Today is March 8, International Women’s Day. Today, women in Central Asia will receive special gifts, flowers, and positive attention. At the same time, violence against women and gender inequality remains disturbingly prevalent across the Central Asian region.
Last summer, social media users in Central Asia were shocked when a video from an Uzbekistani wedding party emerged showing the groom publicly slapping his bride after she had won in a little party game. In the comments under the Telegram video, some people (mainly women) were scandalized by the violent act, but others posted comments like: “Our women only understand the language of force.”
Central Asian governments publicly declare that they are fighting against this mindset, with varying degrees of commitment and success.
According to data from the Bureau of National Statistics and the Zertteu Research Institute, around 60 percent of women aged 15-49 in Kazakhstan have experienced partner violence. The situation was exacerbated during the pandemic and lockdown — see, for instance, International Partnership for Human Rights’ (IPHR) joint report with Kazakhstan International Bureau of Human Rights and Rule of Law (KIBHR). Today, the problem remains critical, with research indicating serious underreporting. Some 70-90 percent of women do not turn to the police, or refuse to lodge a complaint about domestic violence.
Femicide in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan struggles with entrenched problems of misogyny and femicide. U.N. Women identifies driving factors as “stereotyped gender roles, discrimination towards women and girls, unequal power relations between women and men, or harmful social norms.”ADVERTISEMENT
In an award-winning investigation, Kloop journalists described how one middle-aged Kyrgyz man who killed his wife stated that he had no regrets as she had been a slow cook and turned off the TV while he was watching. The investigation found that most women who were killed by their husbands were already in abusive relationships. According to Tolkun Tyulekova, the head of the Kyrgyz Union of Crisis Centers, many women in abusive relationships choose not to press charges against their partners, in part due to pressure from relatives to stay silent.
Turkmenistani Women Believe Violence is Deserved
A joint state-UNFPA study on domestic violence in Turkmenistan in 2021 interviewed 3,000 women and found that around 12 percent reported experiencing partner violence, and over 41 percent experiencing social control. Most disturbingly, 60 percent of women interviewed stated that failure by women to abide by societal norms was grounds for a husband to beat his wife, and that sexual violence within marriage is not perceived as a violation due to cultural views on marital obligations. As in other Central Asian countries, relatives pressure women to stay quiet about their ordeals.
The Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) reported that the study was unusually candid, and expressed hope for positive change now that the state had recognized the problem.
Obedient Tajikistani Women
Tajikistan also faces serious and widespread problems of gender-based violence. The U.N. Human Rights Council reported in 2019 that as many as 8 out of every 10 women in Tajikistan experienced domestic violence at least once in their lifetime. However, is very difficult to find the exact extent of domestic violence in Tajikistan because the government does not publish comprehensive statistics about it. Also, many women do not report the abuse and prefer not to talk about it because they are afraid or ashamed (only 1 in 10 women take action to stop the violence). There is great social pressure to keep domestic violence a family secret.
There are frequent stories in the media of how Tajikistani women are objectified and perceived, by society and officials alike, as submissive caretakers, and that girls are brought up according to these values. “Nigora, like other parents in our country, developed in her daughter the qualities demanded by potential suitors, such as submission, modesty, obedience, and the ability to cook,” a mother explained to the Tajikistani news outlet Asia Plus. Challenging these accepted norms can be risky for women, and thus many women choose to stay with abusive husbands, fearing the societal stigma of leaving.