Women. In Russian-ruled Ukraine in 1897, for every 1,000 men there were 1,008 women. That near balance was broken by the loss of many male lives during the First World War and ensuing Ukrainian-Soviet War, 1917–21 and Ukrainian-Polish War in Galicia, 1918–19. Consequently, for every 1,000 men over 20 years old in Soviet Ukraine in 1926, there were 1,090 women. A still greater imbalance developed as a result of Soviet repression and the Second World War, the primary victims of which were men. In the early 1990s in Ukraine, women constituted the majority (54 percent) of the population of Ukraine. In Ukrainian immigrant communities in the West (see Emigration), however, they constituted a minority.
The social role and position of women vary greatly, according to the level of cultural development of a particular society. In 20th-century Ukraine women's rights and obligations have been, de jure if not de facto, nearly equal to men's, with the exception of certain religious functions. Women have been exempt from military service, and only in times of war have they been recruited to fulfill certain duties. The laws of most European and other Western countries recognize a range of privileges for women (special working conditions, maternity leave, and protection of the mother, etc), but a significant number of women have been and remain economically dependent on men, and in places their dependence has been reinforced by legislation.
From ancient times to the 20th century. In primitive societies the position of women was equal and at times even superior to that of men (see Matriarchy). The prehistoric cultures of Ukraine were matriarchal, as is confirmed by archeological findings and ethnographic research. After patriarchy took hold, women were forced into a subordinate position and were even treated as men's property. During the transition from a tribal society to rule by a Christian princely state in medieval Kyivan Rus’, the primitive view of women as property disappeared. Various sources attest to the consolidation and regulation of monogamous bonds between men and women. In the family the role of the mother in raising and educating children became equal to that of the father.
The Ruskaia Pravda reflected the legal norms and societal view of women's status, marriage, and family in Rus’. According to that document the murderer of a woman was judged and punished in the same manner as the murderer of a man. In contrast to Roman law and Germanic law, Rus’ law did not delimit women's status and privileges. A widow was not assigned a legal guardian, as in other medieval states, but acted in place of her deceased husband. A guardian was assigned only to her children, and only if she remarried. As long as a widowed woman was the head of the family, she retained all rights, including the right to decide (if it was not stated in the father's will) when to grant sons their independence and patrimony. Once the family property was divided, the mother kept and governed her share; she could not, however, give it to someone outside the family. Daughters fared worse: they were excluded from inheritance and were entitled only to an allowance. If a woman slave bore her owner's child, she and the offspring were granted their freedom but were not eligible to inherit from the owner's estate. The liberal treatment of women in Ruskaia Pravda stemmed from East Slavic customary law.
Women's legal status in Kyivan Rus’ was linked to their socioeconomic status. Working alongside her peasant, merchant, or noble husband, a woman had the knowledge and experience to be capable of managing all their property after the husband's death. Noble women wielded influence in state affairs, and some became regents—Princess Olha in Kyiv, Anna (the widow of Prince Roman Mstyslavych) in Halych, and Yanka (the daughter of Prince Vsevolod Yaroslavych, hegumen of Saint Andrew's Monastery in Kyiv), who traveled to Constantinople to invite a metropolitan to Kyiv. Many European princesses were wed to Kyivan grand princes (eg, a Byzantine princess, Anna, married Volodymyr the Great; Ingigerth, the daughter of Olof Skötkonung of Sweden, married Yaroslav the Wise; and Gytha, the daughter of Harold II of England, married Volodymyr Monomakh), and Rus’ princesses married foreign monarchs (eg, Yelysaveta Yaroslavna married Harald III of Norway, Anna Yaroslavna married Henry I of France, Anastasia Yaroslavna married Andrew I of Hungary, Yevpraksiia Vsevolodivna married Henry IV of Germany, and Yevfrosyniia Mstyslavna married Géza II of Hungary).
During the period of the Lithuanian-Ruthenian state women's legal status was defined by the Lithuanian Statute, which incorporated the principle of gender equality into its criminal and civil articles. Like men, women were the subject of specific laws and regulations, and they were granted legal rights without any basic restrictions. Criminal norms guaranteed the complete protection of women and in particular cases specified special protection (eg, during pregnancy). To protect her dowry a husband gave his wife a writ guaranteeing her ownership of one-third of his immovable property and thus securing her financial independence. Daughters were not eligible to inherit immovable property, however, because land ownership derived from military service.
The Cossack period, with its constant wars and uprisings, like the earlier period of the Mongol-Tatar invasion, gave rise to a new type of woman, who ran the domestic economy and defended her home and family with arms while her husband was away at war (eg, Olena Zavisna). Women also fought in insurgent units during the Cossack-Polish War. Many women were captured by the Tatars and sold as slaves for Turkish harems. In Turkish captivity some used their talents to exercise considerable influence over their husbands (eg, Roksoliana, the wife of Sultan Süleyman I Kanuni).
