Russia is a vast land with a fascinating culture and history. Unfortunately, the country’s conflict with Ukraine has created political and economic turmoil in Russia, and many expats and locals alike have left the country in recent years. The UK Ministry of Defence asserts that some 1.3 million people have left Russia in 2022 alone.
We’ve nevertheless put together this report on diversity and inclusion in Russia for a deeper understanding of the situation on the ground. It is based on the most current information available.
Accessibility in Russia
In recent decades, there have been notable efforts to enhance accessibility in Russia and to increase visibility and support for the disabled population, addressing gaps that existed in the past, including during the Soviet era. While the built environment still has some way to go before it can be considered barrier-free, there has been substantial improvement, particularly in Russia’s major cities.
In Moscow, city buses and trolley buses usually have step-free access, but the subway system can’t be accessed by wheelchair. The airport express train has wheelchair access and takes passengers from various airports to designated city centre railway stations. City bus connections run from the railway station, allowing passengers to continue their journey.
LGBTQ+ in Russia
Surveys and reports indicate that LGBTQ+ individuals in Russia face significant legal and societal challenges. Although homosexuality was decriminalised in Russia in 1993, LGBTQ+ individuals are being increasingly targeted by other discriminatory laws.
President Vladimir Putin considers any expression of LGBTQ+ individuals or their lifestyle an attack on traditional family values, positioning the Russian government as defender against nontraditional sexual identities. The 2022 update to the 2013 'gay propaganda' law presents a total ban on the expression of LGBTQ+ identity. The earlier law, barring any mention of LGBTQ+ issues in children’s education, was expanded to apply to all settings and age groups, making any public expression of an LGBTQ+ orientation or lifestyle illegal and liable to heavy fines.
Surveys of the general population indicate that support for LGBTQ+ people is low and declining, with as few as 33 percent of the population in favour of lesbian and gay people having the same rights as others.
Transgender individuals face particularly extensive discrimination in Russia. As of 2023, all gender-affirming acts are banned, including receiving medical care and changing one’s legal gender. Transgender individuals are also banned from becoming foster parents or adopting a child.
Some of the larger cities, such as Moscow and St Petersburg, have significant LGBTQ+ communities, but the government has consistently denied requests to hold events such as pride parades, citing the risk of violence. As a result, the European Court of Human Rights has fined Russia for discriminating against the LGBTQ+ community. The situation remains tense, and the country is widely regarded as unsafe for LGBTQ+ individuals.
Mental health in Russia
There is a significant stigma attached to mental illness in Russia, historically influenced by past practices. Perceptions of mental health in Russia are evolving, but people with mental health issues may still be perceived as incurable and dangerous, and the idea of recovery is not widely accepted in Russian culture. Another factor is the mental health sector's Soviet-style bureaucracy, presenting difficulties in accessing these services.
There has been a significant increase in the sales and expenditure of antidepressants and antianxiety medication in Russia since 2022, leading to a scarcity of these medications. The impact of sanctions on Russia in 2022 might have unintended consequences on the availability of essential medications, despite exemptions typically applied to such healthcare needs. High prices and panic buying have ensued, making certain medications challenging to find. Some brands have disappeared from the market altogether.
Psychiatry is underfunded in Russia, and treatment is largely offered at inpatient institutions. Conditions range from generally poor to outright dangerous – in 2013, two separate institutions burned down, with a combined fatality of more than 70 people. Before the war, steps were being taken to reform the system, but little progress has been made.
Following the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Society of Psychiatrists has made a list of crisis mental health services for people in need.
Gender equality in Russia
Gender equality has shown some improvement in Russia recently, although as a whole, much work still needs to be done. Positives include the right to paid maternity leave, paid parental leave and unpaid parental leave, which can be used until the child is three years old. Medical care provided to women during pregnancy and birth has also improved, resulting in a lower maternal mortality rate.
