Towards ‘More Active Inclusion of Women in the Building of Socialist Society’ –

In document Changing cultural discourses about intimate life: the demands and actions of women’s movements and other movements for gender and sexual equality and change (Page 30-39)

Part I The Women’s Movement in Bulgaria

1.2. Organised Women during Socialism

1.2.2. Towards ‘More Active Inclusion of Women in the Building of Socialist Society’ –


As it was already mentioned, the organised Bulgarian women were involved in creating the ‘new person’, which also involved creating a new ethics of intimate citizenship. This happened through a patronising and moralising discourse intervening into the intimate personal world. Organised women took onboard issues such as partnership, childbearing, and care and created around them a discourse of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ based on its task of ‘upgrading’ the morality of Bulgarian women in line with ‘proper’ socialist values. As a result the body was considered not individual but public property (Popova, 2004a) and all practices related to the body, including sexuality, reproduction, and beauty were politicised and regulated.

This moralising discourse about intimate citizenship in fact de-privatised intimacy through ‘preaching’ intervention in intimate practices. A good example of how this has happening is the so-called ‘Comrade Courts’ (Popova, 2004a; Brunnbauer, 2008). These started existing in 1961 and were meetings of local activists and members of the community to discuss intimate issues, for instance unfaithfulness, domestic violence, and alcoholism, which were presented in front of the Comrade Court by the victim. These courts had counselling purposes, but in practice they also gave ‘opportunity for legal access to the intimate life of spouses’ and had the power to decide such private matters as the breakdown of family relations (Popova, 2004a: no page, my

translation). The communist activists made significant efforts to render everyday life socialist (Brunnbauer, 2008: 46) and the state intervened in the intimate sphere by regulating sexuality and directing reproductive behaviour (Kasabova, 2004 cited in Brunnbauer, 2008).

An important event for organised women was the Plenum of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party (ЦК на БКП) held in 1968 where the party leaders decided that women needed to be encouraged to take more active role in achieving socialist targets (Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party (CC of BCP), 1968). Therefore, the period under study in this project, 1968-2008, started with a decision for policy for the greater social inclusion of organised women and for granting them more independence. It is not clear to what extent this decision was implemented in practice. A new Committee of Bulgarian Women was established (1968) that was expected to organise and represent women. However, This Committee was still within the structures of the Fatherland Front, but was believed to be a ‘unified and independent guidance of women in the country’ (CC of BCP, 1968: 2). The tasks that were assigned to this new organisation were: to coordinate and control the activities of the state authorities, research institutions, and departments in their work on women’s problems; to collaborate in research on women’s issues; to report the most important ‘issues related to women’s place and role in building of socialism’ (CC of BCP, 1968: 2); and to represent Bulgarian women on the national and international level.

The fulfilment of party decisions was the main goal of organised women during the following years. Their tasks were described by their leader Elena Lagadinova as ‘educational work among Bulgarian women to improve their political, pedagogic, and culture of every day life’ and to ‘create communist morality and discipline’ (Lagadinova, 1970: 1-2). Thus the work of the Committee focused on women’s professional problems, family and partnership relations, women’s living standards and education, and most of all on childcare (Committee of the Movement of Bulgarian Women (CMBW), 1980). This demonstrates that intimate citizenship issues were on the agenda of organised women from the beginning of this period.


The newly established Committee of Bulgarian Women made demands for better conditions for the combination of women’s family, employment and social duties. According to the report

(1970) of the Chairwoman of the organisation on the situation of Bulgarian women, they faced significant problems because of ‘women’s previous development and their function to give birth and to raise the next generation’ (Lagadinova, 1970: 3).

The discourse of organised women and the demands that were made reveal essentialist understandings of women’s role and a lack of any critical engagement with the traditional division of labour. As a result all demands during this period were addressed to the state, and they had a protectionist and welfarist tinge. There were four main areas of demands of organised women in the 1970s:

• Women’s participation in the labour force;

• Childcare and domestic duties;

• Family and partnership relations;

• Gender mainstreamning.

