CN: Discussions of domestic abuse.
The Russian authorities passed a bill to reduce the punishment for domestic violence – the primary victims of this legislation will be women. Ruby Cardona explains how this bill, drafted by two women, came to pass.
In Russia, it is estimated that one woman is killed by domestic violence every 40 minutes. On 7th February 2017 , Putin signed an amendment to national law reducing the penalty for domestic violence.
The bill flew through both houses of the Russian parliament, decriminalising domestic abuse that does not result in serious bodily harm. From this month, beating a spouse or child which results only in bruising or bleeding – but no broken bones – will only face a fine or 15 days in prison, so long as it does not happen more than once a year. Previously, domestic abuse was punishable with up to two years in jail.
In the popular Russian tabloid paper, Komosomolskaya, a recent article proclaimed the positive effects of wife-beating: ‘Recent scientific studies show the wives of angry men have reason to be proud of their bruises…Beaten-up women have a valuable advantage: they more often give birth to boys’.
But the issue goes deeper than straightforward sexism or misogyny. In fact, two women helped draft and promote the new legislation – one was the ultra-conservative MP Yelena Mizulina – who said it was outrageous that people could be brandished a criminal just ‘for a slap’. Both women have claimed that this move is primarily to protect Russia’s traditional values; preserving the family unit where relationships between parents and children – and husbands and wives – are built on authority and power.
In Russia, the family has always been heralded as sacred and as firmly situated within the private sphere. Defenders of the law say that the amendment seeks to protect this idea of the family. Dmitry Smirnov, head of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchy’s Commission on family matters said on Russian television that the notion of the state intervening in domestic affairs is an imposition of Western culture – failing to acknowledge the huge encroachments president Trump is already making on women’s rights in America.
The Russian Orthodox church – which still holds sway on social morality – added to the debate their support for the ‘rational and moderate use of physical punishment by loving parents’.
Whilst lawmakers claim to be upholding the family, the reality is that the majority of domestic violence victims are women, and this kind of legislation is intended to curtail their power in society both legally and domestically. Instead of protecting vulnerable women, Russian lawmakers are effectively showing complacency toward domestic violence.
Russian women will not be passive on this issue. Under the hashtag #Iamnotscaredtospeak, thousands of women from Russia took to Twitter to share their horrible experiences of rape, domestic abuse and sexual harassment. 300,000 signed an online petition against the new amendment.
However, the lack of public platforms that would allow their voices to be heard, will mean that many remain silenced. Domestic violence goes largely unreported because of the social stigma that surrounds it – and now women will be more certain that their grievances will not be taken seriously in court.
Collage featuring the ‘lone protestor’, activist Alena Popova, by Joy Molan.