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Central Asia’s First Center for the Support of Women and Girls to Open in Kyrgyzstan

Women whose rights are violated at home and at work will now be able to receive protection at a special center, according to the Kyrgyz Republic's Ministry of Labor, Social Security and Migration. It will be the first such center in Central Asia in support of female victims of violence, and will offer women and girls free psychological and legal assistance, as well as medical examinations. "When the one-stop shop opens, women and girls will receive all necessary services in one place, namely investigative and forensic medical examinations, as well as legal and psychological assistance," Deputy  Minister of Labor, Social Security and Migration, Zhanyl Alybayeva said at a meeting with international organizations and human rights activists. Alybayeva stated that the UN Office on Drugs and Crime is providing technical support for the center's opening. According to statistics, the number of cases of domestic violence against women in Kyrgyzstan today remains high. In 2022, according to official data, 8,620 cases of domestic violence against women were registered, and in the first 10 months of 2023, there were more than 8,000 instances. The majority of those who contacted law enforcement are women between the age of 18 and 34. At the end of last year, parliament ratified the international convention on the eradication of violence and harassment in the field of labor. A draft law "on amendments to some legislative acts of the Kyrgyz Republic in the field of protection and defense against family, sexual and gender violence" was also put forward. In their debate, MPs noted that most women who suffer from violence do not turn to law enforcement, and therefore the real figures are almost certainly much higher. The new bill also stipulates that perpetrators of violence within the family must temporarily leave the dwelling they share with the victim. "After an act of violence within the family, victims usually move out to acquaintances or to crisis centers, and then the family collapses," MP Dinara Ashimova said. "With this bill, we propose that it should be the accused who has to leave. Even when he returns, there will be a greater likelihood that the spouses will reconcile and the family will be preserved." Currently, ratification of the international convention is awaiting President Japarov's signature.

Uzbekistan to Strengthen Protections Against Domestic Violence

Following a project board meeting on February 7th, the UNDP has released plans to provide free legal aid in criminal proceedings for victims of domestic and gender-based violence. In April 2023, Uzbekistan followed Georgia, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine in criminalizing domestic violence. The impetus for this was the ever-increasing number of sex crimes perpetrated on women and minors. For example, in 2019, 99 people were convicted of sexual offenses involving a child under the age of 16, but by 2022, that number was 238. Last April, President Mirziyoyev signed amendments to legislation on the protection of the rights and freedoms of women and children. Experts from both within the government and NGOs, as well as activists from the Nemolchi.uz project, which helps protect women and children from violence, worked on the changes. The new version removes the right for perpetrators of sexual violence to use the argument of mitigating circumstances, and abolishes the right to early parole. Forced abortions can also be punishable by up to three years of correctional labor under certain circumstances. In addition, offenders who have committed sexual violence against a minor will no longer be able to use the argument that they did not know the victim's real age. One of the most anticipated innovations was the criminalization of domestic violence. According to the Committee of Family and Women of Uzbekistan, 21,871 protection orders were issued to victims of harassment and violence in the first seven months of 2023 alone. In 84.7% of those cases, the violence occurred within the family. Administrative or criminal punishment was meted out corresponding to 5,495 protection orders. In Uzbekistan, the overwhelming majority of families adhere to traditional patterns and recognize the dominant position of men as head of the family. Very often, women suffering from domestic violence do not speak about their issues out of fear of condemnation by their families and communities. In addition, such victims are usually financially dependent on the aggressor. In rural areas, girls are married off at a young age without receiving any education. As the UN Development Program (UNDP) Resident Representative in Uzbekistan, Matilda Dimovska observes, "criminalizing public sexual harassment is an important step in combating violence against girls and women. It is a logical continuation of the commitment to gender equality demonstrated at the highest level in Uzbekistan. The adopted legislation makes harassment in public places an administrative offense punishable by a fine of $60-150." In 2023, 666 people were convicted of sexual harassment in Uzbekistan. In recent years, along with its international partners, Uzbekistan has made tangible progress in combating violence against women and children. With UNDP support, a mobile application called Najot (Salvation) was developed with the aim of protecting the rights of victims of violence and providing them with timely assistance. The UNDP also launched a pilot initiative, Call Umida in Uzbekistan in March 2022. "Umida" means hope in Uzbek, and is a common name among women. Places and businesses that have joined the initiative are set up to immediately...

