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Global Feminist Profile: Marina Pisklakova-Parker

January 18, 2010

Marina Pisklakova-Parker

Marina Pisklakova-Parker/Peace and Collaborative Development Network

Global Feminist Profiles highlights feminist leaders all over the world who are creating change and empowering their countrywomen to demand equality. GFPs run on the third Monday of each month. This month’s featured activist is Marina Pisklakova-Parker, leader of the movement against domestic violence in Russia.

In the early ’90s, activist organizations and politicians succeeded in creating the first federal response to domestic violence in the United States. Meanwhile, Marina Pisklakova-Parker was almost single-handedly founding the movement against domestic violence in Russia.

Pisklakova-Parker was working as a researcher for the Russian Academy of Sciences when she first learned about domestic violence. She describes the moment that sparked her activist career in an interview with author Kerry Kennedy:

While coordinating a national survey on women’s issues, one day I received a survey response I did not know how to classify. It described a woman’s pain and suffering at the hands of her husband. I showed it to some colleagues and one of them told me, “You have just read a case of domestic violence.” I had never heard this term before. It was not something even recognized in our post-Soviet society, much less discussed. I decided I needed to learn more about this mysterious phenomenon.

That phenomenon soon hit close to home when Pisklakova-Parker found out one of her acquaintances was being abused. While talking to the woman, Pisklakova-Parker realized how difficult it is to escape domestic violence.

I asked her, “Why don’t you just leave him?” A very typical question. And she said, “Where would I go?” I said, “Divorce him. Get another apartment.” She said, “I depend on him completely.” And in this exchange, I saw everything: the way the abuser was consolidating control, decreasing self-confidence, and diminishing self-esteem.

In addition to this control within abusive relationships, external cultural forces made it even more difficult for women to escape the violence. There were no organizations to help women in crisis. The police were not only indifferent to domestic violence, they even condoned it. Realizing women in abusive situations had no where to turn, Pisklakova-Parker stepped up to become their lifeline. In 1993 she founded the country’s first domestic violence hotline called Center ANNA (Association No to Violence), and began to counsel women over the phone and in person. For six months, she did this completely by herself.  She received threats from men who had discovered their wives calling the hotline. Once when she told the police a man had threatened to kill his wife, a police officer then called the man and said “Look, if you do it, do it quietly.” After months of work with a dedicated lawyer, Pisklakova-Parker helped the woman get a divorce and a new life of security.

In 1994 more women came to work as counselors at Center ANNA. The next year, Pisklakova-Parker began to help women’s groups establish hotlines in cities throughout Russia. She also spearheaded a campaign to change the country’s permissive domestic violence laws. Eventually, she and her fellow advocates succeeded in expanding the “functional definition” of domestic violence to include marital rape, sexual assault, and psychological or economic control.

Today, Center ANNA operates 40 crisis centers throughout Russia. The organization runs prevention programs and awareness campaigns in addition to providing psychological and legal support to women. The Center has helped more than 100,000 women escape violent relationships.

Pisklakova-Parker has been recognized by Human Rights Watch and Vital Voices for her tireless work. She is also one of 50 human rights activists profiled by Kerry Kennedy in her book Speak Truth to Power. Even with all of her amazing accomplishments, Pisklakova-Parker makes it clear in her interviews with the media that she’s only getting started. She has expanded her focus to include human trafficking, as she describes in an interview with PBS (emphasis mine):

Women, young women from Russia, for example, are hired to work as waitresses in Turkey and in Greece for their summer season; they think they were going to be working as waitresses. When they get there, they become victims of sexual slavery. They are sold to some guy, they live behind the bars. They are not allowed to go outside. This is a reality. This is a reality of tens thousands of women. And it is safer to sell people than to sell drugs right now. It is easier because there are no severe consequences. We need to work all together, because trafficking is a true international issue. You cannot work with that issue only in Russia, or only in the United States, because women from Russia, for instance, or Ukraine or Belo-Russia, they are brought to the United States, to Europe, to Greece. Women from China are brought to Moscow. Women from Thailand are brought to Russia for the same purposes. If we’re going to be working together, helping each other and helping victims from different countries, that’s where the unification will happen and that’s where we will find many more opportunities.

Pisklakova-Parker will undoubtedly help change the way activists and governments around the globe combat human trafficking, just as she has shaped the movement against domestic violence.

To learn more about Pisklakova-Parker and domestic violence in Russia, read her moving interview with Kerry Kennedy or listen to her audio interview with Vital Voices.

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