The socioeconomic status of most women was shaped by the increasing enserfment of the lower classes. The absence of men as a result of frequent wars made women more responsible than men for supporting a family. They also carried more of the burden of corvée. Of Ukrainian noblewomen, many became Polonized. Others, however, actively supported the Ukrainian church and their own culture. Eminent examples were Anastasiia Olshanska, who funded the translation of the Peresopnytsia Gospel; Yelyzaveta Hulevychivna, who donated her property to the Kyiv Epiphany Brotherhood Monastery; and Raina Vyshnevetska, Oleksandra and Sofiia Chartoryska, and Anna Hoiska, who were benefactors of various monasteries.
In the Cossack Hetman state women's legal status was still defined by the Lithuanian Statute and by certain local customary norms, until the adoption of the Code of Laws of 1743. The code specified harsher penalties for killing or insulting a woman than a man, holding that a woman was physically less able to defend herself. The murderer of an unmarried woman, however, as of a slave, serf, or prisoner of war, was subject only to a monetary fine, or holovshchyna.
Women's economic standing was determined by their social estate (see Estates). Wives of free peasants toiled together with their husbands and were basically their social equals. Women serfs, however, were the principal victims of exploitation and had no legal protection. Male serfs could often flee to the free lands of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, but female serfs were forced to remain behind and fulfill onerous corvée and eke out a living to support their families. The lives of peasants improved during and after the Cossack-Polish War of 1648–57, when latifundia were abolished in Left-Bank Ukraine and, for a while, Right-Bank Ukraine. At that time the development of artisanship and manufacturing intensified, and as a result numerous female peasants and burghers were employed in weaving, pottery, and kilim weaving enterprises. An important role in the growth of artistic crafts was played by nuns, who developed the production of vestments and other items for religious use.
In the Hetman state many women of Cossack starshyna families played important roles in social and political life. Hanna, the wife of Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky, for example, was influential in the final years of his rule and even issued universals. Hetman Ivan Mazepa often turned to his mother, Maryna Mazepa, for counsel, and the wife of Semen Palii effectively commanded the Bila Tserkva regiment during her husband's absence. In the 17th and 18th centuries many such women were persecuted and punished by the Russian state. Pelahiia Myrovych, the widow of a Pereiaslav colonel and mother of émigré Mazepists, for example, spent several decades in Siberian exile.
The dissolution of Cossack society under Russian rule led to a decline in the leadership role of women. After the loss of a native elite, and with Russification (or Polonization, in the cities of Western Ukraine), national consciousness was most preserved among the peasantry. The primary conduits of that consciousness were women, who through their story-telling and singing imparted knowledge of Ukrainian history and culture to their children.
From the end of the 18th century, when Ukraine was partitioned between the Russian Empire and Austro-Hungarian Empire, women's status was determined by the Russian law code, which was based on the Napoleonic Code, and the Austrian civil code, which was based on Roman law. The lot of noblewomen improved because they were allowed to inherit land and estates. Middle-class women were generally dependent on their fathers, brothers, and husbands and did not earn incomes outside the home. The worst oppression remained the fate of serf women. They had no legal protections and were oppressed by their husbands as well as their owners, and bore the brunt of exploitative corvée, domestic chores, and work in the cottage industry.
During the Ukrainian social and cultural revival of the 19th century many middle-class women gained prominence as writers, actors, and cultural activists. Many more were teachers and contributed to the growth of literacy and elementary education. Before the First World War women did not have suffrage or many of the other fundamental rights, such as the right to higher education, the freedom to enter and work in the professions, and political equality. Those became the main goals of the women's movement, which emerged in the late 19th century. Women were granted suffrage only in 1914 in Austrian-ruled Galicia and Bukovyna and only after the February Revolution of 1917 in Russian-ruled Ukraine. The Constitution of the Ukrainian National Republic of April 1918 proclaimed complete gender equality and rejected any differences in rights or obligations between men and women.
Soviet Ukraine. All Soviet constitutions and laws have proclaimed and defined equality between men and women. For example, Article 33 of the 1978 Constitution of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic stated that women were guaranteed equal access to higher education and professional training and equality in work, wages, advancement opportunity, and civic and cultural activity. Special provisions addressed the protection of women's health and work and ensured conditions whereby women could combine work with maternity, through moral and material support, such as paid maternity leaves and other perquisites for pregnant women and mothers, and a shorter workday for mothers of infants.
