity for labor-market participation, for older women the picture is one and for younger women the picture is different," Varbanova says. "It's interesting that younger women's rates [of employment] have fallen a lot compared to young men's rates, while for older women they have increased."

Varbanova says the report does not attempt to explain the reasons behind the changes. The data was collected using different methods, it was too complex, and in many cases was insufficient, particularly for the early transitional period.

Both Fodor and Varbanova say that there is a likelihood that this trend for less female participation in the labor force will continue. Fodor calls this process the "re-masculinization" of the workforce.