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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Pledges to Improve Russian Women's Lot

President Vladimir Putin promised Wednesday to help improve the standing of Russia's long-suffering women, kicking off annual Women's Day festivities punctuated by effusive speeches praising feminine virtues.

As Moscow's streets bustled with men bearing roses on the eve of the holiday, Russian television showed Putin at a Kremlin reception feting 28 women with careers in business, industry, farming and the arts, but decrying their small numbers in top state jobs.

"Unfortunately, it must be said that we see too few women in positions of authority and in politics," Putin said.

"There is a shortage of traditional feminine qualities which would be of use -- taking the sharp edges off matters, seeking compromises. We will try to improve the situation and I personally will act decisively in that direction."

Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko, one of the few women in a senior government position, told Putin that women were up against serious difficulties in the business world.

"If a man and a woman have the same professional qualifications and business abilities, it is still the man who gets priority," she told the gathering.

The meeting was the day before International Women's Day, Mar. 8, vaunted in communist times as a festival underscoring the equality of the sexes lacking in the capitalist West.

It remains popular in Russia and many ex-Soviet states, with leaders outdoing each other in extolling the beauty, tenderness and domestic capabilities of wives, mothers and girlfriends.

In Ukraine, President Leonid Kuchma praised women's "eternal wisdom and patience, kindness and charity" as a cornerstone of the former Soviet republic's stability.

The country's best known female public figure, former Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, remained in jail on corruption charges. Her supporters pledged to bring her flowers.

In Belarus, where living standards have plunged and market reforms remain undeveloped, President Alexander Lukashenko praised the "patience characteristic only of Belarussian women".



SHOPPERS BUY UP FLOWERS

Moscow's slush-covered streets were teeming with men carrying bundles of flowers. Red roses sold for the equivalent of $5 apiece -- well above normal prices.

Shoppers jammed food stores to stock up for the traditional festive meal and jewellery and gift shops had extended hours.

The proclaimed equality of Soviet times has been generally exposed as a sham. Women were often subjected to heavy labour, confined to low paying jobs like teaching and medicine and often had little access to contraception other than abortion.

They still bear much of the brunt of post-Soviet upheaval, though some of the health and social issues have been addressed.

The head of a Russian women's rights group, Lyudmila Zavadskaya, said this week that 12,000 Russian women died each year from injuries suffered in domestic violence.

Feminism has made few inroads and is often equated, by both sexes, as the antithesis of everything attractive about women.

One of the participants in the Kremlin, publisher Maria Aksyonova, seemed to suggest that men were natural leaders.

"When everything is quiet, the she-elephant leads the herd. It is only in an emergency that the bull elephant takes over. That's what it's like in the animal world," she said.

News agencies said the holiday was marked widely for the first time in years in war-torn Chechnya.

"I will consider my duty done when I see all our mothers, wives and sisters smiling," said Akhmad Kadyrov, Moscow-appointed head of the region's civilian administration.