Interview with Shakhnoza Khassanova

Please tell me about your organisation. What is your history?

The Legal Center for Women's Initiatives "Sana Sezim" is a non-profit and NGO founded in May 2001 and officially registered in 2004.

Our mission is to build civil society and democracy through promoting women's and children's rights, as well as non-violent relationships in society.

Three primary directions of our work:

  • Access of Women to Justice
  • Stopping Trafficking of Women and Children
  • Labour Migration

What sort of work do you focus on? Which approach does your organisation have?

We work in three main directions:

  • Women's access to justice,
  • Preventing human trafficking
  • Labour migration.

Women's Access to Justice

In various ways, we inform women about their rights. Sana Sezim offers consultations and practical recommendations, and our experienced trainers carry out trainings and seminars. Via mass media and print materials, we spread information to the general public. Through our presence in mass media we help form public opinion and inform people about our activities. In group trainings, women are informed about their rights and guarantees. Additionally, our staff assist them with the preparation of inquiries and complaints to different authorities and represent the interests of women and children in court. We collaborate with law enforcement, the state, as well as international and national non-governmental organisations, the division of violence protection for women of the South Kazakhstan Oblast Interior (Police) Department, the Committee on Women and Family – Demographic Policy under the Akim of the South Kazakhstan Oblast (SKO), and the prosecution office of the SKO.

Labour Migration

Sana Sezim carries out educational campaigns to attract public attention to the problems of migrant workers and offers consultation on important issues, such as registration with the migration police, transferring money to their home countries, receiving medical assistance in Kazakhstan, educational offers. We help workers stay informed about the Kazakh legislation and how not to breach it. Sana Sezim regularly monitors the changes in the legislation, which are applied for providing legal consultations.

Additionally, we set up informational stands on three control check points on the border of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and in three migration police points in Shymkent city. These stands contain information in four languages: Uzbek, Russian, Kyrgyz and Tajik. Migrants crossing the border and coming to the migration police for registration can read about the rules of residing in Kazakhstan and about their rights and responsibilities.

Preventing Human Trafficking

In cases of human trafficking we search for and help victims return to their come countries. Additionally, Sana Sezim helps bringing actions against traffickers and defends victims of human trafficking in court.One of the main activities playing a key role in the fight against human trafficking is implementing preventive measures.

We offer qualified assistance of specialists in three languages (Kazakh, Russian and Uzbek) regarding travelling abroad, registration of visas and documents to carry out the labor activities abroad, and about travelling as a tourist. Kazakhstan is a source, destination and transit country for human trafficking and also faces many domestic trafficking issues.

Unfortunately, ther are no exact statistics on the annual number of trafficking victims. Victims of trafficking from Kazakhstan go to the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, France, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, and Belgium. The current trends in Cyprus, Greece, Turkey are false demands for temporary waitresses, maids, etc. Victims from Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan pass through Kazakhstan on their way to Russia and Turkey.

Although laws do not prohibit prostitution, it is connected to human trafficking and organized crime through the facilitation of illegal activities, such as prostitution in brothels or prostitution rings. 

Human traffickers mainly target young women. According to our data, traffickers promise good jobs or marriage services abroad for women. Travel, employment and marriage agencies often advertise competitive job openings abroad or international beauty contests to attract women. Girls and women fall into this trap and many of them become victims of sexual slavery. Clients often admit that they gave their passports to strangers, without considering consequences, and didn't realize what was happening until it was too late. In order to inform people of the risks of human trafficking and to help victims, collaborative measures between countries and authorities must be developed.

What are the biggest challenges your organisation is facing?

One of the main problems is the lack of funding for NGOs working on domestic violence prevention in families.

Additionally, women and girls subjected to domestic violence tend not to identify as victims and do not seek help from law enforcement. Often, they think that they are to blame for the violence they experience. They believe that domestic violence is a family problem and no one other than family members should learn about the violence or try to solve the problem.

Aggressors try to use family ties or friendships to help solve the issue with the police and to avoid responsibility for their crimes. Corruption, blackmail, threats, and deceit are used by perpetrators to pressure the victims into retracting their statements.

What is the situation of domestic violence in Kazakhstan?

The most common form of violence against women in Kazakhstan is domestic violence, which includes physical, sexual and psychological violence, injury and death threats of death, suicides by victims of abuse, assault, and battery.

