Labour Market and Women in Interwar Lithuania

Virginija Jurėnienė


The Second Seimas was elected May 12-13, 1923. However, there were only three women, i.e. Lithuanian Christian Democrats party (LCDP) members M. Galdikienė and E. Gvildienė and Lithuanian Social democrat party (LSDP) member L. Purėnienė. Although at some points their opinions were at variance, the women parliament members defended some bills, e.g. a bill of State Tax on Service and Business together.

The Third Seimas had 4 women: M. Galdikienė and E. Gvildienė were elected for the second tenure, and S. Ladygienė came from the fraction of LCDP and L. Purėnienė from the fraction of LSDP.

The women parliament members participated in the discussions on the law most and initiated some laws which later served as the legal basis for making the rights of women and men equal in juridical, economic and social spheres.

December 3, 1922 a union of catholic organizations named The Highest secretariat of Lithuanian catholic women - was established in a meeting of catholic women associations. Its goal was not only to unite organizations of the kind but also to give a direction and coordinate the activity of catholic women. In 1933 the representatives of the Highest Secretariat participated in the International Social and Public Union Congress in Paris where the question of women's work in industry was discussed. In 1933 the Secretariat invited the decade congress in Kaunas where the resolution was made to implement fully equal rights for both genders in the family. In 1934 The Highest secretariat of Lithuanian catholic women established a section of intelligent women named Women's Work.

Lithuanian Women Council (LWC) was established in 1929. It contained 20 women associations.

In 1931 LWC presented the government with a memorandum which demanded to respect equality of both genders when dismissing people. May 2, 1933 the ministers in the attempts to balance the state budget decided to educe the number of the state officials from July 1. At the end of the year 1935 the situation in Lithuanian labour market became even more complicated when the government issued New Employment Decrees for Industrial Workers that forbade women to work night shifts.

In 1935 the tension of social relations reached its culmination when The Union of Lithuanian Women with Higher Education addressed the Federation of International Diplomaed Women with a plea to defend women. In September 1935 the Federation presented the General Secretariat of the United Nations with a memorandum which stated that Lithuanian women's opportunities to engage in a professional activity were restricted, and the government's policy disregarded women's talents, education and competence, making them return to the household activities. The memorandum was introduced and discussed at the XVI plenum of the United Nations.

In 1939 LWC presented President A. Smetona with another memorandum concerning this question. The memorandum claimed that the women rights were not protected by the Constitution and demanded  inclusion of the representatives of educated women society into the committees. Work groups preparing the laws of labour and social security and in the process of dismissing married women. Besides, LWC claimed

participation of educated women in the decision making on dismissal of married women from the public office.

The government did not entertain the request. The problem of women dismissal remained unsolved through the1930s. The Women Council did not organize any other initiatives against the government's policy, except memoranda writing. At that time they could not do more. The issues of unemployment were acute all over Europe, and the majority of the unemployed were women.