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Living with dignity

Working with religious leaders to prevent violence against women and girls

The onset of COVID-19 and the lockdown put in place by the government as a result of the pandemic has intensified domestic violence in Kyrgyzstan. From January to March 2020, the government estimated a 65% increase in domestic and intimate partner violence. This disturbing rise in violence was fuelled by pre-existing gender inequality and social stereotypes combined with economic and social stress caused by the pandemic.

Women play a strong role in peacebuilding and recovery processes in Kyrgyzstan, whether that is dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic or dealing with local tensions. Therefore, women’s involvement in peacebuilding at all levels is important for lasting peace and preventing gender-based violence (GBV) is a first step to empowering women and promoting their engagement in peacebuilding and community development.

In the first phase of our project, research showed that most interventions on preventing gender-based violence against women and girls in Kyrgyzstan have not focused on or include religious communities. And since religious leaders are highly influential in Kyrgyzstan, we saw an opportunity to start working closely with them on the issue.

Main results of the first phase of the project:

  • Participants from religious communities who took part in our gender sensitization training were ready to put the acquired knowledge and skills into practise within their communities.
  • Recommendations that were provided to state representatives about engaging religious leaders in the development of the National Strategy for Achieving Gender Equality for 2021-2030 and the National Action Plan on gender (NAP) for 2021-2023 will be used to inform the National Strategy and NAP design.
  • There is a need to create a lexicon to convey the principles of the rule of law and gender equality in simple and accessible language to be used in rural areas where such terminology is not widely used or understood.

This next phase of the project will build on evidence collected during Alert’s previous intervention that, while taboo, gender-based violence against women and girls can be discussed in religious communities with the assistance and facilitation of religious leaders, who can themselves play prominent roles in campaigns to prevent violence in their communities. Additionally, the project will generate important evidence to feed into the NAP’s development as well as pilot new language and terms on how to broach the topic of gender equality in Kyrgyz-language speaking communities more effectively.

This will help prevent violence, and allow communities and the issues they are facing to be better understood. We expect religious communities to be increasingly included in GBV prevention processes, from covering religious communities and their role in the NAP on gender 2021-2023 to strengthening cooperation between state bodies and religious organisations to prevent violence against women and girls.

It started in May 2021 and will end in October 2021.