Monday, October 5, 2020

Moscow Still Ignoring Problem of Female Genital Mutilation in North Caucasus, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 4 – Over the past four years, more commentators have criticized continuing female genital mutilation in the North Caucasus and elsewhere in the Russian Federation. Muslim leaders have spoken out against it, but one institution has remained silent – the Russian government.

            Because it does not want to call attention to a problem most people associate with the poorest countries of the third world or because it accepts the reassurances of its appointees in the North Caucasus that they are successfully dealing with it, the Russian government remains one of the few in the world without a law against this barbaric practice.

            (For background on this issue in the region and Moscow’s silence, see,, and

            Now, the release of a new film by Vladimir Servinovsky and Svetlana Anokhina about the practice in Daghestan, “This Happens with Us Too,” has prompted the convention of an online conference on how serious the problem remains and what needs to be done to convince the Russian government to change its approach (

            According to Anokhina, there are at least 1200 cases of female genital mutilation in Daghestan alone every year, but she says that even if there were only five, steps must be taken to end the practice. Her film allows both women and men to speak out against it and under their own names, thus putting new pressure on officials to do something.

            Arkhmet Yarlykapov, a Moscow ethnographer who specializes on the North Caucasus, says that despite what many believe, the practice did not originate with Islam but is far more ancient and was intended as a rite of passage from girlhood to womanhood. But the belief that Islam is involved has kept it alive.

            Another participant in the online conference, Saida Sirazhdinova, of the Center for Research on Global Problems of Today and Regional Problems, agrees. She has been researching the subject since 2016 but says that tragically little has changed over the last four years. Even civil society leaders prefer to ignore the problem.

            Flavia Mvangovia, who heads the Equality Now global initiative, says that as of today, “more than 200 million women” have been subjected to such violence. It occurs “at a minimum” in 92 countries, but only 32 maintain statistical data about it and only 52 have laws banning it. Russia is in both those categories.

            The Russian legal code has no provision expressly banning it; and when the authorities do react, they are forced to rely on other paragraphs which prohibit inflicting harm. But that is not enough, Olga Gnezdilov, a lawyer for Legal Initiative, says. Because it isn’t banned, many continue to assume that it is perfectly all right.

            A year ago, many in Russia focused on the case of a nine-year-old girl in Ingushetia who was subjected to the practice and who suffered terribly as a result. Olga Savina, another Legal Initiative activist, says the authorities opened a case only because of public clamor but since have done little to move things along (cf.

            Not only did the authorities limit charges to the doctor alone, but they “closed their eyes to the systemic nature of the problem.” As a result, she says, the subject remains taboo in many parts of the North Caucasus; and young women there continue to be its victims.  Until there is a law banning  this practice, few things are likely to change, Savina says.

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