Alyona Popova, a lawyer and women’s rights activist in Russia, has been campaigning for years for members Russia’s lower house of Parliament, the Duma, to adopt a law to protect women against domestic violence.
When her efforts failed to materialize, she decided to run for the Duma herself instead.
The 38-year-old lawyer and activist is campaigning on a proposal to make all acts of domestic violence subject to criminal penalties, according to the New York Times.
Popova found through an analysis of Russia’s national statistics agency data that more than 16.5 million people in Russia are victims of domestic violence each year, and more than 12,200 women – two thirds of all murders in Russia from 2011 to 2019 – were killed by their partners or relatives, the New York Times reported.
“This is our reality; the only term we can use is ‘epidemic’,” she said.
There are virtually no legal mechanisms to protect people from domestic abuse in Russia, according to AP.
In 2019, a draft of an anti-domestic violence law was debated in the Duma but ended up being significantly amended and was never put to a vote.
This April, Russia’s Constitutional Court found that protections for victims of domestic violence and punishment for perpetrators were insufficient and ordered lawmakers to amend the criminal code.
However, the Duma has not taken action.
“Our state is sending us a signal that violence is a staple (of the regime), and nothing should be done against this staple, because otherwise the entire system will fall apart,” Popova told AP.
“To run after Duma lawmakers for five more years, given that this next parliament will be ultra-bigoted, ultra-fundamentalist? Or to fight for it ourselves?” Popova said, adding that she decided to run after her only ally in the Duma decided not to seek re-election.
In recent years, the issue of domestic violence has come to the fore in Russia, after several high-profile cases, including a woman whose husband chopped off both her hands using an ax in 2017, caused public outrage.
Almost 80 percent of respondents in a 2020 poll by the independent Levada Center said that they believed anti-domestic violence legislation was necessary, and a petition Popova launched about an anti-domestic violence law has gained more than one million signatures.
Popova told AP she had been criticized for focusing on domestic violence for her campaign, but the issue has struck a chord with many people she meets.
“At every meeting we hold (with voters), at least one person either witnessed domestic violence or suffered from it,” she said.
Popova is facing 10 other candidates but said she was committed to running in elections, even uncompetitive ones, for as long as possible.
She added that her team had found strong support for her from women aged 25 to 46.
“Maybe women in an older generation see domestic violence as normal, Maria Badmayeva, a 26-year-old woman told the New York Times. “But we in the younger generation are more progressive. We think the values that Alyona stands for are essential.”
Voting in the election began Friday Sep. 17 and will run through Sunday Sep. 19.