For Russian women, 2021 has been a year of broken promises


In one of Russia’s most daring Eurovision entries in years, singer-songwriter Manizha took the stage in Rotterdam in May to perform her women’s empowerment hymn “Russian Woman”.

“Every Russian woman should know,” she rapped to a vibrant beat interspersed with folklore motifs. “You’re strong enough, you’re going to break the wall.”

Although the fiery performance was adopted by Eurovision viewers, it did not have the same appeal at home and unleashed a backlash that reached as far as parliament.

By the end of the year, little had changed for Russian women, as the country’s increasingly conservative leadership and the pandemic overshadowed feminist concerns.

Late legislation

In 2017, Russia decriminalized some forms of domestic violence – a move according to activists allows attackers and reinforces the culture of impunity around these crimes. After that, and in the wake of several high-profile cases of abuse and murder, the movement for legislation to protect women gathered momentum.

When the coronavirus pandemic struck in early 2020, efforts to pass the law were quashed – although cases of abuse were reported jumped during containment.

Despite the delay, lobbying for the bill continued throughout 2021, and Federation Council President Valentina Matviyenko pledged to introduce domestic violence legislation in the State Duma. Status this fall.

But as the fourth wave of the pandemic has spiked infections and deaths to record levels, lawmakers have instead rushed to push forward legislation requiring unpopular QR code health passes to enter spaces. public.

“As soon as I found out that the government introduced the QR code law to the Duma, I knew that our law would be delayed again,” former State Duma deputy Oksana Pushkina said, a leading voice in promoting legislation on domestic violence. Moscow Times. “And that’s exactly what happened.”

As a result of this year’s State Duma elections, only 74 of 450 lower house lawmakers – 16.4 percent – are women. In the upper house of the Federation Council, women represent 38 of the 170 senators, or 23%.

The main supporters of the adoption of a law on domestic violence are now absent from parliament. Pushkina was not nominated for re-election in the September race. And women’s rights activist Alyona Popova, who had made the law on domestic violence a central part from his platform, lost his campaign for a seat.

“The people who run the women’s agenda have now been thrown overboard and can only influence it from the outside,” Popova noted in an interview after the vote. “Any action of solidarity now comes up against more challenges and resistance. “

Alyona Popova, women’s rights activist and State Duma candidate, campaigns in Moscow on September 3, 2021.
Pavel Golovkin / AP / TASS

Even though the proportion of female legislators was higher, the political will to pursue feminist policies, let alone tackle a critical issue like domestic violence, is simply not there, political scientist Yekaterina Schulmann said. .

“The odds being what they are, the public mood being what it is, obviously it’s too risky to bring something into the public sphere that will excite passions – and it will. It’s really a subject that concerns everyone, ”she said.

Over the past decade, Russian officials have sought to promote what they call “traditional family values” as opposed to Western liberalism. This conservative shift has become even more apparent in recent years, and hard-line supporters in parliament argue that a domestic violence law would interfere with private family matters.

Russian lawmakers “generally operate on the ‘don’t worry until you have problems’ principle,” Schulmann said. “They’ve got enough trouble with this QR code thing. The introduction of domestic violence legislation will bring the entire Conservative horde down on them. “

After Europe’s highest human rights court ordered Moscow this week to pay nearly € 400,000 to victims of domestic violence – and describe measures it must take to protect women, including passing laws – the Kremlin maintained that Russian law adequately protects women against violence.

“We believe that the current legislation provides all the necessary tools to fight against this evil and the police are making efforts,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“Of course, unfortunate and tragic incidents are happening,” he said, adding: “I don’t want to comment on the court’s decision.”

For now, Schulmann says most policies affecting women will remain “family-friendly,” such as the Maternity Capital Program which provides financial support to families with two or more children.

Voices silenced

Amid an increasingly cold climate for activism of all kinds, many women’s rights activists have found themselves this year silenced or subjected to abuse and harassment for their work.

A major NGO helping women has been labeled a “foreign agent” this year, a designation that activists say stifles a key lifeline for victims of abuse.

Several members of the punk collective Pussy Riot spent much of the year under house arrest on charges of inciting an illegal demonstration after calling on his supporters to rally for the release from prison of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny at the end of January.

This year has also seen an increase in harassment and abuse of women, LGBT people and people of color by the nationalist and patriarchal hate group Muzhskoe Gosudarstvo (Male State).

The Vkusvill grocery store ad featuring the family of a lesbian couple sparked a storm of backlash from Male State and other anti-LGBT groups, forcing the channel to apologize – and the family to flee the country.

Even after Russia officially outlaw The male state as “extremist” in October, eminent feminist activist Daria Serenko has received thousands of death threats and other abusive messages from him for writing that migrants are only responsible for a small percentage of crimes in Russia.

Oksana Pushkin.  Pavel Golovkin / AP / TASS

Oksana Pushkin.
Pavel Golovkin / AP / TASS

Pushkina said that although the male state is now outlawed, she believes there are still deep-rooted forces in the corridors of power that tacitly empower those with radically anti-women, as well as anti-LGBT or anti-LGBT views. anti-minorities.

“These are ultraconservative forces that have infiltrated the governance of this country and, now, are well integrated. We know everyone who is involved, ”she said. “I have warned our colleagues that these forces must be stopped immediately, otherwise they will sense how powerful they are and do something even worse.”

Waiting for the change

While major women’s issues are pushed out of the national conversation, the work is not done to move them forward.

Schulmann pointed out that the path to progress is often slow, especially in a country like Russia.

“These are extremely long processes. They take decades in the case of Russia. It’s like the suffragette movement that took 30 years to achieve its main goal. Progress is mainly made by two things: generational change and information campaigns – making the problem visible, educating the public that it really exists and that it can be solved by legislative measures and by them too.

Pushkina said she plans to continue to advocate publicly for a domestic violence law and hopes to form a coalition of progressive women’s rights groups.

She also teamed up with Popova and another former Duma candidate Marina Litvinovich to launch a initiative to encourage more women to run for office.

“At the end of the day, there are a lot of people in my country who are on the common sense side,” she said.