Women and the Russian Revolution

Communism stressed the inherent equality of the sexes and was a liberating ideology for women who participated in the revolution and civil war. Reforms in literacy and education also promoted greater opportunities for women. Read this article to explore how the Russian Revolution affected the role of women in Russian society.

What was Life Like for Women Before the Russian Revolution?

The life experiences of women in the Russian Empire before the Revolution were extremely diverse. While wealthier women had access to limited education, especially after women’s higher education courses were introduced in the late 1870s, peasant women (who constituted the majority of the Empire’s female population in the 19th century) were mostly illiterate.

Despite class differences, society was staunchly patriarchal and women of all backgrounds were not allowed to vote or hold public office until 1917.

Postcard of female peasants in pre-revolutionary Russia

Postcard of peasants collecting hay, 1913

Towards the end of the 19th century, peasant women began to migrate to the cities in large numbers to work in factories or domestic service. Although their working hours and conditions were long and difficult, this was the first time that many women experienced independence from the patriarchal village traditions and structures. 

World War I brought even greater freedom – and hardship – as thousands of women were mobilised to fill roles left vacant by men at the front and to support the war effort.

Source: Katie McElvanney, https://www.bl.uk/russian-revolution/articles/women-and-the-russian-revolution
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