Women’s Rights in Russia
Russia is somewhat infamous for its history of oppression and human rights abuses. Often in the news for things like unfair elections or police brutality, gender equality is a less-reported topic, but nonetheless a pervasive and damaging systemic issue. Here are five facts about women’s rights in Russia.

5 Facts About Women’s Rights in Russia

  1. Russian women are equal in theory, but not in practice. The Constitution of Russia, adopted in 1993, guarantees equal rights for women and men. Even before that, the Bolshevik Revolution granted women’s rights in Russia– including suffrage– in 1917. However, women are still fighting inequality in many sectors, including the professional realm. People in Russia expect women to prioritize motherhood over professional development because of Russia’s low fertility rate. Citing a belief that strenuous jobs pose a threat to women’s safety and reproductive health, the government has barred women from occupations like aircraft repair, construction and firefighting. While the country passed reforms in 2019 to reduce the number of restricted jobs from 456 to 100, they will not come into effect until 2021. However, some of the largest industries, like mining and electric engineering, remain in the barred category.
  2. More women are in poverty than men. In addition to legal barriers to job opportunities, traditional gender roles box women out of professions like politics. Women earn on average 30% less than a man, one of the largest wage gaps among high-income countries. Even in professions where the wage gap is the smallest, like in the education sector, there is a 20% difference in average salary. Women also do a significant amount of unpaid work– estimates have determined that the loss to the annual budget due to gender segregation is 40-50% in Russia. Were Russia to offer equal resources in agriculture to all genders, it could raise food production by 30%. Higher poverty rates for women affect not only women but the children they raise. Impoverished women often cannot afford higher education for their children, which limits the children’s upwards economic mobility. Therefore, the cycle of poverty is perpetuated because of systemic gender discrimination putting mothers in positions where they cannot give their children better lives.
  3. Russian women face threats to their physical safety– and the police stand by. Domestic violence as a whole– which disproportionately victimizes women– is a serious threat to women’s rights in Russia. In January 2017, Russia decriminalized domestic violence that does not cause serious injury– meaning broken bones or a concussion– for first-time offenders. Since most victims do not report their abuse, most “first-time offenders” are actually long-time abusers. In addition, police officers routinely ignore domestic disturbance calls. When officers do respond, they often refuse to criminally prosecute instead of telling victims to prosecute privately. This is economically unfeasible for many women and effectively places the onus of an entire subgroup of law enforcement on the victim rather than the state. Decriminalization of domestic violence has rendered the statistics on it unreliable, but statistics have shown that most cases do not end up in court. If women cannot receive the assurance of their physical safety under Russian law and society, their overall rights are under severe threat.
  4. Learned attitudes reinforce gender inequality. Every Russian man that the Levada Center polled, regardless of age group, responded that the most desirable quality in a woman was that she had to be a good homemaker. This attitude pervades across gender lines: younger Russian women answered that attractiveness was the best quality, but by age 30, the women agreed that their most desirable quality was to be a good homemaker for a man. When pollsters asked the equivalent question about desirable qualities in a man, both men and women ranked intelligence as the most important trait in a man. Men, however, ranked intelligence in a woman as sixth or seventh on their list of 15 traits. But before one can solely cast the blame for gender inequality on men, women ranked independence as least important for themselves. Older women’s answers matched that of the men– the mothers and grandmothers teaching the sons their societal values. No one gender is at fault for the perpetuation of gender inequality; instead, it is a product of Russian culture and society that each generation has passed on to the next.
  5. The feminism movement in Russia is growing every year. Hundreds instead of dozens of women attend marches and protests now, especially against the controversial decriminalization of domestic violence. The work of leaders like Leda Garina and Zalina Marshenkulov has fostered the growth of feminism in the public consciousness. Despite facing arrests and threats, activists and organizations are persisting in getting the message of gender equality out to the public. Innovations in technology and social media make information more accessible to the Russian people and change the perception of feminism from a dirty, Western word to something necessary to Russian society. New venues are cropping up in big cities to aid women. For example, Cafe Simona in Saint Petersburg is a woman-only workspace and event space that allows women to go about their days without experiencing harassment. NGOs like Human Rights Watch also strive to inform both the domestic and international communities of the issues facing Russian women. Reporting by HRW and other media outlets on Yulia Tsvetkova, a feminist blogger who underwent and is a political prisoner, led to protests around the country. Despite crackdowns on NGOs under Putin’s “foreign agents” law, organizations are doing their best to get the word out about the situation in Russia.

People still need to do more to improve women’s rights in Russia. Nothing less than significant legal reforms are necessary to change the culture of misogyny in the country. Gender equality might be a long way off for Russian women, but because of activists and NGOs fighting for their rights under the law, hope is on the horizon.

