The panel on the “Reproductive Rights of Women and Sexuality: Between Traditions and Modernization” consisted of four women panelists from Russia holding various titles from gender researcher to feminist to journalist to political activist. They discussed the reproductive rights of women in Russia in the face of a regressive movement.
The panelists cited the fall of the Soviet Union, a major Russian Orthodox religious comeback, and a focus on the family as a unit fundamental to society as underlying causes of the regressive movement for women’s reproductive rights.
During a comeback of traditionalist and nationalist movement, women in Russia are charged with solving the demographic crisis of a decreasing population. In order to correct the declining population, the government has passed laws limiting abortions and women are encouraged by the government as well as the church to have as many children as possible regardless of financial situations. In addition, sex education was completely removed from schools creating a lack of access to reproductive information.
The session continued with the showing of a documentary depicting the life of a rural woman Russia in order to illustrate not only the trials and tribulation experienced by a marginal population but also the strength and voice they find within themselves to create a life worth living.
The woman in the documentary was sold by her mother for marriage in exchange for two bottles of vodka. Her life that followed was filled with obstacles that to me seem unimaginable and unbearable. She recounted one of the 7 times she gave birth. Her husband was too drunk to drive her to the hospital so she was forced to hitchhike down the highway where she was picked up by a truck driver who made her wait until after he was done with his deliveries. The baby, however, was not willing to wait. She started giving birth and the man pushed the baby back inside of her.
The women in the documentary explained how she was not allowed to get an abortion and was forced into having 7 children. She eventually found the strength and divorced her husband who was an alcoholic and abused her. She now works as a dairy farmer and serves as the head of household for herself and her family. I was inspired by her message as she spoke not with anger or regret but rather conviction. In a social space where resources were unavailable and support nonexistent she created a home that appeared to me to be filled with mutual love and respect.
After the showing of the documentary, one of the panelists spoke about a campaign entitled “Fight Abortions-Not Women.” The purpose of the campaign was to address the reproductive rights of women through picketing, demonstration, lobbying, and generation of public awareness. One of the major ideas of the movement was that the issue of focus should be on decreasing abortions that are a result of unwanted pregnancy due to a lack of education and family planning.
The panel seemed slightly disheartened as the results of the campaign were not as successful as they would have hoped. Their efforts were commended, however, by the audience members as one woman stood up and declared that they were doing everything right by starting at the grassroots and progressing towards larger movements such as lobbying and directly reaching out to the government. The panelists agreed that although the campaign might not have achieved the intended resolution of discrimination against the reproductive rights of women, there was at least a buildup of a women’s movement.