Ranks of women members were a showpiece in the sham parliaments of communist regimes. Then democracy came to Eastern Europe, and most of the women were gone.
A survey by the Inter-Parliamentary Council in Geneva found that all parliaments in the former Soviet bloc have fewer women members than before Communist parties fell from power last year.The sharpest decline was in Romania, where women made up 34 percent of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's rubber-stamp assembly. After the May elections, only 4 percent of the legislators are women.
"While, under Ceausescu, there were quotas for skirts in the parliament . . . that didn't reflect political reality," said Cristina Popescu, a feminist and editor of the newspaper Romania Libera newspaper. "Now, what you see is what you've got."
New issues may galvanize women - Poland is on the verge of outlawing abortion, legal since 1956 - but there is virtually no tradition of real power for them in either the communist system or the former opposition movements.
Strong forces are holding women back.
To them falls most of the exhausting daily grind of finding a family's food, clothing and small pleasures in shortage-plagued economies.
Social custom causes women to marry early, have children immediately and dote on them. The Roman Catholic Church, predominant in Poland and strong elsewhere, encourages a traditional family model and has considerable political influence.
Women have virtually no organizations they can use as a basis for political power.