Life and Status of Women in the North Caucasus. Report summary on survey by Irina Kosterina

What makes up the daily life of a woman who lives in the North Caucasus? What does her sense of self consist of? What are her fears, dreams, and attitudes toward career, family life and relationships? What kind of changes she would like to see and bring about in her life? The research of Heinrich Boell Foundation «Life and the Status of Women in the North Caucasus» was conducted as a serious attempt to answer these questions. 

Developing a special methodology for this research, it was important to include all different kinds of women in the survey — urban and rural, women of different age groups, educational level, occupation and social status. Due to the cultural specifics of the region it was also of grave importance to provide anonymity and security for women participating in the project. Therefore, we hardly used an ordinary household survey, as inquiring  a woman in her home about her rights and problems, we would have inevitably been faced with a number restrictions — such as the presence, for example, of husbands and other relatives, who would not be happy with some questions about control over women, their status and home violence. Thus, to fill the questionnaire we looked for so-called “women’s places” — nurseries and schools, beauty salons, street markets, organizations employing mostly women, banks (because it is often the woman who pays the bills). Some of our interviewers showed great ingenuity and conducted several interviews in very unusual places, like at weddings because women seat separately.

To assure women that their questionnaires would not be read by somebody who could identify them, in some cases we used a sealed box like those used for elections, so women could fill in the form and put it right in the box among many other questionnaires. This trick helped women to feel secure and answer honestly. But there have been a few cases when women tore the form immediately after filling it and threw it away. Older women often asked interviewers to fill out the questionnaire for them, because of poor Russian skills or due to visual impairment.

A total of 723 questionnaires were completed.
The detailed findings of the study in the form of Power Point presentations can be found here.

          Everyday life, challenges and positive changes

A big set of questions concerned the everyday life of women and their own assessments of the situation in the republic.

Most of the women interviewed in all the republics noticed some improvement over the past 10 years. Major positive changes were especially mentioned by residents of the Chechen Republic (13% think that the situation has significantly improved, 44% slightly improved). But there were also those who supported the view that, on the contrary, the situation has deteriorated; respectively the 18% and 15% believed that the situation has slightly or seriously declined. Residents of Kabardino-Balkaria came across as the most pessimistic; the percentage of those who believe that the situation in this republic has deteriorated is the highest here (23%), while the percentage of those who notice positive changes is the lowest. The most optimistic were women of Ingushetia: a total of 55% believe that the situation has improved and only 15% that is has become worse. Almost half of the respondents in Dagestan don’t not know how to assess the situation: either they believe that it has not changed significantly (28%) or chose the option ‘No answer’ (18%), while the optimists were not many.

So we can characterize the situation in Ingushetia as the most positive, the situation in Chechnya as relatively positive, but with a high level of anxiety, the situation in Kabardino-Balkaria as the most controversial with a high proportion of negative assessments, and in Dagestan as one of confusion or stagnation. These trends will be evident further on in this report.

At the same time, it should be pointed out that the assessment of the situation in the region varies according to age. In particular, young people are inclined to assess the situation more positively, while the older generation is more skeptical in their evaluations. This seems explicable considering that for them the memory of military actions in the region is still too fresh and the fact that they went through many hardships. Therefore, they need a longer time span to actually feel the stability and positive changes that have taken place.

In evaluating their lives, women of all republics were quite unanimous.

First of all, the problems that concern them are quite universal, applying in all Russia. Issues related to financial state (low salaries, high unemployment rate), and poor quality of health-care in all four republics were in the first, second and third places accordingly. But while in Dagestan 44% of respondents consider unemployment as the most serious problem, in Ingushetia the percentage was even higher — 66% of women consider it as a grave problem! Furthermore, in Dagestan a significant group of women was concerned about terrorist attacks (46%). This can probably be explained on the grounds of frequent bomb explosions in Makhachkala — the main city of the republic. Moreover, a lot of concerns were raised by women from all republics regarding the issue of corruption – it ranked fourth place in their responses.

What came as a surprise was the fact that in Kabardino-Balkaria — the most secular among the four republics – there has been a rise of radical Islam, which is a major concern for 47% of the women questioned in the region. However, in general, the research findings show that a growing degree of Islamization is inherent in the younger generation of Kabardino-Balkaria: some young men decide to join the radical Wahhabi groups, and in girls’ lives this is manifested in the adherence to Islamic rituals, wearing the hijab and their readiness to become a second wife. As we shall see later, polygamy has started being accepted and adopted among young women of Kabardino-Balkaria. While in Chechnya, where Islam is actively promoted by the president of the republic and the level of religiosity is significantly higher, the problem of radical Islam concerns only 3% of respondents.

