Equal Rights, Unequal Burdens

M. Ia. Sonin, Equal Rights, Unequal Burdens. May 24, 1977


Original Source: Ekonomika i organizatsiia promyshlennogo proizvodstva, No. 3, May-June, 1977, pp. 5-18.

In the USSR, 92% of all working-age women either work or study. Women are employed in all branches of the national economy, and they constitute 59% of all those who work with their minds.

In industry, the largest number of women work in machine building. Light industry -traditionally a female- dominated branch- has fallen to second place. In instrument making and electronics women make up 45% to 47% of the work force, and in precision machine building and the radio industry they constitute 65% to 75% of all workers. Women account for 10% of all chief specialists, 16% of all shop, shifts and section superintendents and assistants, and 26% of all department heads at enterprises.

Special mention should be made of women’s involvement in science, education and public health. In 1975, 40% of all scientific workers and 70% of all teachers (including school administrators) and physicians were women.

Work and Family. – The expansion of employment for women should be accompanied by concern for motherhood and women’s all-round spiritual and physical development.

While the state can provide a wide array of consumer and cultural services, it cannot take over all household and child-rearing responsibilities, a considerable share of which must be borne by the parents. Much of the inequality in the division of labor between the sexes occurs here. Although men and women have equal rights, the responsibilities are not always divided equitably. Women have a much longer total working day – their jobs plus housework. This means that they have less free time.

The differences between the social roles taken by men and women are largely determined by differences in upbringing and vocational training, starting at a very early age. These patterns arose ages ago, took root and came to be considered natural. In principle, socialist society opposes the social inequality of women. But traditions are still quite strong, and they impede an equitable division of family labor and responsibilities between the sexes.

Distribution of Household Responsibilities within the Family

Type of work % of families in which given work is done by:
Wife Husband Together Other family members
Shopping 61 3 19 17
Preparing breakfast 58 10 18 14
Preparing dinner 64 4 16 16
Picking up and washing dishes 10 17 39 34
General cleaning 32 12 39 17
Small repairs in the home 22 67 1 10
Washing and ironing 64 2 21 13
Paying bills 45 31 12 12

Education and Qualifications

Equality in the work place is another problem. On the average, women have slightly higher skills than men. But this is largely because women are employed in branches that require relatively high qualifications but pay relatively poorly – education, public health, culture, etc. Still, the percentage of women doing unskilled physical labor is higher than that of men.

The emancipation of women from strenuous work is proceeding slowly. On the one hand, mechanization has not been introduced widely enough. On the other hand, women workers are not always interested in shifting to easier jobs, since this might mean lower pay and pension benefits.

The percentage of women working in services, particularly in trade, has grown considerably in recent years. But trade, especially in small, unmechanized grocery stores, requires a considerable amount of hard physical labor.

In recent years, the increase in the number of manual workers in industry has come almost exclusively from women. The share of women employed in such common under-mechanized jobs such as letter carriers, warehouse workers, goods examiners and distributors rose from 59% to 74% between 1959 and 1970. Women made up 84% of all letter carriers in 1970.

Women today have the same educational opportunities as men. In 1975 they constituted 54% of the students in specialized secondary educational institutions and 50% of the students in higher schools. But there are some difficulties here. It is women under 30 who are learning vocations and upgrading their skills, but these are also the years in which they establish families. As a result of this conflict, women lag behind men in the level of vocational skills. The declining birthrate is one response to this situation.

The system of elementary vocational training does not do enough to equalize qualifications. Retraining and advanced training, both on the job and during leave periods, are becoming increasingly important for women. In our view, women must be permitted to upgrade their vocational skills during working time, while continuing to receive their regular pay.

This would give women an advantage over men. But only this approach can make it possible to raise labor productivity and to achieve true equality of the sexes in job skills.

Source: USSR Today (Columbus: AAASS, 1981), pp. 67-68.

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