All these problems were seen as interrelated and the accent was put on the preoccupation of women and the lack of enough time for childcare which had negative results on the upbringing of children (Lagadinova, 1970).

In relation to the first sphere, of employment, the main concern was government plans for mechanisation of agricultural work that would affect women in a negative way. Many women working in agriculture had low qualifications and the CBW suggested the evaluation of the need of women’s labour and the re-direction of women to positions where they would be necessary, without ‘endangering’ their ability to have children (Lagadinova, 1970). The Committee requested more effort to be made to ensure gender equality through qualification and re- qualification of women; to ensure more female representatives at higher positions; and to ensure equal proportions of men and women in enterprises. Some of the demands concerning employment were related directly to women’s ‘special role’ as mothers, for example, the availability of part-time jobs; regulation of work and rest time, and ‘norms of production to be appropriate to the female organism and psyche’ (Lagadinova, 1970: 4, my translation).

An interesting area of demands that is also relevant to intimate citizenship issues is family and partner relations. The socialist regime strongly opposed traditional values and attempted to create

a new morality and new personal relationships based on equality, or the so called ‘socialist way of life’ (Brunnbauer, 2008). Organised women were closely related to the communist doctrine, they were also working towards the same goals. These transformations were expected to envelop the realms of public as well as private life. Therefore, it can be argued that organised women during socialism advocated the creation of a new ethics of intimate citizenship.

In her Report on the situation of women, Lagadinova (1970) argued that gender equality remained incompletely achieved, which in her opinion created family problems. She further suggested that there was insufficient research on family relations to understand the causes of the existing problems, but that their existence was apparent because of practices of ‘inappropriate behaviour’, such as lack of care for the family, physical and mental abuse, ‘violation of domestic duties’, ‘frivolous behaviour in marriage’, and ‘debauchery’. These problems were linked to existing ‘barriers from an old, powerful and resistant tradition, which has often manifested itself in various situations in life and contradicts the new economic and social situation of women and [also contradicts] the changes in women’s consciousness’ (Lagadinova, 1970: no page).

According to the Report, the solution to the marital problems at that time was divorce (Lagadinova, 1970). Based on these observations the Committee suggested the need to prepare young people to have a family at school, through public organisations, and through some authorities. The organisation also claimed financial and moral support for young families, for mothers with ‘extramarital children’, and for ‘morally endangered women’ (Committee of Bulgarian Women (CBW), 1973). It is not clear to what the last ‘classification’ refers but all behaviours and practices that were outside the ascribed ‘proper socialist’ behaviour triad of work- marriage and children-activism could fall into this category. Other family-related demands were for more measures that would allow the combination of employment and family duties. Interestingly, the salvation of some family problems is seen in the dual attitude towards women – to be regarded as equal partners at work and in society, as well as ‘masters’ of the family (Lagadinova, 1970).

The Committee of Bulgarian Women also insisted on moral support for families experiencing difficulties, through research, family consultations, and the development of a Programme for Strengthening of the Family. The proposed Programme was developed by a working group headed by M.Dangova and had three main strands (Lagadinova, 1970):

• Preparation of young people for marital and family life

This was to be achieved through educational programmes organised by social clubs, schools and universities, public lectures and discussions, and exhibitions.

• Support and privileges for people with families

The proposed benefits to families included: at least 60% of the usage of state holiday accommodation should be allocated to families; more housing should be made available; there should counselling for families experiencing difficulties and more support should be made available to couples after divorce. The working group also made various demands related to birth and childcare benefits. For example, demands for longer paid leave during pregnancy, breastfeeding and the caring for small children (to be extended to one year) and within this period the full salary to be given for a period of 150 days for the 1st child, the 3rd and any following children, and for 180 days for the second child. They also demanded the parental leave benefit received after that period to be raised to 35 leva and the period of unpaid maternity leave to be extended to 12 months. For mothers who had not been employed they demanded 35 leva monthly benefit for the first year of maternity leave. The group proposed also the amount of payment for working pregnant women should be calculated on the basis of their salary during the last 12 months before the pregnancy was registered. The same conditions should be given to fathers in cases where the mother is unwell, has deceased, or has employment obligations. There were demands for additional support for giving birth (30 leva per month for one year) and for higher child benefits. The proposal included suggestions that paid sick leave should correspond to the age of the child (3 months per year for children aged 5 or less; and one month after that) and there should be one year unpaid leave for parents, preferably the mother, raising chronically- diseased children. Other demands included: establishment of boarding houses for children of parents who are in a difficult situation (widows/widowers, divorced, diseased, going on long working trips); and lower prices of goods for children, including clothes, food, books and school text books.