Perhaps because of the increasing number of radical Wahhabi groups a quarter of women in Kabardino-Balkaria noted as a problem within republic the high level of crime. For comparison in Chechnya this problem mentioned only by 5%; but as many as 30% women considered physical and psychological consequences of military action as a serious issue (for comparison — only 4% in Dagestan). Also, the highest percentage of women in Chechnya called polygamy as a problem (18%, compared with 6% in Dagestan, and 3% in the rest republics).

The study also attempts to identify the distinctive features of North Caucasian women, in order to create an analysis of the human capital of the women. Interestingly, the vast majority of the women recognized as their distinctive qualities respect for tradition, high moral ground, modesty and devoutness. In contrast, individuals and leadership were noted by only by few women, which illustrates that these features are not considered as valuable or desirable.

              Satisfaction of life and happiness

A section of the questions dealt with the health of the women and their assessment of their own lives. About a quarter of the women surveyed said they almost always feel happy, the highest percentage being in Dagestan (31%).
Half of the respondents in Chechnya felt happy “sometimes”, whereas in Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria and Ingushetia the figures were lower; 40%, 36% and 37% respectively.
The highest rate of “unhappiness” was among the women of Ingushetia, where 6% of the women said they never feel happy and 18% rarely feel a sense of happiness.
It is worth noting that a quarter of the respondents in Kabardino-Balkaria were not able to answer this question. This reflects the conflicting feelings of the respondents and the difficulty of assessing ones emotional state clearly and decisively.

Moreover, those respondents with specialized and higher education reported a higher tendency of happiness. For instance in Chechnya 26% and 28% respectively, while the rate of happiness among respondents with primary and secondary education was 14%.
For life satisfaction, there was either no difference in of rural and urban women (as in Chechnya and Ingushetia) or it was insignificant, as in Dagestan (7%)  and in Kabardino-Balkaria (11%) urban women felt only slightly happier.

Two key factors that affect the happiness of women are her age and matrimonial status. Young women and those who do not have children tend to feel happier than those who are over 60 years old, those who are divorced and those who are widowed.

As for the free time that the preferences were as follows:
Watching TV turned out to be the most popular option (60% of women in all the republics spend their leisure time this way). Also the next options were popular  — «I communicate by phone with relatives and friends,» «visiting relatives», «sleep, rest», «read». Very few women stated that they are engaged in sports activities and visit fitness clubs.

In the older age group, the percentage of those who prefer to spend their free time watching TV is even higher — 88% in Chechnya, 90% in Dagestan. In the youngest age group (17-30 years) there is a high proportion of those who prefer to communicate in social networks (52% in Chechnya, and about 25% in the rest regions). Also, the younger generation actively spends time outside, visiting beauty salons, shopping malls and attending additional education courses.

With regard to desired changes in their lives, women tend to want to improve their health (the most common this was in Dagestan, 52%), to earn more money (in all the republics except Ingushetia), devote more time to children (Dagestan and Chechnya), move into their own home (Kabardino-Balkaria and Chechnya) and to become more independent.

A noticeable difference could be seen between the different age groups: young women are more concerned with marriage and education. Older adult women, on the other hand, are more career-orientated, wish to obtain further education and their own home, and concentrate on children. Senior aged women care the most about health, improving their financial situation, their own home and being independent.  In Chechnya and Ingushetia, approximately 35% of the women would like to devote more time to herself. Chechnya had also the highest numbers of women willing to move to another country (16% compared to only 2% in KB), wishing to attend higher education (24%) and extra training courses (40%), and to begin working (29%).
In all the republics, except Ingushetia, there was a high number of women who wished to change certain habits of her spouse: 31% in KB, 27% in Chechnya and 25% in Dagestan.

A common feature for all the republics was that the respondents did not wish to seek help from outsiders. The traditional way of live with close and strong family ties means that women are forced to share their problems primarily with their family members. In particularly, the women tend to share their experiences with their sister, which was the most common in all the republics (55% in Chechnya, 41% Dagestan, 46% Ingushetia) except KB.  For women in Chechnya their mothers were also mentioned by several respondents (35%), whereas in Dagestan and Ingushetia female friends were common (40% and 30% respectively). Kabardino-Balkaria differed from the other republics. There the most common were female friends (37%) and sisters (35%). No less than 26% of the women in KB said that do not discuss their problems with anyone!
These findings show that the family ties and relationships are essential for the women in Chechnya, while for the women in KB interpersonal relationships and individualism is much more important.
This trend in Chechnya continues also between the different age groups: the majority of young girls (60%) prefer to discuss their issues with their mothers, 63% of women over the age 60 years share their lives with her sisters and 65% with their female relatives. Brothers were also mentioned by a quarter of the Chechen women.

