Women's rights in Russia - report from 2017 Ronnie Payne Prize winner Marianna Spring

Marianna at an exhibition on Pussy Riot and women in Russia at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow

When I spoke to Celia Haddon about her husband, Ronnie Payne, at the brilliant Geddes Lecture in March, she told me about his admirable reporting on important issues abroad during turbulent times. This year, I have aimed to do just that. However, fulfilling such an aim would not have been possible without the brilliant opportunities to report abroad afforded to me by the Ronnie Payne Prize.

As well as securing a casual contract as a reporter at the Guardian this year and publishing a number of articles because of this, I have been able to work specifically with the International News desk and foreign correspondents at the Guardian as the result of receiving this prize, and to investigate the situation of Russian women, and the issue of domestic violence many of them face.

I set out with the intention of furthering the reporting I had done during my year abroad and of investigating the complex and concerning situation of Russian women, inspired by those I met whilst living in Yaroslavl’. Conversations with them, along with the recent news regarding domestic violence laws and work discrimination, made it clear to me that Russian women were beginning to challenge their position in society.

Thanks to the help of trustee Sandra Barwick, as well as Alexandra Topping, a reporter who I have worked with at the Guardian, I found a news focus for my story: the issue of violence against women in Russia. Following amendments in February, which had decriminalised some forms of domestic violence in Russia, this topic was especially relevant and important, and allowed me to channel this concern for the treatment of women, who have had to fight for their rights in a different way to European women as a result of the ‘equality’ imposed during the Soviet era. The Guardian’s International News Editor gave me the go ahead to investigate the effects of the amendments, and the new bill that activists were trying to get through the State Duma, and so I set to work.

I used my prize money to fund a trip to Moscow as planned in the Easter vacation in order to speak with a number of women, who I met during my year abroad, and also activists who have been campaigning for new protection bill on domestic violence prevention. These conversations (during which my Russian proved to be very useful!) revealed to me the scale of the problem of domestic violence in the country, the risk of it worsening following the amendments in February, and the work of brave young women in particular who wanted to change that. These activists pointed me in the direction of others who were campaigning, as well as those Deputies in the State Duma who were against the amendments. I continued to call and speak with activists, victims of domestic violence, law-makers and Deputies for a number of months and throughout the Summer, as well as speaking to those who backed the amendments, in order to best understand the current situation in the country.

When looking for the best hook for my story, I was hoping this would be the debate, and perhaps even the passing, of the bill in the State Duma would come about, but this has stalled. After discussions with assistant International News Editor Enjoli Liston and Lexy Topping, I decided to structure my story around the affects of the amendments, and the worsening situation for women who are now having to pay the fines of their abusers. The news article was published online and in print in the paper on Tuesday December 19th of this year: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/19/russian-victims-domestic-violence-abuse-forced-pay-perpetrator-fines. I hope that my reporting will draw attention to the issue. It is some of the most important news reporting I’ve done, as well as my first exclusive for the Guardian.

I am in Russia again for New Year, where I plan to do more reporting, and to continue interrogating the situation of women in Russia. The International News Desk at the Guardian are keen to hear more stories on Russia from me, and I plan to write a more detailed series of profiles of Russian women who have been affected by domestic abuse, as well to continue reporting on domestic violence in Russia.

Reporting from Paris in September

Any money that I did not spend on trips to Russia, I used to report in Paris with the Guardian Paris corespondent, where I also met journalists from BBC news and ITN, as well as with Le Tarn Libre, the local paper in the South West of France, where I wrote a news feature piece “Regards sur Albi” (featured below as it was only in print). In addition to this, the prize helped me to report on the First Round of the French Election debate on the Guardian’s Live Blog: https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2017/apr/04/french-election-2017-france-all-presidential-candidates-take-part-in-live-tv-debate.

I would not have been able to make these trips, or pursue these opportunities, were it not for the prize money, and the prize has without doubt enabled me to pursue my dream of foreign corespondency. I want to express my gratitude to Ronnie, to Celia and to the Geddes Trust, who have enabled all of this. I hope that I have done and continue to do Ronnie proud, reporting on important issues abroad during turbulent times, just as he did.

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