Friday, August 20, 2021

Failed Legal System Makes Defense of Women’s Rights in North Caucasus a Sisyphean Task, Anokhina Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 16 – All victories the defenders of women’s rights achieve in the North Caucasus are at best temporary because the absence of clear laws and of the willingness of judges to enforce anything that goes against traditional attitudes mean that they may be reversed in the very next case, Svetlana Anokhina says.

            The longtime campaigner against female genital mutilation and abuse of women and girls within families says that her task and those of others remains Sisyphean and will until the Russian authorities change their approach (

            Anokhina knows whereof she speaks, having been involved with the defense of women’s rights there for more than five years. (Forbackground on her work, see,,


            She has prepared films and books about the tragedy and has been involved in preparing cases both successful and unsuccessful to try to get the authorities to prevent the genital mutilation of girls and to punish those responsible for what she says is a rising tide of family violence against women.

            She says she and her fellow activists have achieved more from the Muslim spiritual directorates (MSDs) in the region than they have from the Russian state. The former have issued clear fetwas and denounces these evils, while the latter has not been willing to issue clear laws or force judges to rule in accordance with them once they are on the books.

            But unfortunately, at the community level, many in the North Caucasus follow their own understanding of shariat and adat and behave in ways in conflict with the fetwas and with the human rights of those involved, Anokhina says. Thus, it is doubly important that the state weigh in as well. But too often that doesn’t happen.

            One late women’s right activist, Ayshat Magomedova, told her, the campaigner says, that if Islam can help, turn to the imams; if the state can, turn to it; but if the only people who can do anything positive are otherwise bandits, then the situation is so dire and the harms inflicted by violence against women so great, that it is all right to turn to them for assistance.

            “Our society is now oversaturated with violence,” Anokhina concludes. Not only do the authorities treat those who complain as badly as they treat real rapists, but things have deteriorated to the point that most people simply close their eyes to what is going on lest they be “poisoned by it” themselves.

            That attitude must change, but progress in that direction tragically is very slow and all too often reversed, she says. 

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