By Paul Goble
Journalist Svetlana Anokhina’s recent flight from Daghestan after she was attacked online and the authorities refused to help her and a new video showing a man there treating his new wife with contempt have sparked broader debate about what can be done to end the repression of women in that North Caucasus republic.
Anokhina, who not only wrote about the mistreatment of Daghestani women but helped many of them get lawyers to defend themselves, had to flee because her life was threatened and the authorities who she says were behind these threats refused to do anything to protect her (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/354605/).
Her supporters have begun a petition campaign to expose those responsible both for the attacks and for the failure of the authorities to defend her against them. The anger behind that has been intensified by a new online video showing a newly married Daghestani man mistreating his wife (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/354788/).
Feminist activists Nadezhda Azhgikhina and Irina Kosterina say the problem of the mistreatment of women remains serious, especially in rural parts of Daghestan; but ethnologist Sergey Arutyunov and MGIMO expert Akhmet Yalykapov argue that the behavior shown in the video reflects a personal failing rather than local culture (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/354904/).
The problems women in Daghestan face have long been at the center of attention among rights activists. Eleven years ago, Saida Sirzhudinova, head of the Caucasus.Peace.Development organization, made a film, “The Fate of a Daghestani Woman,” which highlighted just how bad the situation of women there is especially in rural areas.
Kosterina says that the situation has improved for those Daghestani women who have moved to the cities where they can get more education and have more choices, but in rural areas, she argues, conditions for women are as bad or worse than they were a decade ago. Sometimes this is the result of direct male oppression; sometimes, it reflects the absence of any alternatives.
A year ago, another documentary film, “They Also Dream,” about the lives of Daghestani women in the highlands was released. Many live where there is no electric power, no water supplies, and no roads so that they remain untouched by developments in the cities. What is needed, activists say, is a better life for all and more attention to crimes against women.
“Patriarchal customs are still very much alive because of poverty,” Azhgikhina says. But she insists that the problems she sees in Daghestan are hardly unique to that republic. Instead, they are problems for the country as a whole. It is time to stop dismissing them by saying “that’s just the way Caucasians are.”
A resident of one highland village says that in her area, almost no one has a job, there isn’t any electricity of roads. And “the government isn’t doing anything to help.” The situation was better in Soviet times, she says, but today, the only option women have is to submit quietly or, if they can, to flee to the cities.
Those who might protest, she continues, are told to keep quiet lest they threaten the reputation or even survival of their families.