MOSCOW, JUNE 23 -- Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said today that women in the Soviet Union have even more rights than men but that their burdens as wives and mothers have increased.
He made the statement in a speech opening a world congress of women attended by more than 2,250 delegates from 154 countries. The theme of the congress is "peace, justice and equality."
Gorbachev, accompanied by his wife, Raisa, delivered an hour-long address in which he praised women as peacemakers in the forefront of antiwar movements around the world.
He said Soviet women "have equal rights with men and in some areas even vaster rights," but he acknowledged indirectly that they are expected to perform a dual role and keep house as well as hold down full-time jobs.
Soviet women have complained that they must do the shopping, cooking and cleaning and then care for their children, while men shun household tasks. Even so, there is no organized feminist movement in the Soviet Union to try to change this.
Gorbachev said women get equal pay for equal work and have equal opportunities for education and employment and equal opportunities to take part in Communist Party and government work.
"Women are working in all sectors of the economy, and they dominate such spheres as public health, education and culture," he said. He did not point out, however, that doctors and schoolteachers are among the lowest-paid people in the Soviet Union.
Soviet women, he said, make up 60 percent of the people with a higher education or a specialized secondary education.
"An active and equal participation of women in social production, in political, scientific and cultural activities has boosted women's authority, their self-respect, sense of dignity and independence from men," he said. "But this has not always been accompanied by changes making any easier the performance of their inherent functions as housewife and mother. Certain problems have become more acute because of shortcomings in the consumer services sector and retail trade. Thus the social load on women has increased."
Soviet housewives complain that they spend hours in lines every week shopping for groceries and other household needs. Shortages of many items -- children's shoes and clothing, for example -- add to their burden.
The prominent public role assumed by Raisa Gorbachev has caused a certain amount of controversy here. Many Soviet citizens are reported to disapprove of her accompanying Gorbachev on trips abroad and around the Soviet Union. They argue that since she has no official duties she should stay at home.
Her visibility is a novelty in the Soviet Union. The wives of most Soviet leaders rarely or never appeared in public. Until a previous leader, Yuri Andropov, died and his wife appeared at his funeral, it was not widely known that he was married.
Freda Brown, president of the Women's International Democratic Federation, who is chairwoman of the congress, said in her opening speech that she expected frank discussion from delegates with differing political and religious views.
The main obstacles to peace, justice and equality, she said, are the waste of money on the arms race and the "ruthless exploitation of women in industry, as well as outdated traditions and customs which still assign to women a subordinate role in society."