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Chechnya Coerces Women on Dress, Activists Say

Tuesday 28 September 2010, by siawi2

Source: The New York Times, September 27, 2010


MOSCOW — Women in Chechnya are under pressure to adopt Islamic dress, according to human rights activists and an Islamic fundamentalist video circulating on the Internet in the latest example of deteriorating women’s rights under Ramzan A. Kadyrov, the president of the restive southern Russian republic.

Activists in Chechnya, where Russia has waged two wars against separatists in the past 16 years, said intimidation reached a peak during the fasting month of Ramadan. There was also a crackdown on violations of Islamic law such as the sale of food before sundown and any sale of alcohol, they said.
The activists who spoke from Chechnya insisted on anonymity because they said they feared reprisals.

Threats tapered off, they said, as Ramadan ended in mid-September. Men in Islamic clothes had been approaching women whom they deemed unsuitably dressed to pull them by the arm, an offense according to Chechen custom.
A woman activist said that incidents she recorded in August included a woman being taken away by men in a jeep for wearing a skirt they regarded as see-through and no head scarf in Grozny, the Chechen capital. Other men handed out leaflets to women advising them how to dress, she said.

According to Chechen tradition, women should not wear sleeveless clothes; they usually wear a strip of headscarf more like a hairband than a hijab. Until recently, it was considered the prerogative of male family members to decide their style of dress, but Islamic activists, with support from Mr. Kadyrov, are calling for much fuller cover.

The run-up to Chechen Women’s Day, a holiday decreed by Mr. Kadyrov to honor 46 Chechen women who drowned rather than succumb to Russian soldiers in 19th century wars, featured fawning praise in the Chechen media of women as wives and mothers and calls to observe Islamic morals.
Chechen television reported on September 16 about a march in Grozny of female students of an Islamic university in Islamic dress. The event, organized by a club called “Ramzan” and a government agency responsible for “spiritual and moral education,” was dubbed “Beauty of the Chechen Woman.”

“Every person must strive to beauty, and a young woman who puts on a hijab looks beautiful, as befits the dictates of the Almighty,” Sado Meserbiyev, the chairman of “Ramzan,” said.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said in August that women’s rights were being violated by efforts to impose an Islamic dress code. It said women without headscarves or in immodest dress had been attacked with paintball guns in Grozny.

Last week, Russia’s human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, asked the federal prosecutor general’s office to investigate the paintball incidents.
Tanya Lokshina, a researcher in Human Rights Watch’s Moscow office who travels regularly to Chechnya, said the situation of women had deteriorated under Mr. Kadyrov, 33, who succeeded his father, Akhmad Kadyrov, a former rebel leader and mufti who became a fervent Kremlin supporter before he was killed by an assassin’s bomb in 2004.

“Instructions were given that girls can’t go to school without scarves, or young women to university, and that it’s impossible to work without a scarf,” Ms. Lokshina said. “Pressure grew, through television programs and declarations, to control the morals of women.”

Ms. Lokshina recalled that Natalya Estemirova, a Chechen human rights campaigner who was murdered last year, was subjected to a cascade of expletives when summoned by Mr. Kadyrov in March 2008. He was infuriated that Ms. Estemirova had said women were being forced to wear headscarves, a comment she made in an interview with REN-TV, a Russian television station,

In 2007, Mr. Kadyrov said that women employed by the government must cover their heads at work.

“In this case we’re talking about a real violation of women’s right to privacy, or freedom of conscience,” Ms. Lokshina said of the pressure to adhere to a dress code.

Ms. Lokshina forwarded a scanned brochure which she said was sent to her from Chechnya, showing how Islamists would like women to dress: in long loose coats and full head scarf.

The rule of the Kadyrovs has brought a tenuous peace to Chechnya. Grozny has been rebuilt and Mr. Kadyrov’s Web site praises Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin for having “given us everything.”

Yet attacks by insurgents who say they are true representatives of Islam continue, even as Mr. Kadyrov introduces measures that he says are meant to preserve peace and the purity of Islam.

“The Kremlin closes its eyes on everything that Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov does, giving him total carte blanche on actions that are against the law,” Ms. Lokshina said.

Footage on the Internet shows women in dresses with short sleeves and no headscarves being sprayed with paint from passing cars. Mr. Kadyrov told Chechen television in July that he approved of such action.

“Even if it was done with my permission, I wouldn’t be ashamed,” he said. “It turns out that the girls who were sprayed with paint had been warned several times previously. After such an incident, a girl should just disappear from the face of the earth, lock herself in the house and not go out because she behaved so inappropriately that such a thing happened to her.”

Mr. Kadyrov made similar comments after seven women were found shot and killed in Grozny in 2008. No official explanation of the deaths was ever offered, but Chechens speculated at the time that the women might have been victims of “honor killings” after they were accused of immoral behavior.
Dik Altemirov, a 76-year-old Chechen human rights activist and opponent of Islamic fundamentalism, said in a telephone interview that attacks on women could lead to blood feuds.

“I can authoritatively say that there is a very high price to pay here for touching a woman,” he said. “I don’t think that those who suffered from these excesses will forgive them.”