Russia’s hosting of a very successful World Cup finals is a major step in a campaign to enhance the country’s international reputation – and the warmth of the welcome for visiting football fans, the quality of the new stadiums and other infrastructure, along with slick organisation of the tournament, seem to be shifting opinion in Europe away from a perception of an authoritarian, belligerent, isolationist state.
But away from the floodlights in the stadiums and the focus of international media, deep-rooted prejudices and damaging chauvinistic attitudes appear to be regaining ground in Russia, with the active support of political and religious leaders.
In a country which introduced votes for women in 1917 and sent the first woman into space, domestic violence is rampant and women’s rights under the law are under attack. President Putin’s macho persona seems to be much more substantive than a mere media façade.
In January last year, Russia’s parliament agreed a legal amendment effectively decriminalizing domestic violence, following a campaign championed by the Orthodox Church, which has flourished under Putin’s patronage. Church leaders have regular access to state media as well as social media for lectures on the family, moral certainty and the rights of men, with one declaring during the campaign: ‘The term domestic violence has caused destruction of the family in Europe’.
The amended law deems violence against women that results merely in bruising or bleeding should be punishable only by a fine – and this new ‘Slapping Law’ has been followed by escalating levels of violence against women, with one major city recording a doubling of domestic violence reports to police in the past year. And this has to be considered against a climate in which far fewer women are believed to have any confidence in the law upholding their complaints or providing any level of protection.
Ten thousand women are killed each year in Russia in domestic violence attacks, yet the funding for organisations providing support to victims of domestic violence has been heavily cut following the law amendment, resulting in a significant reduction in the number of places offered in shelters for women who have been assaulted, at a time when the incidence of women needing such places of safety is increasing.
Is it too much to hope that the US President will use his face-to-face meeting with President Putin next week to ‘mention’ the shocking domestic violence situation in Russia; a successful World Cup alone should not be enough to see Europe’s largest country welcomed back to the table of enlightened nations.
Clearly, global reputation is an issue of concern for Russia and its President; the international community should use the opportunity of the meeting of the two presidents to put pressure on the need for reform of domestic violence laws, restoration of funding for support mechanisms for women and education campaigns that challenge male domination in relationships. This is also a chance for the UN Human Rights Commission to take another look at this critical issue!
- You can watch a BBC3 documentary on the issue, entitled Russia’s War on Women, here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p05vb22n/stacey-dooley-investigates-russias-war-on-women
- Or read an online article on the documentary here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/0dd0ab91-145a-4137-bf87-28d0498c8d56