Women


Women
   Considering that it was a woman-led demonstration in 1917 that initiated the February Revolution, and given the strong support of the Bolsheviks for the economic independence of women, it is surprising how poorly most women fared under the Soviet system. After a brief period of upward mobility spearheaded by feminist leader Aleksandra Kollontai, Joseph Stalin undermined the women’s liberation movement, most notably by banning abortion and abolishing the Soviet Women’s Committee (Zhenotdel). In the 1960s, as part of de-Stalinization, the volunteer organization was reincarnated at the Constituent Assembly of Soviet Women (Zhensovet); however, it had little impact on society until the imposition of perestroika when the local chapters provided access to a food distribution network in a time of growing need brought on by the “shortage economy.” By the late Soviet period, symbolic gender equality existed (guaranteed by the 1977 Soviet constitution); however, the position of women in society was characterized by a lack of representation in decision-making positions within industry and government (e.g., no woman ever held full membership in the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union); the feminization of low-paid, low-skilled work within the economy; the double burden of working and “traditional” duties (such as housekeeping, child care, shopping); and by specific cultural traditions associated with the religious and/or ethnic minority group to which women belonged. In a blow to women’s rights, Mikhail Gorbachev commented on the difficulties of balancing work and family life in 1998 by supporting policies that would “make it possible for women to return to their purely womanly mission.” His remarks led to the introduction of the neologism domostroika (from the Russian domostroi or “domestic order”) by Western feminist academics to describe the “masculinization” (maskulinizatsiia) of Russian society and the promotion of traditional notions of hearth and family where the woman assumed her “rightful place.”
   Under glasnost, a number of social problems affecting women were pushed into the spotlight including sexual harassment and HIV/ AIDS; however, many subjects, such as lesbianism, remained taboo. By the end of the 1980s, parliamentary quotas for women were reduced, further depleting the power of women in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), though feminist leaders such as Anastasiya Posadskaya-Vanderbeck played an important role in the political activities that weakened the hold of the Communist Party on society. In 1991 and 1992, feminists held two Independent Women’s Forums in Dubna, a university town outside Moscow, laying the groundwork for a sociopolitical movement in independent Russia.
   Despite modest support for the “Women of Russia” movement and the Women’s Union of Russia in the 1990s, political identity based on gender faltered among Russian women. Patriarchal traditions returned with a vengeance with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, particularly due to the rising power of the Russian Orthodox Church and a resurgence of Islam in Russia’s traditionally Muslim regions such as Chechnya. The deepening and spread of social problems such as alcoholism, poor health care, and domestic violence negatively impacted women during this period. Rape, comparatively rare in Soviet times, increased dramatically after 1991. Trafficking in women for sex work in Western Europe also emerged as an acute social problem. The introduction of capitalism in the Yeltsin era served to further denigrate the social position of women due to changes in the workforce that favored men, resulting in disproportionately high levels of unemployment and poverty among women. Rather than harmonizing with the more progressive states of northern Europe, post-Soviet Russia witnessed retrogression in terms of gender equality, a trend made worse by the spread of pornography and the increasing objectification of the female body in popular media. Yeltsin gave few women positions of power in his cabinet; those he did appoint, such as Galina Starovoytova and Ella Pamfilova, enjoyed little influence. Yeltsin’s daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, wielded substantial power, though informally and solely based on her familial connections. Under Vladimir Putin, the issue of women’s rights received almost no attention, though the former president once blithely stated that “women should have one unquestionable privilege: the right to be protected by men.” In the 2000s, the most high-profile Russian women were the governor of St. Petersburg, Valentina Matviyenko, and the opposition politician Irina Hakamada.
   See also Arbatova, Mariya; Feminism; Homosexuality; Karelova, Galina; Matviyenko, Valentina; Yasina, Irina.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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