domestic violenc and rape

Fourteen thousand women die in Russia every year as a result of violence by their husbands or partners, three times as many as the number of soldiers killed in Chechnya since 1999, experts said in the run-up to International Women's Day.

Every day around 36 000 women are beaten by their husband in violence many believe is related to the long-running, brutalising Chechen conflict, according to the human rights group Amnesty International, quoting figures provided by the Russian interior ministry.

The result is that a woman dies as a result of domestic violence every 40 minutes, the figures show.

"The number of women killed in domestic violence every year is roughly the same as the number of Soviet troops killed in Afghanistan in 10 years of war," said Natalia Abubikirova, head of the Russian non-government organisation Association of Distress Centres.

Marina Regentova, an official with the organisation that provides counselling and legal advice to women, says that "the Chechen conflict is one of the main causes of domestic violence, along with poverty, unemployment and alcoholism."

Troops returning from the war-torn southern republic "return traumatised by what they have seen and done," she said.

Since 1979, when the Soviet Union sent its troops into Afghanistan, "Russia has been a society at war, with only brief interludes of peace," Regentova said, stressing that "it's always the women who pay the price for these wars, a price that men prefer to forget, or hide."

The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 was followed by the tumultuous years of the collapse of the Soviet Union and then the Chechen conflict which began in December 1994 and continues today, with only a three-year break from 1996 to 1999.

"For the authorities, domestic violence does not exist. It's seen as a purely family affair. It often happens that neighbours, alarmed by the shouting they hear, call in the police but the police do nothing," Regentova said.

Amnesty International has called on the Russian authorities to criminalise domestic violence as a "crime against women," offering them the possibility of taking legal action.

Moscow, a city of more than 10 million inhabitants, has not a single home for beaten women. Elsewhere in the country, "you can count the number of homes of this kind on the figures of one hand," Regentova said.

"The present social insecurity, resulting from the break-up of the Soviet Union, has seen a return to patriarchal values," she noted, an observation confirmed by an opinion poll published this week indicating that 78 percent of Russians believe a woman's place is in the home.

Tatyana Masatkina, of the human rights group Memorial, said that in Chechnya women are raped "with impunity, as the subject is taboo in Muslim society, and the situation is not much better in Russia."

She cited the case of a young woman of 17 who was raped in the street by the friend of a girlfriend and has been seeking legal redress.

"She stands almost no chance. Police told her parents that according to a medical examination she was not a virgin at the time of the rape. That's their way of saying that in their view the girl is a slut and had it coming to her," Masatkina said.

However the situation appears to be "changing slowly," Regentova said.

"The wall of silence surrounding domestic violence and rape is gradually coming down," she said, urging women to assume a greater role in society.