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Russian ex-TV host spearheads 'mission' against domestic violence

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Moscow (AFP)

Defying abuse from "haters" and opposition from political allies, a Russian former chat show host turned MP is leading an uphill struggle to create a law tackling domestic violence.

Ruling party lawmaker Oksana Pushkina has run into hostility from ultra-conservatives and the Russian Orthodox Church as she battles to force through legislation many see as overdue.

Yet even though Pushkina belongs to the dominant United Russia faction, there is no guarantee any bill will pass.

The vivacious 56-year-old, who anchored Russia's equivalent of "Oprah" before entering politics, sees President Vladimir Putin's reaction at his annual press conference on Thursday as crucial for its future.

"Eighty percent of Russian families encounter domestic violence," Pushkina told AFP in an interview.

However, Russia currently has no law defining domestic violence and protecting victims, and first-time physical attacks by family members were recently decriminalised.

"We're right at the back of the line out of all countries," said the ex-host of the popular TV show "A Woman's View", her bright green trousers, matching necklace and white T-shirt standing out among the dark suits of the State Duma lower house of parliament.

- 'A mission' -

Along with lawyers and activists, she helped draw up a draft law introducing concepts such as restraining orders.

"We are really saving people, this is a mission," she said.

The upper house, the Federation Council, published the draft for public discussion after softening the terms.

Nevertheless most comments online called for it to be scrapped for damaging "traditional values," claiming it would lead to the state breaking up families.

Just 57 percent of men backed the draft law in a survey by state pollster VTsIOM, compared to 80 percent of women.

The Orthodox Church called the bill "incompatible with traditional Russian spiritual and moral values".

Pushkina admits she has "not yet" won the support of colleagues in the Duma -- where there are just 70 female MPs out of 450.

She has also received threats and her staff said that her email was flooded with near-identical messages opposing the bill.

"They are scary people," she said, of her "ultra-conservative" opponents, who accuse the bill's authors of backing "Western non-traditional values".

- 'Question will be asked' -

Pushkina acknowledged that Putin's words to the media on Thursday could play a vital role.

"Basically we are waiting for the 19th, the press conference. I think a question will be asked, we will listen carefully. A lot depends on this, too, that's just how it is," she said, laughing.

She said she had talked to Putin's aides but the strongman seems unlikely to bolster her cause.

In 2016, he backed a controversial measure to decriminalise beatings in the home, saying "unceremonious intrusion into the family is unacceptable".

"We haven't yet managed to persuade people who take the decisions in the country, particularly the legal administration of the president," she admitted.

As a celebrity member of United Russia -- which also counts former sports stars and the first woman in space Valentina Tereshkova as MPs -- Pushkina could seem to be in a strong position.

United Russia usually steamrolls bills through parliament with little debate but "that won't work here", she acknowledged.

"I think it will be one of the most high-profile bills," even compared to reforms to increase the state pension age that divided the country and saw Putin's ratings plummet, she said.

"If the law isn't passed, it means society isn't ready to live differently."

- 'A lot of haters' -

Known for her confessional chats with stars in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Pushkina also fought a very public lengthy legal battle over botched cosmetic filler in her face.

She served as a regional children's ombudswoman before becoming an MP in 2016.

"I've been in the public eye a long time. I haven't always said popular things. I've always had a lot of haters," she said, indicating that threats over the bill were not the worst she had received.

She admitted that her generation was more tolerant of abusers, saying that some women took the view that: "I'll stay with him until the end, until he kills me," while she sees a new generation who "want respect from their partners".

"You can never totally end violence but we at least want to stop it in the home," she said, adding that, in this case, it falls to women to "save the world one more time".

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