Women Of Russia: Brokers Of Power

Women of Russia is the first ever all-female party in Russia. Self-declared centrists, the Women of Russia reject "radical Western feminism" in favor of policies advocating the "rights and freedoms of all humankind."

Formed in 1993 from the Union of Russian Women, the Association of Business Women and the Russian Navy Women's Association, the party's origins are firmly rooted in the Communist Party of old. Most of the leaders were Communist Party members and prominent Soviet officials.

To the surprise of many political commentators, they won 8.1 percent of the seats in the State Duma in the 1993 elections and seem to be strengthening. A recent poll gave them 11 percent, running second to the Communists in the popularity stakes.

In the current Duma the Women of Russia faction have generally voted conservatively, but have also acted as brokers and have on a number of occasions cast decisive swing votes.

One of their main aims is to include more women in the political decision-making process. They believe that an increase in the numbers of women in the political sphere will lead to a more balanced approach toward policy-making, the results of which will better reflect the demands of the Russian population as a whole.

But it is more likely their emphasis on wide-ranging welfare support that makes them a popular choice. Prioritizing family concerns and education, they have filled a gap in the political market.

They want to enable women to have the economic freedom and choice to work either in the home or in the labor market by providing adequate benefits for both mothers and children.

Seeing children as the "carriers of democracy," they support free education for all. Favoring government grants for students, postgraduates and researchers, they oppose the increasing privatization of educational institutions.

They support both the minimum wage passed by the State Duma on May 11 this year and higher unemployment benefits, and pledge to fulfill the employment law that aims to curb the growth of unemployment and facilitate job searching.

When it comes to funding their welfare policies, however, their arguments become a little unclear. Their aim is to have a market economy which is "highly effective and socially oriented." They criticized the budgets of 1994 and 1995 because of a lack of welfare provision.

They fail, however, to define the mechanisms by which the economy will be able to accommodate such a huge welfare sector.

Women of Russia

Presidential Candidate: none

Top three on party list: Alevtina Fedulova, former head of the Soviet Women's Committee; Yekaterina Lakhova, party chairwoman; Galina Klimantova, chairwoman of the State Duma Committee for Women, Children and Young People

Position on privatization: Not in the social sphere; current privatization is out of control

General label: center-left

Position on expansion of Russia's borders: undeclared

Financial backing: uncertain

MT election forecast: 10 percent to 12 percent