Women banned from swimming pool in Daghestan’s Kaspiysk

23 January 2020
The Anzhi Arena sports complex in Kaspiysk, in south Daghestan. Photo: RFE/RL North Caucasus Service.

The Anzhi Arena sports complex in Kaspiysk, in south Daghestan, has banned women from using their swimming pool, leading to anger from some local residents. 

The management of the complex, which claims on it’s website to host the largest swimming pool in the North Caucasus, announced the changes on Monday to take effect the following day.

Svetlana Anokhina, editor-in-chief of Daptar, an online Daghestani women’s journal, condemned the move on Instagram, calling it gender-based discrimination.

Anokhina’s post caused public outcry, leading many women to write complaints to the Daghestani Prosecutor’s Office.

‘Very interesting story. We are the coolest and longest pool. Come and visit us! Here we have classes for children and various athletes advertise us, and we also have a good administrator whose name is Alice. That’s what is written on the pool’s page’, Anokhina wrote in her post.

‘True, women can work there, but what about swimming in the pool? They can’t. Well, what did that “one guy” say, that the best exercise for a woman is in the garden, and the best pool is probably washing, right?’

According to Open Media, a Russian news site, the owner of the Anzhi Arena sports complex is Asiyat Abakarova, who they suggested was the daughter of Derbent mayor Khizri Abakarov, though the complex denied this.

A spokesperson for the Anzhi Arena defended the ban, pointing out that they had another, smaller pool which was still open to women. According to her, restrictions in the large pool appeared after visitors agreed to the division into male and female pools.

The spokesperson told OC Media that girls under 14 could still use the larger pool, but only if accompanied by a man.

‘Increasing discrimination’ in Daghestan

According to Anokhina, the day after the sports complex announced the new rules, three women from Makhachkala submitted a complaint to the Daghestani Prosecutor’s Office against the ban. 

They asked the Prosecutor’s Office to investigate if the sports complex had violated anti-discrimnation laws, which could mean a fine of ₽50,000–₽100,000  ($810–$1,600).

Anokhina told OC Media that Olga Gnezdilova, a lawyer at North Caucasus rights group Pravovaia Initsiativa, had helped compose the complaint and was prepared to help other applicants as well. 

Lawyer Marat Ismailov told OC Media that the ban on women visiting the pool does violate the law, since both state institutions and entrepreneurs are not allowed to take a discriminatory approach and deny service to anyone.

Saida Sirazhudinova, the head of Caucasus World Development, a local non-profit, told OC Media that similar cases of discrimination had recently been observed all over Daghestan.

‘Every day there is an increase in gender segregation’, she said. ‘More and more new attempts to introduce restrictions on women.’ 

‘Most likely, this will not be the last case that causes resentment. A lot remains hidden and unknown to the public because many women are not ready to assert their rights.’ 

Sirazhudinova said that it was impossible to consider Daghestan a homogeneous society.

‘Daghestan is different, especially in its urban environments. Even a single look at the audience at universities, people on the streets, allows us to understand this.’ 

‘Therefore, in addition to those who are indifferent to the prohibitions, there will be those who are not satisfied with them.’ 

‘But, how many of them will be able to transfer this discontent from emotional experiences into legal action? Not many. The pressure and threats are great’, she said. 

‘While earlier some restrictions (most often formal ones) existed only in the private sector, now, increasingly, discrimination is becoming total’, she concluded.

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