East-bloc women: equal pay, long hours, few promotions

This summer Ivana will take a pregnancy leave from her job as a translator at a large Czechoslovak import/export firm. For six months after the birth of her child, she will receive 90 percent of her normal salary from the government.

When this period ends, the government will give her a monthly stipend of about one quarter her normal salary for the next two years. When her child is 2 1/2 years old, Ivana will return to the same job.

By western standards, Ivana's maternity plan is extremely generous. In Czechoslovakia, the leave is a legal right.

Extended maternity leaves are just one of the programs that many East European governments have adopted to ease the plight of the working mother. Inexpensive day care and -- in some countries -- monetary awards for larger families seek both to stem a falling birthrate and to get women into an inadequate work force.

But the women of many East European countries are unhappy. "The laws have changed," one young professional female remarked, "but mentality has not."

Eastern Europe is still old world in its attitudes toward the sexes. Male comrades routinely pay for their female comrades' meals, and a kiss on the back of the hand is an accepted goodbye. More important, working women are still expected to perform all of the household tasks -- caring for children, cleaning, cooking meals, and shopping.

And in the Eastern bloc, household chores are often a particularly time-consuming business. "Services are poor and queues are long," one working mother complained. Twenty-minute waits at the butcher shop are common in Prague. In Bucharest, lines for eggs can take up to half an hour to disperse.

The Czechs say that a working woman has "two full-time jobs." One Czech woman with two teen-age sons shops at 7 a.m., works from 8 to 4, then does more shopping before going home to cook dinner.

In Bulgaria, a housing shortage has encouraged another solution: the extended family. When Mrs. Grigorov of Sofia returned to her work as an engineer after a three-year maternity leave, her mother assumed the child-minding duties.

Working women of the region report that their salaries are either "equal" or "almost equal" to salaries of male counterparts. But advancement tends to be painfully slow.

One Prague businessman asserts, "Women are not promoted easily. Men are simply better workers. The women are always so tired from doing all the housework."

Since such opinions are common, very few women have been able to advance to prominent positions in Eastern Europe.

Eastern Europe has its sexual stereotypes, too, but they are certainly not those common in the West. Roadworkers in Romania are inevitably women, and tram drivers in Bulgaria are almost exclusively females.

Medical school admissions policy at the University in Sofia provides a surprising contrast to the affirmative action programs common at US universities: Bulgarian administrators set lower requirements for men than for women. In Bulgaria (as elsewhere in Eastern Europe) females greatly outnumber males in the medical profession.

One trend is common both in Eastern Europe and in the West: More and more women are working longer and longer hours. In Czechoslovakia, an estimated 70 percent of al adult females work. And despite generous pregnancy leaves, many East-bloc women return t o work soon after childbirth.

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