'The only good thing is that they won't grab me off the street' How Russia's mobilization affects women and transgender people

On September 21, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would officially begin conscripting people to fight in the country’s war against Ukraine. Contrary to what the bulk of media coverage has suggested, cisgender men aren’t the only people at risk of being sent to war. Some cisgender women and transgender people are at risk of being drafted, too — potentially a lot of them, given that the call-up could apply to as many as 1.2 million Russians. The Feminist Anti-War Resistance and the nonprofit Center-T recently spoke to legal experts about what cis women and trans people should know about the mobilization. Meduza summarizes their advice.

According to Tamilla Imanova, a lawyer from the Memorial Human Rights Center who recently spoke to the Feminist Anti-War Resistance (FAS), the women most likely to be called up for Russia’s mobilization are those who have degrees in certain fields as determined by Russian law: medicine, communications, computer engineering, hydrology and meteorology, printing, and cartography.

“All women are assigned to the third category of Russia’s reserve forces,” said Imanova. “Women with the rank of officer remain in the reserve until 50 years old, while all others are taken off at 45 years old. Unfortunately, the fact that women are in the third [of three] categories doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be the last to be drafted.”

Instead, she said, who gets drafted will depend on which skills are in demand at the front. And this has already begun to play out: in just the last three days, there have been numerous reports in the Russian media of people with medical degrees receiving draft orders “en masse,” Imanova said.

Certain women in these categories, however, will be spared from mobilization — at least temporarily. According to Imanova, women in the following categories are eligible for deferment:

  1. Women who have at least one child younger than 16 years old, as well as women who are at least 22 weeks pregnant;
  2. Women in reserved occupations as spelled out by the Russian Government (though the only way to find out whether you’re in this category is to asked your employer; the official documents outlining which occupations are reserved are classified)
  3. Women declared temporarily unfit for service due to health issues (for up to six months)
  4. Women responsible for providing constant care to family members or to people with certain disabilities
  5. Women whose mothers have four or more children under the age of 8 and who care for the children in place of their father
  6. Women who work in the defense sector (only for the duration of their employment)
‘Some want to flee, but others can’t — because of their husbands and children’

One woman who works as a doctor spoke to the FAS about how her work has changed since mobilization was announced — and about her fear that she’ll be drafted. As a medical professional, she said, she’s required to report to her local military commissariat if summoned. She’s also not allowed to change her place of residence during mobilization without the military commissariat’s permission.

But because the Russian authorities are trying to have it both ways, maintaining that this mobilization is only “partial,” the doctor has had difficulty keeping up with the specifics, she told the FAS.

“I get my information about the ‘partial mobilization’ and its various odd rules from Telegram channels,” she said. “Every day, it's something new. We don’t get any clear information.”

The woman said a number of employees at her workplace were granted exemptions from the draft, but she wasn’t one of them — and it appears to be too late to get one.

“On the day the 'partial' mobilization was announced, 2–3 hours after the announcement, they received forms granting them exemptions for one year [...] and the forms were stamped by the military commissar,” she said. “In other words, their exemptions had been granted in advance; evidently, the list of people to be made exempt from the draft had been submitted long before the announcement.”

In addition, she told the FAS, the higher-ups at her workplace don’t seem to be concerned about the mobilization at all. “It wasn’t until [September 23] that the head of my department learned that some people hadn’t been granted exemptions,” she wrote, “so 🤡.”

So far, said the woman, nobody at her hospital has received a summons — though it’s only been three days. “There’s one guy who [previously] served in the army,” she said, “and he’s been pale as a ghost.”

She told the FAS that she felt “anxious and panicky,” and that every time she’s found herself idle since mobilization was announced, she’s started shaking. “The other women are in shock, too; some of them are thinking about fleeing the country, while others can’t, because of their husbands and children. [...] The only good thing is that because I’m a woman, I don’t have ‘medic’ written on my forehead, so at least they won’t grab me off of the street.”

A lawyer’s advice for trans people

Despite the fact that Vladimir Putin’s mobilization order doesn’t mention trans people directly, many of them could still be subject to conscription. Center-T, an advocacy group for trans people in Russia, asked Alexander, a lawyer, what trans people seeking not to be drafted need to know.

According to Alexander, if a transfeminine person has a female gender marker in her passport and doesn’t have a degree in a "military occupational" field but was once included in the draft registry, she’s legally supposed to have notified her local military commissariat of her passport change when it was completed. Failing to inform the commissariate is punishable by a fine. Nonetheless, Alexander recommends that anybody in that situation keep quiet for now — unless they receive a summons, in which case he offered a template for requesting to be removed from the draft registry.

Transmasculine people who have male gender markers in their passports are probably not on the military authorities’ radar unless they’ve gone to their local commissariat and requested to be added to the draft registry, Alexander said. There is a chance, however, that somebody could be spotted by a law enforcement official and reported to his local military commissariat, which might require him to register for the draft. In that case, he should insist that he’s unfit for military service when he appears before the medical evaluation board, which every conscripted soldier is required to do before being sent to a combat zone.

In the past, however, the Russian Defense Ministry has done everything in its power to “disown” trans people, including by categorizing them as “unfit for military service” when there’s no legitimate reason to, according to Alexander. Even if a transmasculine person is deemed to be fit for military service after an initial medical evaluation, the lawyer said, he’s legally allowed to submit a written statement demanding an additional one — and that's likely his best option.