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Ignati Nivinski - "Women, Go into Cooperatives" (1918)

The Zhenotdel[1] (Russian: Женотдел, IPA: [ʐɨnɐdʲˈdʲel]), the women's department of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the All-Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), was the section of the Russian Communist party devoted to women's affairs in the 1920s.


The Zhenotdel was established by two Russian feminist revolutionaries, Alexandra Kollontai and Inessa Armand, in 1919. It was devoted to improving the conditions of women's lives throughout the Soviet Union, fighting illiteracy, and educating women about the new marriage, education, and working laws put in place by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In Soviet Central Asia, the Zhenotdel also spearheaded efforts to improve the lives of Muslim women through literacy and educational campaigns, and controversially, through compulsory "de-veiling" campaigns.[2]

The Zhenotdel persuaded the Bolsheviks to legalise abortion (as a 'temporary measure'). The Bolsheviks legalised aborting in November 1920. This was the first time in world history that women had won the right to free abortions in state hospitals.[3]

The leaders of the Zhenotdel were committed communists, and worked as part of the Soviet state apparatus. Historian Elizabeth Wood has argued that the organization took an active interest in women's problems, and initially served as a conduit for women's issues from the people to the state.[4] Soviet leaders observed the increasing effectiveness of the Zhenotdel in organizing women at the local level, and they felt that too much of a focus on women's issues would challenge the ideological primacy of class solidarity fundamental to Marxist–Leninist politics. As a result, the Zhenotdel was shut down in 1930, in accordance with the then-dominant theory that all women's issues in the Soviet Union had been "solved" by the eradication of private property and the nationalization of the means of production.[5]


Zhenotdel had five leaders during its 11 years of existence:[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ A syllabic abbreviation for "women's department" (Russian: Женский отдел, tr. zhenskii otdel).
  2. ^ Gregory J. Massell, The Surrogate Proletariat: Moslem Women and Revolutionary Strategies in Soviet Central Asia, 1919-1929, Princeton: Princeton University Press, [1978] 2015
  3. ^ Porter, Cathy (1987). Women in Revolutionary Russia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 43. ISBN 0 521 31969 2.
  4. ^ Elizabeth Wood (1997). The Baba and the Comrade: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-11658-1.
  5. ^ Wendy Z. Goldman, Women, the State and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 1917-1936. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993
  6. ^ Carmen Scheide (2002). Kinder, Küche, Kommunismus. Pano Verlag. p. 13. ISBN 3-907576-26-8.

Further reading[edit]

  • Walther Schmieding, Aufstand der Töchter, Russische Revolutionärinnen im 19. Jahrhundert, 1979, Kindler Verlag, München (in German)
  • Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild, Equality and Revolution: Women's Rights in the Russian Empire, 1905-1917 (University of Pittsburgh Press, June 2010
  • Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild, "Women's Suffrage and Revolution in the Russian Empire, 1905-1917," in Karen Offen, ed., Globalizing Feminisms, 1789-1945. New York: Routledge, 2010, 257-274.
  • Richard Stites, The Women's Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism, and Bolshevism, 1860-1930. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978
  • Elizabeth Wood, The Baba and the Comrade Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997
  • Gregory J. Massell, The Surrogate Proletariat: Moslem Women and Revolutionary Strategies in Soviet Central Asia, 1919-1929, Princeton: Princeton University Press, [1978] 2015

External links[edit]