• Increased penal responsibility

The proposal included demands for increased penal responsibility in cases of the ‘abuse of women’s trust with promises of marriage in cases of extramarital children’ and also higher penalties for the so-called ‘crimes against the family’. These crimes related to neglect of obligations towards a spouse who was not able to take care of themselves or towards children; preventing somebody from parental rights; failure to pay alimony and financial support to other close relatives. According to the Report this behaviour was evaluated as ‘eroding the foundations of the family community’.

According to the organisation the aims of these claims were to make raising children less demanding, and combining parental and professional duties easier, as well as to change public attitudes in favour of families with more than two children, and to make women financially independent from men while looking after children (Lagadinova, 1970). The last sphere of demands mentioned earlier relates to gender mainstreaming but the formulation of these demands is for more interest in women’s issues, the integration of women into decision making, and giving voice to women, for example through more print media.

Another aspect of intimate citizenship that organised women addressed (although this cannot be defined as a ‘demand’), relates to their contribution to the replacement of religious ceremonies with civil ones. The Committee saw its role as promoting the ‘mass implementation of civil rituals, and organisation of rich, meaningful and philistine-free family celebrations’ (Committee of Bulgarian Women (CBW), 1973: 5). This meant that the religious ceremonies accompanying birth, christening, marriage, and death had to be replaced by civil ceremonies. This was another aspect of the ‘new’ intimate citizenship ethics because it aimed to transform practices related to very private rituals. A review of the activities of the organisation was published in ‘Today’s Woman’ (‘Жената Днес’, March, 1975) which gave a positive evaluation of the transformation from religious to civil ceremonies. The main reason given was ‘the attention to the individual’ that civil servants offer.

Reproductive Rights and Parenting

A very significant part of the attention of organised women was focused on issues relating to care, in particular childcare, and to ‘domestic duties’. This is probably the issue that can be singled out as most important within the organised women’s activities in the late 1960s and the 1970s. There were numerous demands made by the Committee, for example demands for more efficient state provision of childcare. This was related to claims for: more childcare institutions, and their better territorial distribution; more flexible opening hours – half day, all week care including overnight, flexible care possibilities; permanent and not only seasonal childcare institutions in the rural areas; transport to and from nurseries and schools; small-group nurseries for children who cannot adapt to standard childcare provision; a contingent of women providing childcare at home; centralised preparation of food for childcare institutions; laundries at nurseries (Lagadinova, 1970; Committee of Bulgarian Women (CBW), 1973). Other demands were related to industrial production of food for babies and small children, and for more public children’s kitchens with more convenient food distribution points (Lagadinova, 1970).

The Committee also wanted more provision of services for children attending schools, for instance part-time boarding houses for pupils and full-time boarding houses for children in ‘difficult situations’ (those without parents, with divorced parents, or who were raised by single mothers); more before and after school study groups, and pre-school groups (Lagadinova, 1970). In relation to domestic duties the Committee raised many demands that were expected to improve the multi-tasking situation of women. The main requirements were for development of more services that would replace or ease domestic work. The Committee asked for: the development and modernisation of public catering establishments; production of a larger variety of ready-made meals and half-cooked food; more canteens at schools and enterprises; better network of stores, including at the workplace, and home delivery of goods. Women demanded more available services to replace housework, for example public laundries, ironing services, dry cleaning, tailoring, etc (Lagadinova, 1970; Committee of Bulgarian Women (CBW), 1973). There were even demands related to housing architecture – for better design, equipment and furnishing of housing, which would ease women’s duties. Other demands were related to the limited quantities

