On request of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, Sandra Takács, Regional Manager for the Balkans and Northern Caucasus at AMICA (Freiburg, Germany), prepared an essay on the situation with women’s violence in Russia on the occasion of International Women’s Day:

Women’s rights in Russia are key priority. Usually, the Women’s Day receives much attention in post-socialist countries. Women, whether politically motivated or not, take this day as an opportunity to appear visible in the public. The day itself is a public holiday, but not merely a reason for joy, which the topic violence against women clearly illustrates.

Women in Russia experience a great deal of domestic violence. As studies show, 70 % of women report about domestic violence. However, services for women who have experienced violence in Russia are more than miserable. According to ANNA, the National Centre for the Prevention of Violence, there is one single toll-free helpline serving 12 hours daily. Across the country, there are 42 women’s shelters with a capacity of 400 beds. 19 of these shelters provide assistance to women, who experienced violence. An additional shelter provides support for victims of sexual violence. These 43 shelters cover 3 % of the shelter places that are needed. This leaves 97 % of abused women unanswered in their need of a shelter, let alone the punishment of the perpetrators.

Russia has not yet signed the Council of Europe Task Force recommendations for the provision of helplines and shelters. The reason for this catastrophic situation is that there is no law on domestic violence.

Although the international agreement to combat all forms of violence against women (CEDAW) was signed, the implementation of its resulting demands largely failed. The signing of the UN Resolution 1325 is still pending. The resolution ensures the participation of women on all levels of the peace processes and security policy, including the protection from sexual violence in war. As a result, funding for support service for women survivors of violence is largely lacking. Therefore, NGOs are highly dependent on foreign financial assistance.

AMICA exists for more than 20 years. It was established in Freiburg as a response to the war in the countries of former Yugoslavia. Ever since then, AMICA have been collaborating with women’s organisations in crisis regions – such as North Caucasus, the Middle East, and North Africa. AMICA puts emphasis on empowerment of women’s organisations through consulting and networking between women and girls in order to help them cope with the experience of violence, demand their rights, and make use of opportunities to lead an independent life.

AMICA enriches the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum with its perspective on gender equality in Russia. We look closely on the processes of implementation of women’s rights. Particular emphasis is on the current situation of women, who experienced domestic violence or wartime violence. We have been working for more than 10 years in the North Caucasus, in Chechnya, with women’s organisations. In this region, violence against women is even higher than the Russian average. In addition to domestic violence, forced marriage, honour killing, polygamy, child abduction by the husband, strict clothing rules, and influence by religious radicals are frequent occurrences.

In the course of the AMICAs work, focal points and mobile teams for women and girls, who experienced violence, were created in Grozny and the surrounding area. Although the women’s organisations could expand their work, their working conditions have become more and more difficult. On the one hand, administrative obstacles prevent external financing of Russian NGOs, which work on the ground. On the other hand, a continuous erosion of women’s rights in Chechnya can be observed. The fragments of the (post)-Soviet culture of gender equality are unstoppably crumbling.

Emerging religious, traditional, and highly conservative attitudes avoid attention for women’s rights. Aggravating the situation is a very strong consciousness anchored in the local culture. Even modern and qualified Chechen women, who are striving for self-actualisation, have to deal with these realities. They are pressed into a rigid social framework of pseudotraditions, far from their independence of men.

Women and their rights are facing a legal "triangle" in Chechnya. If necessary, the patriarchal society and the government apply the customary law “Adat”, the religious “Sharia” law, or the national law. However, the decision disadvantages women in majority of cases. The legal “triangle” illustrates that new laws hardly improve the situation of women’s rights in Chechnya.

In exchange with other organisations, AMICA aims – through the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum – to improve working conditions in the international project work in Russia. For a better interlocking between objectives of authorities and the civil society, solutions at the local level are necessary. Besides, involvement of media is essential for a success.

Many women in Chechnya, Russia, and elsewhere in the world lack self-esteem. Without paying particular attention to this fact, projects will fail. Many women are unaware of their rights or do not even believe that they are entitled to rights. AMICA’s further project work aims to educate for greater self- and rights-awareness, to stabilise contact with religious and local representatives, and to network with peers in order to demand more attention for women’s rights.