NGOs in Central Asia Bring Glimmer of Hope to Victims of Gender-Based Violence

December 16, 2021

Today, about 10 million non-governmental and non-profit organizations operate around the globe. Their mission – solving complex problems. Their activities are focused on protecting the interests of the most vulnerable groups of the population, preserving national historical and cultural heritage, protecting the environment, and pursuing advocacy and awareness work in various spheres. They often implement unique projects with no analogues either in the public or in the private sector. While pushing for changes in national and international law, these organizations bring new ideas to the public realm and to public debate, raise awareness among the population and contribute to uprooting entrenched stereotypes in society.

Since 2014, the marking of World NGO Day has been celebrated at the initiative of European countries. On this day, NGOs from across the globe – from Australia, Asia to Africa and North and South America, share their experiences and accumulated knowledge in different languages.

The United Nations and governments in the world have long recognized the contribution and capabilities of NGO’s in reaching a consensus on solutions regarding priority sustainable development issues at the country, regional and global levels.

NGOs have many important functions as bring together the manifold voices and interests of the populations they represent. They draw the attention of state institutions to problems hindering the full realization of human potential. At the same time, NGOs work as a "feedback" channel for government that receives information allowing it to assess the effectiveness of decisions made and the response of the population to governmental activities.

EU-UN Flagship project highlights NGOs focused on GBV issues

During the 16 Days of Activism Campaign Against Gender-Based Violence, the European Union-United Nations Spotlight Initiative Regional Programme for Central Asia and Afghanistan drew attention to the work of NGO’s dealing with issues of gender-based violence and their attempts to protect vulnerable groups in society in various ways: protecting them from violence; reducing the trauma of experiences; helping find support and assistance in a crisis situation by seeking resolution for survivors of violence, retaining or regaining the ability to manage their own lives.

These organizations face multiple problems and challenges, for example, a lack of financial resources, imperfect legal framework and insufficient public awareness. However, despite these everyday hardships, compounded by the difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, these organizations continue to assist those most in need

The NGOs we would like to introduce are the winners of Low-Value Grant Competition held among NGOs from Central Asia. The competition was held within the framework of the EU-UN flagship Spotlight Initiative Regional Programme. The competition helped to identify these organizations as bellwethers – gaining forward-looking experience, practicing new approaches to providing services for survivors of violence and interacting with organizations designed to protect their legal rights and interests, while enduring the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

Today, they have a mission – summarizing their expertise in the form of a “knowledge product” and organizing a “peer-to-peer” exchange and transfer of knowledge to interested partners. A distinctive feature of this competition is for NGOs to help each other, acting as mentors and experts to improve working methods, find new approaches, and simply share their experience and knowledge with their colleagues in the fight against gender-based violence.

Champions of the “unprotected”

The 10 winners of the competition help people in difficult life situations in cities and rural areas across Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Their list of activities is a roll-call of good intentions: they provide assistance to vulnerable people; interact with legislative and executive authorities; participate in the development and expertise of legislation and strategic documents on gender equality; develop educational and training materials on the prevention of gender-based violence; increase the legal literacy of women and inform them on existing channels of assistance to victims of violence.

For people to have a clear vision of the work of these NGOs, we asked a few questions as to what inspires them in their work, what needs to be done now to improve opportunities and assistance to survivors of violence and how to enhance cooperation between independent crisis centres and government agencies?

The answers leave no room for indifference. Such joint efforts bring hope that change for the better is possible.

Asel Omorova from the"Ak-Zhurok” Crisis Centre, Kyrgyzstan: “For our team, the trust of women who reached out to our crisis center inspires us to make every effort to protect their rights. We are glad that the voices of women and their children are heard, and they feel confident in the future."

Tatyana Lyutovskaya, Head of social organization, “Answer”, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan: “Our work is only for those who are fully devoted to caring for others. It is a vocation. We are really inspired to continue working to help others, being useful to society and seeing first-hand the results of our activities."

Gulmairam Attokurova, Jalal-Abad, Kyrgyzstan, manages the foundation, “Rehabilitation Centre “Kaniet”: “I am inspired by how girls and young women, victims of gender-based violence, change their attitude towards violence when they start to fight and defend their rights and interests.”

Elena Tkacheva, Head, "Chance-CC", Kyrgyzstan agrees: "Seeing first-hand the changes brought to the lives of women to whom our organization provides assistance, and experiencing the sense  of solidarity and friendly relations through joint activities, inspires us and all women."

Rano Kosimova and Madina Rakhmatova from the NGO “Parastor”, Dushanbe, Tajikistan, believes that to improve the situation of victims of gender-based violence: "Open crisis centres and women's support centres and inform victims of violence about the existence of such centres."

Elena Tkacheva builds on this idea: “We need to strengthen crisis centres with psychologists, lawyer and social workers, who are gender-sensitive and understand the social context of violence”.

Asel Omorova believes one should actively embrace the issue and not to leave the victim alone with her problem: "The timely sharing of information among government agencies and NGOs can save the health and, sometimes, the lives of victims of violence."

Manzura Sultanova of “Saodat” NGO, Khujand, Tajikistan, believes it is necessary "toeducate society to support women victims violence through educational work."

And the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative Regional Programme could not but ask – what interaction should occur between independent crisis centres and government agencies. All the participants in the blitz survey believe that the work of crisis centres is very dependent on interdepartmental interaction with government agencies.

Asel Omorova views the development of cooperation with the government “on the basis of government procurement, ensuring the sustainability of this work through long-term memoranda, and shelters being developed as one-stop help centres”.

Tatiana Lyutovskaya believes it is necessary to develop a “referral scheme for receiving assistance and services to victims of violence”.

Rano Kosimova and Madina Rakhmatova from the NGO “Parastor” propose "working on raising the awareness of government officials dealing with victims of violence."

Anna Ryl, head of the private foundation “Korgau-Astana”, notes that for the development of this cooperation, "government agencies need to understand the people with whom they work, how they work, what they want to achieve so they can provide support for the centres, not erect barriers."

Manzura Sultanova from "Saodat" sees the development of cooperation "on the basis of memoranda, which describe all procedures and responsibilities for taking action."

Thus through the lens of this article we have seen first-hand caring, enthusiastic people and a variety of ideas and approaches. This means that through joint action, pressure for change for the better is possible 365 days a year!