Temporary blog of the CWI

Violence against women in Russia

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women – 25th November

By Sasha Alekseeva – Socialist Feminist Alternativa, Moscow 

Today’s Russia, once the birthplace of the great Socialist Revolution, which advanced the cause of women’s rights far in advance of those found in other countries at that time, is now in the hands of a ruling conservative-authoritarian clique. They are taking back, step by step, the gains of workers’ struggle: we no longer have a law on domestic violence, there is no meaningful “restraining order” and the problems of women’s rights are not discussed at any level, whether in the school or the state controlled media. 

In 2017, the Russian authorities transferred the article on “battery” from the criminal code to the administrative (civil) code. By doing this they decriminalized domestic violence. Now a person who has committed an act of domestic violence faces, not jail, but a 5000 rubles fine (about 70 euros). 

A rapist can be excused for any reason, maybe he was drunk or he has a high social status or a socially accepted profession. This is threatening, it reduces the number of victims who are prepared to go to the police in search of a just punishment for the rapist – now only 10% of victims are prepared to do this. 

This is made worse by the lack of confidence in the police, demonstrated by the statistics: police act on only 20% of referrals by rape victims, only 3-5% of those are turned over to the courts and there aren’t even any statistics about how many rapists are sentenced. 

Last year 16 million women were subject to domestic violence, but in the current situation they have nowhere to turn to for help: relatives more often than not advise those suffering to stick it out for the sake of the children and to maintain the family. There are practically no crisis centres that victims can attend, and the few centres that do exist are financed by donations and grants, which of course, can stop at any moment. 

In 2018, the whole of Russia was shocked by one story, which has become known as the “Sisters Khachaturan affair”. Three sisters – Maria (17 years), Angelina (18 years) and Krestina (19 years) killed their father, who for many years had been controlling their life, beating them, refusing to let them go to school, checking their telephones and even encouraging them to have sex with him. Two years before this happened, the girl’s mother left the family, she had also suffered violence and could stand it no more. She left the three girls alone with their aggressor. It later turned out that the girls couldn’t even go to the police as their father had connections there. He threatened their neighbours that there would be unpleasantness if they reported anything about the goings-on in the family. 

Now the investigation has been dragging on for two years, the current charges they face will mean up to twenty years in prison, as the prosecutor claims that the sisters committed “premeditated murder”. The defence is arguing that the sisters acted in self-defence and should be released. 

In the summer of 2019 there was a previously unseen wave of protest by the feminist community, which, until then had only really existed on-line. In Moscow there were a series of single-person pickets (the only form of protest that doesn’t need official sanction). On two successive evenings during the working week over 200 people participated, and in St Petersburg an official sanctioned rally was attended by 4000 people, to demand an end to domestic violence. 

Sotsialisticheskaya Alternativa, the Russian section of the CWI tried to set up a feminist platform in 2017, when the authorities decriminalized domestic violence and attempted to remove the right to free abortion. But due to a number of difficulties we didn’t get far. But after discussions on women’s rights and how to combat identity politics at this year’s summer school, it became clear that setting up an independent socialist feminist movement was simply necessary. Participants in the school got together, organized the first meeting just a couple of weeks later where we decided to launch a campaign for the release of the Khachaturyan sisters and against domestic violence.  In three months we have conducted numerous single-person pickets, discussed the reasons for violence and how to build a women’s movement, initiated protests in seven other cities and participated in an illegal demonstration with a large pink banner, which has become our distinguishing mark.  

We took a conscious decision to name ourselves “Socialist Feminist Alternativa” or “SotsFemAlternativa”, because now the Russian Feminist community consists mainly of bourgeois bloggers, academics and cultural feminists. They are all capable of pointing out when there are particularly bad cases of violence, but either do not see or do not talk about the real reasons behind the violence, capitalism and the state structure, which simply is not prepared to release women from the drudgery of working two shifts and domestic violence. That is why in our public campaigning we propose much wider demands:

  • No to domestic violence;
  • Open state financed crisis centres in every region;
  • A new law on domestic violence, to include special training for the police and judges dealing with domestic violence, for the introduction of ‘restraining orders’, for free psychological rehabilitation of victims and treatment for offenders;
  • Introduction of lessons in gender and sexual education in the schools. 

In the near future there is a plan to discuss a new law on domestic violence in the State Duma (Parliament), but we understand very well that even if under public pressure it is passed, in the current conditions it will not work, just like any other laws in Russia. It is for this reason that we also work to build a wider movement for the socialist transformation of society, in which it will be possible to find the resources necessary to combat violence against women and children, for free and quality healthcare and education, for the development of science in the interests of people and not big business.