Socially Disadvantaged Women and Girls
Today Russia faces extremely difficult economic conditions, especially in industrial regions like Yekaterinburg. Many military-industrial factories have closed down and left people without work. Women are the first to be dismissed from work, and it is significantly more difficult for them to find new work than for men. Economic instability has led to a sharp increase in the number of crimes committed by women. As a result, women's pretrial holding jails and penal colonies are filled to overflowing. The conditions there are simply inhuman.
In 1996 in the Sverdlovsk region representatives of Methodist, Seventh-day Adventist, Russian Orthodox, Baptist, and New Life (Charismatic) churches created the organization "Christian Women". The main activities of the organization include religion classes in children's hospitals; help for blind children, handicapped youth, and children needing psychiatric services; art instruction for gifted children from poor families; and work with women and children in prison.
The guiding principle of our organization is this: "Women who are deprived of freedom are not deprived of the right to a human life!" In our region there is a pretrial holding jail with more than one thousand women and girls, ages 14 to 70, and a penal colony for 900 women. Several years ago there were approximately 700 convicts total.
Among those charged with crimes who are being held in the pretrial holding unit, there are usually four to six pregnant women and three to five women nursing children born during their incarceration. The conditions that the women live in would horrify anyone. Up to 30 women are housed in cells that measure 12 to 15 square meters [130 to 160 square feet] and have sleeping space for only 10 to 15 people. Many women and girls spend more than a year awaiting trial in such conditions. They become spiteful and withdrawn and lose any hope for a return to a normal human life.
The women's colony in Nizhniy Tagil, about 110 miles [180 km] from Yekaterinburg, includes representatives of virtually every nationality that calls Russia home. Among them are women who are illiterate and those with a college degree, women who are psychologically sound and those who have deviant behavior and sexual perversions.
There is a children's home on the premises of the colony for 40 children up to three years of age who are born in the pretrial holding cells or in the penal colony. When they turn three, these children are sent out to various orphanages in the region and, practically speaking, these little children lose all contact with their mothers. In 1996 regional authorities financed only 25 percent of the women's required medication and personal-hygiene products. Authorities make no attempt to rehabilitate these women. Deprived of life's natural stimuli, they typically continue a pattern of repeated crime.
How We Help
The majority of the women and children who have committed crimes and have served their sentences give up all hope for a future life. The goal of our organization is to overcome this sense of helplessness. To that end, we regularly visit the convicts and discuss spiritual matters. We provide the women and girls with religious and other wholesome literature. We provide all necessary medications and personal-hygiene products. We provide children, nursing mothers, and pregnant women with vitamins and needed clothing and shoes. We organize visits between mothers held in the colony and their children who have been sent to orphanages. These meetings help to preserve family ties. We have quite a bit of experience in these matters, since the United Methodist Church of Yekaterinburg has been conducting similar meetings between male convicts and their children. We provide the women and girls in the colony with free examinations by medical specialists and social workers. We instruct the women and girls in making decorative applied arts, such as knitting and applique. And we work with employment services to find jobs for women who have been released from prison.
Despite chronic shortages we continue to work and pray to realize our goal--the spiritual and social rehabilitation of convicted women and girls so that they can return to a normal, human life as mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters!
Yelena Yakovlevna Tishchenko was born in 1955 in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg), in the Urals. She graduated in 1977 from the Ural State Polytechnical Institute. She also completed three years of training for pastors and spiritual leaders in the Russian United Methodist Church. She accepted Christ in 1991 at the founding of the Sverdlovsk United Methodist Church. She is a pastor at the United Methodist Church "Returning" and president of the Sverdlovsk Regional Social Organization "Christian Women," Yekaterinburg.
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© 1998 Institute for East-West Christian Studies