By Paul Goble
Gender equality in Russia, first proclaimed in 1917 by the Bolsheviks and not rejected in principle by the Russian Federation, remains “only on paper,” Lolla Kirillova says, with the system tilted against women in almost all areas, the product among other things of the Soviet experience of “imitating” equality rather than establishing it.
The prominent Kazan lawyer says that in many respects, the Russian Federation has continued the approach of the Soviet Union, an approach in which Moscow constantly took pride in its commitments to gender equality but did little or nothing to promote it and often effectively prevented progress (polit.ru/article/2021/03/08/zhenprava/).
After the 1917 revolution, Russian women received many rights that their counterparts in other countries did not have, something the Soviet system celebrated but did not in fact promote, in large part because Moscow expected women to work outside the home but continue to have children and take care of them with little governmental support.
The situation for women in the USSR deteriorated in the 1930s when Stalin decided that war was approaching and that the Soviet Union needed to produce as many future soldiers as possible. He banned abortions and promoted traditional values, an approach that has reappeared in Putin’s Russia.
The abortion ban did not in fact lead to an upsurge in births, Kirillova continued. Underground abortions increased in number, children with medical problems were allowed to die, and Soviet citizens given repression and economic difficulties simply chose not to try to have children.
Nonetheless, Russian propagandists continued to point to laws on the books guaranteeing Soviet women equal rights even though the government did not support them either by providing necessary services or by having the courts and other institutions intervene to protect their nominal rights, yet another pattern that continues to this day.
The legal system does little to protect women against violence in the home, against discrimination in the workplace, or against violations of their rights in other spheres, Kirillova says. Instead, courts either ignore the issue – there were only four cases in Russia total in the last four years about workplace discrimination against women – or work with companies to ensure that women don’t know their rights.
“At the present time,” she says, “any individual who encounters discrimination on the basis of gender, age or other causes does not turn to the courts of the Russian Federation.” The courts don’t respond, even though they are the only institution that even Russian law makes responsible for enforcement of gender equality.
The plenipotentiary for human rights could play such a role, and Russian officials could work toward implementing laws that even now are on the books. But neither of these is doing so at present. And the government’s National Strategy for Action in the Interests of Women for 2021 to 2022 remains more a propaganda tool than a guide to real actions.
“What then should be done?” Kirillova asks rhetorically. In her view, women and men who support them must “simply continue what they are already doing: inform the population and teach children” to have different views than their parents. Russian laws in this area aren’t that bad; they just aren’t being enforced, she concludes.