Women's emancipation in Russia
As five ladies living in Belgium, a country where our rights seem to us a solid achievement, we wanted to learn more about the situation of Millennial women in Moscow. Their take on the Russian society, what concerns them the most about their condition, and their emancipation.
"The only prison we can be is prison of our mind"
- Lailah Gifty Akita

Much has been written about what is popularly known as "women empowerment". The UN defines it as " women's sense of self-worth; their right to have and to determine their choices; to have access to opportunities and ressources; to have the power to control their own lives, both within and outside the home; their ability to influence the direction of social change and to create a more socially and economically fair order, nationally and internationally".

Throughout this story we are going to introduce you to women's rights history in Russia, the most prominent female figures of the country – past and present – and three young women from Moscow we met as part of our investigation.

In 2014, a Russian woman was denied employment as a train/underground driver. Simply because the job was on a list of banned occupations for women in the Russian Federation. It was 2016, the year women prevented a total ban on abortions in Poland…again. The year Haitian women led their country to recovery after Hurricane Matthew. The year Palestine announced plans to establish the National Observatory on Violence Against Women.

The "driver" story is not unique. There are 456 occupations and 38 branches of industry considered by the legislation as « too arduous, dangerous or harmful to women's health, above all their reproductive health ».

At first sight, this kind of recurring gender-based discrimination seemed to as if it reflected how the Russian state considers women. However, as soon as we met our first interviewees, we realized how wrong we were...

We met three women living in Moscow and asked them to tell us about their lives, their place in society and how they feel about being a woman in Russia. We realized that our ways of life were not so different. We have many things in common, such as our aim to be independent and strong women.
"There are problems right now with women condition, especially with everything that goes around harassment and agressive behaviour. The biggest problem is the non-responsive behavior of the police in this kind of things but you can't say that it's a purely women's problem, it's a society problem. The lack of response to agressions against women is a sign of a global problem."

"I studied the subject for my dissertation. In my opinion, because of the Soviet Union, there is not so much difference between women and men's rights, today. You can't compare it to France where women received the right to vote in 1947. Therefore, their generation before the sixties is very different from the actual one. Women did not have the right to go to the bank without their husbands. Here it happened differently, the laws had already changed in the 1920's. So, at least on paper there was equality. Many women took advantage of that and built a professional career. For example, my grandmother owned a book storage unit. It was highly influencial during the Soviet Union. Books were a currency of change. She got to travel all around the country to sell them while earning money."

Evgeniya Chassagnard
Origin: Russia, Moscou
Age: 24
Graduated in art market management in Paris and London
Kamila Kalaeva
Origin: Russia, Moscow
Age: 20
Graduated in photography
Works as an artists' assistant
Just like Eygniya, Kamila sees the state of women in Russia differently in comparison to our view.

"To be honest, I think that Russian women are more free than, for example, European women. And that may be because of the Soviet Union, when women and men could take the same jobs."

"In my case, the generation gap is definitely big. My mum had me at 40. She has a "Soviet way of thinking". She does not really understand my thing and won't make a move to do so. She has her own principles and she follows them."

"Moscow is like Europe to me. Every summer, I go to Dagestan, it's where my family comes from. It's a completely different world."
"My mother encourages me to study and to be independent. She is my role model. She helps me in the pursuit of my dreams. My sister helps me too. She lived in England for ten years and is really open-minded. I think it had an influence on me. I'm trying to be responsible for myself, so I consider myself as an independent woman."

"In Russia, in one way, the conditions for women are better, because we have more rights. On the other hand, there's a big wave of religious influence which sometimes can cause a kind of regression. Globally, I think the situation is better now. Women don't depend on their husbands, it's not that important to have children and they want to have good jobs."
Mila Golomuz
Origin : Russia, Saint-Petersbourg
Age : 22
Student in desgin

