What Is Gender Violence

Gender violence, as defined by the United Nations (UN), refers to acts of violence that cause physical, sexual, or psychological harm to individuals based on their gender. It encompasses various forms of abuse, such as:

  • physical assault
  • sexual coercion
  • emotional manipulation

It is deeply rooted in power imbalances between genders. The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) recognizes gender violence as a specific form of discrimination targeting women, shaped by societal norms, structures, and unequal power relations.

Domestic violence, for instance, involves the abuse of power and control within intimate relationships, encompassing physical, sexual, psychological, and economic harm. Sexual violence includes acts like rape, assault, harassment, and exploitation, where perpetrators use force, coercion, or manipulation to exert dominance and violate the survivor's autonomy and dignity.

Structural violence refers to systemic forms of gender-based harm perpetuated through discriminatory laws, policies, and practices that marginalise individuals based on their gender. Harmful practices, rooted in cultural or religious traditions, such as:

cause significant harm, particularly to women and girls. The rise of technology has also given rise to online gender-based violence, encompassing cyberstalking, revenge porn, and online harassment, which can have devastating psychological effects.

Several factors contribute to the persistence of gender violence. Deep-seated gender inequality, sustained by societal norms, roles, and expectations, reinforces power imbalances and perpetuates violence. Patriarchal structures, characterised by dominant male control and privilege, create an environment that tolerates and normalises gender violence. Harmful masculinity, which promotes aggression, dominance, and control, contributes to a culture that condones and enables such violence. Social and cultural norms that perpetuate stereotypes, victim-blaming, and the trivialization of violence further exacerbate the issue. Additionally, a lack of accountability resulting from weak legal frameworks, inadequate law enforcement, and limited access to justice fosters a climate of impunity, allowing perpetrators to evade consequences for their actions.

To understand gender violence, conceptual frameworks have been developed. For example, the Galtung's Triangle of Violence is a conceptual theory developed by sociologist Johan Galtung to analyse and understand the different levels and forms of violence in society. It highlights the interconnectedness between direct violence, structural violence, and cultural violence, where direct violence is a visible physical harm, structural violence is social, economic, and political systems that perpetuate harm and inequality, and cultural violence is beliefs, attitudes, and values that justify and support violence. Direct violence is the visible, physical acts of harm, while structural violence encompasses systemic inequalities and oppressive norms. Cultural violence refers to the beliefs and attitudes that legitimise and perpetuate violence.

It is important to note that, although women and girls are the main targets of gender-based violence, it can also be directed against other categories of people, including men and boys, and — especially — LGBTQ+ people. This article will focus specifically on the issue of gender violence against women, and gender violence against other groups will be covered in a separate article.

Gender Violence in Russia

Russia exemplifies the issues of gender violence in almost every aspect, with the majority of contributing factors present.

Cultural violence

In Russia, cultural norms and attitudes reinforce gender inequality and contribute to the persistence of “direct” violence. Traditional gender roles and expectations shape perceptions of masculinity and femininity, often promoting rigid and hierarchical notions. Traditional masculinity is often associated with traits like aggression, dominance, and control, while femininity is expected to be submissive and nurturing. These norms create an environment where power imbalances and violence are more likely to occur.

Victim-blaming attitudes are prevalent in Russian society, whereby survivors of gender violence may face blame, shame, and disbelief when they come forward to seek support or justice. This can deter survivors from reporting incidents and seeking help, perpetuating a culture of silence and impunity. While similar issues persist in Western countries, the situation in Russia is notably worse due to the combination of deeply entrenched patriarchal norms, traditional gender roles, and governmental ideology. These factors create a hostile environment for survivors of gender violence. In Russia, women face significant burdens to conform to prescribed roles of submission and silence, perpetuating a culture of inequality and reinforcing power imbalances. When women in Russia bravely speak out about their experiences of gender violence, they often encounter backlash and scrutiny from their communities and the authorities. This victim-blaming response not only discourages survivors from reporting incidents but also contributes to a retraumatization of survivors and a culture of silence that shields perpetrators from accountability. Unlike in Western countries, Russia lacks a comprehensive legislative framework and strong government commitment to preventing and protecting individuals from violence, exacerbating the challenges faced by survivors.

