Last Friday, January 28, the Russian parliament voted 380 to 3 in favor of new legislation that decriminalizes domestic violence against family members. The bill is the most recent product of a government-led campaign to reshape Russian society around notions of so-called traditional family values.

The bill introduced and drafted by ultra-conservative female law-makers, Elena Mizulina and Olga Batalina respectively, is meant to address a discrepancy between penalties for domestic violence and assaults on the street. As the BBC reports, conservative lawmakers were reacting to a change made to the criminal code, in July 2016, that decriminalized battery against strangers, while domestic violence remained a criminal offense.

According to Mizulina, this state of affairs was “anti-family” and negatively impacted “traditional family values.” According to The Moscow Times, Mizulina said “Punishments [for offenses] cannot contradict the system of social values that society holds on to. In Russian traditional family culture parent-child relationships are built on the authority of the parents’ power… The laws should support that family tradition.”

The new legislation introduces lighter penaltiesa fine or a fifteen-day prison sentence – for domestic violence, unless substantial bodily harm occurs more than once a year. 

According to Russian government statistics reported in The Moscow Times, 40 percent of all violent crimes are committed within the family, with 36,000 women beaten by their partners every day and 26,000 children assaulted by their parents every year.  Despite these troubling numbers, Russian lawmakers have put traditional family values and morality before protecting women and children from domestic violence.

What is even more troubling is the fact that female lawmakers, supporting the legislation, have used rhetoric that reduces the role of women in society to child-bearers and traditional housewives. Mizulina has, for example, justified the decriminalization of domestic violence, by saying it is not the main problem in Russian society. According to the lawmaker, the real issue is a lack of respect among Russian women for their husbands. As reported by TV Rain, Mizulina said women are responsible for maintaining 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.

Apart from making more women and children vulnerable to violence, the new legislation reaffirms the centrality of men in the family and Russian society. Rather than making Russian families stronger, it will do little more than nurture abuse and violence to the detriment of all Russians.

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