Russia is a vast land with a fascinating culture and history. Unfortunately, the country’s invasion of Ukraine has created an unsafe environment, leading many expats and locals alike to flee Russia. We’ve nevertheless put together this report on diversity and inclusion in Russia for a better understanding of the situation on the ground. It is based on the most current information available.
Accessibility in Russia
In the past few decades, much has been done to improve accessibility in Russia and to give more visibility and consideration to the disabled population, which was largely ignored 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.
WheelchairTravel – Moscow
Evaneos – Disability in Russia
LGBTQ+ in Russia
Homosexuality was decriminalised in Russia in 1993 (excluding Chechnya, where it remains illegal and punishable by death). Russia is one of the world’s most unwelcoming locations for LGBTQ+ individuals, who are being increasingly targeted by discriminatory laws. Surveys of the general population indicate that support for LGBTQ+ people is low, and negative views on issues such as same-sex marriage (which remains illegal in Russia) are expressed by up to 90 percent of the population.
President Vladimir Putin considers any expression of LGBTQ+ individuals or lifestyle to be proof of moral decay in the West and therefore seeks to remove this influence from Russia. In 2022, an earlier law barring any mention of LGBTQ+ issues in children’s education was expanded to apply to all settings and age groups. This makes any public expression of an LGBTQ+ orientation or lifestyle illegal and liable to heavy fines.
Transgender individuals in particular face major 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.
Russian LGBT Network
Rainbow Europe Annual Review Russia
Mental health in Russia
Mental illness is highly stigmatised in Russia, with the mentally ill being considered dangerous and a burden on society. This is partly due to Russia’s history of using psychiatric institutionalisation as punishment for political dissidents, rather than as treatment. This practice was widespread during the Soviet era but continues even today, albeit on a much smaller scale.
The availability of mental illness statistics in Russia is limited. The few studies available have observed trends of high rates of suicide and substance abuse, but low rates of mental illness diagnoses. Given the proven link between mental illness and suicide, this suggests that mental illness is underdiagnosed in Russia.
Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication have become scarce since anti-war sanctions were instituted against Russia in 2022 – even though these medications are considered essential and are therefore exempt from sanctions. High prices and panic buying have ensued, making it difficult to find such medications. 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.
Globally Minded – Depression in Russia
Russian Society of Psychiatrists – Crisis Mental Health Services in Russia
WHO Mental Health Atlas 2020 Russia
Gender equality in Russia
Gender equality has shown some improvement in Russia in recent years, though 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. 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.
Gender Issues in Russia
UN Women – Russia
Women in leadership in Russia
The role of women in Russia has always been a contradiction between strong female leaders such as Catherine the Great and the deep-rooted conservative gender norms that remain pervasive in the country. 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
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 at times 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 pave 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. Incidents rooted in racial prejudice, ranging from subtle biases to more blatant acts, highlight the urgency for increased awareness, education and policy reforms. 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 downward trend in the number of foreigners living in Russia. As of May 2022, approximately six million foreigners lived in Russia, in 2011, there were well over 10 million. Most 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 Putin’s unprovoked invasion of 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. Prior to the war, 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
As a nation currently at war, Russia remains unsafe and is not currently recommended for foreign travel. Flight options are severely restricted due to sanctions and the general security situation is volatile and unstable.
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.
UK Government – Safety and Security in Russia
US State Department Travel Advisory Russia
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