FEMFACTS
20 Mar 2019

Russian MP believes HIV is spreading because people sleep around too much

Tamara Pletnyova, the chairwoman of Russian State Duma’s Committee on Family, Women and Children, gave a long interview to Channel One, the nation's biggest broadcaster, voicing a number of controversial and harmful ideas.

Daria Sukharchuk
Daria Sukharchuk NewsMavens, Central & Eastern Europe
Russian MP believes HIV is spreading because people sleep around too much - NewsMavens
Tamara Pletnyova, YouTube

In Europe, the most common perception of the Communists is that they are atheist, and support things like gender equality -- even if they aren’t known for being tolerant towards minorities. However, to anybody who’s followed Russian politics for the last decade or so, it’s getting increasingly difficult to separate the Communist Party of the Russian Federation from the ruling conservative party, United Russia. This was aptly demonstrated by Communist MP Tamara Pletnyova, the chairwoman of the Russian State Duma Committee on Family, Women and Children.

WHAT ARE THE CLAIMS?

Pletnyova’s appearance on state-run Channel One on March 6 -- right before International Women’s Day, which is a state holiday in Russia -- was a strange experience. She voiced quite a few progressive ideas -- that women need access to well-paid work and free childcare, or that a man cannot be the sole breadwinner in a family. But along with those, Pletnyova said a number of things that contradict modern ideas about the rights of women and LGBT people -- “This (homosexual) person is sick, and needs a cure” -- but since we can’t dissect the whole interview here, we’ll focus on a few of the most prominent, such as her view of HIV in Russia:

“(HIV is growing) because our morality is so low, people are sleeping around with anybody they want, with no responsibility.

Or her stance on the problem of sexual harassment:

The men aren’t the only ones to blame (...) in a situation where a woman is pressured to have sex with a man in order to get the job she wants, she just needs to refuse -- I know I would.”  

WHAT ARE THE FACTS?

Russia has the highest HIV infection rate in Europe -- and this rate is growing faster than in any other country. One of the reasons for this is the state’s obstinate refusal to either introduce sexual education in schools, or promote the use of condoms. This has resulted in heterosexual sex now being the most common means of contracting HIV in Russia. State-sponsored propaganda on “loyalty to the same partner”, along with claims that condoms aren’t a reliable means of protection against HIV, has not helped to curb the spread of disease.

In today’s Russia, it is hardly possible to conduct modern sex education classes, because of a number of laws passed by the Duma in recent years that basically forbid the exposure of children to information about sex. This is especially true when it comes to same-sex relationships, which makes young gay people even more vulnerable to the infections like HIV -- and that’s why the HIV rate among gay men is higher than in the general population.

The claim that HIV+ people are the ones that break social convention by “sleeping around” and are to blame for the infection does not help to fight HIV. It only further excludes and stigmatizes those who are HIV+, and makes it harder for them to access treatment, or even to open up to their colleagues, families and friends. Stigma also makes people less likely to get tested. And this is especially problematic in a country like Russia, where 1% of the population has the virus already, which makes testing more necessary than ever.

Finally, Pletnyova’s statement that women are to blame for their own harassment has been repeated on several occasions -- most notably, in March last year, when Russia had its own #MeToo moment after several journalists of the State Duma press pool accused MP Leonid Slutsky of harassing them. One even had an audio record of his sexual proposition. Pletnyova then sided with Slutsky, and the Duma speaker, Mr Volodin, who said that if those journalists don’t feel comfortable in the Duma, they should work elsewhere.

Pletnyova added that they probably should dress more modestly and that she doesn’t understand the problems of those women because she has never been sexually harassed in her life. However, her kind of victim-blaming, and hinting that “proper” women don’t get harassed, is harmful towards the women who have been sexually assaulted. Not only is it incorrect -- sexual assault nearly always stems from a power imbalance between the sides, and has nothing to do with the attractiveness of the woman, or the man’s feelings towards her -- it is also harmful. Women who have experienced assault are not complicit in it. They need compassion and help -- not blame.

CONCLUSION

The ideas voiced by Tamara Pletnyova are a rather typical and sad example of the notions that dominate Russia’s political mainstream. Human rights defenders of all kinds have to battle with the consequences of these notions on a daily basis. Also, ideas like this exclude whole groups of society -- HIV+ people, LGBT+ people, women who have experienced assault -- from the help and solidarity that they need to overcome their difficulties and succeed in life. They further divide the society, and breed mistrust.

We rate these dangerous claims as a manipulation of facts leading to intersectional discrimination, and the condoning of objectification ofwomen and violence against women.

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Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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