Women in Russia
The poet Bella Akhmadulina (to the left) and Anna Netrebko
|Gender Inequality Index|
|Maternal mortality (per 100,000)||34 (2010)|
|Women in parliament||11.1% (2012)|
|Females over 25 with secondary education||93.5% (2010)|
|Women in labour force||64.8% employment rate, data from OECD, 2014 |
|Global Gender Gap Index|
|Rank||61st out of 136|
|Women in society|
Women of eighteenth-century Russia were luckier than their European counterparts in some ways; in others, the life of a Russian woman was more difficult. The eighteenth-century was a time of social and legal changes that began to affect women in a way that they had never before experienced. Peter the Great ruled Russia from 1682–1725 and in that time brought about many changes to Russian culture, altering the orthodox traditions that had been observed since the fall of the Byzantine Empire.
The three major social classes present during these reforms experienced changes in varying degrees according to their proximity to the tsar and urban settings where reforms could be more strictly enforced. Large cities underwent the westernization process more rapidly and successfully than the outlying rural villages. Noblewomen, merchant class women, and peasant (serf) women each witnessed Petrine reforms differently. For the lower classes it was not until the end of the eighteenth-century (during the time of Catherine the Great’s reign) that they began to see any changes at all.
When these reforms did begin to change women’s lives legally, they also helped to expand their abilities socially. The Petrine reforms of this century allowed for more female participation in society, when before they were merely an afterthought as wives and mothers. “The change in women’s place in Russian society can be illustrated no better than by the fact that five women ruled the empire, in their own names, for a total of seventy years.”
In the post-Soviet era, the position of women in Russian society remains at least as problematic as in previous decades. In both cases, nominal legal protections for women either have failed to address the existing conditions or have failed to supply adequate support. In the 1990s, increasing economic pressures and shrinking government programs left women with little choice but to seek employment, although most available positions were as substandard as in the Soviet period, and generally jobs of any sort were more difficult to obtain. Such conditions contribute heavily to Russia's declining birthrate and the general deterioration of the family. At the same time, feminist groups and social organizations have begun advancing the cause of women's rights in what remains a strongly traditional society.
- 1 Eighteenth-Century Russia
- 2 1850 to 1917: Feminist Reforms
- 3 Soviet era
- 4 1980s
- 5 1990s
- 6 First Russian Woman to Space
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Arguably the most important legal change that affected women’s lives was the Law of Single Inheritance instituted by Peter the Great in 1714. The law was supposed to help the tax revenue for Russia by banning the allowance of noble families to divide their land and wealth among multiple children. This law effectively ended the practice of excluding women from inheriting patrimonial estates. The Law of Single Inheritance was clarified in the decree of 1725. It sought to address the question of married daughter’ inheritance rights. The law mandated that if a man was survived by unmarried daughters, the eldest girl would inherit his estate, while the remaining sisters would divide his movable property. His married daughters would receive nothing, however, since they would have received dowries at the time they married.
In 1730 Anna Ivanova revoked the Law of Single Inheritance, as it had been a major point of contestation among the nobility since Peter first announced it in 1714. After 1731, property rights were expanded to include inheritance in land property. It also gave women greater power over the estates in that had been willed to them, or received in their wedding dowry.
Women in the nobility
In the eighteenth-century Petrine reforms and enlightenment ideas brought both welcome and unwelcome changes required of the Russian nobility and aristocratic families. Daughters in well-to-do families were raised in the terem, which was usually a separate building connected to the house by an outside passageway. The terem was used to isolate girls of marriageable age and was intended to keep them pure. These girls were raised solely on the prospect of marrying to connect their own family to another aristocratic family. Many rural and urban lower classes houses had no space to separate young women so there was no designated terem to keep them isolated. Women of lower classes had to live and work with their brothers, fathers, and husbands as well as manage all household matters along with them. Marriage customs changed gradually with the new reforms instituted by Peter the Great; average marriageable age increased, especially in the cities among the wealthier tier of people closest to the tsar and in the public eye. “By the end of the eighteenth-century, brides in cities were usually fifteen to eighteen years old, and even in villages young marriages were becoming more and more rare.” Marriage laws were a significant aspect of the Petrine reforms, but had to be corrected or clarified by later tsars because of their frequent ambiguities. In 1753, a decree was issued to assure that noble families could secure their daughter’s inheritance of land by making it a part of the dowry that she would have access to once she was married. The constant change in property rights was an important part of the Petrine reforms that women witnessed. Family as well as marriage disputes often went to the court system because of the confusion about the dowry, and the rights it was supposed to ensure, in the event of a father’s death or in disputed divorces. For women, the right to own and sell property was a new experience that only came because of Russia’s gradual westernization in the eighteenth-century.