and varieties of clothing available at the public stores, and especially clothes for babies, teenagers, and women (Lagadinova, 1970; Committee of Bulgarian Women (CBW), 1973). Even though organised women made demands that related to various spheres of women’s lives, a central issue was the promotion of motherhood, and having more children. Thus organised women took an active part in the government’s pronatalist policy labelling ‘motherhood as the substantial condition for complete fulfilment of women’s personality’ (Committee of Bulgarian Women (CBW), 1973: 4). In this way the organised women created the idea of motherhood as a necessary and desired part of women’s identity, with no possible alternatives. At the same time domestic work was seen as the sphere that was creating gender inequalities by adding additional burdens to women, and this was the area that was in need of urgent and significant reconstruction. This brings organised Bulgarian women closer to the second wave of Western feminist movements, although the idea of the oppression of the domestic and private lives of women did not develop in Bulgaria in the 1970s and 1980s, and it is questionable if it has developed at all.

The relationship between organised Bulgarian women and the socialist government is not one in which organised women could act as a pressure group, make claims and demand these to be addressed. The interaction between organised women and the authorities was a two-sided flow of demands, where the Bulgarian Communist Party could also place demands, often in the form of assigned tasks for the organised women. Therefore, it is very difficult to assess the extent to which the demands of organised women affected state policy and the extent to which it is the other way around. Nevertheless, some of the demands were addressed within the following years, for example the working week was reduced from 6 to 5 days in 1974 (Delev et al., 1996: 474); there was attempt to solve housing problems by rapid building of housing in big cities; salaries and pensions were increased (1973-75), working mothers were given additional protection and benefits (1973); young families received additional support for raising children and privileges in securing employment and housing (1976, 1979); there was the ‘strengthening’ of marriage through limited access to divorce and abortion (1976) (Vodenicharov, 2004); measures were taken to create a ‘socialist way of life in young people, family education and work with young families’ (Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party (CC of BCP), 1978).

Some legislative changes took place in 1973 and in 1975 that can be linked to the demands of organised women, but also to the pronatalist course of state policy, for example: the period of paid and unpaid leave for looking after a child was extended; entitlements to sick leave were increased; the amount of maternity allowance and the financial support for raising a child were increased; scholarships for female students who have children were increased; and the lump sum received at childbirth was also increased. If a divorced parent was not paying support regularly the state could pay the amount, and then claim it from the debtor. Pregnant women received more protection from 'harmful working conditions’ (7 days after determination of pregnancy they had to be transferred to another position; previously 4 months pregnancy) and they could not be dismissed or made redundant (Женатаднес, June, 1975). The following changes were described by the magazine of the organization as ‘filling Bulgarian women and Bulgarian citizens with gratitude, optimism, and even stronger confidence about the future’ (Жената днес, June, 1975,

Насокитеставатдела: 20).

Women from Ethnic Minorities

The Committee included some activities aimed at women from the ethnic minoritised groups. There were attempts at raising ‘awareness and self-respect of women’ from areas with a high concentration of Turkish population (За дейността на движението, March, 1975). There was training for a ‘higher culture of customs/daily lives’, including courses on hygiene, childcare, contemporary clothing, sewing, etc. Work amongst Roma women included discussions of hygiene, professional orientation of children, overcoming of stereotypes, and integration (За дейносттанадвижението, March, 1975).

To sum up, organised women in Bulgaria during the late 1960s and 1970s saw women’s rights closely related to family rights. There were no demands to change or reconsider women’s position and role in society, but rather claims for support for women to perform their roles, and especially to be supported as mothers. In contrast to women’s movements in Western Europe and the United States during the same period, usually referred to as Second Wave Feminism, in

In document Changing cultural discourses about intimate life: the demands and actions of women’s movements and other movements for gender and sexual equality and change (Page 30-39)