When comparing their life situations with women from other regions, the majority of women believe that women in their own republic live more difficult lives. In Chechnya 78% of respondents believe this, in Dagestan 60%, in KB 44% and in Ingushetia 48%.

The underlying reasons for this according to the female respondents are:

In KB and Dagestan, the issue of low wages was regarded as the main difficulty by 72% and 55% respondents respectively.  In Ingushetia this concerned 46% of the respondents and 30% in Chechnya.
The need of balancing between the duties of work and home, the “double burden” was noted by 47% of the women in KB, 45% in Chechnya, 39% Ingushetia and 35% in Dagestan.
51% of the respondents in Chechnya agreed with the statement “Women have fewer rights than me”, 42% in Dagestan, 41% in KB and 26% in Ingushetia.
Restrictions of one’s freedom were seen as a difficulty by 42% of women in Chechnya, by 38% in Dagestan and 36% in Ingushetia. However, only a mere 7 percent of the respondents in Kabardino-Balkaria agreed with this.
Being controlled by men is seen as a problem by 45% of women in the Chechen Republic, 41% in Dagestan, 36% in KB and 31% in Ingushetia.

           Family life, violence and protection

As in the North Caucasus kinship and family are one of the most influential social institutions, it was interesting to learn about the family life of women, their satisfaction of it, about problems and domestic violence.

84% of women in Chechnya, 94% of women in Dagestan, 91% of Kabardino-Balkaria and 95% in Ingushetia live in a monogamous relationship. This means that in Chechnya the highest number of men having multiple wives: 16% of women stated that they are not the only wife. This percentage is even higher in the middle age group (31-45 years) where 28% of women said their husbands have another wife. A correlation of monogamy especially noticeable with education — the highest percentage of women having polygamous husbands (33,3%!) has only primary and lower secondary education.

The vast majority of Chechen women (57%) assesses their family life as contradictory, and about equally percent of respondents said they have a happy marriage (23%) or on the contrary, that their relationship with her husband is not satisfied them (20%). Moreover, 27% of women said they were forced married under parents’ pressure, in the oldest age group (61+) the percentage of such answers even higher — 40%! At the same time there is an obvious tendency for young women to make their own decision about marriage — 74% aged between 17 and 30 years were married on their own wishes. It’s also important to notice that 65% of those who were forced into marriage now are divorced.

In other republics of the degree of autonomy in decision-making about marriage is even higher: in Dagestan 61% of women were married on their own, in the age group 61+ this percentage is almost 80%. As for the young generation there is nobody among the respondents does not have any who were married under pressure. In Dagestan there is a higher percentage of those who are completely satisfied with the relationship with her husband — 47%, relatively low percentage of those contradictory estimates his family life — 37% and 16% state that the relationship with her husband they do not like at all. Although in the youngest age group this percentage is relatively high 29%.

Within Kardino-Balkaria a significantly high percentage of young women are married to a man who has a second wife (36% of women in the age of 17-30 years). However, in the older age group this was not an issue. This suggests that polygamy is a new phenomenon, which has spread the republic under the influence of Islamic values and practices. In the republic, 25% women say that they are completely satisfied with her relationship with her husband and 18% are not completely satisfied.
Additionally, in KB a rather high percentage of women had married due to the coercion by parents (42%) and for older women this is even higher, 46% for 46-60 year old women and 62% for women over 61 years.

Similarly in the republic of Ingushetia, none of the women in the oldest age group were in a marriage where the husband has more than one wife. 45% of the women reported that they feel completely or partly satisfied with her husband. Only a tenth felt that their family life was unhappy, although in the two younger age groups this was slightly higher (17%). Ingushetia had the highest percentage of women who had married out of their own will (i.e. not in a forced marriage) — 62%, and in the youngest age group this was as much as 94%, in stark contrast to the 55% of the oldest age group. This clearly illustrates the growing level of autonomy for the women in the Republic, as in the youngest age group none of the women had been forced to marry and 20% in the age group 31-45 years.