In pre-Petrine centuries the Russian tsars had never been concerned with educating their people, neither the wealthy nor the serfs. Education reforms were a large part of Petrine westernization; however, it was not until Catherine II’s reforms that education rights applied to both men and women of each class. Education for girls occurred mainly in the home because they were focused on learning about their duties as wife and mother rather than getting an education. “The provision of formal education for women began only in 1764 and 1765, when Catherine II established first the Smolny Institute for girls of the nobility in St. Petersburg and then the Novodevichii Institute for the daughters of commoners.”
Women in the Merchant Class
Merchant class women also enjoyed newly granted freedoms to own property and manage it; with this new right upper class women gained more independence from their patriarchal restrictions. Wives of merchant class men had more independence than wives of the nobility or peasants because of the nature of their husband’s work, especially when their husbands were away from home on government service, as they were frequently and for long periods of time. The rights of married women from the nobility and merchantry to own and manage their own property offered them an opportunity to become involved in commercial and manufacturing ventures.
Women in the Peasantry
A life among the peasant class was hard whether that peasant was male or female; each led lives filled with strenuous labor. They participated in work in the fields and in the making of handicrafts. Women were expected to do domestic work such as cooking, weaving clothes, and cleaning for their families. During planting and harvest time, when help was needed in the fields, women worked with their husbands to plow, sow seeds, then collect and prepare the crops. Early in the eighteenth-century, the average age for peasant girls to marry was around twelve years old. At this time they were still learning what would be expected of them as wives and also needed their parent’s consent to marry. “The requirement of the law code of 1649 that girls not marry before the age of fifteen was rarely observed.” Various permissions for marriage were required; widows and unmarried women living on government owned property had to obtain the permission of the village assembly before they could marry anyone. Young peasant women (like other Russian women) spent far more of their child-bearing years as married women than their counterparts in Western Europe did. Childbirth was dangerous for both mother and child in the eighteenth-century but if a peasant woman was able to, she could potentially give birth, on average, to seven children. In the harsh climate of the Russian steppe, and a life of labor from an early age, perhaps half of all children would live to adulthood. “The birth of her first child, preferably a son, established her position in her husband’s household. As she continued to bear sons, her status further improved.” Russian peasant families needed help in the fields and to manage the household; not being able to hire anyone for these tasks, children were the only way to get the help they needed. Having a son ensured that the family name would continue as well as any property they might own, though as Petrine reforms came into effect, it began to be equally profitable to have a girl. However, women of any class could turn infrequently to the ecclesiastical courts to resolve their marital conflicts.
1850 to 1917: Feminist Reforms
By the mid-nineteenth century, European notions of equality were starting to take hold in Russia. In 1859 St. Petersburg University allowed women to audit its courses, but the policy was revoked just four years later. In the 1860s a feminist movement began to coalesce in St. Petersburg. It was led by Anna Filosofova, Nadezhda Stasova, and Mariia Trubnikova, who together were known as the "triumvirate." They founded organizations to help unattached women become financially self-sufficient, and in 1878 they created the Bestuzhev Courses, which for the first time gave Russia's women reliable access to higher education. By the early 1900s Russia boasted more female doctors, lawyers, and teachers than almost any country in Europe—a fact noted with admiration by many foreign visitors. However, most of these educational benefits were being reaped by urban women from the middle and upper classes. While literacy rates were slowly spreading throughout the country, educational and other opportunities for peasant women were still relatively few.
In 1910, Poliksena Shishkina-Iavein, the first female gynecologist in Russia, became president of the Russian League for Women's Rights. The League made universal women's suffrage its primary goal, and under Shishkina-Iavein's leadership the women's suffrage movement gained a great deal of popular support, both in Russia and abroad. In March 1917, the Provisional Government, which had replaced Nicholas II's autocracy, granted Russia's women the right to vote and hold political office. It was the first such reform enacted by a major political power.
In 1918 legislature was created to try to weaken marriage and the family to create a unified society focused on the country not the family. The ability to perform marriages was taken away from the church and given solely to the state. With this set of laws also came the right for either the man or woman in a married couple to pursue divorce and win. Women were still expected to perform most domestic duties and have a job as men saw it as below them to do housework or go grocery shopping. This put a great amount of stress onto the females of the household trying to balance work and chores at home.
