Visions of women’s liberation, 1917-1936

At 19:00 EET (17:00 GMT / 18:00 CET) on Thursday the 18th May 2017, Memorial hosted Wendy Goldman for a discussion of visions of women’s liberation in 20th century Russia.

This discussion started in English with simultaneous interpretation into Russian before moving entirely into Russian after Wendy Goldman’s opening speech. While the event has now been concluded, you can watch the whole discussion via the video on this page.

Topic / Speaker / Location / Video

About the discussion:

While there are certainly also plenty of negative associations commonly connected with the Soviet Union, one area which tends to be seen relatively positively is its early work on gender equality.

And, in a year in which women’s rights are a big topic in the Duma [1], this Memorial lecture saw Wendy Goldman look at the early emergence of progressive gender legislation and its legacy in the Soviet Union.

Did Soviet reforms succeed in changing longstanding gender views and how much of the substance of the visions of revolutionary theorists and activists remains in Russian society today?

A century on from the revolutions of 1917, Russian women typically receive only 64% [2] of the pay of their male colleagues and are unlikely to be represented at a senior level, with only 19% of the top positions in private listed companies and 26% of those in government filled by women [3].

Furthermore, while statistics suggest that women in Russia probably suffer similarly sorry levels of domestic or sexual abuse to their counterparts in the EU [4], the consequences in Russia are far worse. In the absence of sufficient state support structures [5], reports show that some 40% of all serious violent crimes occur within the family and that as many as 14,000 Russian women lose their lives to domestic violence each year [6].

How has this situation come about in a country which established some of the most progressive family codes ever seen in 1918 [7] and 1926/1927 [8] and what has the lasting influence of early Soviet gender legislation been?

In her lecture, Wendy Goldman showed how the Soviets initially moved quickly to abolish centuries of patriarchal law. Looking at the immediate aftermath of 1917, she will address how the revolutionaries promulgated family codes ahead of their time and promoted a new vision of womanhood, based on financial autonomy, sexual freedom, liberal divorce laws and social support for children.

However, Wendy Goldman also subsequently looked at the fate of these initial measures under Stalin’s regime, tracing changing government positions and shining a light upon what happened to revolutionary gender legislation going into the Second World War and beyond.

To find out more about early Soviet approaches to gender equality and their legacy, you can watch the full recording of the evening at the top of this page. Please note that Wendy Goldman’s opening speech is in English with Russian interpretation while the rest of the discussion takes place purely in Russian.


Wendy Goldman – Paul Mellon Distinguished Professor of History at the Carnegie Mellon University, specialising in the social and political history of Russia.


Memorial, 5 Karetny Ryad Street, Moscow