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Marina Pisklakova picinterview with Marina Pisklakova

The foremost advocate for battered women in Russia, Marina Pisklakova started the country’s first hotline for abused women and its first battered women’s shelter.

Q What do you hope is going to be accomplished here?
MP First it's great having a group of people together, a powerful group of people like this, and to be a part of that group. I know some of the people, like Wei Jingsheng and Martin O'Brien. We were honored together by Human Rights Watch at different years and being with people like them is always a great source of support and inspiration. It's like a support group. It's where you don't need to explain anything, go into all the details of the issues, because they lead the same life. We understand each other better than probably anybody else. And it's very inspiring to know that even if you are frustrated, you can write e-mail to Martin and say listen, I just need a little emotional support, and he will send you a joke back. It is great, even just to remember the time when we were together last, and we had a lot of laughs, as well as talk about serious issues. For those of us who do this daily work, it gives us a sense of empowerment. In terms of my hope, it is important to educate any society about the issues of human rights. And although in many areas, the United States has probably some of the best legislation, better than any other country, people still need to be aware about issues of what somebody called today, "special groups of people." (Although, it's not exactly about a special group. There are groups that require special attention because their rights are violated most frequently for all different reasons) But for me, dealing with women's rights, we require a lot of information and training. We take inspiration from what has already been done in the United States. But even in the United States, I don't think that the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Violence against Humans has been signed by the American government. I don't know if it is a priority here, but I think for women it would be important to have an instrument like that, although your legislation in most other ways is an example worldwide.

Q One of the universals that comes out of all these discussions, is the issue of women's rights. Many have looked back on our country in the past century and said that the women's revolution was one of the great changes made. As we enter this 21st century, do you see the women's movement in Russia, but also throughout the world, taking a step forward?
MP With our achievements, we also receive new challenges, because although in some parts of the world women have more rights, in other parts of the world, women are still killed by family members. Or in Russia, 14,000 women annually are killed in domestic violence situations. And we need to remember another issue, that of trafficking women and children. This is epidemic and it is still not really recognized widely in the world. It is a type of slavery. The most common thing right now is sexual slavery. But it is not that only, it's also working in sweat shops, working as maids. It's farming and working in the fields. And those are people from disadvantaged societies. The economic problem, the lack of jobs, made them go for jobs abroad. They get trapped by organized crime people who use them and sell them as a property. 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.

Q How did you meet Kerry Kennedy Cuomo? When she told you she was going to try to do this book, what was your reaction?
MP I was referred to her. She sent me an e-mail asking about somebody from Russia. When I thought about her book, I thought about the more traditional human rights defender—someone in a prison, maybe a Soviet dissident. I know some of those people, so I gave her a list of names. Then she got back to me and asked me about my own work. I was pleased with her recognition and it is nice to be a representative, but I always think of myself as part of the movement in Russia because I represent hundreds of women who work daily in Russia, and they don't have enough support. They don't have enough resources. They just have a dedication to help other women survive violent situations. When Kerry came to interview me, we had a very nice conversation about what it means to be a human rights defender.You have to take risks to do that. And until I talked to Kerry, I hadn't even thought about the risk that I was taking. I've learned alot talking to her, because she helped me to realize what I have been through personally. When you work everyday with these issues, you try to detach yourself personally.You try not to think about the risks you take. Talking to Kerry was a bit like therapy. I suddenly realized why I was afraid to come to my home every evening when I was late. Every evening coming home, I was afraid that somebody was waiting for me—and I couldn't understand it. Talking to Kerry, I remembered the situation when one one angry husband called me at home and threatened me. When you remember that and you understand it, it's forgotten, it's left behind. The next time I was in Moscow, I was happy about that because I was not afraid anymore. I was free from that suppressed, internal fear that I had for so many years. So, I really appreciate that Kerry selected me to be part of her book. I learned a lot myself talking to her.


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