Stop Sexism the Russian Orthodox Church

To Kirill, the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia. Your Holiness, We are deeply concerned by the fact that high ranking representatives in the Russian Orthodox Church have recently made some statements that not only dishonour Russian women, but entirely justify discrimination and violence against them. The Archpriest Dmitry Smirnov, Head of the Synod for Cooperation with the Army and the Police Force, Co-Chair of the Ecclesiastical and Public Council for Biomedical Ethics, has suggested a “revolutionary” means of fighting abortion: “It should be spelled out in the law that a woman who has decided to have an abortion will be punished with 8 years in jail”. It is true that the abortion rate in Russia is alarming, but to control their own bodies is an indefeasible right of women which is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation and recognized by the progressive international community. Such pronouncements call for a violation of constitutional rights and human rights. Abortions must not be outlawed, but prevented: the state should organize a sexual education system, and encourage in its citizens, particularly men, a culture of conscious parenting, thereby ensuring the enhancement of a citizen's quality of life. Instead of this the church representative suggests accusing women of a criminal offense for understanding their constitutional rights. It would be infinitely more preferable if there were no threat inherent in the Church's position, and if it were to be directed towards fostering mutual respect among people. Dmitry Smirnov has more than once made discriminatory pronouncements about women, making statements that are intolerable in a modern society. There have been phrases in his public discourses insulting to women's pride. For example, he affirms that a man is by 25% cleverer than a woman, according to some 'British researchers'. His opinions are not supported by references to concrete research results and must therefore be regarded as questionable. Moreover, the following statement is one of his: “On the average, if we place all women and all men in a line, we'll see that men have broader shoulders, that they are cleverer and taller than women”. This claim is reminiscent of racist and Nazi discourse, affirming the superiority of one race over another based on skull form, height, hair and eyes color, etc. Such statements are absolutely intolerable, being sexist, discriminatory and chauvinist. They contravene clause 19 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation and clause 1 of The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women ratified by the Russian Federation. In December 2010 the Head of the Synod For Church - Society Relations, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin made the following statement regarding women during a round table discussion on interethnic relations: “If she wears a mini-skirt, she can provoke not only a Caucasian, but also a Russian. If furthermore she is drunk, she'll provoke men all the more. If in addition to this she actively encourages men to communicate with her, and then is surprised at that such communications result in rape, her fault is even greater.” The Archpriest thus pawned off on the victims of crime the responsibility for committing the crime, the implications of which are similar to the standards applied to people in wartime, used to excuse the perpetrators of a crime. When Russian feminists published an open letter to Your Holiness with regard to this matter, Archpriest V. Chaplin responded to it on the pages of the Russkaya Liniya ('Russian Line') Orthodox Information Agency on December 29. But instead of making a public apology he moved from a discussion of violence against women to a discussion of their appearance. “It is evident that a woman who behaves jauntily, dresses like a prostitute and furthermore gets drunk and teases men does not deserve any respect and is in the wrong, regardless of whether she was raped or not”. We consider this statement as yet another attempt to replace a public discussion of the issue of violence against women by the discussion of their appearance. And also as an explicit effort of the Russian Orthodox Church's spokespeople to support social stereotypes justifying violence against women. We declare that a person's appearance and physical state cannot constitute a justification for coercive actions against him or her. One's appearance is one's own private matter. Every person, man and woman, has a right to sexual integrity regardless of his or her mode of dress, social circle or anything else. We urge you to condemn discriminatory and abusive statements regarding women on the part of the Russian Orthodox Church's spokespeople, and to stop the propagation of attitudes which justify violence against women. We also urge you to highlight the need to contribute to the strengthening of mutual respect between social groups and non-violent attitudes. Your Holiness, we ask you to urge the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy to stop propagating gender discrimination and offer public apologies for the statements that have been already made, which are intolerable in a modern society. Yours respectfully, the undersigned.

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