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Gender Equality Through Women's Agency in state socialist Poland and Georgia

Final Report Summary - GETWA (Gender Equality Through Women's Agency in state socialist Poland and Georgia)

This projects links the state socialist conceptualizations of gender equality with current struggles for women’s rights at national, regional and supranational level proposes new conceptualization of women’s agency under the authoritarian regimes and with limited access to international networking. It employs concepts of “gender equality”, “ women’s agency”, “state feminism” and “transnational women’s movement” as the major categories for studying the development of state equality projects and the impact of state socialism on the gender regimes in Georgia between 1921-1990 and in Poland between 1945-1989. This cross national study of the state-socialist project of gender equality applied interdisciplinary research methods including oral history, institutional ethnography, textual analysis and archival work to: 1.) Destabilize existing paradigm of understanding the relationship between state socialism and post-state socialist gender relationships in terms of disruption and discontinuity, 2.) Re-conceptualize the notion of women’s agency under state socialism by recognizing socialist states as site for development of supranational women’s agenda, before Beijing Conference in 1995, 3.) Deliver more comprehensive understanding of state socialist “gender equality” by recognizing the role that local political and cultural forces, religion and nationalism played in shaping and altering state socialist project of gender equality in various locations.

The final outcome of the project is a conceptual framework able to account for the different factors that contribute to varied character of state socialist gender equality regimes within the Soviet Bloc. These include cultural traditions, pre-socialist gender systems and the ethnic differences within the researched countries. His new theoretical approach furthers our understanding of the ways in which “gender equality” is conceptualized and executed differently within various political regimes, recognizes state socialist period as an important aspect of the genealogy of gender equality and recognizes women’s agency within the state socialist regime.

The main result of the work performed is the analysis of the Polish and Georgian women’s agency during the state socialism using the interdisciplinary research methodology and delineating the major differences between the two countries, including a various intensity of implementation of “women’s equality” due to the different location within and outside of the Soviet Union, impact of the Catholic Church in Poland, and impact of lack of “lustration” after state-socialism in Georgia, on the evaluation of “equality” policies of Soviet Union and perception of the socialist period as a important step forward in the area of gender, ethnic and religious equality.

Second result of the project is reconceptualization of the notion of women’s agency under state socialism. It provides a comprehensive analysis— based in oral interviews with women’s organizations (League of Polish Women and Żeńsoviet) and party members and archival research— of a number of ways in which women have been involved in independent activities on behalf of gender equality within and beyond the structures provided by the socialist project of “state feminism” such as women’s organizations, labor unions and political parties, at the national.

Finally this project provides new conceptualizations of the global and transnational women’s movements by recognizing socialist states as site for development of supranational women’s agenda at the United Nations, before Beijing Conference in 1995 through the archival research of the United Nations and Women’s International Democratic Federation.

During the project following work has been performed to achieve the project’s objectives:
1. Collection of data on state socialist women agency including; academic literature, publications of the women’s organizations and groups in Poland and Georgia, newspaper articles and party documents
2. Development of the research questionnaire to be used in the interviews in Poland and Georgia (in Polish)
3.Interviews with women’s activists in Poland and Georgia (members of Polish Worker's Party and Communist Party, Members of League of Polish Women and Zensoviet)
4. Archival and library research in Poland, Georgia and United States (Polish New Archive Office, New York Public Librarary, United Nations, Smiths College)
5. Analysis of the forms of engagements and agency of women within the framework of women’s and gender studies
6. Delivering public lectures, participation in conferences, and academic seminars in Poland and Georgia

The project contributes to the development of a critical social movement theory on women’s agency under socialism. The project is of social importance. Concepts of women’s agency, social movements and equality s are critical for the implementation of modern “gender” politic in European Union states (Poland) and associated countries (Georgia). In particular the project is expected to influence policy making in the areas of women’s participation in politics, collaboration between government and non-governmental sectors, and possibilities of cross cultural implementation of gender mainstreaming policies in the countries of Western Europe, Central and East Europe and Caucuses. The data collected within this project makes a contribution to the comparative studies on long-term implications of state socialism on gender relations in Poland and Georgia. This research will advance the studies of state and post-state socialist gender regimes, by providing a comparative analysis of various conceptions gender equality within state socialism.

The project also broadens the definition of the European women’s movements and expands dominant understandings of the genealogies of the European gender equality discourses. It provides a comprehensive framework for understanding of the role of socialist “state feminism” in the genealogies of the European women’s movements by destabilizing the existing paradigm of understanding the relationship between state socialism and post-state socialist gender relationships in terms of disruption and discontinuity. It illuminates how locale legacies of gender equality intersected with the arrival of the global, supranational gender discourses after the fall of state-socialism.