Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Central Asia: Feb/Mar '11

Participants in IWPR gathering on domestic violence say they drew important lessons on combating the scourge.
By Lola Olimova, Dina Tokbaeva
  • Kyrgyz delegation at the IWPR regional meeting in Dushanbe. From left to right: chief prosecutor with the Kyrgyz Prosecutor General’s office Aigul Mombekova; member of parliament Altynai Omurbekova; and head of the Sezim crisis centre, Bubusara Ryskulova. (Photo: IWPR)
    Kyrgyz delegation at the IWPR regional meeting in Dushanbe. From left to right: chief prosecutor with the Kyrgyz Prosecutor General’s office Aigul Mombekova; member of parliament Altynai Omurbekova; and head of the Sezim crisis centre, Bubusara Ryskulova. (Photo: IWPR)
  • Rights activist from Kazakstan Asiya Khairullina. (Photo: IWPR)
    Rights activist from Kazakstan Asiya Khairullina. (Photo: IWPR)
  • Member of the Tajik parliament Nasrullo Mahmudov and head of the Kazak women’s association Status Irina Unjakova. (Photo: IWPR)
    Member of the Tajik parliament Nasrullo Mahmudov and head of the Kazak women’s association Status Irina Unjakova. (Photo: IWPR)

Women’s rights experts, activists and politicians from across Central Asia came away from an IWPR conference on domestic abuse saying learning about issues facing colleagues in other countries would give new impetus to their own efforts to tackle the problem.

The round-table forum on March 29-30 was held in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, in conjunction with that country’s state committee for women and the family.

It was an opportunity for activists to meet government officials, judges, police, and journalists from across the region to share experiences on drafting legislation and taking practical action to end violence against women.

Although violence against women is common in the Central Asian states, there is a reluctance to talk about it openly since many victims feel only shame, and others believe it is an area of private family life where the state should not intervene.

“The concealed nature of domestic violence obstructs an assessment of the extent of the problem,” Irina Unjakova, who chairs Status, a women’s association in Kazakstan, said.

The debate reinforced participants’ conviction that cultural relativism – saying criminal action is “allowed” by a specific culture or religion, or excusable because of social and economic conditions – does not hold water.

“This is a universal problem; it’s identical in every country in the region,” Abakhon Sultonnazarov, IWPR Central Asia regional director, said.

Bubusara Ryskulova, head of the Sezim crisis centre in Kyrgyzstan, found herself passing on her experiences to colleagues from Tajikistan and Kazakstan, while she herself was able to meet officials from the Kyrgyz parliament and prosecution service working on domestic violence issues.

“We’ve heard about what governments are doing, the experience of NGOs, and media coverage of the issue not only in our country but also in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakstan and Uzbekistan,” Sabohat Muminova, of the Tajik women’s affairs committee, said. “Each country has drawn useful experiences from the others, on which we can build in future.”

Innovative ideas that might be copied elsewhere include a scheme in Kyrgyzstan to provide female victims of domestic violence and their children with longer-term accommodation than the existing shelters can offer, and a Tajik government plan to set up specialised family courts.

Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan already have specific laws to combat violence in the home, and Tajikistan is on the point of passing one after several years’ delay.

Nasrullo Mahmudov, a member of the parliamentary group drafting the final bill, said it should go before legislators later this year. 

“This round-table has helped me see how things changed in Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan after they passed laws of this kind,” he added.

Efforts to finally push the law through parliament have been assisted by a lobbying campaign by local NGOs, supported by IWPR. (See Work on Domestic Violence Helps Push Legislation from January 2011)

Noting the public debate generated by the campaign, Supreme Court judge Larisa Kabilova said that “moreover, this round-table has discussed additional issues that will feed into the process of passing this law”.

At the meeting, women’s rights activists cautioned that simply passing progressive laws was not enough; governments needed to ensure the will and the money was there to ensure they were put into practice.

The meeting generated a set of practical recommendations for state institutions in Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan; and also for NGOs, international organisations and the media.

As well as discussions, the event also showcased film screenings and a photographic exhibition on domestic violence themes.

The films will be distributed among women’s rights groups and others. Lola Otaboeva, a colonel in Tajikistan’s police, said they would be used to train officers in the force, including those in specialised domestic violence units. “They are the first to encounter [victims] of domestic violence,” she said. “This is not an internal family matter, but an issue the authorities must deal with. We, the police, must pay attention to it.”

Lola Olimova is IWPR’s Tajikistan editor.

This IWPR round-table funded is under two projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway.