MOSCOW (AP) _ Women's rights should include ``the right to be protected by men,'' acting President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday as he handed out awards to several prominent women.

The awards, including the Order for Service to the Fatherland, went to dancers, businesswomen and athletes on the eve of one of Russia's most popular holidays, Women's Day.

``Women should enjoy one indisputable privilege _ the right to be protected by men,'' Putin said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Women offer society things it cannot do without, he added: ``These are intelligence, intuition, kindness and beauty.''

Putin, who replaced Boris Yeltsin after his sudden New Year's Eve resignation, is the frontrunner in Russia's March 26 election.