Protection of Women and Children in Soviet Russia


In every city there is an enormous amount of good work done for small groups of people but the trouble is that the population as a whole is not aware of it. Nor can such unadvertised work, as admirable as it may be, affect to any great extent the conditions which make social service work necessary because it never really has behind it the co-operation and understanding of the masses of people. There have been studies like this one made of various cities and countries; there are day nurseries, attempts at adult education and women's clinics all over the world but there is a fundamental difference between them and those which exist in Soviet Russia, and that difference lies not so much in the institutions themselves as in the women's reactions to them. In Moscow, any adult woman whether a worker, or a wife of a worker who does not at least know what the Revolution has done for her and will do for her, must be mentally deficient for she hears about her improved opportunities in her own and her husband's labour unions, in her clubs; she sees what it is doing whenever she comes across a group of banners or posters, and on almost every occasion she visits the cinema or theater. If she is ever ill, she immediately comes in contact with a clinic and that clinic does not merely discharge her when she is well again, for it invites and urges her to attend its meetings, go to its museums, and avail herself of its care when necessary. Consequently it is not surprising that most of the working class women of Moscow are well aware of what they as individuals can expect of their government, and most of them avail themselves of their opportunities. As to the other classes of the population, they, it is true are not so free or willing to make use of the social, medical or educational facilities offered them, but then other classes scarcely exist any more especially since the abolition of the nep-men. Moscow has truly become a proletarian center where even the intellectuals are workers, and only the priests, private traders and avowed bourgeoisie who exist in very small numbers, can be called outsiders.

In spite of what some would have us believe concerning the fact that Soviet Propaganda is manufactured exclusively for the capitalist world, propaganda of the intelligent sort which educates as it advertises is an active element in Russian life. It is by means of it that the interest of women as a group is held on the various experiments which are being tried in order to make the workers' lives more profitable and pleasant. Those experiments would be impossible were it not that the bulk of the women of Moscow know all about them and are willing to try them as they have tried the creches, the clinics, the hostels and the legal advisers. Every woman knows where she can go if she is ill or if her child needs medical attention. She knows all about creches and their methods whether her child attends one or not, for she has at one time or another either been to one of the Museums of Mother and Child or she has met a home visitor who has explained the rudiments of female hygiene and modern pediatrics to her. She knows that her children can get food, and good food, before she can herself and she knows that it costs her government 29 kopeks ($0.19 1/2) a day to keep her child in a creche, and that Alpine sun lamps have been installed in all creches as a part of the five year plan. If she has too many children, she is told how to limit her family, and if she wishes to learn how to make the most of what food she buys she can go to evening cooking classes or merely study the charts and models of food in preparation in the various museums of Mother and Child.

All these functions of the State are open and well known to the women of Russia because they form a necessary part of their daily lives. Any complaints or criticisms by lay persons are given attention and intelligently dealt with when there is cause. But what is still more important, so far there is surprisingly little red tape connected with these numerous and elaborate institutions. Russia is keeping her people well informed about the Five Year Plan and the conditions in the collective farms so women know just what has been done for them since 1928 both in the cities and in the country and what they can expect in the future and what advantages they have over their Western neighbors.

The practical social advances are well advertised and so it is not difficult for anyone to discover that each Moscow Point of Medical Consultation deals with about 7000 different children each year; that its home visitors make about 40,000 visits a year; that it gives medical attention to 6000 to 10,000 pregnant women a year of which 5% suffered from syphilis in 1923 while only 3% were similarly affected in 1930 and that there were four times as many congenitally syphilitic children born in Moscow in 1923 as in 1930, due to the excellent treatments for venereal disease available to anyone so afflicted; that each clinic supplies about 6000 women with birth control methods each year, and sees most of those women every ten days, and that the infant and maternal mortality has decreased tremendously since the Revolution. It is not hard either, to discover that there are in 1931, 35 Points of Medical Consultation in Moscow, each with its own milk kitchen and that the Five Year Plan calls for more, in spite of the fact that their number has been increased by seven since 1929.

In addition to all the general information always available on this subject, the Museums of Mother and Child treat this and allied matters in great detail and it is through them that the intelligent woman gains most of her information and instruction. There are two such museums in Moscow and of the two the smaller is the better for it presents a more homogeneous mass of material and study is greatly simplified by the excellent explanations offered in brightly coloured charts and graphs as well as by the excellent lectures which can be heard there almost every day. The woman in charge is willing to go to any amount of trouble to enlighten anyone, no matter who they may be, as to the purpose of the museum, or as to how to apply any of the suggestions to be found in it. Whenever it is open, there is always a good number of people studying the signs, slogans and exhibits, all of which are so well arranged that they offer amazing educational opportunities.

It is not because the advice to be found in these museums is different from that which is given in this country, that it is included in this work, but because this advice reaches every woman in Moscow and is fighting with the ancient diffidence which kept Russian women so backward and the death rate so high. It is these ideas, usually presented almost as advertisements, which are forming the new public opinion in Russia and are directing this phase of the cultural revolution in spite of the old inertia. The seriousness and thoroughness of the Soviet Government's work with women can not be doubted when we realize that their medical and social charts and histories are as modern as any in the world and are aiding every woman, no matter how poor she may be or what her intellect. The very fact that there are decided differences in pediatric and gynecological technique in Russia shows valuable research work which must be considered in the ultimate summing up of these matters. There follows a list of instructions and charts as every Moscow woman knows them, for they are the indications of the privileges of the masses and not of the few. In addition, with the increasing tempo of Russian life, and the constant spread of the cultural revolution, I discovered in a short trip down the Volga and through the Caucasus that the women in those cities and rural districts which I visited were almost as well informed as their Moscow sisters, and that certainly their clinics and creches are equally modern though much fewer in number.