The issue of cultural violence is further exacerbated by harmful cultural practices that persist in some regions or communities within Russia. These practices, such such as female genital mutilation, bride kidnappings or "honor killings", are deeply rooted in cultural traditions and beliefs. They reflect and reinforce unequal power relations, denying the agency and rights of women and gender minorities, while also normalising unpunished violence against these groups.

The recent case of the 9-year-old girl who underwent female genital mutilation (FGM) in Russia serves as a poignant example of the severe consequences resulting from harmful cultural practices that persist in certain regions or communities. FGM is deeply rooted in cultural beliefs aimed at exerting control over women's bodies and sexuality. In this specific instance, the girl was subjected to FGM without her or her guardian's consent or comprehension of the procedure, highlighting the blatant violation of her bodily autonomy and the denial of her fundamental rights. What adds to the gravity of the situation is the fact that those responsible for perpetuating this heinous act have not faced any repercussions for their crime. This underscores the lack of effective legal frameworks in place to safeguard the rights and well-being of women.

Media representations and popular culture also play a role in perpetuating cultural violence. Stereotypical portrayals of gender roles, objectification of women, and the normalisation of violence in media contribute to shaping attitudes and perceptions. Such representations can reinforce harmful gender norms and contribute to a culture where gender violence is trivialised or normalised.

Cultural violence in Russia also might reinforce structural violence in several ways, particularly in relation to domestic abuse, sexual violence, weak legal frameworks, and police responses.

Domestic Abuse

In the specific context of Russia, cultural norms and attitudes surrounding domestic abuse exacerbate the challenges of addressing and preventing this issue, making the situation significantly worse compared to Western countries. Traditional gender roles and expectations deeply ingrained in Russian society reinforce gender inequality by assigning power and authority to men while subordinating women. This power imbalance creates an environment where domestic violence is more likely to be normalised and accepted within intimate relationships.

One key factor that hinders progress in addressing domestic abuse is the acceptance of such violence as a private matter. In Russian culture, there is often a reluctance to intervene in family matters, which extends to instances of domestic violence. This attitude contributes to the underreporting of abuse and reinforces the belief that it should be dealt with behind closed doors. Survivors face significant stigma when coming forward, fearing judgement, blame, or retaliation from both their communities and even their own families. This fear and shame associated with reporting domestic abuse create substantial barriers for survivors, leaving them isolated and without the necessary support.

Moreover, the prevailing culture of silence and impunity surrounding domestic violence perpetuates a cycle of abuse. Perpetrators are rarely held accountable for their actions, and the lack of consequences reinforces the belief that such behaviour is acceptable. The absence of effective legal mechanisms and enforcement further contributes to this culture of impunity, as survivors often struggle to find justice and protection within the legal system. This perpetuates a sense of helplessness and discourages survivors from seeking help or reporting incidents.

These deeply ingrained cultural norms and the systemic challenges in addressing domestic abuse in Russia create a distinct and particularly challenging environment for survivors. The combination of traditional gender roles, acceptance of violence as a private matter, stigma surrounding reporting, and a lack of accountability perpetuates a cycle of violence, making the situation significantly worse compared to Western countries where there are more comprehensive legal frameworks, support services, and cultural shifts towards addressing and preventing domestic abuse.

Sexual violence

Cultural violence profoundly influences societal attitudes towards sexual violence, resulting in a prevalence of victim-blaming and a lack of accountability for perpetrators. This harmful cultural response creates a hostile environment that deters survivors from reporting incidents and seeking justice.

Comparatively, the situation in Russia stands out as particularly troubling when contrasted with Western countries. The deeply ingrained patriarchal norms and traditional gender roles in Russian society contribute to a culture where survivors of sexual violence are often disbelieved, marginalized, or blamed for the violence they have endured. This victim-blaming perpetuates a system that further silences survivors and denies them the support and justice they deserve.

