The decision made by the Russian government in January this year was a slap in the face for all women’s movements around the world, but more so for women rights activists, in Russia. ‘The slapping law’ rightfully deserves its name. This is the term coined for the Bill to decriminalise the first offence of domestic violence which took its first reading in the Russian state of Duma in January. 368 lawmakers voted in favour of the law, one deputy voted against and one abstained from the vote, reports The Moscow times. This bill was passed into law on the 7th of February.
The ‘slapping law,’ is an antagonistic move against an amendment of the Russian Criminal Code signed by President Vladimir Putin in July 2016. The amendment, as explained by LGBTQ Nation, formed to decriminalise assault and battery that did not cause actual bodily harm, but also, however, progressively moved to define battery within families as a more serious offence to be dealt with and investigated by the state alongside hooliganism and hate assaults. The reaction to this amendment by women lawmakers was surprisingly counter.
Yelena Mizulina, a woman conservative senator strongly opposed this amendment. At the risk of sounding sexist, the mention of her sex in that previous sentence, is very deliberate, as this was my most shocking discovery in this story. The criminalisation of the domestic violence, from as early as one can remember, has predominantly been a women’s fight. Therefore, it was most definitely a surprise to find out that it was in fact a woman who proposed decriminalising domestic violence in Russia.
The Arguments: A slap is not a crime
Mizulina argues that the amendment of the Russian criminal code is “anti-family,” and maintains it is unfair for a family member to receive two years in prison “for a slap,” reports The Moscow Times. Family values play a huge role in societies and they often influence the formulation of laws and policies. The risk comes when traditional culture and old-world mindsets that discriminate, subjugate or oppress are in the center of defining what family values should entail. What can be interpreted from Russia’s point of view, Mizulina’s to be precise, is that a solid family is one that is capable of dealing with their issues however they choose, without anyone even the state being allowed to intervene. It is in this same vein that the discussion on corporal punishment was also brought forward. The Russian orthodox Church in support of decriminalising battery in families argued that parents should posses the right to choose ways in which to discipline their children, so spanking as long as its does not cause substantial bodily harm shouldn’t be a problem.
The flaw: Violence is not just physical
The Quartz Media explains that, under the proposed regulations of the ‘slapping law’ if a first-time offence of domestic battery does not cause serious bodily harm, such as a broken limb, it would be considered an “administrative offence” and not a criminal one. This means that, “battery within families” was moved from a criminal act to a misdemeanor punishable by a fine or community service so long as the beatings took place no more than once a year, reports The Moscow Times. If a victim is then severely harmed and needs to be hospitalised, the incident would fall under regular assault laws, Quartz Media continues to explain.
The biggest flaw of this law is that it ignores all other forms of domestic violence and all effects of battery outside visible scars. Physical and sexual violence are what comes to mind at the mention of violence. Emotional violence, economic violence and other forms of violence against women and children are often the center of debates whenever domestic violence laws are being formulated.It is definitely not a surprise these were not considered at this point in Russia.
The biggest flaw here is, therefore, overlooking, ‘a slap,’ even at the first offence, can cause emotional damage to a woman or child. Battery is damaging beyond the physical and decriminalising family battery puts women and children at greater risk of mental health issues.
Violence against women is a global pandemic that needs strengthened and concerted advocacy efforts. In Russia alone, 67% of all homicides are linked to domestic violence, 40% of all violent crimes are committed in families, and 14,000 women die annually from injuries inflicted by their husbands or partners. The numbers are even suspected to be higher as cases often go unreported because of lack of trust in law enforcement and the existence of societal stigmatisation on victims. Based on this, one would safely say the Amendment of the Criminal Code was highly needed, but in less than a year after it’s passed, there was a move to remove it, and it was a woman in the lead?
This sort of thing is seen in most women’s movements. Patriarchal cultures and societies often place the responsibility of preserving family values on the women. Women are expected to ensure that their children and families are following traditions and cultural values. They are the ones expected to ensure that the child speaks appropriately, dresses decently, or follows the right channels according to culture. Girls are often more surveyed than boys, and if they stray it is definitely the mother who did not do a good job. Women brought up into these cultures take this responsibility seriously and perform it diligently. It is this expectation that then influences some of the decision women in leadership positions take.
The lesson for Afro-feminism: Male feminism, a fallacy?
Male feminism, male champions, positive masculinity are all debates going on currently in feminist circles. The idea of deliberately programming to recruit male allies in advocating for women issues has been questioned. If it helps the debate in any way, the fact is that the women’s movement has rogue soldiers and maybe resources and programming should for now be used to turn those. Culture is deep rooted, and the idea of women’s rights and gender equality is not one that will come naturally and at the same time to all women. There is unfortunately still a lot of work to be done in spreading awareness among women. The women’s movement needs women, and that should be the focus for now.
Another thing to note is that we are unfortunately a global community and sometimes policies made in some influential countries do have an aimpact on other countries. We need to be wary of what we adopt. How we guard what our children watch on tv or read on the internet is the same way we should guard what our leaders and lawmakers are exposed to. Even when our countries have domestic violence laws in place, advocacy should not stop because few understand the pandemic and necessity of strict laws. The fight to end violence against women is far from being won, the numbers of victims on the ground are not declining, therefore it is important that we make sure this is the last time we hear of a decriminalising any form of violence against women and children.
Main Image taken from