Women's rights in the Soviet Union

Women's rights in the Soviet Union

History of the Soviet Union

Women's rights in the Soviet Union
During the Great Patriotic War, hundreds of thousands of Soviet women fought at the front against Nazi Germany on equal terms with men. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1917 Dec 1

Women's rights in the Soviet Union


The Constitution of the USSR guaranteed equality for women - "Women in the USSR are accorded equal rights with men in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social, and political life." (Article 122).

The Russian Revolution of 1917 established legal equality of women and men. Lenin saw women as a force of labor that had previously been untapped; he encouraged women to participate in the communist revolution. He stated: "Petty housework crushes, strangles, stultifies and degrades woman], chains her to the kitchen and to the nursery, and wastes her labor on barbarously unproductive, petty, nerve-racking, stultifying and crushing drudgery." Bolshevik doctrine aimed to free women economically from men, and this meant allowing women to enter the workforce. The number of women who entered the workforce rose from 423,200 in 1923 to 885,000 in 1930.

To achieve this increase of women in the workforce, the new communist government issued the first Family Code in October 1918. This code separated marriage from the church, allowed a couple to choose a surname, gave illegitimate children the same rights as legitimate children, gave rights to maternal entitlements, health and safety protections at work, and provided women with the right to a divorce on extended grounds. In 1920 the Soviet government legalized abortion. In 1922 marital rape was made illegal in the Soviet Union. Labor laws also assisted women. Women were given equal rights in regard to insurance in case of illness, eight-week paid maternity-leave, and a minimum wage standard that was set for both men and women. Both sexes were also afforded paid holiday-leave. The Soviet government enacted these measures in order to produce a quality labor-force from both of the sexes. While the reality was that not all women were granted these rights, they established a pivot from the traditional systems of the Russian imperialist past.

To oversee this code and women's freedoms, the All-Russian Communist Party (bolsheviks) set up a specialist women's department, the Zhenotdel in 1919. The department produced propaganda encouraging more women to become a part of the urban population and of the communist revolutionary party. The 1920s saw changes in the urban centers of family policy, sexuality, and women's political activism. The creation of the "new soviet woman", who would be self-sacrificing and dedicated to the revolutionary cause, paved the way for the expectation of women to come. In 1925, with the number of divorces increasing, the Zhenotdel created the second family plan, proposing a common-law marriage for couples that were living together. However, a year later, the government passed a marriage law as a reaction to the de facto marriages that were causing inequality for women. As a result of the policy implementation of the New Economic Policy (NEP) of 1921–1928, if a man left his de facto wife, she was left unable to secure assistance. Men had no legal ties and as such, if a woman got pregnant, he would be able to leave, and not be legally responsible to assist the woman or child; this led to an increase in the number of homeless children. Because a de facto wife enjoyed no rights, the government sought to resolve this through the 1926 marriage law, granting registered and unregistered marriages equal rights and emphasized the obligations that came with marriage. The Bolsheviks also established "women's soviets" to cater for and support women.

In 1930 the Zhenotdel disbanded, as the government claimed that their work was completed. Women began to enter the Soviet workforce on a scale never seen before. However, in the mid-1930s there was a return to more traditional and conservative values in many areas of social and family policy. Women became the heroines of the home and made sacrifices for their husbands and were to create a positive life at home that would "increase productivity and improve quality of work". The 1940s continued the traditional ideology - the nuclear family was the driving force of the time. Women held the social responsibility of motherhood that could not be ignored.

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