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Welcome to “Women Around the World: This Week,” a series that highlights noteworthy news related to women and U.S. foreign policy. This week’s post, covering from February 6 to February 10, was compiled with support from Anne Connell, Alyssa Dougherty, and Loren Grier.
Russia reduces punishment for domestic abuse
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law this week decriminalizing many forms of domestic abuse and making penalties more difficult to enforce. Acts of domestic violence that result in “minor harm,” including lacerations or bruising, will be classified as misdemeanors punishable by only a $500 fine or up to fifteen days in jail. Conservative champions of the so-called “slapping law” celebrated its near unanimous adoption; critics, however, cite the legislation as a clear sign of backslide on civil and human rights. Anna Kirey, deputy director for Russia and Eurasia with Amnesty International, contends that “while the Russian government claims this reform will ‘protect family values,’ in reality it rides roughshod over women’s rights.” Independent reports suggest that 36,000 women in Russia are beaten daily by their husbands, and Russian government statistics confirm that thousands of women die as a result of domestic violence each year, with 91 percent of reported incidents perpetrated by spouses. Domestic violence not only results in emotional and physical injury, but also is correlated with low rates of women’s economic participation and reduced GDP: studies show that billions of dollars are lost in global economic productivity, and millions more spent on medical and mental healthcare, because of domestic abuse. Nearly 300,000 Russians have signed a petition to protest the new amendment.
Rates of FGM decline globally
New data show that rates of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM) are on the decline in twelve countries that have historically faced high prevalence of this harmful practice, which can cause injury and bleeding, increase complications in childbirth, and lead to life-threatening infections. The Population Reference Bureau published survey results to coincide with the observation of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM this week, which aims to bring attention to the estimated 200 million women subjected to this practice worldwide—primarily in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The new surveys found that twelve of sixteen countries reporting new data since 2014 experienced declines in the percentage of women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 forced to undergo the procedure. Elizabeth Leahy Madsen, a co-author of the study, said that “the fact that we’re seeing declines in prevalence in three-quarters of the countries where we have updated data available is [a] promising sign.” Experts suggest that declining rates are an indication that years of advocacy work—and recent legal reforms to limit or ban FGM, including in Egypt, the Gambia, and Nigeria—are paying off.
China struggles to address violence against women
Recent reports suggest that ineffective implementation of China’s first nationwide domestic violence law, enacted in December 2015, has limited its ability to address the high prevalence of violence against women. Today, one in four married women in China are reportedly victims of domestic abuse, and tens of millions remain at risk. In 2015, domestic violence was acknowledged as a public health crisis and included in President Xi Jinping’s social platform, in large part due to decades of advocacy by Chinese activists, many of whom faced potential jail time. The subsequent enactment of an anti-domestic violence law—a milestone in the advancement of women’s rights in China—classified domestic violence a legitimate offense, increased sentencing for perpetrators, and permitted citation of domestic violence in divorce proceedings. However, qualitative research and interviews with survivors and lawyers highlight significant loopholes: reports show that women requesting restraining orders or reporting abuse are often turned away by police officers and local officials, making it extremely difficult for Chinese women to make use of the law’s protections.