In Southern Kazakhstan, many people live under patriarchal norms. Unfortunately, women often underestimate their potential, do not see opportunities for positive developments in the future and accept that men establish "their rules". Additional issues include female stereotypes, the “glass ceiling", inequality of opportunities between men and women, and contradictions regarding notions of women as homemakers and as leaders in society. Legal illiteracy also contributes to violations of rights and kepp victims from reporting. There is a general lack of knowledge which services victims can make use of. For example, in cases where a woman has experienced domestic violence, she often has nowhere to live until the case in court is resolved.

Each year the number of crimes against persons, particularly the number of victims of domestic violence, is increasing. Violation of women's rights has become so habitual, that it is no longer considered a violation of rights. Violence is perceived as normal and education in non-violent communication is needed to solve the problem.

Criminal statistics on violence against women in Southern Kazakhstan show that a large percentage of women are constantly exposed to violence, including domestic violence. Women are taught to be powerless in the face of all this violence. Additionally, numerous studies confirm that the economic and psychological violence, as well as physical abuse, reduce the capacity for productive work and create worse living conditions for women and their families.

Typically, aggressors in cases of domestic violence are close relatives: spouses, parents, sisters, brothers, and children. This makes up 86% of all our referrals. A much lower percentage (12%) is acquaintances, while only 2% are strangers.

Women often suffer violence in the family for a long time (91% of referrals have suffered from violence for 1-5 years or more). This occurs for various reasons; including, the lack of information about support services or various fears supported by societal attitudes about the role and rights of women in modern society.

The greatest number of clients in our centre are women victims of domestic violence, and they usually have no job or professional experience at all. In cases where women have a profession, there has often been pressure from husbands or relatives not to work.

What is the situation of domestic violence laws in Kazakhstan?

Kazakhstan has enacted several laws on domestic violence, to promote equal rights between men and women, and to increase awareness of gender equality in the country.

In the 2009 law on domestic violence, a "Victim" is defined as an "individual, in whose respect there is basis to believe that he/she has been directly caused any moral, physical and property damage".

The law addresses four forms of domestic violence: physical, psychological, sexual and economic. Although the law applies equally to all victims of domestic violence, there is a list of groups who are guaranteed special treatment in case they experience domestic violence: orphans, people with disabilities, the homeless, people just released from prison etc. (Article 6, law on special social services).

Legal acts related to Domestic Violence in Kazakhstan:

  • Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence, entered into force on December 4th, 2009
  • Law on Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities for Men and Women, entered into force on November 30th, 2006
  • Code on Administrative violations, updated 5 July, 2014
  • Standards for the provision of special social services for victims of domestic violence, entered into force on 20th January, 2017

As part of implementing the Kazakh domestic violence laws, measures are being taken to improve the legislation and e.g. violence prevention has been recognized as a key factor to combating of domestic violence. At the same time, organisation's practical experience shows that there are many questions and disputes that require further analysis, especially pertaining to law enforcement agencies and other actors active in crime prevention in the sphere of everyday life.

To date, there is a high level of domestic and sexual violence experienced by women in Kazakhstan. Those affected by violence have great difficulties in applying for protection to law enforcement agencies. In this regard, we are very concerned that law enforcement officials still view such violence not as a serious crime, but as a private marriage and family issues or as a particular problem of a specific woman.

The majority of law enforcement officers reported that mainly women who have suffered from physical violence turn to them for help. When a women was abused using economic or psychological violence it is almost impossible to initiate criminal proceedings. When asked, law enforcement officials stated difficulties in identifying psychological violence, as there are no methodological recommendations or instructions to identify psychological violence.

On top of this, judicial practice shows that many court cases stop at the trial stage due to the fact that the victim reconciles with the abuser.

Non-state crisis centres continue to be the only ones helping women affected by domestic violence.

Society needs to realize that intimate partner violence and crimes perpetrated within the family are worse than many other crimes in terms of the degree of public danger and the severity of the consequences. They inflict enormous, sometimes irreparable damage to public safety. Perpetrators promote a stereotype of aggressive and violent behaviour in the household. It is these crimes that are most blatant from the point of view of universal morality. It is justified to say that violence in the family is not a specific phenomenon of any state, but truly universal.

Last changed: 04.02.2021