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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Women World Apart See Eye to Eye

BATH, England - Two years in -the making, a three-day Women in Russia Conference has perhaps managed to accomplish what its predecessor failed to - address the specific needs and desires of women in Russia.

"What can we do to help you? " asked Rosalind Marsh, Professor of Russian Studies at the University of Bath to the Russian women present. These words perhaps best summed up the successful aspects of the conference.

According to Marsh, who organized the present event, a similar conference held in Dubna, Russia in January met with much less success. Marsh says fewer Western scholars participated and there was a division between many Russian women and the participating academics.

The Russian women who participated, Marsh added, seemed disillusioned, questioning what Western feminism could offer them and ultimately deciding that Western academics did not have the answers to their problems.

The conference at Bath managed to avoid much of these quagmires by focusing less on abstract notions and more on present and future concerns. While history and literature comprised a large part of the conference, action and activity were the top priorities.

Even a cursory look at the condition of women in Russia reveals an urgent need for change.

Annie Feltham, visiting from the University of Essex, gave a paper on the problems of birth control and family planning in Russia. Feltham said that in 1988 the number of abortions were so high that there was only one live birth for every six abortions.

According to Feltham, the Russian health system is set up to use abortion as a means of fertility control. Gynecologist's salaries depend on the number of abortions they perform. The effect of such a high abortion rate, Feltham concluded, is long-term physical and psychological damage.

The interdisciplinary conference covered literature, history and the social sciences, all from the perspective of women.

Participants included scholars and leading feminist activists from around the world, including America, Kiev, Finland, Germany and Britain.

Yelena Kochkina, who works at the center for gender studies in Moscow, addressed the foreign participants, "You know so much about us, we haven't such knowledge about ourselves as you have". She went on to say that the center in Moscow had a lack of Western feminist literature, containing at the most five or six books on women in Russia.

The diversity of the topics discussed ranged from the role of women in divination in eighteenth-century Russia to contemporary women poets to Russian women in business.

Reasons for being at the conference varied.

Olga Lipovskaya, a Russian feminist, said that it was a place for "friends to meet friends" and Helena Goscilo, an American academic, said that the conference was a way to maintain some kind of "continuity" in relations between Americans, Russians and other Europeans.

When asked whether there had been any changes in women's issues in Russia since January 1992, many of the participants felt there had been few positive developments. The main difference noted was that Russians were able to participate, although finances, of course, prevented many more from coming.

Lipovskaya, half-jokingly pointing out that there were only 15 feminists in Russia, said that little had changed for women in Russia because "feminism is marginalized, as it was in the USSR".

But the Russian feminists ultimately hoped that the outcome of the conference would be more understanding between Western scholars and Russians, leading to a deeper knowledge - and ability to improve - the situation of women in Russia.