Moreover, the absence of effective legal frameworks and enforcement mechanisms exacerbates the issue in Russia. The narrow definition of rape in Russian law, focusing solely on genital penetration, fails to encompass other forms of sexual violence, such as non-penetrative acts or coercion, which can inflict significant harm and trauma on survivors. This limited legal definition diminishes the seriousness of sexual violence and undermines the comprehensive protection that survivors should receive. The discrepancy between the legal definition of rape and the lived experiences of survivors highlights the urgent need for legal reforms that align with international standards and ensure adequate protection for all survivors of sexual violence.

Weak Legal Frameworks

The influence of cultural violence in Russia extends to its legal frameworks and the response of law enforcement agencies to gender-based violence. These legal frameworks demonstrate weaknesses and lack adequate protections for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence, reflecting deeply ingrained cultural attitudes that downplay the severity and impact of such violence. These deficiencies in the law may arise from societal resistance to reforms or a lack of political will to prioritise gender equality and violence prevention. Consequently, survivors in Russia face significant barriers when seeking justice, obtaining protective orders, or accessing appropriate legal remedies.

One significant issue is that Russian law fails to adequately address the complexities and severity of domestic violence, disregarding key aspects that aggravate the offence and make it more harmful than isolated acts of assault. Factors such as economic dependence, cohabitation, and repetitive abuse over extended periods of time are not considered. This omission highlights a crucial gap in the legal framework's understanding of domestic violence dynamics.

Despite discussions and efforts by women's rights organisations and activists, Russia does not have a dedicated national domestic violence law, and domestic violence is not treated as a distinct offence in the criminal or administrative code. The absence of this recognition contributes to the perception that Russian authorities do not consider domestic violence a significant crime with broader societal implications. Furthermore, it hinders the comprehensive collection of statistics and the development of effective strategies to combat and prevent domestic violence.

Moreover, Russian law does not provide for protection orders, which are vital safeguards for women facing recurring violence from their partners. The absence of this legal provision further compromises the safety and well-being of survivors.

The adoption of legislative amendments in 2017 exacerbated the situation by decriminalising first battery offences within families. This aligned the penalties for such offences with those committed by non-family members, resulting in mild consequences for perpetrators. Consequently, seeking prosecution became more challenging for women, and the overall protections for victims weakened.

Despite fragmented official statistics, indicators suggest the pervasive nature of domestic violence in Russia. Official studies reveal that at least one in five women in Russia has experienced physical violence from their spouse or partner at some point in their lives. Independent research further indicates that women in Russia are three times more likely to experience violence from a family member than from a stranger. Shockingly, an estimated 60 to 70 percent of women who experience domestic violence do not report it or seek help, and only a mere 3 percent of domestic violence cases reach the court system.

Russian Police Responses to Gender-based Violence

Moreover, police responses to gender-based violence can be influenced by cultural biases and norms. Gender stereotypes and patriarchal beliefs impact the way law enforcement officers perceive and respond to incidents of violence. Insufficient training on gender sensitivity and a lack of protocols for handling gender-based violence cases can contribute to ineffective or inadequate police responses. This leads to survivors facing further victimisation or retraumatization when seeking help from law enforcement.

The treatment of survivors of gender-based violence in Russia is indicative of the state's overall disregard for human rights. The lack of enforcement of laws against domestic violence and the dismissal of pleas for help create a sense of helplessness among survivors. This approach serves to demonstrate that the enforcement of laws in Russia is selective and subject to the whims of those in power, highlighting the systemic flaws and the prioritisation of maintaining control over protecting human rights.

Gender-based Violence as a Part of the Russian Regime

In the case of Russia, gender-based violence is deeply entrenched within the fabric of the society, reflecting the broader culture of violence that exists under the authoritarian regime. Non-democratic regimes like Russia rely on fear and the constant threat of violence to maintain control, and gender-based violence becomes an integral part of this system.

