Last week’s renewed abortion debate in Russia underscores an increasing atmosphere of anti-women rhetoric amongst Russian politicians and religious figures.
On September 27, Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, signed a petition created by orthodox antiabortion campaigners calling for a legal ban on abortion. After the patriarch’s endorsement, Russia’s new Children’s Rights Commissioner, Anna Kuznetsova, also signed onto the campaign.
Kuznetsova’s decision did not come as a surprise. Kuznetsova, thirty-four, is married to a Senior Orthodox Priest, Alexei Kuznetsov, with whom she has six children. While being interviewed by TV Rain Channel last month, Kuznetsov stated that the only justification for having sex is the creation of a family. Though Kuznetsova is clearly deeply motivated by her religious beliefs, they are far from in line with the majority of Russians. As the Moscow Times has reported, only 10 percent of Russians who identify as Orthodox Christians practice the religion and follow its principles.
Nevertheless, Kuznetsova’s religiously-motivated decision-making is not unusual in Russia. Though the country is a secular state, as reflected in its constitution, many conservative political figures and lawmakers often endorse and rely on the Russian Orthodox Church in executing their official duties. More often than not, Russian politicians have emphasized the importance of traditional family values and morality as central to Russian civil society. Such rhetoric diminishes the role of women in society to child-bearers and traditional housewives and deprives women of their agency as individuals in the first place.
Vitaly Milonov, United Russia’s Member of the State Duma and a vocal supporter of Russia’s widely-criticized anti-gay legislation, has also unconditionally supported the abortion ban. During a talk-show on the TV Rain Channel, feminist blogger Arina Holina asked the politician whether the government would provide more social services and benefits to poor and single mothers, if a nationwide abortion ban comes to pass. Milonov answered that such services should be accessible to women, but that this “modern approach” could lead women to feel entitled to more and more benefits, such as cars and mortgage.
But, the war on women’s rights does not end with anti-abortion laws. On July 27, Senator Yelena Mizulina proposed legislation that would decriminalize domestic violence. Under current Russian law, those found guilty of spousal or child abuse can be sentenced to up to two years in prison or a 40,000 rubles ($600) fine. Mizulina’s new legislation would change this state of affairs and turn domestic abuse into an administrative offense.
On September 28, Mizulina said that domestic violence is not the main problem in Russian society. According to the lawmaker, the real problem is a lack of respect among Russian women for their husbands. Mizulina said it is women’s responsibility to maintain an atmosphere of respect and [male] authority in the family. “We [women] don’t get offended. Even when a husband beats his wife, there is no worse offense than humiliating or offending a husband. Man must not be humiliated,” she said.
Perhaps, some women in Russia would agree with the patriarchal views of Mizulina and Kuznetsova. Nevertheless, the personal and religious views of politicians and state officials have no place in government, let alone in legislation. Any laws that strip women of their rights and make them less than equal citizens cannot be allowed to stand. As the war against women’s rights increases in Russia, it is time for advocates and opposition parties to focus their attention on advocating for women who are being left out in the cold.