Stalin’s views towards women

In Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy, women were treated as a whole different class to men and had a specific set of ideals put upon them. But in Stalin’s Russia, there were fundamental differences in how he viewed women, as compared with Mussolini and Hitler. In fact before 1924, the Soviet government had tried to liberate women and establish gender equality as they took steps to weaken the traditional family structure which exploited women. Left-feminist Bolshevik leaders, like Alexandra Kollontai, were the frontrunners in advocating for quality, although Lenin’s views remained somewhat conservative.

Policies of the Soviet Socialist Republic toward women in the 1920s

  • Some of the earliest reforms introduced to improve the rights of women were free contraceptive advice and the legalisation of and availability of free abortion in 1920.

  • In early 1920s Russia, equal education was provided for males and females.

  • Other than this, changes were made to marriage laws. They were to be brief civil ceremonies performed in register offices, and all that was needed for divorce was for one partner to request it.

  • In 1926, a brand new Family Code reinforced earlier rights and also gave women in 'common law' marriages equal rights to those in registered marriages.

  • In Muslim regions, feudalist social structures remained, though the communists raised the minimum age of marriage to 16 and polygamy and bride money was banned. (The minimum age of marriage was previously lower, but raised to be closer to the European parts of Soviet Russia, in the West, where it was 18 years of age).

  • The communists encouraged women to oppose traditional practices and organised a mass political activity, known as Hujum or Khudzhum, which began on 8 March 1927 (Women's Day). It was a series of policies and actions initiated by Joseph Stalin to get rid of gender inequality.

The issue of population decline in the 1930s

A lot of these policies had been enacted by or under the influence of Lenin's beliefs. In the 1930s, Stalin reduced or removed some of these benefits for women.

  • In 1933, the growth of the Soviet population was in decline. In fact, by 1934, the divorce rate in Moscow was 37% and there had been almost thrice as many abortions as there were live births. Whilst the speed of population growth was 24% in 1928, rates of population growth continued to fall afterwards, until 1940. Within the 1930s, there was a growing fear of war following Hitler’s rise to power, so from 1935, Stalin began to push 'traditional' family values to increase the Soviet population. Although most elements of the 1926 Family Code remained in situ, a replacement Family Law was introduced in 1936, making divorce harder and expensive and restricting abortion to those required for medical reasons only. Moreover, to encourage bigger families and raise the birth rate, families with more children received tax cuts.

  • Medals were awarded to mothers with large families during the Second World War, and unmarried people were taxed more heavily. From 1944, marriage rights were further reduced, and only registered marriages were recognised. This would mean that children born out of wedlock were no longer allowed to inherit property from their father, and divorce became tougher and more expensive.

Despite the reduction and removal of some women’s rights throughout Stalin’s leadership, women benefited from several new welfare reforms, including free health services, workplace accident insurance, the expansion of kindergarten availability for mothers in the workforce, and paid holidays for a number of workers. Despite this, the availability of adequate housing remained a problem throughout the Soviet Union.

Women's role in employment

Traditionally, women were employed in agriculture, textiles and services, but their positions improved considerably under the Bolsheviks and especially under Stalin's rule. In fact, by 1939, one-third of all engineers and 79% of doctors were women.

Women were deliberately encouraged to play their part in Soviet Russia’s economic development. Hence, women were allowed to be employed in all industries and had similar, if not identical, rights to men. Also, state and workplace nurseries were provided to enable mothers to work outside of their house, something that was discouraged by the other dictators of the inter-war period.

In 1928, the number of women listed as workers or employees was around 2.8 million. By 1939, this figure had risen to just over 13 million. By 1933, women made up 33% of the industrial workforce, with an increase to 43% by 1940.

Despite Stalin stressing the importance of family life and having children in the 1930s, women of all ages continued to work. Although there were fewer than men, there were still many female model workers in the Stakhanovite movement, and by 1936, a quarter of all female trade unionists had exceeded their production targets.

The attitude of Stalin’s Russia to women was very different from that of the Third Reich. Nazis considered women to be inferior to men and thought they must be confined mainly to domestic concerns, whilst Communists believed in total equality between the sexes in education, employment and the legislature. Despite this, the reality was that access to higher administrative posts wasn’t equal between men and women, and patriarchy remained a widespread factor in society, with many working women retaining the role of fulfilling their household responsibilities.

Below: A Soviet World War Two Propaganda Poster Recruiting women
"Women and girls!" "Master the male professions, replace the men who went to the front!" It features a Russian Soviet Woman with sleeves rolled up in a confident pose working in an armaments factoryImage and caption from Alamy.