Stalled Autonomous Legislation on Violence. in the Family, 1994—1997,1999
For Russian and international activists alike, the most important legal reform would be comprehensive legislation on domestic violence.40 The pressure began one year before the 1995 U. N. conference in Beijing and was surprisingly successful. In 1994, the Women of Russia faction introduced draft domestic violence legislation into the Duma’s Committee on Women, Family, and Youth, making domestic violence the first gender-related issue raised in the new parliament^1 Partially, the opportunity was a fluke in that the Russian president’s 1993 bombing of the recalcitrant Soviet-era parliament and hasty constitutional referendum had created a political vacuum. But, as brought by local activists, the global femi-
nist attention to domestic violence also resonated with those formerly Communist Party women who mostly constituted the faction and with their allies concerned with protecting women and children in the social ministries.
Unfortunately, this proposal was premature, coming before activists had sufficient support and before they had been able to campaign for a new awareness of domestic violence. Even their allies had not accepted the transformative global feminist call for gender violence to be seen as a violation of women’s rights. Over the next few years, when the bill was drafted and redrafted some forty-eight times, the working group moved the bill further and further away from the activists’ interpretation of domestic violence as about gendered power and control.42 The final version of the bill construed family violence as a psychological (and medical) problem requiring medical and psychological treatment for the victims and the perpetrator (Art. 11). It proposed a primary reliance on the welfare state, specifically the placing of victims of violence and minors in temporary shelters (Art. 10) or in permanent specialized institutions (Art. із).43 The primary role of the criminal justice system was to force into shelters victim-mothers who were unwilling to leave their homes. As if that were not enough to alienate the feminist women’s crisis center leaders, the bill also called the NGO crisis centers brothels (Human Rights Watch 1997, 18-19).
Even the bill’s less-than-feminist approach to domestic violence was too much for the Duma and the powerful state institutions of the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Supreme Court, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs.44 The speaker of the Duma declared, “We shouldn’t meddle in family matters. The family always sorts itself out.” Other Duma deputies made jokes about the bill or complained about the bill’s cost. In і997, the bill was effectively tabled. In і999, the new chair of the Committee on Women, Family, and Youth, tried to build upon Beijing and reopen debate by holding a committee hearing and introducing a packet of bills ostensibly designed to address violence in the family, but really focused on child abuse. This 1999 attempt too went nowhere.
The failure to pass comprehensive legislation against domestic violence in Russia is a huge setback for global feminists. There is no doubt that passing such a bill, even with some nonfeminist provisions, would be a remarkable step in reforming domestic violence, especially if it included substantial budget outlays. Russia’s failure to do so illustrates the consequences of moving to legal reform before there has been much success at transforming public awareness. Nonetheless, passing a law is not always necessary to enact changes in state behavior, and real reform requires more than a law, especially in a country such as Russia where laws can effectively be ignored by authorities.