– Brooklyn Quallen
Photo: Flickr

Russia has become a regular fixture in much of today’s news. From the 2016 U.S. election and subsequent investigations to international relations and finally the most recent, FIFA 2018 world cup.

Russia has been ubiquitous in the Western world’s thoughts and discussions. With an increase in international scrutiny, Russia has been placed under a long-needed microscope, displaying an unfortunate state of corruption, violence and human rights violations.

10 Facts About Human Rights in Russia

    1. Russia is currently experiencing its worst human rights crisis since the Soviet era. Under the guise of national security, Russia has entered an age of control and restraint on citizens’ basic human rights. In the past two years alone, numerous laws and policies have been enacted, restricting citizens’ rights to freedom of religion, assembly, free speech and other formerly protected human rights.
    1. Conditions may worsen for those in Russia due to other countries’ policy changes. The UK recently determined that upon leaving the EU, they would also leave behind the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and European Court of Human Rights. Should this occur, it would lend credibility to other countries interested in removing themselves. Although Russian State Duma Vice Speaker, Pyotr Tolstoy, stated earlier this year in March that there are no plans to withdraw from the ECHR, prior to his statement, multiple news outlets had reported that the Russian authorities were, in fact, discussing that possibility.
    1. Russia has created an environment of legalized human rights violations that go beyond simply enacting unfair laws. Since law enforcement and the judiciary system are essentially under the control of President Vladimir Putin, every step of the legal system is fraught with human rights violations and deep-rooted corruption.  
    1. So long as the world continues to say nothing, the Russian government will maintain its control through the attack on human rights and freedoms, relying on violence and misinformation to manipulate not only Russians’ views of their country but the western world’s as well. While the world ignores the current situation in Russia, the human rights violations have worsened and become more normalized. By speaking out against the abuses, the U.S. and others can begin the long-needed open dialogue to address the issues.
    1. These human rights violations do not just exist within the country. Since reclaiming the territory of Crimea in 2014, Russia has exercised their control in a region that had been independent for nearly 60 years. Throughout the time Russia occupied Crimea, the UN has reported numerous human rights violations. This includes the imposition of Russian citizenship as well as torture used to control residents and the potential threat they would pose by exercising their right to protest. Some of the human rights violations are listed below.
    1. Freedom of Assembly: An increase in human rights violations has resulted in an increase in protests across Russia. The ECHR ruled in Lashmankin and Others v. Russia that the right to assembly was being violated, yet restrictions and violations continue to persist or worsen. Protesters are often young people and their activism has the potential to negatively affect their future. While the majority of these protests are peaceful, Russian police have arrested thousands of protesters, bystanders and journalists, often using excessive force and subjecting many to arbitrary detention and unfair trials. Once identified, Russian authorities continue to be a forceful presence in the lives of protesters.
    1. Freedom of Association: Since the enactment of the ‘Foreign Agents’ Law in 2012, Russian citizens’ right to freedom of association has been under attack. This law requires independent groups that receive any foreign funding and engage in any sort of political activity to register as ‘foreign agents’—a term which essentially translates to ‘traitor’. The majority of these groups are associated with human rights work or environmental, health or social issues, and many have shut down due to heavy fines or simply the negative label of ‘foreign agent’. To date, 76 nonprofits attempting to contribute to the wellbeing of citizens are on the list of active ‘foreign agents’.
    1. Freedom of Expression: In an era of fake news, media control and online communication, the freedom of expression is a vital right for all. In July 2016, President Vladimir Putin signed the Yarovaya Law, which requires internet and cellular providers to retain personal data for up to three years for use by security services, as a means of stemming terrorism and extremism. In the first two months of 2017, 94 Russian citizens were imprisoned for extremist speeches on online platforms, associated mostly with criticism of the Russian occupation of Crimea.
    1. Women’s Rights: In February 2017, a law decriminalizing domestic violence by a close relative that does not lead to hospitalization or loss of ability to work was passed. By allowing domestic violence to persist in any form it becomes normalized and often escalates within a household. The mayor of Moscow denied activists the right to protest this law, despite its grave effects on the safety of women. 
  1. Freedom of Religion: Many religious minority groups are harassed, subjected to banning or blocking of their websites. Under the Yarovaya Law of 2016, these groups will also be fined for practicing or promoting their religion outside pre-designated places. In April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization calling it extremist, thereby restricting the freedom of the religion’s 170,000 worshippers across the country. Those who continue to practice this religion may face up to 12 years in prison.

Through these facts about human rights in Russia, one can see the deep-rooted history of corruption and injustice which has penetrated some of the most basic human rights even in the 21st century. However, the potential for change exists, as many Russian citizens continue to protest unjust laws and the world begins to focus on addressing human rights violations in Russia and beyond.

– Anna Lally
Photo: Flickr