Equality Now has the privilege to partner with women’s rights activists from around the world. We’re sharing their unique perspectives and challenges advocating for change in their communities. We spoke to Nadezhda Zamotaeva, Psychologist and Head of the Sexual Assault Recovery Centre “Sisters” and Psychologist at the Kitezh NGO in Russia as part of a series highlighting activists across Eurasia, where we’re working with women’s rights groups to hold governments accountable for ending sexual violence and ensuring access to justice.
I have 27 years of experience in crisis counseling and advocacy, and currently provide support to survivors of sexual and domestic violence and work to counter human trafficking.
The “Sisters” Centre is a non-governmental and non-profit organization operating in Moscow since 1994. The centre provides free, anonymous, and confidential assistance to survivors of sexual violence and their loved ones, and also conducts awareness-raising activities.
What is the current climate around women’s rights in Russia?
At the official level, women have civil rights, but in real life, women are in a socially vulnerable position and have less access to education, their wages are lower than that of men in the same position, and domestic violence is declared a traditional value, an internal issue of a family that must be preserved and protected.
I would like to draw your attention to how the accents have been shifted, we are not talking about people – citizens of the country, but about some emerging and imposed “rules”. And while one part of society stands for the rules, another part of the society is maimed, raped, and killed. And the scale of the problem is acquiring all the features of a pandemic, a pandemic of violence in our Russian society.
What challenges do you face while doing this work in Russia?
First of all, we face a lack of government support for our activities and a lack of funding. The main source of funds for our activities is private donations – the “Sisters” Centre exists thanks to people who trust us and support our work.
Another difficulty that we have to face in our work is how the police work in our country. The police share myths about sexual and domestic violence and prefer to minimize their involvement in such cases, discourage survivors from filing complaints, pressure them, evaluate the appearance and behavior of the survivors instead of providing assistance and protecting their legal rights. All this leads to repeated traumatization of the survivors and worsens their condition, primarily psychological, deprives them of the physical strength and resources that they need to recover only with their own resources.
What is the most important reform or action that your government needs to take to improve the status of women and girls?
Compliance with civil rights is the basis of a social state. Where the authorities clearly understand the boundaries, functions, and results of their activities, and citizens observe laws that are clear and understandable to everyone, feel certainty and security – these are two basic conditions for the development of an individual and society as a whole.
The government should also:
– support women’s assistance organizations and victim rehabilitation programs that are needed for recovery,
– assist in the protection of rights,
– adopt a law on the prevention of domestic violence,
– repeal the law decriminalizing domestic violence, and,
– maintain a culture of peace, certainty, and security.
What has your organization achieved in the past five years?
We’ve been at the forefront of the work supporting survivors of violence since 1994. In the first half of 2021 alone, over 1,500 people contacted us.
In 2016 we organized and held a mass charity race in Moscow #DressDoesntSayYes and expanded our presence in social networks.
In 2017 we trained five of our employees at the national training center for the protection of children Gundersen (La Crosse, USA) on harm reduction for children who have experienced violence, primarily sexual in the criminal process and we use this experience in our practice. We opened a new crisis service after this training.
In 2019 for the first time organized and held for all comers a “Day of taking care of yourself”. We restructured the work of face-to-face consultations for victims of violence and hired the Coordinator.
In 2018 – 2021 we arranged two charity book auctions, made the hotline work six days a week, relaunched online support groups for victims in a new format, launched and have been conducted for four years in a row now the Sexual Violence Awareness Week #StopSN, trained two groups of crisis services consultants, celebrated 25 years of work of the organization and finally took the initiative to change the vocabulary of defining sexual violence so that it reflects the graveness these actions.