On the other hand, women are severely limited in terms of career opportunities. Certain professions are deemed too dangerous for women, including firefighting, construction and aircraft repair. Some reforms were made in 2019, but much must still be done, especially in the mining and electrical engineering sectors.
There is a wage gap of 28 percent, leaving women more vulnerable to poverty. Single mothers in particular face a high level of discrimination in the workplace and are one of Russia’s poorest population groups.
Women in leadership in Russia
Women's roles in Russia present a complex tapestry, with historical examples of strong female leadership, such as Catherine the Great, juxtaposed against prevailing conservative gender norms. Fortunately, the role of women in modern Russia has evolved, with a fair few holding prominent roles in various sectors. Valentina Matviyenko, who served as the governor of St Petersburg for eight years and as the Chairwoman of the upper house of the Russian parliament, is a fantastic example of this rise of women in leadership in the country.
Still, gender equality in Russia remains elusive as some challenges persist. Chief among them are unequal pay and the limited representation of women in executive positions. While the political and cultural landscape in Russia remains intricate, the role of women in leadership in the country continues to shift in line with the global drive for gender parity as well as historical influences.
Unconscious bias education in Russia
Unconscious bias can subtly influence many facets of daily life, from policy decisions and stances to individual interactions. Even with its rich tapestry of cultures and traditions, Russian society is sometimes influenced by deep-seated stereotypes that can shape perceptions, affecting areas such as employment, education and social relations. Recognising and confronting these biases is essential to paving the way for a more just and inclusive society.
Furthermore, Russia has a multifaceted history with issues related to racial sensitivity, deeply intertwined with various historical, social and cultural contexts. For instance, the Soviet era saw different ethnic groups relocated, seriously impacting socio-cultural dynamics. Minority groups encompassing individuals from Central Asia, the Caucasus, Africa and beyond regularly encounter challenges in employment, housing, daily interactions and other areas. Efforts to increase awareness and education about racial sensitivity are essential in addressing the spectrum of challenges from subtle biases to more overt instances of prejudice. Such efforts are crucial in fostering a culture of inclusivity and counteracting any prevailing discriminatory practices in Russia.
Workplace diversity in Russia
There has been a sharp downward trend in the number of foreign nationals residing in Russia. As of May 2022, approximately six million foreign nationals lived in Russia, compared to over 10 million in 2019. Most expats are from Central Asian countries, with the largest groups being nationals of countries that were once part of the Soviet Union, such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Other former Soviet countries have seen a steadily decreasing presence in Russia as their citizens leave the country due to the escalated conflict in Ukraine. This includes nationals of countries such as Belarus and Armenia, and most notably Ukraine.
There are still some expats from Western countries living in Russia, often those who are married to Russians, but the numbers are low. Most Western governments have advised their citizens to leave Russia. Before the escalation of the conflict, international companies and some of the more progressive Russian firms recognised the benefits of a diversified workforce and had begun to set up diversity and inclusion programmes.
Safety in Russia
Due to the ongoing conflict with Ukraine, Russia presents various safety challenges and is not currently recommended for foreign travel. Flight options are severely restricted due to sanctions, and the general security situation is volatile.
Martial law is in effect in numerous areas of the country bordering Ukraine. Drone attacks, fires and explosions have occurred in Western and Southern Russia, including in major cities such as Moscow and St Petersburg.
Foreigners travelling to and from Russia should prepare themselves for the likelihood of lengthy security screenings at Russian border crossings. These security checks may include requests to check their cellphones and laptops and comprehensive questioning about the nature of their travels. While expats are not typically targeted for violent crime, African and Caribbean nationals may receive unwarranted attention while out in public. Therefore, they should remain vigilant, especially when travelling late at night.
Calendar initiatives in Russia
4 February – World Cancer Day
March – TB Awareness Month
8 March – International Women’s Day
19 May – Global Accessibility Awareness Day
10 September – World Suicide Prevention Day
October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month
10 October – World Mental Health Day
14 November – World Diabetes Day
1 December – World AIDS Day
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