Influential women in Russia now and then
Our choices were lead by our center of interest. By how important and influent those figures were for the country and the entire world. There are numerous other profiles we wanted to introduce, however, those six women seem the most impressive and inspiring to us.
Nadezhda Krupskaya
Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya is Lenin's companion and her closest collaborator before the October Revolution. Nadezhda begins her political life by joining the circle of Marxist scholars in 1890 and starts spreading revolutionary ideas among the workers she met. She is passionate about great pedagogues and the educational system. At the time of the October Revolution, she has already written more than 40 books on education, the most important of which is "Education and Democracy". This work structures the future evolution of Marxist pedagogy. In March of that year, Krupskaya becomes deputy of the People's Commissar at the instruction. Her function allows her to rethink popular education. This way she has the opportunity to lay the foundation for an educational system which aims to the complete literacy of the Russian people. This goal will be reached in less than 20 years.
Alexandra Kollontaï
She was born in 1872 in St. Petersburg and died 80 years later in Moscow. She is a Russian communist and feminist politician. She is the first woman in contemporary history to have been a member of a government and ambassador in a foreign country (1923 in Norway, 1930 in Sweden). Finnish politicians will propose her candidacy for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946. As commissar of the people and women, Alexandra Kollontai obtains the right for women to vote and to be elected, the right to divorce by mutual consent, access to education, equal salaries, maternity leave and equal recognition between legitimate and natural children. The right to abortion is obtained in 1920 - it will be abolished in 1936 by Stalin, then again authorized after his death.
Valentina Terechkova
Born in 1937, Valentina is known for being the first woman on earth to travel to space from June 16th to June 19th 1963 on board of Vostok 6. In 1965, she joins the Soviet Women's Committee of which she became President three years later for a renewed term of office which will last for nineteen years. Thanks to her influence, the central administration facilitates the promotion of women in economic and social life. From 1966, she entered the Soviet Parliament where she sits as Deputy of the district of Yaroslavl. From 1968 onwards, she represents the Soviet Government in several international women's organizations, which leads to frequent visits abroad. In 2003 she is appointed Director of the Russian International Cooperation Center for Science and Culture in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Svetlana Gannushkina
Svetlana Gannushkina is 75 and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize after she spent years working as a veteran migrants rights activists. She founded an NGO named Civic Assistance Committee. It helped 50 000 migrants access education, judicial support and humanitarian aid. This greatly needed assistance helped them stay on russian soil and not get deported. Thanks to her work, which changed migration policies, 2 million migrants received the russian nationality. She managed to do all of this without any institutional support.
Nataliya Sindeyeva
In a wildely state controlled media sector, Nataliya Sindeyeva, launched the only opposition-leaning-independent TV channel, Dozhd. The media is known to do smart journalism. It covers lots of protests such as the one against the corrupted parliemantary elections. But this kind of coverage leads to heavy repercussions: Dozhd had to provide their different coverages to see if it abided the russian law. The media has gone through several different financial difficulties. Today the media is still luckily standing.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova
The 28 year old woman is one of the leading figures of the Pussy Riot movement. The feminist Russian punk group was created in 2011. It promotes female rights throughout prohibited artistic performances. Later on, the movement adds a new target to its list : the russian politic. They rises against the russian President and his electional campaign in 2012. Nadezhda is sentenced to 22 months in jail after a protest conducted in Moscow's Cathedral Christ the Saviour. In 2014, she starts her modeling career. However, she remains an activist at heart and got arrested while marching in favor of prisoners' rights.
"Emancipation of mind is the greatest liberty"
- Lailah Gifty Akita
Starting this investigation, we had our ideological European point of view. We were thinking that we knew all the answers and that Russia has to learn everything from us. However, through research and interviews, we had to face our own biases. Throughout generations, Russian women gained independence and equality. In many cases at a faster pace than women in Western countries. However, it is important to say that there is a difference between conditions for women in rural and urban areas. Women in cities such as Moscow seem to have access to a more "liberated" way of life. Mostly thanks to education, travels, leisures.
Meet our team
Nina Closson
Belgian student majoring in journalism
Juliette Leclercq
French student majoring in journalism
Eloïse Roulette
Belgian student majoring in journalism
Marie-Reine Iyumva
Belgian student majoring in journalism
Claire Thiry
Belgian student majoring in journalism
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