Panel: New States – new women and families? Self-empowerment of Women and Perceptions of Families in the Baltic States since 1918

(Press release of the Herder Institute)

Panel at the 28th Biennial AABS Conference “Baltic Studies at a Crossroads”, May 27–29, 2022

Families perceived as the smallest societal entity (and hence of the state). Already in the late Russian Empire, changing family values could be observed as well as women’s first steps of self-empowerment. After the founding of the states after the collapse of Russian Empire, national states emerged which at to integrate different ethnic and denominational groups. The annexation of the Baltic States through the Soviet Union and the establishment of the Eastern Bloc implied the adoption of Soviet societal order and hence the paradigm of „women’s liberation for the buildup of Socialism“, so that women’s empowerment was only within the societal order.

One premise of the panel is, that family values and female self-empowerment were interrelated and gained momentum through revolution, democratization and national state building. Several further influences like population policy debates, eugenic and racist theories had influence on family values as well as on gender roles. On the more individual and societal level, the „new woman“ represented throughout Europe the dawn of democratic modernity. Women’s movement as well as democratization led to self-empowerment and claims for societal, political and economic participation in the Baltic States. Herewith following discourses on traditional social orders such as marriage and the „obligation to give birth“ challenged the power-related attitudes towards families. Particularly, the attitudes towards families in general and to birth control in particular were politized and influenced by societal, political and socio-economic modernization processes. Moreover, since the Sovietization the Soviet family model was pushed.

The panel wants to discuss which impact the nation building and „building of socialist society“ in the Baltic sea region had. Why and how did family values change? Taking into account that the Baltic States‘ population was multi-ethnic, the panel will discuss which influence on family values and changing perception of women’s role had these transformations. Which influence had e.g. nationalities‘ conflicts on these transformations? Can we observe minority-majority related particular discourses and perceptions? Furthermore, the panel will discuss questions related to birth control since they reflect growing female self-consciousness, family values and how the „new“ society should look like.


  • Elke Bauer (Marburg): Chair and introduction
  • Leena Kurvet-Köosaar (Tartu): The Dynamics of Family Values in Estonian Women’s Life Stories
  • Ineta Lipša (Riga): „Between men’s parties and women’s lists“: Self-empowerment of women through running for MP office in Latvia, 1920-1934n:
  • Eva Eglāja-Kristsone (Riga): Opportunities and limitations of female self-affirmation: case of the Grosvalds family
  • Ieva Balčiūnė (Vilnius): Beating means love: domestic violence and birth control in Soviet Lithuania
  • Heidi Hein-Kircher (Marburg): New States – New Women and Families? A Comment (10 min.)

Further information