After the October Revolution of 1917 the Soviet state announced that women's emancipation was one of its most important goals. Hidden behind the declaration was the practical consideration that women would play an important role in the work force because of the shortage of men brought about by the human losses of the First World War and revolutionary upheavals of 1917–21. The need for a female work force became particularly pronounced following the adoption of rapid industrialization policies in 1928, and the Stalinist state began promoting the cult of the large family and motherhood by initiating a system of prizes and awards for women producing many children (‘mother-heroines’). The campaign was at odds with the earlier Soviet legalization of abortion in 1920 and the ideas and practice of sexual liberation that gained currency in the 1920s. Eventually Stalinist conservatism and the unrestricted expansion of labor resources triumphed, and abortion was made illegal in 1936; it was not legalized again until 1955.
Women suffered the same mass-scale repressions as men during the collectivization of agriculture and the Famine-Genocide of 1932–3 and Stalinist terror of the 1930s. Many peasant women actively opposed the regime and led uprisings against the local authorities (the so-called babski bunty), especially after many of the men had been deported or killed. In the postwar period a significant number of women were active in the dissident movement, which began in the 1960s, and were unjustly persecuted, incarcerated, and abused.
The Soviet state consistently denied women access to political and economic leadership positions. In 1990, for example, women constituted only 28.5 percent of members of the Communist Party of Ukraine, and at the final (28th) CPU congress, only 7 percent of delegates. In 1990 as well, women accounted for only 5.3 percent of Ukraine's industrial senior management. The participation of women in various Soviet elected Party and state organs never exceeded 30 percent. In 1988, women accounted for only 26.5 percent of all full and candidate members of the CC CPU and CPU oblast committees and 30.4 percent of all full and candidate members of CPU raion and city committees. As a rule, in the Party apparatus women were usually involved in ideological work, which was considered secondary to work in industry or agriculture. With the decline of communist power and the rise of alternative political forces after 1985, women failed to compete successfully with men, and their share in elected organs even declined.
Under Soviet rule no women served as government ministers or senior diplomats in Ukraine. Women rarely occupied senior positions in scholarship, despite the fact that in 1987, for example, the 81,582 women employed in science and scholarship constituted 38 percent of the work force in that sector. In education and medicine, sectors in which women have dominated and account for almost 80 percent of the work force, only some 20 percent were in leadership positions. Women were almost completely absent from leadership positions in cultural and art institutions and professional organizations, and from chief editor positions of newspapers and journals, despite the fact that many women made important contributions to literature, art, culture, and science.
Throughout the Soviet period the economic and political equality of men and women remained an ideological myth. Statistics show that women belonged to the exploited stratum of Soviet Ukrainian society. In the 1990s the role of women has not fundamentally changed in Ukraine. They constituteed 52 percent of Ukraine's entire work force, which is higher than the highest percentage among all developed countries, that of the United States (45 percent). Women account for 80 percent of Ukraine's workers performing heavy physical labor. Because such labor requires minimal qualifications and is the lowest paid, women's wages are on average 25–30 percent lower than men's. Over 25 percent of the female work force is employed in the construction industry, and millions of women work on night shifts and in conditions formally banned by labor legislation.
Soviet women were officially organized in the Committee of Soviet Women, which had branches in all Soviet republics, including Ukraine. Special journals devoted to women's issues (see Women's press) were published in the interwar period. From 1946 Radians’ka zhinka appeared monthly; in the late 1980s it became possible for that journal to begin devoting serious attention to the social, economic, domestic, and sexual exploitation of women in Soviet society. Issues of concern in Western feminism and radicalism and the struggle for true political equality, however, have never really been raised, let alone discussed. Feminist organizations did not exist until the 1990s, feminist theory was not part of political science and sociology, and there were no serious studies on the economic, political, social, and cultural dimensions of the women's question. Women did, however, become increasingly involved in the restructuring democratization processes of the late 1980s and early 1990s and joined the new political parties, social organizations, and ecology movement. Their activization and election to political leadership positions has been slow, however. Of the 1,109 delegates at the constituent congress of the Popular Movement of Ukraine (Rukh) in September 1989, only 89 (8 percent) were women.
Only three women were elected to the Rukh executive. At the 1990 Rukh congress only 10.24 percent of the 2,020 delegates were women, and only 2 of 45 executive positions were filled by women. Women constituted only 16.3 percent of the deputies from Ukraine elected to the USSR Congress of People's Deputies in 1989 and only 13 (2.9 percent) of the 450 deputies elected to the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR in 1990. Patriarchal, sexist, and even misogynist attitudes and hostility to the ideas of feminism and women's emancipation were widespread in Ukrainian society, even among supposedly enlightened strata, including various leaders of Rukh and the many new political parties.
(See also Education of women, Marriage, Prostitution, Sexual life, and Women's movement.)
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[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]