Sunday, June 21, 2020

Internet Destroying Code of Silence in North Caucasus about Female Genital Mutilation

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 18 – The barbaric practice of female genital mutilation only rarely has attracted media and judicial attention in the republics of the eastern North Caucasus ( because there, a code of silence has been cast over the subject.

            Ordinary people do not speak of it, often because they are unaware of the problem since it appears to most commonly appear among married women and thus is viewed as such an intimate family matter that even scholars shy away from talking about such issues and because there is no Russian law specifically banning the practice. 

            Last month, however, this silence was broken because of a case involving a nine-year-old Chechen girl who was subjected to this debilitating surgery in Ingushetia, sparking demands from Russian officials that actions be taken to punish her father who asked for the surgery and Ingush doctors who carried it out.

            Now, as regional journalist Aida Gadzhiyeva shows, this code of silence is hopefully ending, the result of large and active Internet communities that have focused attention on the practice even when those immediately involved prefer not to talk about it even if they object  (

            She notes that the first criminal case about this in Ingushetia occurred “almost by accident” and only months after the operation occurred because even the mother of the girl who was subject to this cruel operation under social pressure backed down and said she would prefer not to bring one.

            On June 22, 2019, a nine-year-old Chechen girl in the nominal care of her father was subject to genital mutilation in a Magas hospital. Her mother subsequently found out and complained.  But despite her complaints which triggered an investigation by Ingush officials, the case quieted down after the mother under pressure dropped her objections.

            Fortunately, a distant relative of the girl’s mother was too horrified and angry to do so; and she, identified by Gadzhiyeva only as Seda, continued to complain not just directly to officials but via Internet communities, like the 6,000-member “Overheard.Feminism.Caucasus” one, which were not prepared to be silent.

            Seda posted that the mother of the girl who had been disfigured acknowledged that she herself had been subject to genital mutilation before her marriage. His future husband’s family had insisted on that.  If the same thing had happened this time around, she apparently would not have said anything at all, but it was inflicted on a very young girl.

            “In this,” Seda continued, “consists the chief misfortune of the majority of crimes in the Caucasus: No one speaks about them. They are considered normal, and no one sees in them a violation of human rights.”  She said that after she had complained, she was sharply criticized by those around her but felt she could not fail to expose this crime.

            According to Gadzhiyeva, “the question is so much under a taboo that even in scholarly works, it is passed by in silence. Chechen ethnographer Zulay Zhasbulatova said she knew such things happened in the past but that she chooses not to write about “such intimate things” in her own work now.

            But if family members and scholars are intimidated by social pressure into remaining silent, Internet communities are providing a way for other to speak. And they are now talking about this horror, bringing it to the attention of others, and allowing ever more people to violate the previous taboos.

            According to Gadzhiyeva, the center of the problem now is in Daghestan. In Ingushetia, it is confined to some rural areas, and in Chechnya, it has become rare. One young woman from Daghestan posted online that in her village, all young women, even very young ones, are subject to this operation.

            Saida Sirazhdinova, the president of the Center for Research on Global and Regional Problems, says that there are many such villages in Daghestan and that the best estimates – there are no official figures – suggest that 1240 Daghestani girls and women as young as three are now subject to genital mutilation.

            Regional journalists, like Svetlana Anokhina, have tried to attract attention to and official action against such actions, but they have faced serious opposition not only from many in these traditional societies but from some leaders of the Muslim community.  Fortunately, the Internet is making it harder for these forces to continue to hide this horrific practice.

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