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The socialist plan for the emancipation of women aimed to eliminate the "barbarously unproductive, petty, nerve-racking drudgery" of their lives. The subservience of women was to be ended by establishing the complete equality of the sexes before the law and by making women economically independent through employment outside the home. The legislation was easily accomplished, and Romanian women were indeed mobilized into the work force in large numbers. By 1970 some 74.9 percent of working-age women (aged 20 to 59 years) were employed outside the home. But despite the theoretical commitment of socialism to eradicating sexual inequality, working women continued to bear the burden of caring for children, home, and husband. Romanian husbands tended to regard cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping and child care as essentially female duties. Consequently women were left with the lion's share of household responsibilities and far less time to pursue educational, recreational, cultural, or social activities.
By the 1980s, illiteracy among females had long since been eliminated. Female enrollment in the primary education system was proportionate to their numbers, and a woman's access to higher education had also increased considerably. Some 44 percent of students pursuing higher education were women--up from 32.8 percent in 1945. Behind these figures, however, lurked stereotyped sex roles that were much more difficult to erase. Popularly held views continued to divide professions according to sexual suitability. Studies showed that most girls chose traditional feminine specializations, such as education and the humanities, whereas boys tended to favor technical and scientific fields. Consequently young men acquired skills and filled occupations that were held in higher regard and were better paid.
A similar fissure occurred in the industrial workplace, where patterns of sex discrimination clearly penalized women. Although opportunities abounded for those who wanted to work, women were found primarily in the ready-made clothing, textile, soap, cosmetics, and public health industries. They were also the majority in the shoe and food industries and in trade. Thus women were concentrated in light industries, whereas economic development favored heavy industry, which employed mostly men, was more modernized and automated, and paid better wages. Not only were women concentrated in branches of the economy where they labored at more arduous tasks and earned less, women were seldom employed as supervisors, even in the sectors where they dominated in numbers. Women also made up more than 60 percent of the agricultural work force, which constituted about two-thirds of the total female labor force.
This sexual division of labor was due both to discrimination and to voluntary choices on the part of women not to enter certain professions and not to seek promotions. Generally the primary factor in the decision to limit themselves was the double burden of homemaking and child rearing, which left little time for professional preparation or extra responsibilities in the workplace. In addition, men had negative attitudes toward women's careers. In a 1968 study to determine whether professional women were supported in their endeavors by their spouses, only 35 percent of the husbands interviewed valued their wives' careers more than their housework. This attitude was reinforced by labor laws designed to protect women's reproductive capacities and provide for maternal functions, which prohibited women from working in particular occupations and placed restrictions on hours and work load in general.
Although women represented some 30 percent of the PCR membership in 1980, few actually participated in political activity. Of those women serving in government, most held less powerful positions at the local level or served on women's committees attached to local trade unions, where the work was largely administrative in nature. Women were usually involved in issues of special concern to their gender, such as child care, or health and welfare matters, and rarely served on the more important state committees.
Unlike in the West, feminist groups dedicated expressly to the articulation and representation of women's interests did not exist in Romania. A national committee of prominent women headed by Ceausescu's wife, Elena, was organized to advise the government on women's issues. There were also traditional women's groups, such as social and educational associations and women's committees attached to local trade unions. These organizations served the interests of the PCR first and foremost. The PCR officially regarded feminism and an independent women's movement as divisive and unacceptable.
Clearly socialism had not resolved the conflict between the sexes, and although it provided equal access to education and employment, it did not provide equal opportunity to succeed. In that regard, Romania's experience was not very different from that of other countries, but it was ironic that such inequality between the sexes persisted in a country ideologically committed to its elimination.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress