How one Russian rock concert transformed into an international movement against domestic abuse

Frustrated by a lack of action by the authorities, young feminists in Russia launched their own series of events to raise money and awareness on domestic violence. Now the movement is crossing borders and taking on new boundaries.

13 March 2020

Some 14,000 women in Russia die each year due to domestic violence. Another 36,000 suffer physical abuse every day, according to data published by Amnesty International. Yet these numbers are not being tacked with tough anti-violence legislation: Russian lawmakers decriminalised domestic battery in 2017, and the law still does not provide restraining orders that would keep abusers away from the victims.

Now, frustrated with the lack of official response, a grassroots movement is fighting to raise awareness of the issue and change the status quo. The movement spawned Not Her Fault Fest — an international series of art events in support of domestic abuse survivors, including concerts, screenings, lectures, and workshops organised by local artists and activists. It began in 2019, when events took place in 22 cities across Russia and Belarus to raise money for crisis centres and charities supporting domestic abuse survivors. Now, Not Her Fault is present in 40 cities across six countries, across Russia, Belarus, Georgia, Finland, Poland, and Uzbekistan.

The Calvert Journal talked to two of the organisers from last year’s St Petersburg event, Katya Valera and Lolja Nordic. on how a grassroots movement can go global, and the challenges that still lie ahead.

How did the movement begin?

KV: It all started with a conversation between two Russian artists — Bryansk band Kick Chill and a Tomsk band POZORY — about an event in support of domestic violence victims. This idea resonated with many people, with activists and artists reaching out to each other across Russia and Belarus to hold similar events in different cities. That was last year. This year, people were already aware of the action and started getting in touch with us on their own initiative.

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How does the organisational process work? Do you collaborate with organisers in other cities?

KV: It’s very important for us to have a horizontal structure within the organisation. Anyone can join the movement; all we ask people to do is to read our manifesto and to explicitly agree with what it says. We have one chat for all organisers, which is active 24/7, and we also have weekly calls to discuss specific issues and topics with the most active members of the team. We don’t supervise the process in other cities, but experienced organisers are always there for the newcomers. Last year, I was working at an event like this for the first time, and now I can share my skills and knowledge with others.

Who takes part at the events? There seems to be a broad range of creatives and activists — how do you curate the programme?

LN: We call this festival “a DIY action,” and the DIY aspect is very important for us. Usually, people are afraid of organising events like this, and we really want to prove that anyone can do it. We welcome everyone who has the wish and opportunity to participate.

The movement started with music, specifically punk music, as its main theme, but later we broadened the scope to other arts and activities. We realised that some cities don’t necessarily have an organised and progressive music scene, but it would be unfair to exclude these places from the movement. Now we have lectures, screenings, exhibitions, and all kinds of activities in the programme. It just needs to be something that will bring people to the event, something art-related. It really depends on each location and what it has to offer.

How would you describe your mission?

LN: There are several things that are equally important to us. Of course, we are a charitable movement, and a lot of people think that raising money must be our main goal. We are doing our best in this regard, but we also understand that fundraising can be quite difficult in smaller cities, and we never want our organisers to feel frustrated if they can’t raise very much.

Our educational mission is just as important. We offer crucial support: sometimes even in larger cities, people aren’t aware that crisis centres exist for victims of domestic violence. They just wouldn’t know where to seek free psychological support or legal advice in that kind of situation.

Finally, we want to create a space for solidarity—a community that is brought together by shared values and ideas, a creative network within a friendly environment. This movement allows us to see who really supports what we believe in and who tries to distance themselves from the feminist agenda.

“Even in larger cities, people just aren’t aware that crisis centres exist for victims of domestic violence”

What are the main challenges you’ve faced while organising Not Her Fault?

KV: There are local and global challenges. It’s quite easy to work in Petersburg and Moscow, as there are many venues and artists who want to collaborate with us. In smaller cities, there are fewer people and bands who are interested in the issue, so we need to try harder to engage both the participants and the audiences. Globally, the most challenging thing is that we all do this in our free time, after work, and don’t get paid. Last year, it felt very exciting doing something completely new, but now it’s becoming more of a routine, so we’re trying to avoid burnout.

The movement has significantly grown compared to last year. What are your plans for the future?

KV: We would like to expand even further: the more cities and countries join us, the better. We welcome everyone.

LN: It’s also very important to maintain our horizontal structure as we go global. A lot of people think that it’s just expats from Russia who are working with us in other countries, and that our events are all about Russian organisations, but in fact, wherever an event is happening, we want its focus to be on the local agenda. Want to provide information relevant for local people, whether they live in Bryansk, Tashkent, or Warsaw. This year, the event in Helsinki is raising money for a Russian charity, but our goal is to help organisations on the ground. If we expand to really progressive countries where this problem isn’t perhaps so urgent, we would offer them a chance to donate to other countries that need help, but we want to build a network of mutual support.

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How one Russian rock concert transformed into an international movement against domestic abuse

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