Medal of “Motherhood” (Central Asia)

Commentary
Medal of “Motherhood” (Central Asia)

The medal of motherhood 1st class is the second of six medals of honour that were awarded to Soviet women from 1944 until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The face side shows a profile relief of a mother and a child with a Soviet star shining above them and a banner with a USSR inscription below. The reverse shows the Hammer and Sickle symbol and an inscription: medal of motherhood.  A Supreme Soviet Decree dated July, 8 1944 N. 118/11 “On the increase of support to pregnant, those with many children and single mothers” declared an increase of government support to women raising children on their own, and also made it possible for women and children to claim government pensions for Red Army soldiers who had been killed in the line of duty even if the marriage had not been registered due to a war time conditions. With the intention of raising birth rates, which had dramatically fallen during the War, and to encourage the adoption of orphans, the Supreme Soviet declared the setting an order of merit for women who succeeded in maintaining considerable large families. The decree declared the establishment of an order of decoration for women with 5 or more children:

Medal of motherhood 2ndclass (bronze) – awarded to a mother with 5 children
Medal of motherhood 1st class (silver) – awarded to a mother with 6 children
Order of Motherhood Fame 3rd class (silver) – awarded to a mother with 7 children
Order of Motherhood Fame 2nd class (silver) – awarded to a mother with 8 children
Order of Motherhood Fame 1st class (silver and gold plated parts)– awarded to a mother with 9 children
Mother - Hero (silver background and golden star) – awarded to a mother with 10 or more children

Over the years, about 19 million Soviet women were awarded such medals. Of those, 431 thousand received the highest rank of Mother-Hero, which was in a way a feminine equivalent (and pretty much looked alike) to the highest medal of honor in the Soviet Union- the Hero of the Soviet Union.

In Soviet Central Asia women were used (and abused) by the Soviet power. First as a “Surrogate Proletariat” during the unveiling campaign of the late 20s, then forced to work in government factories and collective farms and during the war years to fill the work places of the drafted men. On the one hand the Soviet system created legal equality, dramatically increased literacy and opened employment opportunities for woman of the East, but on the other, it did very little to change the traditional society view about women’s role in it.
In Central Asia, where the traditional family was already larger than that in the European parts of the USSR, the realization of the government plan for regaining the human losses of the war was more “successful” then in other parts of the union. According to the 1959 all-Union census children under age of 9 were about 30 percent of the population of the Central Asian Republics compared to 20 percent in the USSR as a whole. This reality brought to frequent decoration of local women due to which such medals are not a rare find in Central Asian flea markets to this day. In a way, this decoration for women in Central Asia, although part of a Soviet system, was actually a decoration for women who were still considered part of the traditional society of the “Orient”.

Further Reading
Marianne, Kamp. The New Woman in Uzbekistan: Islam, Modernity, and Unveiling under Communism(University of Washington Press, 2006).
Northrop, Douglas. Veiled Empire: Gender & Power in Stalinist Central Asia (Cornell, 2004).

Zeev Levin, is head of the Central Asian and Bukharan Jews Research Unit at Yad Ben-Zvi Institute, Jerusalem and a lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Author of Collectivization and Social Engineering, Soviet Administration and the Jews of Uzbekistan, 1917-1939 (2015) and editor of Jewish Communities in the East in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Central Asia: Bukhara and Afghanistan (2018), and Jewish Evacuees and Deportees in the Soviet Union, 1939-1946 (2020).