Gendered violence in Russia under research

Maija Jäppinen studies the real lives at women’s crisis centres in Russia.

Maija Jäppinen

Jäppinen, social work researcher and chair of the Student Union, has links with Russia having travelled and worked there extensively. She has recently returned from her visit to the Udmurt Republic in the Western Ural region. She is conducting research in the field of social work into gendered violence and assistance provided by women’s crisis centres in Russia.

- I have interviewed the refuge workers and residents and observed the everyday life in these crisis centres: how they approach violence as a problem and how they seek solutions to it, she says, describing her work, which is aiming at a doctorate.

Knowledge of the social services field and Russia are a combination that is in genuine demand. There are currently well over 50,000 Russian-speaking immigrants in Finland. Although they have integrated into Finnish society quite well, in a group of this size there will be people with widely different life stories to tell.

In Russia, domestic violence is widespread. In an extensive survey carried out in 2002, 56 per cent of Russian women reported having been either victims of physical violence or threatened of physical violence by their current husbands. Traditionally, the problem stays within the four walls of the home.

In the Soviet Union, social work as it is understood in the West did not exist. It emerged as a public service and academic discipline in the early 1990s. The field is still marred by bureaucracy that harks back to the Tsarist era.

- I have, however, come across some remarkable women. Social work is predominantly a women’s sphere in Russia and they are doing such good work out of a genuine desire to help.

In addition to the Udmurt Republic, Jäppinen has also conducted research in Saratov a little further south, as well as in Sortavala, which used to be part of Finland until the Second World War.

She emphasises the importance of experiencing the everyday life of ordinary people when trying to get a more accurate picture of the real Russia. She also urges people to venture outside the boulevards of major centres and explore the more rundown peripheries.

- In Russia, you never know how things are going to sort themselves out, but they always do eventually. You have no other choice but to live for the moment. If I hadn’t spent any time in Russia, who knows what kind of control freak I would be, says Jäppinen.

Read more from the October issue of HUB – Helsinki University Bulletin. » »

Teksti: Marko Leppänen
Kuva: Susanna Kekkonen

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