UN Committee to Review ADC Memorial’s Alternative Report on the Problem of Discrimination against Women in the Russian Federation

At its 62nd session on October 27, 2015, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviewed the Russian Federation’s official report on the implementation of CEDAW and several alternative reports from human rights organizations, including ADC Memorial’s analysis of discriminatory restrictions placed on women’s rights both at the federal level (ban on a number of professions, insufficient protection from violence, attempts to draft legislation that would ban the termination of an unwanted pregnancy) and in the patriarchal environment of traditional communities.

ADC Memorial’s report, which was submitted to CEDAW with support from the International Federation for Human Rights, deals with the discrimination of women from vulnerable groups—Roma, migrants, and girls and women from the North Caucasus. All of these communities retain traditional restrictions on the rights of women to receive an education, freely select their partner, behave and dress in a secular manner, and be protected from violence committed by male relatives. As the practices of forced (including early) marriage, polygamy, and “honor courts” (which in actuality amount to extrajudicial punishments of women who have violated the rules of conventional morality) become more common, state authorities often fail to protect women from traditional communities and even express some form of approval and support for patriarchal practices. For example, Pavel Astakhov, the children’s right’s ombudsman, did not see any problem with the forced marriage of a minor girl in Chechnya, stating that Eastern women achieve sexual maturity and grow old at any earlier age, so they can be married earlier.

Severe discrimination against female members of sexual minorities also exists along the edges of state restrictions on the rights of members of the LGBT community to self-expression and the brazen behavior of homophobes, who feel that they are untouchable and thus allow themselves to openly display violence against women they perceive as “different.” In this context, Russia’s official response to CEDAW’s question on discrimination against LGBT women raises eyebrows. This response asserts that “no complaints about discrimination based on sexual orientation have been received” by the office of the human rights ombudsman, when human rights organizations and LGBT initiative groups regularly complain about systemic statutory discrimination, denials of the right to hold peaceful meetings, attacks by aggressive xenophobes, and the persecution of people at work, on the street, and in public places.

For ADC Memorial, an important focus of attention continues to be the topic of the protection of the rights of human rights defenders and civil activists and the rights of NGOs, including women’s organizations. The latter topic is cause for particular concern due to a sharp deterioration in the situation for all independent NGOs in Russia, including women’s organizations, and intensifying repressions against civil society, including against female activists.

ADC Memorial welcomes that fact that in its responses to questions from CEDAW, the RF government admits that even though the law on “NGO Foreign Agents” implies the combination of foreign financing with a certain “political activity,” in actuality organizations can be prosecuted just for receiving money from abroad (including for grants from the UN, the EU, and other international organizations). Numerous attempts to prove in court that NGOs have been found to be “foreign agents” for any activity if they receive foreign financing have yet to result in anything. This important admission by the Russian government regarding the practice of prosecuting human rights organizations solely for receiving foreign financing (while “political activity” is recognized simply as any type of social work), which is contained in the response to CEDAW, must become a ground for reviewing the law on NGOs and the common practice of stigmatizing independent organizations as “NGOs performing the function of foreign agents,” which could result in further prosecution and even the liquidation of structures that are useful, including for Russian women.

ADC Memorial calls upon the RF government to take immediate measures to end discrimination against women: cancel the “list of prohibited professions;” adopt gender equality laws and laws banning domestic violence; provide sex education and distribute safe methods of contraception so that women can make independent and informed decisions about pregnancy and having children; take every possible step to prevent the violation of the rights of women and girls in traditional societies—protect their right to education, self-expression, free selection of a partner, and way of life and behavior; end the prosecution of female activists from democratic movements, LGBT groups, and human rights organizations; and create conditions for the free development of the women’s movement, the human rights movement, and feminist groups.