The wives of successful engineers and factory managers created volunteer groups to try to improve working conditions in the factories where their husbands worked.
The 1977 Soviet Constitution stipulated that men and women have equal rights, and that women have equal access to education and training, employment, promotions, remuneration, and participation in social, cultural, and political activity. The Soviet government also provided women special medical and workplace protection, including incentives for mothers to work outside the home and legal and material support of their maternal role. In the 1980s, that support included 112 days of maternity leave at full pay. When that allowance ended, a woman could take as much as one year of additional leave without pay without losing her position. Employer discrimination against pregnant and nursing women was prohibited, and mothers with small children had the right to work part-time. Because of such provisions, as many as 92 percent of women were employed at least part-time, Soviet statistics showed.
Despite official ideology, in practice, most Soviet women did not enjoy the same position as men in society, or within the family. Average pay for women in all fields was below the overall national average, and the vaunted high percentage of women in various fields, especially health care, medicine, education, and economics, did not hold true in the most prestigious and high-paying areas such as the upper management of organizations in any of those fields. Women were conspicuously underrepresented in the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU); in the 1980s, they constituted less than 30 percent of party membership and less than 5 percent of the party Central Committee.
Most of the nominal state benefit programs for women continued into the post-Soviet era. However, as in the Soviet era, Russian women in the 1990s predominated in economic sectors where pay is low, and they continued to receive less pay than men for comparable positions. In 1995 men in health care earned an average of 50 percent more than women in that field, and male engineers received an average of 40 percent more than their female colleagues. Despite that, on average, women were better educated than men, women remained in the minority in senior management positions. In the later Soviet era, women's wages averaged 70 percent of men's; by 1995 the figure was 40 percent, according to the Moscow-based Center for Gender Studies. According to a 1996 report, 87 percent of employed urban Russians earning less than 100,000 rubles a month were women, and the percentage of women decreased consistently in the higher wage categories.
According to reports, women generally are the first to be fired, and they face other forms of on-the-job discrimination as well. Struggling companies often fire women to avoid paying child care benefits or granting maternity leave, as the law still requires. In 1995 women constituted an estimated 70 percent of Russia's unemployed, and as much as 90 percent in some areas.
Sociological surveys show that sexual harassment and violence against women increased at all levels of society in the 1990s. More than 13,000 rapes were reported in 1994, meaning that several times that number of that often-unreported crime probably were committed. In 1993 an estimated 14,000 women were murdered by their husbands or lovers, about twenty times the figure in the United States and several times the figure in Russia five years earlier. More than 300,000 other types of crimes, including spousal abuse, were committed against women in 1994; in 1996 the State Duma (the lower house of the Federal Assembly, Russia's parliament) drafted a law against domestic violence.
The "double burden"
Working women continue to bear the "double burden" of job and family-raising responsibilities, in which Russian husbands generally participate little (except in some rural communities). In a 1994 survey, about two-thirds of women said that the state should help families by paying one spouse enough to permit the other to stay at home. Most women also consider their role in the family more difficult than that of their husband. Such dissatisfaction is a factor in Russia's accelerating divorce rate and declining marriage rate. In 1993 the divorce rate was 4.5 per 1,000 population, compared with 4.1 ten years earlier, and the marriage rate declined from 10.5 per 1,000 population in 1983 to 7.5 in 1993. In 1992 some 17.2 percent of births were to unmarried women. According to 1994 government statistics, about 20 percent of families were run by a single parent —the mother in 94 percent of cases.
Often women with families are forced to work because of insufficient state child allowances and unemployment benefits. Economic hardship during the 1990s drove some women into prostitution. In the Soviet period, prostitution was viewed officially as a form of social deviancy that was dying out as the Soviet Union advanced toward communist policy. In the 1990s, organized crime became heavily involved in prostitution in Russia and in cities of Central and Western Europe, to which Russian women often are lured by bogus advertisements for matchmaking services or modeling agencies. According to one estimate, 10,000 women from Central Europe, including a high proportion of Russians, have been lured or forced into prostitution in Germany alone.
Independent women's organizations, a form of activity suppressed in the Soviet era, were formed in large numbers in the 1990s at the local, regional, and national levels. One such group is the Center for Gender Studies, a private research institute. The center analyzes demographic and social problems of women and acts as a link between Russian and Western feminist groups. A traveling group called Feminist Alternative offers women assertiveness training. Many local groups have emerged to engage in court actions on behalf of women, to set up rape and domestic violence awareness programs (about a dozen of which were active in 1995), and to aid women in establishing businesses. Another prominent organization is the Women's Union of Russia, which focuses on job-training programs, career counseling, and the development of entrepreneurial skills that will enable women to compete more successfully in Russia's emerging market economy. Despite the proliferation of such groups and programs, in the mid-1990s most Russians (including many women) remained contemptuous of their efforts, which many regard as a kind of Western subversion of traditional (Soviet and even pre-Soviet) social values.
