Interview with Shirin Ahmedova, Technical Adviser of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Turkmenistan on Human rights, Gender and Justice

As part of the international campaign “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence”

December 9, 2022
UNDP Turkmenistan
  1. What is gender-based violence and how does it affect human development?

There are 1.3 billion victims of sexual violence in today's world: every third woman on Earth has been assaulted at least once in her lifetime. Amina Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations reminded about this, speaking at the opening of the exhibition “What Were You Wearing?” staged at UN headquarters in New York.

Gender equality is a clear goal of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which also states that all goals and targets depend on gender equality and the empowerment of women. Many pathways to achieve gender equality have been identified and agreed between Member States of the United Nations. These include the commitments of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women of 20 December 1993 defines "violence against women" as any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.” Violence against women is a violation of human rights, a cause and effect of gender inequality, and a major cause of women's poor health. It damages the well-being of women themselves, is a significant obstacle to the democratization of society and country’s economic development.

Violence against women can include physical, psychological and economic abuse. In the case of women, gender-based violence is a way to assert the inferior position of women in society. Violence against women and the threat of violence is a form of gender-based violence that deprives women of their social rights. Physical abuse is an act intended to cause pain or injury, or that results in pain or injury. The main goal is not only to cause physical pain, but also to limit the independence of another person.

Psychological (emotional) abuse, as a rule, looks like an intention to give a partner the personally defined understanding of what is "right" and what is "wrong". This type of violence includes isolation and imprisonment, withholding information, misinformation and threatening behavior. Economic or financial violence makes a woman dependent on a partner and can become a pretext for further violence, not only economic. The most typical forms of socio-economic violence include the seizure of the victim's earned money, the prohibition of having a separate income (the status of a housewife, working in a family business without wages) or bringing a victim to the position of being unable to work as a result of the targeted physical abuse.

2. What are the main tools and measures undertaken by the UN to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in the world?

The achievement of gender equality is facilitated by such basic international legal documents as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which oblige participating states to ensure equal right for men and women to enjoy all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women is a special document aimed at protecting the rights of women.

The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action of 25.06.1993 clearly state that the human rights of women and girls are an integral and indivisible part of universal human rights.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 2017 adopted its General Recommendation No. 35 on gender-based violence against women, according to which gender-based violence against women is one of the main social, political and economic means by which the stereotypical roles of women and their subordination to men are perpetuated.

Accession to international conventions in the field of human rights, and of course, to conventions that guarantee the rights and freedoms of women, contribute to the implementation of international obligations by the participating countries, contribute to the improvement of national systems for ensuring and protecting human rights and freedoms, including women's rights, implementation provisions of international legal documents aimed at preventing gender-based violence, creating conditions for raising the status of women in the family and society.

3. How are women and girls of Turkmenistan protected by the country's legislation from acts of violence, and what are the legal and policy bases for preventing and responding to gender-based violence? Are there institutional mechanisms to support victims of gender-based violence in Turkmenistan?

The Constitution of Turkmenistan proclaims equality of rights and freedoms of man and of the citizen, as well as equality of ditto before the law and the court, regardless of nationality, race, gender, origin, property and official status, place of residence, language, attitude to religion, political beliefs or other circumstances. Without exception, all laws of Turkmenistan contain norms on non-admission of discrimination on the basis of sex. The Electoral, Family, Labor, Civil, Criminal Codes and the laws of Turkmenistan “On State Guarantees for Ensuring Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities for Women and Men”, “On State Guarantees of the Rights of the Child”, “On Protecting the Health of Citizens”, “ On Education”, “On Combating Human Trafficking” and many others.

Turkmenistan has acceded to the main conventions in the field of human rights, including those aimed at ensuring equal rights and opportunities for women and men. The country is a member of the Commission on the Status of Women for 2018-2022, the Executive Council of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) for 2022-2024.

Speaking about the institutional mechanisms for ensuring gender equality, we can say that in Turkmenistan, citizens without any discrimination are guaranteed and provided with judicial protection from all rights violations. In 2016, in order to ensure state guarantees on the protection of human and civil rights and freedoms, their observance and respect by public authorities and local governments and their officials, the position of Ombudsman was established in the country. The powers of the Ombudsman include assistance to: observance and restoration of human rights and freedoms; ratification of international human rights treaties; improvement of the legislation of Turkmenistan in the field of human and civil rights and freedoms; interaction of state bodies of Turkmenistan in the protection of the rights and freedoms of man and of the citizen; development and coordination of international cooperation in the area of human rights and freedoms.

Civil society actors are also involved in supporting victims of gender-based violence: the bar associations of the city of Ashgabat and the velayats, as well as public associations such as the Women's Union, Keyik Okara, Yenme, Ynam and others. These organizations, with the support of the UN agencies and other international organizations, provide women and girls with free legal advice, help them obtain professional skills for further employment, and provide material assistance if necessary.

Taking into account the country's commitment to respect and ensure human rights, UNDP intends to continue assisting the Government of Turkmenistan in the implementation of the National Action Plan for Human Rights for 2021-2025, the implementation of international obligations and recommendations of the UN treaty bodies on national reports and the Universal Periodic Review, including on gender equality and elimination of violence against women and girls.

4.What are the UNDP's main strategic plans to accelerate progress in ending gender-based violence?

Gender discrimination is the world's oldest and most pervasive inequality and human rights violation. The UNDP Gender Social Norms Index 2020 indicates that almost 90% of the world's population - women and men - hold some form of prejudice against women. UNDP together with the national partners implements projects in various fields and actively cooperates with state bodies and public organizations to promote equal rights and opportunities for women and girls and protect them from gender-based violence. In line with the UNDP Gender Equality Strategy 2022-2025, UNDP will develop new partnerships for gender equality and strengthen existing ones to achieve longer-term advocacy and policy goals. UN Women will remain UNDP's primary partner for gender equality and the empowerment of women in crisis and in development settings. UNDP will more systematically engage women's organizations and other groups in a dialogue with national and international institutions, especially those that set economic directions and political agendas.

The UNDP Rule of Law and Human Rights Global Programme focuses on gender equality in support of more than 48 countries and contexts affected by crisis, fragility or conflict. UNDP will ensure that employment and livelihood initiatives not only target and include all women, but also help remove long-standing barriers to recovery, such as unequal access to knowledge, land, credit, technology, social protection and care services.

Through country programming, UNDP works closely with governments and national and local institutions on promoting Multi-stakeholder Approach to address gender-based violence and achieve sustainable development by strengthening the capacity and awareness of law enforcement officials, judges, members of public and religious organizations. UNDP also prevents gender-based violence by promoting women's participation and leadership in all decision-making processes; works to improve the integration of gender equality issues in conflict prevention, and advances the women's peace and security agenda; contributes to the creation of an institutional environment that prevents violence and supports victims, especially women who face various forms of discrimination, including people with disabilities, migrants and survivors of sexual exploitation.

Building on the country's commitment to respect and ensure human rights, the UNDP in cooperation with other UN agencies will continue assisting the Government of Turkmenistan in the implementation of the National Action Plan for Human Rights in Turkmenistan for 2021-2025, the National Action Plan for Gender Equality in Turkmenistan for 2021-2025, the implementation of international obligations and recommendations of the UN treaty bodies on national reports and the Universal Periodic Review, including within the objectives to achieve gender equality and eliminate violence against women.