Social Developments in Russia -Women

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Measures to improve the position of women were mainly driven by ideological considerations and communist ideas of equality between the sexes. Some communists argue that the organisation of the communes liberated women from the drudgery of household tasks. In 1917 after the Bolsheviks took over, a series of decrees were initiated to give women more freedom: divorce was made easier and abortion was legalised. Lenin addressed a women's congress in 1918 and was cheered for suggesting that the derogatory nickname 'baba' was to be abolished. In December 1917, the law for equal pay between men and women was also passed.

However, this didn't necessarily mean that the status of women increased. The rise in divorce didn't mean women could support their children as they then received very little support from their husbands. The freedom of divorce was also meant to help women escape abusive relationships, but in reality 70% of divorces were initiated by men, often to escape wives who had become pregnant. The laws were also slow to impact or help change.

The civil war had a huge impact on the role of women. Women were made more equal less due to ideology and more because there was a need for workers. However, despite increased work opportunities, womens' lives often changed for the worse.

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> over 70,000 women fought in the Red Army but few held a high position. Politically, women were still expected to work in areas such as social care and education in the 1920s, to reflect their role as a 'nurturer'.

>Millions were recruited into factories but there were little provisions made for childcare, despite the desire of the regime to create crèches, because of the lack of resources.

>Many lost their jobs after soldiers returned from the war because they were considered unskilled.

>Traditional attitudes towards women still persisted, especially in rural areas, about their role within the workplace and the family.

>The disruption of the war and the famine led to many homeless women and an increase in the number of prostitutes, showing their desperation. In the 1920s, it was estimated that 39% of urban men used prostitutes. Under the NEP, there was widespread unemployment.

>A high proportion of women worked in agriculture, but were expected to act as a worker, wife and mother. 

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Lenin's government didn't have a consistent view on the role of the family. Lenin was quite conservative and was against the idea of 'free love' that was advocated by Alexandra Kollontai, but recognised the abuse that went on in traditional marriages and the need for reform. The creation of the Zhenotdel (1919, women's department) worked to advance women's rights.

>It established reading groups in urban centres and education schemes in factories. By 1928, around 28% university students were women.

>They improved legal rights for women, from 1919 giving them the legal right to equal pay and voting rights.

>The Soviet Union was the first country to introduce a legal right to abortion on demand. Contraception was also legalised in the 1920s.

>During the 1920s 'postcard divorce' was available, allowing men and women to end a marriage simply by sending a letter.

>Lesbianism wasn't criminalised before the revolution and the Zhenotdel worked to offer medical support to prostitutes when it was legalised.

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The 1926 Marriage Code showed that the Party believed marriage was central to Communism.

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