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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union


In 1989 the Soviet Union resembled other modernized European societies in terms of divorce rates, roles men and women in marriage, and family size, structure, and function. The twin pressures of urbanization and industrialization have radically changed gender and family relations in the Soviet Union since 1917. These changes, however, were less evident among the non-Russian populations of Soviet Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Role of Women

Article 35 of the Soviet Constitution clearly states that women and men "have equal rights" and possess equal access to education and training, employment, promotions, and remuneration and to participation in social, political, and cultural activity. Women also receive special medical and workplace protection, including incentives for mothers to work outside the home and legal and material support in their role as mothers; the latter support includes 112 days of maternity leave at full pay. At the conclusion of their maternity leave, women may take up to a year of leave without pay and return to the same job if they desire. Employers may not discriminate against pregnant or nursing women by reducing their pay or dismissing them, and mothers with small children have the right to work part time.

Nevertheless, both within society in general and within the family, the position of women in 1989 was not equal to that of men. Soviet authorities have often pointed to the high percentage of women in certain fields as proof of gender equality in the country. For example, in the 1980s women constituted just over half the country's work force, four-fifths of its health workers, more than two-thirds of its physicians and economists, and three-quarters of those employed in education. The authorities neglected to add, however, that the average pay for most women in these fields was below the country's average pay. Moreover, the higher the level in a profession, the smaller the percentage of women. For instance, in 1984 women constituted 83 percent of elementary school directors but only 42 percent of secondary school directors and 38 percent of middle school directors. In the early 1980s, 46 percent of all collective farm workers were women, but they constituted only 1.9 percent of collective farm chairpersons.

Women were also underrepresented in the CPSU and its leadership. In 1983 women constituted only 27.6 percent of the membership of the party and only 4.2 percent of the Central Committee; in 1986 they were totally absent from the Politburo (see Social Composition of the Party , ch. 7).

Data as of May 1989