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A 2016 national survey showed that 17 percent of women in Kazakhstan reported experiencing violence from their intimate partner. In 2017 out of all crimes committed against women in Kazakhstan, 98% were rapes.  Since the quarantine started there have been reports of increase of episodes of violence against women.

People with special needs are at an even higher risk of violence

Indira[1], a resident of Turkestan city, has a visual disability. She has survived sexual violence three times. 

“I still remember that day in September of 2005 when it happened the first time. I’m sure that any woman or girl who has survived violence remembers that day all her life,” says Indira. “I had several suicide attempts. And then I thought – there are people who are ill, bed-ridden and they still find the strength to go on and live. This helped me to understand that I shouldn’t give up all the more. In the beginning my faith in God and then my mum’s support helped me to get back on my feet. I think that in this day and age, in the 21st Century, all, and especially women, should know their rights and know that they have a right to live without the fear that someone might beat, humiliate or sexually assault them”.

UNFPA National Coordinator on Population, Development and Gender Gaziza Moldakulova says that one of the reasons for the problem is that a lot of people with disabilities know little about their rights.

“There is little information for such people in the formats that they can understand. For example, visually impaired people receive information through Braille writing system, whereas people with problems of hearing and speech use sign language.  Because there is a lack of information in these special languages people with disabilities find it hard to receive services that can protect and empower them. People with intellectual or sensory challenges, people with visual and hearing impairments cannot report violence committed against them, or receive the critical help and consultation and other services that can allow them to live a life of dignity and respect. And then there are also physical barriers, such as the lack of accessible transport or infrastructure for people with limited mobility and those using mobility aids,” says Gaziza Moldakulova. “On the other hand, social and medical workers, staff at crisis centres often don’t have the required training to provide services to people with disabilities”.

Number of abortions among women with disabilities is eight times higher than among healthy women

Research shows that the number of abortions is significantly higher among women with disabilities. This is because people with disabilities have a limited access to sexual and reproductive health services.

“People with disabilities know very little about how they can protect themselves from an unintended pregnancy. This leads to a high number of abortions among them – it is eight times higher than among other women. The highest rate of abortions is among women with hearing disabilities, says Lyazzat Kaltayeva, Chairperson of Association of Women with Disabilities “Shyrak”. «Besides, there is data showing that women with disabilities in Kazakhstan cannot fully realize their right for independence in their decision to become mothers. In 2018 there were 293,511 women registered with one or more disabilities. Only 0.5 percent or about 1,467 of these women have children. Unfortunately, such a low rate is very rarely associated with the health of a woman.”

The Government of Kazakhstan in partnership with UNFPA has developed Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) on the provision of services to victims and survivors of gender-based violence. Furthermore, UNFPA has been supporting a project on Multi-Sector Response to Gender-Based Violence involving the systems of healthcare, social care and the police.

“Essentially, the standard operating procedures should become a “desk book” for physicians, police officials and social workers so they can work together and identify cases of violence in a timely manner to help those who experienced violence,” says Gaziza Moldakulova. “We are now working to include the needs of people with disabilities into the existing SOPs”.

Efficient multi-sector response to gender-based violence could have played a vital role in the life of Indira and many other people like her.

After a while Indira’s life went back to normal, she started working as a masseur and began to get a stable income. Several years after that she met a man and fell in love with him.

“I could have had a daughter now. When I was five months pregnant I was tricked into going to the hospital, my pregnancy was terminated and my fallopian tubes were tied. I didn’t even give my consent to that! Doctors didn’t even inform me that they would do this to me… I know that I can’t have children anymore, but I still have a dream of having a baby. I still hope that in-vitro fertilization can help me,” says Indira.

There are 674,200 people registered with disabilities in Kazakhstan. Half of them, irrespective of gender or age, face violence at home in practically equal measures. Besides, women and girls with disabilities are more often exposed to violence than women and girls without disabilities or than their male peers.  

Following the imposition of an emergency situation and a quarantine in Kazakhstan due to the coronavirus pandemic we contacted Indira again to find out how she was doing during this difficult time.

“Because of quarantine I’m not working, I’m sitting at home. Naturally, I don’t have any customer for a massage and there’s no money, said Indira. “Relationships with my family members got worse. Every day my father asks me for money for his own needs. My mum and I fight over this. I asked my dad to save up some money but he started humiliating me. On the fifth day our argument got physical.”  

Crisis situations, including disease outbreaks, have a different impact on women and men: it makes existing gender inequalities even worse. Staying at home for a long time exacerbates family tensions and might result in violence.

“Of course in such situations women and girls with disabilities may become targets of violence. The issue of adequate care to people with disabilities from social, medical and police services becomes of utmost importance. It is also important to convey information to people with disabilities about the ways they can protect themselves from coronavirus, and that information should be in formats that people can understand, for example through videos, audios, sign language. It is also important to update referral systems for victims of gender-based violence so these systems reflect their needs. Together with the National Commission for Women, Family and Demographic Policy under President of the Republic of Kazakhstan and UN Women we developed a leaflet for women and girls facing violence, in which we reflected a referral mechanism and provided telephone numbers for victims of gender-based violence. Besides, with the National Commission on Women, Family and Demographic Policy under President of the Republic of Kazakhstan and “Association of Women with Disabilities Shyrak” we created a series of video and audio materials with sign language for people with disabilities about the measures of protection against coronavirus,” – said Gaziza Moldakulova. We hope to be able to support more efforts like these ones and to see a more robust response from all responsible parties.

[1] Name changed for protection and privacy