Fathers and children during Father's Day celebrations in St Petersburg. In previous years, Father's Day in Russia was celebrated with military parades and stereotypical ideals of masculinity. Today, Men for Gender Equality together with its local partners have helped to make Father's Day a day when the question of a more equal and involved role for fathers is raised.
Photo: Nikolai Eremin
Now fathers can be present at the birth of their children
The Swedish organisation Men for Gender Equality and SIDA are working in Russia to reduce men's violence against women and increase equality in families with children. The cooperation has resulted in changes such as ensuring that men throughout Russia may now be present at the birth of their children.
In Russia, there is violence in more than every fourth family and up to 40 per cent of all serious violent crimes are committed within the family. The lack of equality permeates throughout society.
Since 2001, Men for Gender Equality has been working in the country to involve men in gender equality issues and combat gender-based violence. Over the last few years, the work has been carried out in close cooperation with Unizon, an umbrella organization for Swedish women's shelters. The strategy is to spread knowledge that can lead to changes in men's attitudes and behaviour, to work to strengthen local organisations that are working with these issues, and to work with advocacy and lobbying to bring about changes to laws and policies.
The work with men is mainly aimed at two target groups: men who use violence against women and future fathers. There have been several positive results from the cooperation, according to the Project Manager for Men for Gender Equality, Vidar Vetterfalk, who says,
"It is very gratifying that our cooperation with Russia has been a successful example of cooperation between women and men for gender equality and against violence, both to prevent violence from taking place and to stop it when it does happen."
Positive results through legal recognition
Using the Swedish "father group" model, around twenty "father schools" have been established in north-west Russia. Future fathers meet here to discuss gender equality in family life. Russian women's shelters have also understood the importance of this preventive work and are disseminating it within their networks.
"The cooperation between women and men has given us new ideas for how we can develop this in Sweden too," says Vidar Vetterfalk.
Through cooperation, it has been possible to push through legal recognition for the father schools, and the father schools in each of the districts of St Petersburg have been formalised and been given their own budget - something which Sweden has yet to accomplish.
The project has also contributed to an important legislative change which means that future fathers all over Russia may now be present at the birth of their children if the mother agrees to it, something which was prohibited until recently, except in private clinics against payment.
Treatment for men who subject women to violence
To reduce men's violence towards women, the Swedish-Russian cooperation is focusing on the families who are caught in a spiral of violence, both by reinforcing women's shelters in their support of abused women and children, and by offering the men treatment.
"We have developed a treatment programme for men who use violence against women in Russia, in close cooperation with the Russian women's shelters," explains Vidar Vetterfalk.
Three of the project's non-governmental partner organisations are now offering treatment and more are in the pipeline. They have developed a course called "Five steps towards an alternative" and the course has been approved by the Russian education system. Police officers, psychologists, correctional officers and social workers among others have received training on the subject.
Large dissemination thanks to the media
The project's local partner organisations have worked together with Russian women's organisations with lobbying and advocacy to bring about changes in legislation, and a legislative proposal against violence in close relationships is now awaiting decision in Parliament.
The advocacy work and increasing awareness has led to gender issues, with a focus on the role of men, receiving more and more attention in the media. Several articles have been written where men who have participated in the father schools have been heard. The tone of the media is changing slowly, and questions about the role of fathers, equality in the family and men's violence against women are treated more often.
"Our cooperation in Russia goes against norms and changes attitudes. It helps young men and fathers to challenge stereotypical notions of masculinity and violence, and to see the value of equality," concludes Vidar Vetterfalk.