Want a man like Putin?: When the state trivialises violence against women

In 2002, the band ‘Поющие вместе’ (Singing Together) released the song entitled ‘Такого как Путин‘ (‘A man like Putin’). The song itself articulates an aggrandising image of President Vladimir Putin as the ideal partner, male specimen and visage of strength desirable for Russian women. Whilst accurate numbers are not available the song still had a considerable degree of popularity. Whilst being clearly humorous in nature, nonetheless it has been defined as a new form of propaganda anthem used in the cult of popularity that has been cultivated around Putin in Russia. I draw attention to the irony of this propaganda as Putin’s recent actions regarding the approval and passing of legislation decriminalising forms of domestic violence within Russia makes the image of Putin as a desirable protector of women that his ‘theme song’ would suggest a lot harder to apply. If ‘A Man Like Putin’ had been written more recently perhaps specific lyrics mentioning how ‘One like Putin, who wouldn’t hurt me’ could possibly be excluded?

This year President Putin and Russian MPs passed the legislation decriminalising certain forms of domestic violence, dubbed the ‘law on slaps’, specifically reducing the level of punishment for attacks resulting in so-called “minor injuries”, such as bruises or cuts, from two years to 15 days in prison or a fine (to the value of £400) and reclassifying non-lethal domestic abuse as a civil rather than criminal offence unless it is a repeat occurrence.

A desire to preserve the family is how conservative Russian legislators are legitimising the ‘slapping law’, with justifications stemming from the belief that parents should be able to physically punish their children and that the state should have no right to interfere with matters of the family. Amnesty International has denounced this reasoning, stressing that in reality this law ‘rides roughshod over women’s rights’ and more importantly ‘trivialises domestic violence’ in a country where violence already occurs in 25% of Russian families.

In line with justifications for the ‘slapping law’ attitudes in Russia have an entrenched dissuading of state involvement in family/private life, within which women who report domestic abuse to the police have come up against an unwillingness to intervene and can be told to resolve the situation themselves. However, as always, ‘the personal is political’ [1] and feminist activist, Anastasia Inopina, links the cause of domestic violence in Russia with society itself, citing that ‘violence towards a woman, like violence in general, is the norm…where it is more shameful to be beaten up than to beat someone up’. This image of Russia that Inopina portrays echoes the conditions that Afroza Anwary details in which hegemonic gender norms construct a society that promotes violence against women and in which ‘violence is a means for the doing of masculinity’ [2].

In effect, as domestic violence (up to point of broken bones) has been depenalised, removing the consequence of criminal charge opens up the possibility for a strengthening of the view that violence against women is acceptable and now permissible.

This law classifies domestic abuse as a criminal offence when it is ‘more than once a year’, yet what the ‘slapping law’ has effectively done is created a catch-22 of non-reporting of domestic violence. If repeated violence is still penalised then it would require an initial complaint to be made in order to show that violence is repeated, however de-penalising the violence when it pertains to so-called ‘minor injuries’ dissuades women from making this first report. Of course that is on top of all the ways in which the legal structure dissuades the reporting of domestic violence. Importantly, this situation wherein the rights of women (and children if they are to be the focus of this law) to not be battered are undermined within Russian law and the absence of institutions protecting women, prevents the adoption of a ‘rights consciousness’ [3]. What’s more is that this law disregards the long-term emotional and psychological impacts that domestic violence can have on victims. In accordance with Herring’s view it can perpetuate the cycle of violence as ‘boys that grow up in abusive households become abusers and girls that grow up in abusive households become victims’. [4]

Even though Russia is a signatory state to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), to say that the state has been unreceptive to recommendations and criticisms is certainly putting things lightly. Even before the ‘law on slaps’ had been passed the Committee for CEDAW had already been highly concerned that ‘cases of violence against women are underreported, given that they are considered a private matter, and that victim protection services, such as crisis centres and shelters, are insufficient.’

Women in Russia have very few options for assistance when suffering from domestic violence, so in the struggle for defending women’s rights and protecting the victims, the new law will only serve to make the critical situation of women’s’ safety even worse.

Bibliography:

[1] Oloka-Onyango, J., and Sylvia Tamale, ‘“The Personal is Political,” or Why Women’s Rights are Indeed Human Rights: An African Perspective on International Feminism’, Human Rights Quarterly 17, 4 (1995): 691-731.

[2] Anwary, Afroza. “Construction of hegemonic masculinity: Violence against wives in Bangladesh.” Women’s Studies International Forum, 50 (May-June 2015): 37-46.

[3] Merry, Sally Engle. Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice, University of Chicago Press, 2009.

[4] Herring, J. (2011). Family Law. 5th ed. Essex: Harlow: Pearson Longman.

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About School of Politics and International Relations

This blog has been set up for the students of PO665, Advanced Topics in Politics and International Relations: Global Gender Justice, which is a course for final year Honours students in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. As part of their participation in the course, students submit blog posts that examine issues pertaining to gender justice within the family, the community, the state and global society. We aim to explore the extent to which gender inequality within the state has an impact on state behaviour, with a specific focus on state development and state security, and further aim to analyse the effectiveness and limits of international organisations, international human rights instruments, NGOs and activists to bring about greater gender justice.
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