Position of vulnerable groups in a society was always a test for political regime democratic performance. While democratic countries are practically trying to improve the situation with human rights within their borders, countries with other regimes prefer official actions instead of practical problem resolutions. The nature of political regimes in countries of transition and communist rule dictated such approach. The topic of the present research is not human rights issue in Balkans and China but the position of women in both societies and exploration of whether their well-off condition had improved recently. In this context, the central thesis is that, irrespective of communist justification of all people in rights and access to labor opportunities, women in Balkans and China are not much well-off than they were in the past. Subsequently, they remain an underrepresented and marginalized group of societies in those countries. The present research aims to show historical conditionality and current situation of women’s position in Balkan countries and China on the basis of empirical observations, conducted by Robert Kaplan, Nicholas Khristof and Sheryl Wudunn.
Firsts of all, target countries should be compared for the historical conditionality of women’s inferior position in societies. A long history of patriarchal rule characterizes both cases of target countries. In Balkan countries, the Ottoman conquest and its predator regime contributed to the double pressure on women in the Balkan society. Their own men suppressed them and the Ottoman invaders treated as a prey. Women were becoming victims of national revolts. Raping and murders of women were ordinary things. In August, 1903, proclamation of “Khrushovo Republic” in Macedonia resulted in merciless suppression of the revolt, murder of 1,200 guerillas and rape of 150 women and girls by Turkish soldiers (Kaplan, 50). Subsequently, under conditions of elaboration movement, when survival was on the stake, women’s well-off condition was far from being minimally sustainable. In Albania, women did not even eat at the same table as men, and ate only remnants from male meal (Shanafelt, 284). They depended on their families, occupied by the national movement, and mercy of Turkish invaders. The main option for the unmarried women, or those trying to survive was prostitution to make both ends meet (Shanafelt, 285).
In China, in the beginning of the century, the situation was close to the Balkan if not even worse. Chinese society did not consider a woman to be the same living creature as a man. She had no soul, no human identity; she was just a womb to carry babies and body to perform household work. Particularly complicated was the situation of peasant young girls, whose families sold them into brothels and slavery (Zhou, 241). Just as in case of Balkan countries, marriage was a decision of parents or male relatives and depended on a bargain. The main female activity was to assist their husbands or male relatives in their profession. Subsequently, married women could not earn wealth of their own, and poor, unmarried were sold into slavery and prostitution. Under those circumstances, they had three options: to die, to find a patron or live long enough and have strength to become madam of the brothel (Kristof and Wudunn, 215). Subsequently, just as in Balkans, prostitution was the only source of profit earning for women.
The communist regime changed the overwhelming, authorized inferiority in rights in the target countries, proclaiming equality of proletariat, irrespective of gender, age and nationality. According to Kristof and Wudunn, Chinese Communist Party can be criticized for everything except for elevation of women’s status – “communism pressed relentlessly to admit women into the ranks of a human being” (209-210). Communist rule contributed to the proclamation of women equal to men in their rights for communism building through adoption of laws on economic emancipation achieved through a common participation in the process of production (Hershatter, 181). For the first time, women gained an opportunity to work and earn a profit. Marriage reform secured their ability to keep this profit to themselves, which resulted in the elimination of concubinage, child engagement, arranged marriages, polygamy and provided a wider access to divorce (Hershatter, 187). The same thing occurred in Balkans; women worked with men equally, irrespective of age and body needs. Women were everywhere in low positions, except for politics and decision-making spheres. Kaplan described this situation as follows: “Here the men sit back like the old men of Crete, talking about nationalism and hate while the women do all the work” (56). While, in Balkans, even the idea of underrepresented women in politics did not rise, in China, authorities explained the issue by a lack of female individuals who could be trained and promoted for the senior positions (Kristof and Wudunn, 219). In all target countries, within the first decade of communism-building, authorities prohibited prostitution and the sex industry services (Zhou, 253; Shanafelt, 295).
When referring to his stay in Bucharest, Kaplan gave the brightest example of well-off condition offered to women by a communist regime. The rule of Ceausescu over the country resulted in extreme deformation of the economy – creation of ninety percent of extremely poor population and ten percent of the wealthiest. Subsequently, in order to earn for living, everything was sold to those who had money – foreigners mainly. Romanian variant of female well-off condition is well seen when Kaplan was offered a prostitute four times before he had got to his room (60). He summarized the whole situation of communism and place of women in it by a single phrase: “Beneath the ice mask of Communism and violent revolution, Romania lived on, indestructible, unchanged.” (Kaplan, 61).
Overall, the conclusion of the present essay is that women’s well-off condition in China and Balkans described by Kaplan, Khristof and Wudunn is not any better than it was in the past. Although, now, there are more options for the work conduct, discrimination and marginalization of women leaves them no other choice than to become prostitutes in order to survive. It can be argued that not all women were involved in this business and that the small percentage of women could favor the new options. Indeed, this was true, but a small percentage of women, privileged court ladies also lived well in the society where peasant people were killed on a regular basis for not bowing before the emperor. Therefore, the main evidences prove the central thesis stating that, in general, women of Balkans and China did not benefit immensely from the communist regime. They had escaped from family-based oppression of feudalism to limited choice system of socialism. Their well-fair did not change significantly, only the outfit of the cage.
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