What you didn’t know about women’s rights and gay rights in Russia

When Russia’s Elvira Nabiullina was named European central banker of 2016, while reading an article on this story and checking the comments section, I noticed several facetious compliments such as “Russia is finally catching up in the area of gender equality”. Talk about inaccurate observations…

There is a persistent tendency in the West – and in particular, the US – to view Russia as being somehow “behind the times” when it comes to basic human rights. This mistaken view is mostly due to two factors: 1) A lack of understanding of Russian history and 2) A lack of understanding of Russian culture. Let’s address these factors while examining two specific areas of concern.

Many Americans have a strongly-held ethnocentric belief that their country was – and is – at the forefront of women’s rights. They do not know – or completely ignore – the historical fact that Russian women were far ahead of American women in the numbers of university graduates in once male dominated areas of study, resulting in tens of thousands of engineers and medical doctors. Incidentally, the first woman in space was a Russian, Valentina Tereshkova, who lifted off in 1963 – a full 20 years ahead of her American counterpart Sally Ride.

Many are similarly unaware that Russian women had the right to vote in 1917 – three years ahead of women in the US. This was mainly due to the “Russian League of Women’s Equality” which included hundreds of women’s associations throughout the country. Even nowadays Russia is ahead of not only the US, but the world, in terms of female empowerment in the realm of business.

It is Russia that tops the list of countries with the highest number of female board members. Currently, 45 percent of senior management positions are held by women compared to only 23% in the US and a meager 7% in Japan.

And what about maternity leave? When a pregnant woman leaves her job to give birth and look after her child, there is a standard requirement in Russia for a 3 year paid maternity leave. According to Forbes magazine, the US is dead last among developed countries when it comes to paid maternity leave.

Another topic which Russia is often misperceived over is gay rights. My American friends think it’s shameful, for example, that Gay Pride parades are prohibited in Russia. Having lived in Moscow for 24 years and experienced Russian culture first-hand, I know that the reason behind this prohibition has less to do with political beliefs and more to do with long-held cultural views.

You see…in Russia there is still a cultural divide between “public” and “private”. Here… one’s private life is basically – well – private (unless you are a public figure, of course). Ultimately, the reason why you will not see gay Pride parades in Russia is because people here do not believe in publicizing their private life – especially with regard to “what goes on behind closed doors”.

Homophobia has almost nothing to do with it. Sexual proclivities and sexual preferences are considered private in Russia. Russians are not prudes (far from it); they simply see no reason to promote or advertise their sexual activities.

For example, Russians are not – by nature – against masturbation, but you would never see a Masturbators Pride parade here with revelers on top of colorful floats waving sex toys and singing “I can’t get no satisfaction”. Likewise, Russians would not support or condone a public parade organized by WFMO – “Women for Multiple Orgasms” marching on Red Square singing “We shall overcome”.

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