It is an improvement even that Gorbachev has permitted the media to acknowledge that conditions for the country's women are not perfect.
Only a decade ago, an official pamphlet titled "The Soviet Woman" proclaimed that the country's women were all thrilled to be workers, mothers and homemakers rolled into one.
'Broader World Outlook'
"A working woman has a broader world outlook; she is more energetic and self-disciplined, and therefore always finds time to help her children and is able to give them good advice," said the pamphlet published by the Novosti Press Agency.
Today, officials concede that it just isn't so.
According to a poll conducted by leading sociologist Tatyana Zaslavskaya, working mothers spend an average of just five minutes a day taking care of their children at home. While mothers work, children are cared for in state-owned day care centers.
Zaslavskaya took her figures straight to the Communist Party at a special national conference last summer and said women's inability to find time to spend with their children was contributing directly to a rise in juvenile delinquency.
"A woman today feels guilty from all sides," Olga Voronin of the Soviet Union's Academy of Sciences wrote recently in the party newspaper Soviet Culture.
Feelings of Guilt
"She feels guilty before the state because she has a family and does not work to the full of her abilities. She also feels guilty because she works and does not give her family as much attention as necessary."
The conflict has made the Soviet woman feel constantly pressured or "even on the verge of a nervous breakdown. This is very dangerous, not only for our present but also for our future," Voronin wrote.
Many women hope that the election of candidates to the Congress of People's Deputies will give them a chance to press their demands for better conditions.
"This problem must be solved for future Soviet women, and it is up to our elected officials to do something about it. It is something I will be thinking about when I vote," said Tamara Grebenel, 63, a retired textile worker, who was reading candidates' biographies posted on an outdoor bulletin board in her central Moscow neighborhood.
But even if the winning candidates have good intentions, solutions for women do not appear imminent.
Serious Hurdle for Women
For example, women who want to work fewer hours or stay at home altogether face a serious hurdle even if such legislation is introduced. They make up about 53% of the work force and are needed in Soviet factories. Their incomes also have become crucial to most Soviet families.
On top of that, Gorbachev's attempt to reform the economic system requires increasing production, which makes it difficult to grant women fewer hours in the workplace.
Candidate Ikharlov recognizes the conflict in goals but is cautious in her response when asked how it can be resolved. A Communist Party member for 30 years, she has learned not to question and to be careful in her criticism.
"Our women understand that it is necessary to double the output of textiles," she said. "And party discipline is something I have understood well all my life. It will be difficult to resolve.
"But," she added, "it is time to say we have lived wrongly. It is time to start a new life for women and support it by material values."