In Russia, Feminists Are Being Treated Like Extremists

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According to the nonprofit monitoring agency Human Rights Watch, some Russian police are treating feminists like extremists. On Monday, in southern Russia near the Black Sea, Russian police confronted a group of feminists holding a retreat at which they would privately discuss gender politics. The police took the women to a police station and tried to coerce them into signing a document that stated they would not engage in "extremist activities." The women refused and were eventually released.

The women had come to that region of Russia to participate in a feminist retreat, which aimed to be “free of “sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and any sort of xenophobia," according to Newsweek. While at the police station, the women said, they were treated like criminals and were fingerprinted.

Russian law enforcement's harassment of these women comes on the heels of a larger crackdown on those critical of contemporary Russian society. Putin's regime has, for example, proposed to censor encrypted messaging apps such as Whatsapp for critical comments. And in 2016, according to The Express, the number of Russian internet users given jail time for comments, posts and even reposts on social media went up by double from 2015 —29 people were jailed in 2016.

Feminists have been considered a threat to the "traditional values" espoused by Putin's regime for years, the members of the feminist punk rock group Pussy Riot being perhaps the most notable example. In August 2012, at the conclusion of a high-profile trial, two members of the collective were convicted of "hooliganism." The feminists had staged an anti-Putin protest in a Russian church.

Interestingly, despite Russia's especially weak stance on women's rights, some of Putin's strongest supporters are women, his so-called "iron ladies." In early 2017, for example, the Russian parliament passed a bill that would decriminalize domestic violence, and Putin quickly signed it into law. Nonetheless, anti-feminist women such as Senator and former Member of Parliament Yelena Mizulina are strongly behind Putin's anti-women's-rights agenda. Mizulina herself initiated the bill that decriminalized domestic violence, saying: “Even when a man beats his wife it doesn’t hurt as much as humiliation hurts a man.” And this is in country where, according to an independent study, about 80 percent of violent crimes against women are committed by romantic partners or spouses.

As for the feminists harassed by Russian police on Monday, they are just one faction of the many groups that Russian authorities are targeting under the country's very liberal anti-extremism laws. Others targeted for supposedly extremist beliefs include, according to Newsweek, the director of Moscow's Ukranian library and an investigative journalist who called for greater campaign accountability.