One significant aspect of gender-based violence in authoritarian societies such as Russia is its role in upholding a hierarchical social order. By subjecting women to violence, they are forced into a subordinate position, reinforcing the power dynamics inherent in the authoritarian structure. This not only ensures compliance from women but also compels men to conform to societal norms. Deviating from these prescribed gender roles is seen as a threat to masculinity, leading to the denigration of liberal men and opposition figures as "gay" or "effeminate." Such demeaning labels seek to strip these individuals of their perceived power and reduce them to the status of women or worse. Even within prisons, political prisoners may be subjected to sexual violence to forcibly place them in the typically marginalized position assigned to women in such societies.

Non-democratic regimes often use the enforcement of "traditional values" as a tool to justify and perpetuate gender-based violence. In Russia, traditional gender norms are heavily promoted through state-led скрепы (values) campaigns. Anyone who challenges these norms is immediately branded as part of the "5th column" or labelled as an "agent of the West." The state's decriminalisation of domestic violence further perpetuates this culture by sending a message that violence within the home is acceptable and normal. Activists who dare to fight against this normalisation of domestic violence are discredited as "foreign agents" working against the interests of the state.

Gender-based violence is closely linked to the cult of power prevalent in authoritarian societies and the persona of authoritarian leaders themselves. The ideal of the "big strong man," exemplified by leaders like Putin, is glorified both domestically and projected onto the international stage. The rhetoric used by the official Russian media to describe Ukraine mirrors the language used by domestic abusers to degrade and control their victims. This perpetuates a culture of violence and reinforces the notion that power and strength are synonymous with dominance and control.

Understanding the prevalence of gender-based violence in Russia not only helps us comprehend the magnitude of this issue within the country but also sheds light on certain aspects of the war in Ukraine. It provides a valuable lens through which to interpret and believe the reports of sexual and domestic violence that occurred in Ukrainian cities during the conflict. Knowledge of how normalised and pervasive such violence is within Russian society makes it easier to understand why similar acts might have taken place in a different context.

Moreover, the normalisation of violence in Russian society, particularly in relation to the notion of "a real man," offers crucial insights into the motivations of Russian men who willingly enlisted in the war without objection. In an authoritarian patriarchal society, where violence is closely tied to the concept of masculinity, the fear of being emasculated becomes a significant driving force. Men are socialised to believe that engaging in violence is necessary to maintain their perceived power and uphold societal expectations. The normalisation of violence within the country contributes to a mindset where participating in armed conflict is seen as a demonstration of strength, courage, and conformity to traditional gender roles.

What Is Life Really Like For Women In Russia?


In conclusion, gender violence is a pervasive issue rooted in power imbalances and inequality between genders. It encompasses various forms of abuse, including physical, sexual, and psychological harm, and is shaped by societal norms, structures, and unequal power relations. The Russian Federation serves as a case study highlighting the complexity and challenges in addressing gender violence, with cultural violence, structural violence, and direct violence intertwining to perpetuate the problem.

Cultural violence, characterised by beliefs, attitudes, and values that justify and support violence, plays a significant role in reinforcing gender inequality and direct violence in Russia. Traditional gender roles, victim-blaming attitudes, harmful cultural practices, and media representations all contribute to a culture that tolerates and normalises gender violence. These cultural norms create an environment where power imbalances and violence thrive, inhibiting survivors from seeking help and perpetuating a culture of silence and impunity.

Furthermore, cultural violence reinforces structural violence in Russia. In the realm of domestic abuse and sexual violence, cultural norms that perpetuate gender inequality hinder efforts to address violence within intimate relationships. Weak legal frameworks and police responses, influenced by cultural biases and patriarchal beliefs, further exacerbate the problem, making it difficult for survivors to access justice and protection.

Understanding the prevalence of gender-based violence in Russia and its connection to the war in Ukraine provides crucial insights into the nature of the regime and its impact on society. It sheds light on the culture of fear and violence that underpins the authoritarian system, exposing the deep-rooted power structures and the systematic oppression of marginalised groups. By addressing and discussing gender-based violence in the context of the Russian regime, it becomes possible for the European audience to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the regime's dynamics, the human rights abuses it perpetuates, and the urgency of standing in solidarity against such oppression.

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