Conference Brings Together Women Academics From East and West


From the Civic Education Project Newsletter, Volume 1, Number 2, Summer 1995

Szeged, Hungary was the site for CEP's first conference bringing together women academics from Eastern Europe and the United States to discuss the role of women in societies in transition. Attended by over forty women from Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania, Yugoslavia, Romania, the Czech Republic, and the United States, the conference focused on common issues facing women in these countries and how they balance the demands of professional and private life. Participants included CEP lecturers, students enrolled in Civic Education Project classes and active members of local women's grassroots movements.

The conference was first proposed at CEP's summer pre-departure orientation at Yale University in 1994. At that time a number of CEP lecturers indicated an interest in organizing such a conference to begin a dialogue on the shared challenges women face in societies undergoing transition and how these challenges change across the life cycle.

The idea of the seminar grew out of the different experiences Western women - having lived in the region for one or two years - had and the comparisons they have been making constantly with their own situations and opportunities.

Although in many other areas, women find themselves in a much less advantageous situation (division of labor in the household, domestic violence, the perception of older women in the job market, the image women have of themselves as actors in the society, women involved in politics), Western women were usually shocked - at least in Hungary - when they saw all the official benefits women with children have enjoyed during the past 30 years. These benefits include three year long maternity leave paid at 75 percent of their previous income, job security during maternity leave, a free state owned day care system, the presence of several generations in the families, more or less equal salaries, and a wide range of working opportunities. Compared to their own situation, Western women in the region have benefited from a range of social advantages. Recently, the situation has begun to change, and many of these "services" and benefits are being cut. In Hungary, for example, the current government decided to cut off the free day care allowance for a significant number of families. All these economic changes will significantly affect families' and above all, women's lives.

Organizers of the conference hope to continue the dialogue in the 1995-96 program year by developing a series of cross-border seminars and workshops on some of the issues first raised at this year's conference. Anyone interested in participating in or contributing to next year's program should contact Rita Galambos, CEP's country director for Hungary.