Domestic Violence Victims Can Now Obtain EU Refugee Status After Ruling

Women who have suffered from domestic violence have the right to seek asylum in European Union (EU) countries, according to an EU Court of Justice ruling on January 16th. Anyone who has been subjected to physical and psychological violence, including sexual or domestic violence, can apply. If the those who apply do not meet the conditions for refugee status, they can claim additional measures of protection. Refugee status may already be granted to third-country nationals who are persecuted on racial, religious, or national grounds, as well as on the basis of political convictions or membership of a particular social group. According to the judges, threats from relatives "because of an alleged violation of cultural, religious or traditional norms" may qualify. Consequently, genital mutilation or forced marriage are often reasons for absconding, which women will have to disclose to authorities at the first interview. The EU came to this decision after the story of a Turkish national, a girl of Kurdish origin was forcibly married by her family. In the marriage, she was beaten and threatened by her husband, but managed to escape. The woman, who feared that her life would be in danger if she returned to Turkey, sought help and asked for international protection in Bulgaria. The local justices then referred the case to the Court of Justice of the EU. Karl Kopp, a migration expert for Pro Asyl - an independent human rights organization that advocates for the rights of refugees in Europe and Germany - said that the outcome is positive, and more women will be able to receive protection in the future. At present, Kazakhstan is discussing the issue of toughening punishment for domestic violence. A joint study by the Union of Crisis Centers and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation found that in 2021, the public safety authorities of Kazakhstan received almost 115,000 complaints of domestic violence. Of these, only 40% of cases made it to court, whilst 39% of perpetrators got off with sentences that restricted their freedom for periods ranging from two hours to three days.

Senator Zhanna Asanova: the bill against domestic violence is ready to be submitted to the Majilis

According to the prominent Kazakh senator Zhanna Asanova, in 2023 domestic violence claimed the lives of 69 women and children, and more than 99,000 people sought help for this reason. A total of 2,452 crimes against children were registered. In a post on Facebook, Ms Asanova announced that a bill aimed at countering domestic violence is ready to be submitted to Kazakhstan’s parliament, the Majilis. She stressed that a number of experts on women's and children's rights were involved in creating the bill. Senator Asanova also emphasized that state agencies, in partnership with Kazakhstan’s children's ombudsman Dinara Zakiyeva, are working to increase the number of guardianship officers to 1,650 people. Currently there are only 309 of them in the country. Ms Asanova wrote: "As the president noted, any legislative changes will not be effective unless there is complete rejection, 'zero tolerance' in society, for any form of aggression and violence." The bill includes the following measures: 1. Criminalization of violence, which implies the establishment of criminal liability for battery and causing minor harm to health (currently these crimes are regulated by the Code of Administrative Offences of the Republic of Kazakhstan). 2. Classifying these crimes as criminal offenses requiring public prosecution in order to increase the effectiveness of law enforcement. 3. Toughening the punishment for these crimes and excluding the possibility of reconciliation of the parties to all forms of violence against children, in order to ensure the protection of the rights and interests of children. 4. Creation of infrastructure for assistance to families and children, including the opening of Family Support Centers and Centers for Psychological Support of Children, to provide comprehensive assistance to victims. 5. Introduction of special requirements in the Criminal Code, including psychological work with the aggressor, in order to prevent repeated cases of violence and to rehabilitate perpetrators of such crimes.

Recent murder in Kazakhstan draws attention to domestic violence and gender discrimination

A very public tragedy in Kazakhstan put on display domestic violence at its worst. A quarrel in a restaurant in Astana on the evening of November 8th is reported to have resulted in the death of Saltanat Nukenova, the 31-year-old wife of Kuandyk Bishimbayev. Bishimbayev, who served as Minister of National Economy under former President Nazarbayev, was detained on the same day for suspected murder and remains under arrest awaiting trial. On November 11th, Saltanat was buried in Pavlodar. This appalling incident highlighted the urgent need for stronger protections against domestic violence. An authorized rally was held in Almaty in late November. Around 200 participants came out onto the square behind the Sary Arka cinema, holding posters and chanting slogans against domestic violence. The event was organized by a public movement called Zhana Adamdar and the attendees mostly included young people and students from the movement. Relatives of Saltanat Nukenova also took part. The participants wanted to raise awareness about fighting any manifestation of violence against women and children. Most of the attendees were dressed in the same style, and many of them had scarves with the inscription “Say no to the animal world,” which was also the title of the rally. Speakers at the event detailed the most resonant cases of violence in recent times while the organizers of the rally held a small flash mob and arranged an installation with mannequins in cages with animal masks on them. A minute of silence was observed in honour those who died as a result of violence. Progress in protecting women What proceeded this public tragedy hopefully presents a silver lining. A month later, on December 8, Kazakhstan's current President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed a Decree to strengthen human rights with concrete steps towards preventing violence and promoting gender equality. The Decree instructs Kazakhstan’s government to take systematic measures to promote equal rights and opportunities in all spheres of society, as well as to overcome all forms and manifestations of gender discrimination. The decree also encompasses legislation to deter domestic violence and promotes equal rights and safety for both men and women in the Republic of Kazakhstan, as endorsed by UN Security Council resolution 13251. It further involves legislative measures to tighten criminal liability in cases of domestic violence, which have now been implemented. These measures aim to hold perpetrators accountable and ensure that victims can get justice. Additionally, offenders of domestic violence may be required to undergo comprehensive psychological correction as part of their rehabilitation process. The Decree also asks for creating specialized units within the Ministry of Internal Affairs staffed with female officers, who can enhance the effectiveness of combating domestic violence. While the timing of the Decree coincided with the aftermath of Saltanat’s death, there are signs that these steps may have already been in the works. President Tokayev had voiced concerns about domestic violence before the current headlines emerged. At a meeting in the Ministry of Internal Affairs in June 2023, for example, he had affirmed that “comprehensive...

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