In Russia, the problem of violence against women is much more serious than in many European countries: every fifth woman has been physically abused by a partner. The life of women in the North Caucasus is even more difficult, since the region is one of the most dangerous for females. Violence in the North Caucasus is systematic and deeply integrated into the family model: on average 80% of women in the region have experienced domestic violence.
One example of discrimination and violence against women is the practice of so-called «female circumcision». This term is widely used in Russia, but is incredibly incorrect from a medical and scientific point of view. In fact it’s an operation in which some or all of the external female genitalia is removed. The correct name for this is «female genital mutilation surgery».
At least 1,240 girls in Dagestan undergo so-called female genital mutilation (FGM) every year. And that’s just the data from human rights activists, but the actual number may be much higher. The practice of FGM is also spreading to other regions of the North Caucasus. WHO estimates that 200 million women have undergone FGM worldwide, and the number is increasing.
The practice causes great damage to both the psychological and physical health of a woman. Girls undergoing such surgery may experience chronic pain, infections, increased risk of HIV transmission, birth complications, infertility, anxiety, depression, and, in the worst cases, death.
The operation is usually carried out from ritual and religious motives. However, in the North Caucasus, where the population is predominantly Muslim, it is difficult to find even a religious justification for such practice: there is no mention of such operations in the Quran, many Muslim theologians recognize FGM as a sin, and in Yemen and Egypt, where the majority of the population professes Islam, FGM prohibited by law (although such practices are still carried out, albeit contrary to current legislation).
In some societies, FGM is performed to control a woman and her sexuality. The removal of the clitoris during the operation is supposed to reduce the woman’s sexual desire and help preserve “virginity”.
FGM is internationally recognized as an extreme violation of the rights of women and girls.
Since 2017, we, the NC SOS Crisis Group team, have evacuated 57 women from the North Caucasus, whose lives and health were under threat. However, this figure cannot be used to estimate the number of women who choose to flee the region or who are subjected to regular violence. Many stories of women from the North Caucasus stay unspoken and unheard because women are afraid to seek help and talk about cases of domestic violence.
Leaving the regions of the North Caucasus is more difficult for women than for men, since girls are more tightly controlled by their relatives. There is always a risk that a runaway girl will be kidnapped and forcibly returned home. In addition, law enforcement agencies often ignore the requests of women and the obvious danger to their lives and health, and sometimes, on the contrary, help bring the girls home, where they can expect physical violence.
That’s why in such cases publicity is very important, which helps to put pressure on law enforcement agencies and force them to do their job. So it was with four sisters from Dagestan: Khizrievs Khadijat and Patimat, Gazimagomedova Aminat and Magomedova Patimat were able to leave the region and leave the country. The girls were subjected to FGM as children and were regularly beaten by relatives throughout their lives. We managed to save them thanks to publicity and public pressure. You can read their story here.
Our organization, NC SOS Crisis Group, helps LGBTQ+ people and their families in the North Caucasus, where they are in mortal danger. We are also now helping heterosexual and cisgender people who are suspected of being non-cisgender or non-heterosexual and may also be persecuted.