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Putin’s Policies Vs.Women In Russia And Ukraine

Czech Republic -- An activist holds a poster depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin in support of members of the female punk band Pussy Riot during a protest rally at Wenceslas Square in Prague. August 17, 2012.
Czech Republic -- An activist holds a poster depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin in support of members of the female punk band Pussy Riot during a protest rally at Wenceslas Square in Prague. August 17, 2012.

In her new book, “Putin’s Putsches: Ukraine and the Near-Abroad Crisis,” foreign policy analyst and Ukrainian-American author Maria Lewytzkyi outlines her view of the Ukrainian conflict as fear and concern in the region grows. In an interview with Women News Network (WNN) human rights journalist and founder Lys Anzia, Lewytzkyi discusses the current situation in Ukraine and Russia, and with it, the impacts political and societal changes have brought to women living in the region. The following are excerpts from WNN’s interview.

WNN: How do you see Putin’s policies affecting women in Russia today?

Maria Lewytzkyj: Russia belongs to a conservative group of countries. The country ranked as an unimpressive sixty-first out of 133 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Gender Gap Report.

This is a complicated question, because on the one hand in Russia you find a large number of conservative women enamored by Putin and empowered by his politics. On the other hand, you see women’s rights being violated in various ways.

Many Russians are deeply devoted to gender roles that are economically modern, but socially traditional, so non-traditional gender roles are dangerous in Russia. That’s because not only does the state promote a certain social and moral code, but so do many within the culture itself.

Sexual freedom and western European values like feminism are a recent phenomenon and [something that is] criticized even by Patriarch Kirill, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church. He is very powerful and holds a lot of influence in Russia with Putin’s policies.

Kirill labels feminism a dangerous phenomenon that could destroy Russia. In March 2013, on International Women’s Day, police broke up and arrested 17 women because they shouted out slogans that were not approved, like ‘Feminism is liberation.’

How can a woman consider living her own dream when there is always a man to remind her of her place in society? If [it's] by choice, so be it. But I think the limitations placed on women are constant and vocalized.

What sort of message did Russian women get when hearing Putin, during his interview on French TV in June 2014, take a personal jab at Hillary Clinton? Rather than addressing the real question, Putin said, ‘It’s better not to argue with women. But Mrs. Clinton has never been too graceful in her statements.’

For me, if I heard the leader of my country make a sexist statement like that, I would feel completely misrepresented in this day and age. I would hear: boy, I better watch what I’m saying. I would feel that, basically, disagreeing with your country’s policies invites a swipe at my gender and that what was being said is that Putin has the right to decide what is graceful or not.

It insinuates that he defines graceful as a statement that doesn’t criticize Russian policies.

To put it in patriarchal terms, she wasn’t ‘ladylike.’

WNN: What about the women in Ukraine who still want to speak out?

M.L.: A lot of the mainstream media has not focused on this aspect. Putin’s misogynism percolates throughout an administration and government-sponsored media that displays him as the protector of traditional values. Therefore [it is] keeping women subservient.

You may not have heard of this show, but it’s been on prime time [television] in Russia on Kremlin-backed NTV. [It’s] called ‘The Furies of Maidan: Sex, Psychosis, and Politics.’ It depicts a Ukraine that has regressed into a nearly literal inferno of gyrating women. [It] represents the attitude that Putin and his supporters have toward women.

Ukraine -- The women's movement of the Euromaidan supporters. March 17, 2014
Ukraine -- The women's movement of the Euromaidan supporters. March 17, 2014

The point the show makes is to discredit female leaders who were involved in the mass protests in Kiev that led to the impeachment of former [Ukrainian] President Viktor Yanukovych, who reversed momentum toward European integration in favor of Russian relations.

Those aligned with Putin interpret the actions of female activists and political leaders as having displaced energy from sexually frustrated or pathological reasons, concluding that this was the driving force behind Ukraine’s Euromaidan revolution. In the dramatic words of a 45-second promo: ‘They like it hard. They are turned on by danger. And woe to anyone who fails to appreciate them.’

By demonizing these women, Russian officials promote Putin’s policies. They are also sabotaging any value that women bring to their country’s historic effort toward building a democratic society. These [Ukrainian] women told Russia to respect their borders. They celebrated their political empowerment by voicing their opinion and learning what they believe and demonstrating their convictions.

Telling Russian and Ukrainian women that it is ‘not ladylike’ to protest or seek political office further confines women. It also attempts to discourage them from ‘arguing’ with the authorities or using their own critical thinking skills to form their own ideas in opposition to Putin’s group think.

WNN: How do you feel about the continued denial of any possible involvement of members of the Kremlin in the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya? Although nothing to date has formally connected the two in this case, as you know, Politkovskaya was an investigative journalist who had reported on corruption at the Kremlin for many years and was a well-known critic of Putin.

M.L.: Five [people] were convicted of killing Politkovskaya. Putin, of course, called her work ‘extremely insignificant.’

The Moscow City Court just recently denied one of the convicted, former police officer Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, a motion to suspend his eleven-year sentence for health reasons. He’ll [now] have to get [his] medical attention in the prison hospital.

Amnesty International said the verdict that found the five accused guilty left too many questions unanswered. [They also said] full justice will not be served until those who ordered the crime are identified and face the courts. I think that it’s dangerous for activists and journalists to cover human rights and corruption in Russia.

Given the extent of the Russian propaganda machine in the context of Ukraine, it’s a tall order to call for dissent and criticism [to become] a welcome voice in media with the rise of state-run media; and the consequences that independent media and journalists face there.

--Lys Anzia

The above are excerpts from an interview conducted by Lys Anzia for WNN--Women News Network, originally published on September 26, 2014. It has been edited for length and style.

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