The Thorny Road to Emancipation: Women in Soviet Central Asia

Female deputies representing the Uzbek Republic at an elected council session

Female Uzbek Republic deputies attend an elected council joint session in this image from the late 1940s by photographer S. Gurary (Soviet Information Bureau Collection).

Friday, March 8, 2019

Soon after the 1917 October Revolution, Vladimir Lenin declared Central Asia's women the "most enslaved of the enslaved, most downtrodden of the downtrodden." Indeed, the activities and rights of the region's female population were severely restricted by Sharia law and local tradition. 

The Soviets quickly took it upon themselves to effect a so-called emancipation of women in the new Central Asian republics. Reforms ranged from the abolition of the veil and forced marriage, to universal education and the inclusion of women in all spheres of public life. Though eventually successful, it was a painstaking effort that took decades to yield large-scale results. 

This International Women's Day, the Davis Center commemorates the Soviet "liberation" of Central Asia's women with a web exhibit showcasing propaganda posters and photographs from its library collection. Skillfully combining artifice and authenticity, these photographs, most of them dating from the late 1940s, document the radical cultural and economic shifts that were transforming Central Asia—and the lives of its women and girls—in the postwar era.

View the complete web exhibit here.