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Training to respond to domestic violence
Jewish community spearheads course for Russian women

By Eric Fingerhut
The Washington Jewish Week
January 29, 2001

WASHINGTON, — While America has become more aware of and ready to respond to domestic violence in the past two decades, Russia has not had the same awakening.

``Our government authority very rarely pays attention to this problem or, it's better to say they pay no attention to this problem at all," said Margarita Drozinskaya, who spoke through a translator.

Drozinskaya is one of eight women who have come to the United States as part of a leadership training project on domestic violence in Russia sponsored by Jewish Women International and NCSJ: Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia, along with the women's leadership and training organization Project Kesher and the Russian Jewish Congress. The project is funded by a $130,000 grant from the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Exchanges.

The women three of whom come from Tula, two to three hours outside Moscow, and three from Voronezh, about eight hours away from the capital hope to learn how to get the government to pay more attention to domestic violence, as well as how to provide services and support for domestic violence victims in their country.

Right now, if a woman in Russia calls the police reporting that her husband is hitting her, the usual response is, ``Can't you work it out?" After multiple calls, the police may come, but nothing concrete happens. Only if a woman is murdered will the legal system take over, according to the project sponsors.

Russia also is lacking in support groups and services for domestic violence victims.

``Unfortunately, we are not able to provide financial support for battered women," said Evelina Shubinskaya of Tula, who also like seven of the eight Russian women spoke through a translator. She said the community provides some psychological and personal counseling to battered women, such as ``programs to help with self-respect."

In addition, said Anna Stepanova, the community offers some legal counseling, which provides advice on family and housing law and suggests possible vehicles for legal action, despite the lack of domestic violence laws.

But, she said, while there are a few domestic violence hot lines in large Russian cities like St. Petersburg, there is nothing of the sort in smaller cities like Tula.

The women who spoke on Sunday afternoon at the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center are in Washington as part of their 2 1/2-week training course in the United States. The women began their course in Baltimore, where they visited the House of Ruth domestic violence shelter and Chana, a Jewish domestic violence program. The group also met with experts and learned the basics of ``Domestic Violence 101," said Diane Gardsbane, director of programs at JWI.

In Washington, they were scheduled to learn about community organizing, meeting with activists who will talk about getting attention and building coalitions for their cause. They then will travel to Richmond and Columbus, Ohio, to see other types of shelters and learn how other communities deal with domestic violence. In Columbus, the group will be learning about family violence and working with the Russian-speaking Jewish population there.

Lesley Weiss, director of community service and cultural affairs for NCSJ, said the eight women were selected in consultation with the Russian Jewish Congress and Project Kesher.

``When you look at the ways [Russian] women are treated in their families, in the society, by our political system, all this brings women together to change it," said Svetlana Yakimenko, executive director of the NIS (Newly Independent States) Project Kesher in Moscow, who spoke in English.

The women say they hope to learn various strategies they can use when they get back home. ``The goal of our training is to get educated ourselves, to increase our professionalism so we can help support battered women in our country," said Shubinskaya.

She has already been impressed by the ``high level of help and assistance" for battered women in the United States.

Elena Bauman said she hoped the group could ``break through the wall of indifference" toward domestic violence in Russia, and that another primary goal of the group is to obtain knowledge on dealing with the media and establishing contacts with legislators.

But it will not be easy. Stepanova noted that women do not have the same rights as men in Russia. ``Seventy percent of the [employment] ads are specifically looking for men," she said, while in economic downturns, women are always the first fired from jobs.

And fighting the problem in the Jewish community brings other difficulties. ``Everyone knows about the stereotype that the Jewish husband is the best husband possible; it's such an old Jewish tradition," said Natasha Slobodianik, program director of Project Kesher in Ukraine. ``Therefore for Jewish women, it's more difficult to reach out and say things are not perfect. We're going to change those stereotypes.''

© JTA Inc., 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission.


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