The impact of the Russian war on women’s rights

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The impact of the Russian war on women’s rights

The Russian war has significant consequences for women in Russia. Their safety is compromised and their rights are denied by an influential narrative.

A return to traditional values

Amid the war in Ukraine, Russia is struggling with a demographic problem. The country is in need of soldiers to fight in the war, but its population is declining.[1]

In response to this problem, the Kremlin uses a narrative advocating a return to traditional values. This narrative centres on the restoration of traditional family roles, with a focus on motherhood and reproduction. It suggests that traditional family values will save Russia from its demographic crisis.

In addition, the Kremlin narrative opposes Western freedoms that are seen as threatening Russian traditional values. This includes LGBTQ+ rights, Western ideas about gender, and women’s reproductive rights. Western Europe is generally accepting of abortion, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, and other queer expressions of gender or sexuality. According to the Kremlin, these liberties are at odds with traditional family values and undermine Russian procreation.[2]

The Russian Orthodox Church backs this conservative narrative with a religious story. Patriarch Kirill, head of the Moscow Church, portrays the cultural conflict as a ‘holy war’ against the ‘corrupted’ influences of Western culture, which endangers traditional and religious values.

Abortion and the Russian war

The Kremlin narrative connects Russian defence to a declining population and the need to preserve traditional values. It appeals to a sense of patriotism and duty, implying that demographic growth is essential for national security. In doing so, the narrative indirectly holds women responsible for the demographic decline and the consequent shortage of soldiers to fight in the war. This is because it urges Russian women to bear and rear children to secure the future of their country.[3]

According to this narrative, women should have more children because Russia needs soldiers to fight in the war. For this reason, abortion is against the interest of the state. This line of thought is illustrated by a Russian billboard showing a foetus beside a boy in a camouflage uniform saluting with an army helmet on his head. “Protect me today,” says the foetus, to which the boy adds, “so I can protect you tomorrow.”[4]

Women’s rights under threat

Historically, the industrialisation of the Soviet Union in the early 20th century led to the relative emancipation of Russian women. However, the traditional values narrative opposes women’s liberties, including the right to abortion and other reproductive freedoms such as contraception. Stressing traditional family roles, Patriarch Kirill strongly opposes abortion and advocates for women to embrace motherhood. The Russian Minister of Healthcare, Mikhail Murashko, recently accepted a proposal from the Russian Orthodox Church to limit birth control and curb the right to abortion.[5] In addition, Murashko condemned societal trends where women are focusing on education, career, and financial stability before having children.[6]

While Russia has traditionally maintained liberal abortion policies, the right to abortion is now portrayed as an obstacle to demographic growth, which is much needed amid the current conflict. However, evidence indicates that decreasing birth rates in Russia is not due to abortion. Instead, the current demographic crisis can be attributed to poverty, poor health care, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the war.[7]

Increasing violence against Russian women

Apart from their freedoms being at risk, Russian women increasingly face instances of violence. Since the beginning of the war, violent incidents targeting women in Russian society have been on the rise. This is because the Russian army continues to recruit in prisons. Prisoners, including serious offenders, have the option to enlist in the Russian military to fight in the war. After six months of service, they can return to Russian society. Hence, they can essentially buy their freedom by fighting in the war. Some offenders continue to show violent behaviour, and it is often women who are their victims. As a result, various instances have occurred where convicted criminals recruited by the army abused, raped, or threatened women.[8]

The war in Ukraine thus has a significant impact on the freedom and safety of women in Russia. They are increasingly subjected to violence, while a conservative narrative denies their rights and liberties.

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[1] Rusland heeft soldaten nodig, dus mogen vrouwen geen abortus meer plegen

[2] A solution to a demographic problem? The traditional family in Europe

[3] Rusland heeft soldaten nodig, dus mogen vrouwen geen abortus meer plegen

[4] Rusland heeft soldaten nodig, dus mogen vrouwen geen abortus meer plegen

[5] Hoe de vrouw in Rusland tot zondebok wordt gemaakt

[6] Rusland heeft soldaten nodig, dus mogen vrouwen geen abortus meer plegen

[7] Hoe de vrouw in Rusland tot zondebok wordt gemaakt

[8] Hoe de vrouw in Rusland tot zondebok wordt gemaakt