Barnaul and the Altai Region
Across Russia, in southwestern Siberia, the flurry of NGO activity in Barnaul that had produced new state social services targeted to both women and men in violent relationships has been accompanied by a new coordinated community-like initiative. In 2001, the director of the Altai regional department of the medical – social and family-demographic problems championed a working group on domestic violence.75 The group brought together the crisis centers, social workers, administrative officials, health officials, educators, the head doctor of a private hospital, the head of the youth commission, and the deputy director of the krai administration of internal affairs. Along with multidisciplinary conferences held by the Women’s Alliance, this working group created a new pattern of collaboration between state and societal social services and the police, who had, by 2002, begun to see the benefits of such a collaboration. By May of 2004, this group had led ten roundtables on “Safety in the Family: Time for Action,” attracting a wide variety of both civic leaders and state officials from social services, education, and law enforcement. According to a journalist at the leading Altai newspaper, “The participants in the conversation [at the tenth roundtable] were unanimous that departmental segregation strongly hindered the war against domestic violence.’^6 As a result, police in at least one precinct had been convinced to collect statistics on domestic violence. According to the journalist, this collaboration had raised the issue of domestic violence from a private problem to a problem worthy of state response.
Mutual cooperation was also fostered by the police officials learning about neighboring Kazakhstan, where special police forces dedicated to combating gender violence have been established (Amnesty International 2005, 46). Women’s Alliance has trained police at the regional training center and Barnaul and nearby communities’ public safety officers. Their goal is to broaden police officers’ understanding of the causes and effects of domestic violence and highlight the obstacles women have faced when turning to the police. They simultaneously want to build up women’s confidence that the police will assist them against violence in the family, helping them file complaints and appeal against court decisions.
The remarkable responsiveness in Altai has some domestic causes: the dynamism of local activists, the prevalence of patronage networks that fostered alliances, and the continuing popularity of social policy in the region. But what clinched the deal was the international attention and funding. The local activists gained their stature when they began to be invited abroad by transnational feminist networks and human rights advocates and received substantial foreign funding, especially from the United States, which pushed the multidisciplinary model. Further, their key ally in the administration had been radicalized by her participation in a national commission on women, a result of the Beijing conference. International modeling even came from Kazakhstan, reforms themselves resulting from U. S. involvement in training police in the region (Snajdr 2005).
These reforms stand in stark contrast to the policy areas where there has been little foreign attention and no reform: housing law, family law, healthcare, and forensic-medical experts. Although human rights advocates, from Human Rights Watch (1997) to the special rapporteur’s 2006 report on violence against women in Russia (Erturk 2006), have pointed out problems in these areas, there has been much less monitoring, blaming, and shaming, and almost no funding to support reforms. Although the system was changed by federal law in 1993 and overturned several times by the new constitutional court, the official residence permits (pro – piski) system still exists, leaving many divorced women stuck in apartments shared by their abusive ex-husbands (Duban 2006). Family law still has no specific provisions to respect an abused women’s rights in divorce (91). Healthcare providers deny any responsibility in addressing the cause of the domestic violence injuries they often see. Forensic medical experts deny that they have any responsibility whatsoever in combating domestic violence because there is no specific domestic violence law (L. V. Romanova in Rimasheevskaia 2005). In Russia, as in most places, there is a long way to go before women can live free from domestic violence.