The rapidly expanding private sector has offered women new employment opportunities, but many of the Soviet stereotypes remain. The most frequently offered job in new businesses is that of sekretarja (secretary/receptionist), and advertisements for such positions in private-sector companies often specify physical attractiveness as a primary requirement (a requirement that is illegal in governmental organizations). Russian law provides for as much as three years' imprisonment for sexual harassment, but the law rarely is enforced. Although the Fund for Protection from Sexual Harassment has blacklisted 300 Moscow firms where sexual harassment is known to have taken place, demands for sex and even rape still are common on-the-job occurrences.
However, in 2012 there are more than 460 occupations that Russian women are forbidden to work.
Women's higher profile in post-Soviet Russia also has extended to politics. At the national level, the most notable manifestation of women's newfound political success has been the Women of Russia party, which won 11 percent of the vote and twenty-five seats in the 1993 national parliamentary elections. Subsequently, the party became active in a number of issues, including the opposition to the military campaign in Chechnya that began in 1994. In the 1995 national parliamentary elections, the Women of Russia chose to maintain its platform unchanged, emphasizing social issues such as the protection of children and women rather than entering into a coalition with other liberal parties. As a result, the party failed to reach the 5 percent threshold of votes required for proportional representation in the new State Duma, gaining only three seats in the single-seat portion of the elections. The party considered running a candidate in the 1996 presidential election but remained outside the crowded field.
A smaller organization, the Russian Women's Party, ran as part of an unsuccessful coalition with several other splinter parties in the 1995 elections. A few women, such as Ella Pamfilova of the Republican Party, Socialist Workers' Party chief Lyudmila Vartazarova, and Valeriya Novodvorskaya, leader of the Democratic Union, have established themselves as influential political figures. Pamfilova has gained particular stature as an advocate on behalf of women and elderly people.
Soldiers' Mothers Movement
The Soldiers' Mothers Movement was formed in 1989 to expose human rights violations in the armed forces and to help youths resist the draft. The movement has gained national prominence through its opposition to the war in Chechnya. Numerous protests have been organized, and representatives have gone to the Chechen capital, Groznyy, to demand the release of Russian prisoners and locate missing soldiers. The group, which claimed 10,000 members in 1995, also has lobbied against extending the term of mandatory military service.
Women have occupied few positions of influence in the executive branch of Russia's national government. One post in the Government (cabinet), that of minister of social protection, has become a "traditional" women's position; in 1994 Ella Pamfilova was followed in that position by Lyudmila Bezlepkina, who headed the ministry until the end of President Boris Yeltsin's first term in mid-1996. Tat'yana Paramanova was acting chairman of the Russian Central Bank for one year before Yeltsin replaced her in November 1995, and Tat'yana Regent has been head of the Federal Migration Service since its inception in 1992. Prior to the 1995 elections, women held about 10 percent of the seats in parliament: fifty-seven of 450 seats in the State Duma and nine of 178 seats in the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council. The Soviet system of mandating legislative seats generally allocated about one-third of the seats in republic-level legislatures and one-half of the seats in local soviets to women, but those proportions shrank drastically with the first multiparty elections of 1990.
First Russian Woman to Space
Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova (Russian: Валенти́на Влади́мировна Терешко́ва; born 6 March 1937) is a retired Soviet cosmonaut and engineer, and the first woman to have flown in space, having been selected from more than four hundred applicants and five finalists to pilot Vostok 6 on 16 June 1963. In order to join the Cosmonaut Corps, Tereshkova was only honorarily inducted into the Soviet Air Force and thus she also became the first civilian to fly in space. During her three-day mission, she performed various tests on herself to collect data on the female body's reaction to spaceflight.
Before her recruitment as cosmonaut, Tereshkova was a textile factory assembly worker and an amateur skydiver. After the dissolution of the first group of female cosmonauts in 1969, she became a prominent member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, holding various political offices. She remained politically active following the collapse of the Soviet Union and is still revered as a heroine in post-Soviet Russia.
- Women in the Russian Revolution
- Women in the Russian and Soviet military
- Soviet women in World War II
- Gender pay gap in Russia
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- Jobs Women Can't Do
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