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

Central Asia's Vulnerable Women

Domestic violence is all too often seen as a private matter in which the state should not intervene.
By Saule Mukhametrakhimova
  • Screening of IWPR video on domestic violence. (Photo: IWPR)
    Screening of IWPR video on domestic violence. (Photo: IWPR)
  • A victim of domestic violence was saved by doctors at a hospital in Khujand, southern Tajikistan, following a suicide attempt. (Photo: Stan.TV)
    A victim of domestic violence was saved by doctors at a hospital in Khujand, southern Tajikistan, following a suicide attempt. (Photo: Stan.TV)
  • A woman who was left scared after trying to set herself on fire speaks of despair that prompted her action. (Photo: Zarina Khushvaqt/BBC)
    A woman who was left scared after trying to set herself on fire speaks of despair that prompted her action. (Photo: Zarina Khushvaqt/BBC)
  • Recalling domestic violence brings back painful memories. (Photo: Stan.TV)
    Recalling domestic violence brings back painful memories. (Photo: Stan.TV)
  • This victim of bride-theft suffered terribly, subjected to domestic violence and then left to care for three children on her own after being abandoned by her husband. (Photo: Kyrgyz Red Crescent Society)
    This victim of bride-theft suffered terribly, subjected to domestic violence and then left to care for three children on her own after being abandoned by her husband. (Photo: Kyrgyz Red Crescent Society)
  • An Uzbek woman who told Red Crescent Society staff about violence she had to endure in her marriage pictured here with her child and mother. (Photo:  Kyrgyz Red Crescent Society)
    An Uzbek woman who told Red Crescent Society staff about violence she had to endure in her marriage pictured here with her child and mother. (Photo: Kyrgyz Red Crescent Society)
  • Victims of domestic violence during a group therapy session with psychologists at the Sezim crisis centre in Bishkek. (Photo: IWPR)
    Victims of domestic violence during a group therapy session with psychologists at the Sezim crisis centre in Bishkek. (Photo: IWPR)
  • A culture of shame leads women to accept cruel treatment in the home rather than seeking outside help. (Photo: IWPR)
    A culture of shame leads women to accept cruel treatment in the home rather than seeking outside help. (Photo: IWPR)

Central Asia’s Vulnerable Women is a photo gallery based on IWPR exhibition on domestic violence themes. The exhibition was launched to coincide with a two- day round-table forum held at the end of March in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.

Women’s rights experts, activists and politicians from across Central Asia took part in the IWPR event jointly organised with the Tajik state committee for women and family affairs to share experiences on drafting legislation and taking practical action to end violence against women.

Domestic violence is all too often seen as a private matter in which the state should not intervene, but experts agree that it needs to be brought out into the light through awareness-raising, tougher legislation and practical solutions.

Abuse in the home and victims’ fear of doing anything about it stem from traditional values that accord women a secondary role. Women are expected to put up with their position and not to air their problems outside the home.

Among contributing factors to domestic violence in Central Asian countries, gender experts named the widespread practice of underage marriages, polygamy, as well as the revival of the ancient custom of bride kidnapping. They pointed out that because these illegal acts often go unpunished makes it difficult to put an end to the abuse.

The number of women subjected to assault in the home is hard to assess because there is no separate breakdown for cases that would count as domestic violence. Women’s rights groups try to monitor the situation, but their data captures only those who actively seek help.

According to a member of the Kyrgyz parliament Altynai Omurbekova, more than 80 per cent of violence against women takes place in the family.

The Tajik coalition of non-government groups, From Legal to Real Equality, said that in 2009 of nearly 3,900 women who visited crisis centres, 14 per cent reported they were subjected to physical violence.

Statistics on female suicide in the southern Khatlon region of Tajikistan give a snapshot of the problem. According to official information, last year there were 108 cases of suicide and attempted suicide by women - 52 of which were related to domestic violence.

Due to the work of women NGOs who mostly receive support from international organisations and governments being more willing to acknowledge and debate domestic violence, awareness of the problem is rising. As a result, over the last several years the number of women turning to crisis centres for help has increased, gender experts say.