In connection to these finds it is interesting to analyze the reasons for divorce in the republics. Despite the fact that women were allowed to freely formulate their responses, instead of choosing from different options, the reasons could be clearly grouped into four categories:
Husband was cheating or has a second wife ( this was the main reason in Chechnya)
Conflicts with relatives
Family/domestic violence, beatings, humiliation
Alcohol or drug abuse of husband (primary reason in KB)

The main challenges encountered in family life by the female residents of Northern Caucasus are primarily of social nature and also control related.
In particular, in Chechnya 24% of women have limited or no access to the family budget and are not involved in making financial decisions. 23% of respondents reported that they are not allowed to schedule their free time without the supervision of their husband or relatives.  According to the women, 44% experience criticism of their appearance, behavior or mental capabilities from men, 42% sometimes experienced jealousy and 41% had been prevented from communication with their friends. Of the respondents, 11% indicated that they are sometimes subject to beatings, 28% get occasionally slapped and 8% said that had been raped or forced to have sex (As Chechnya had the highest percentage of rape victims of the republics, there is a reason to believe that some of these rapes occurred during the wars).
In Dagestan, 18% of the residents surveyed face daily manifestations of jealously by their husbands. 22% of women were sometimes forced to endure insults, criticism of their appearance, manners and intelligence, as well as not being allowed to dictate their own free time. Slapping or pushing had been experienced by 21% of the respondents. In 12% of the cases women had to endure beatings.
Within the republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, 30% of women experienced manifestations of jealousy. 19% felt that they had been prevented or hindered in their desire to work or study, and 14% of the women said their husbands sometimes prevented them from communicating with their friends. Although physical violence is experienced by a smaller percentage of women in Kabardino-Balkaria than in Dagestan and Chechnya, beatings are not absent there. 7% reported that they get sometimes slapped or pushed by their husbands, 6% had suffered at least once from serious physical violence, such as being punched or hit with an object and 2% of respondents said they had been threatened with weapons or with serious injury.
Women from the republic of Ingushetia faced issues in their family lives. 10% said their free time was monitored, 9% prevented from communicating with friends, 24% experienced jealousy and 18% reported that their appearance, manners and intelligence had been criticized. In terms of physical violence, 14% of the respondents said that they had been slapped, pushed or kicked by their husband at least once. Husbands of 5% of the women had threatened to kidnap or take away their children.
Interestingly, the percentage grew when women answered questions dealing with problems and violence in the family lives of the women they know (friends, neighbours, relative etc.). In particular, there was a noticeable increase in the data of rape cases (including maritial). This methodological technique of instead of asking about personal experience, asking about other women is often more objective, because assessing one’s own experience is difficult.
The most common aggressor in all four republics towards the women was her husband; for 73% in Chechnya, 71% in Dagestan, 86% in Kabardino-Balkaria and 80% in Ingushetia. The second most common was mother-in-law, for 33% in Chechnya and 21% in Kabardino-Balkaria.

A significant percentage of respondents believe that their republic does not protect women in cases of violence and injustice:  35% in Chechnya, 19% in Dagestan, 24% in KB and 13% in Ingushetia.

It should be highlighted that “the need to follow strict religious norms” primarily concerned the residents of Chechnya (33%), while in the other republics the percentage was half of the Chechen percentage. Chechnya is also has the highest occurrence of “family violence” – the problem was identified by 21% of the women. In Dagestan it affected a tenth of the respondents, in Ingushetia 8% and in KB merely 3%.
It should be remembered that these are the own opinions of the women and their own information about the issue, rather than objective assessment of the situation.

In Chechnya 41% of women believe that their opinions are regarded as meaningless in their republic (in Dagestan this was 24%, in KB 27% and in Ingushetia 18%).

The pressure of local and “the need to wear covering clothing” was not perceived as a widespread problem. Only a small minority (on average 5%) feel that these have an adverse effect on the lives of the women in their republic. However, in the younger age group this was perceived slight more negative, as for instance in Chechnya 11% of women from 17-30 years considered it problematic to adhere to the Islamic dress code.

When asked who women seek help from when they are subjected to violence, most of the residents of Chechnya and Dagestan said they contact their mothers, sisters or friends. In Kabardino-Balkaria, 49% of the women try to solve the problem on their own, without speaking to anyone.  A mere 28% of women approach her friends in such situations. In Ingushetia, the majority of women (41%) tend to not tell anyone that they have been abused. 36% share her problem with her sister and a quarter with her mother. It is important to note that the number of women seeking help from NGOs is extremely small, only 4% in Chechnya, 3% in Kabardino-Balkaria and 1% in Dagestan. In Ingushetia, none of the women approach organizations. This should be noted by the local women’s and social organizations and better awareness of the services offered and improvement of the information where and how professional support can be obtained is needed.