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Denying women from marginalized communities’ access to life-saving violence prevention and response services remains a serious health and human rights issue in Kazakhstan and globally. UMAI is the goddess of fertility in Turkic mythology and Tengriism, and is the title for a new research project implemented by the Social Fund “Center for scientific-practical initiatives” of Kazakhstan, supported by the Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI). UMAI aims to improve access of women from marginalized communities to mainstream services for intimate partner violence and sexual violence.

The study will focus on adapting, evaluating, and implementing a package of two evidence-based interventions: Women Initiating New Goals for Safety (WINGS) – a GBV screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment/services tool – and the Community that Cares (CTC) intervention, an evidence-based community coordinated response intervention that has been used to reduce violence and substance misuse in different countries.

WINGS was originally designed and evaluated in the US with women who use drugs and later successfully adapted and implemented in Kyrgyzstan, India, Georgia, and Ukraine. WINGS has been translated into eight languages and is currently being widely used in six countries serving women from marginalized communities.

Why do we focus on marginalized populations such as women living with HIV, women who use drugs, trade sex, and transgender women in our study?

Unfortunately, the past year rates of intimate partner violence among these groups range between 23% -75% globally, which is much higher than rates among general populations of women[1]. Evidence suggests that poverty, discrimination, stigma, and other social determinants of health are major drivers of intimate partner violence (IPV) and sexual violence (SV) among women from these key affected populations.

Laying the groundwork for our study through awareness raising

To raise awareness about the specific needs of marginalized women and the aims of the project, our local team met many key stakeholders in Kazakhstan, such as local NGOs working with key affected populations, the police department working with gender-based violence (GBV) and the social services workforce. Unfortunately, the response we received when talking about our project in Kazakhstan has been mostly one of surprise – the audiences do not seem to understand the focus on “these” women and not women from the general population. As if “these” women do not belong to our society. Globally. the Co-Investigator, professor Louisa Gilbert from Columbia University presented our research project at the SVRI Forum 2022.

[Assel Terlikbayeva and Sholpan Primbetova meeting the police department dealing with response to GBV. May 2022, Almaty.]

What is the goal of our study?

One of the main goals of our study is to address gaps in services for marginalized women by implementing an innovative digital online intervention for women and active community engagement for system-level changes. We have been working hard to bring many key stakeholders together in a Community Action Board to talk about the needs of and response to violence against women and the inclusion of marginalized women into state-run services like shelters, crisis centers, and further support to victims of IPV and SV. The groups we are working with feel stigmatized and isolated not only from each other but from society. Unfortunately, from focus groups discussions with key stakeholders and visits to state-run crisis centers for women survivors, we have found out that they do not accept women living with HIV, women using drugs, or women who identify as transgender due to their lack of knowledge, comfort, and skills in working with these key affected populations, as well as perceptions that these women are “undeserving” of help or that they are somehow responsible for the violence they suffer. 

Building and sharing capacity

To build our capacity, we are working closely with local NGOs from Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and India who have previously implemented WINGS to learn from their experience and successes.

Velta Parhomenko from Ukraine shared her experience of working with women victims of violence who engaged in sex work. Danil Nikitin, chair of the NGO GLORI, and Elena Tkacheva shared their experience with implementing WINGS of HOPE in Kyrgyzstan. Elena Bilokon from the Kazakhstan Network of Women living with HIV and head of the UMAI Community Action Board, shared her insights: “This UMAI project is so needed in Kazakhstan! No one works with women from marginalized groups who are suffering from violence. Thank you for bringing it here! We support this project and are happy to be a part of it!”

[Partners meeting. May 2022, Almaty]

We strongly believe that with passion, strong partners, and readiness to work in the field of violence against women in Kazakhstan, we will bring light and make changes to ensure that ALL women have access to quality IPV/SV services.

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SVRI Research Grant #16Days 2022 Blog Series

Written by Sholpan Primbetova, Assel Terlikbayeva and Louisa Gilbert


About the Authors

Sholpan Primbetova – Co-Principal Investigator, Vice President of Social Fund “Center for scientific-practical initiatives”, Kazakhstan

Assel Terlikbayeva – Local Principal Investigator, President of Social Fund “Center for scientific-practical initiatives”, Kazakhstan

Louisa Gilbert – Co-Investigator, professor, Social Intervention Group, Columbia University School of Social Work


[1] El-Bassel, N., Mukherjee, T. I., Stoicescu, C., Starbird, L. E., Stockman, J. K., Frye, V., & Gilbert, L. (2022). Intertwined epidemics: progress, gaps, and opportunities to address intimate partner violence and HIV among key populations of women. Lancet HIV. 2022 Mar;9(3):e202-e213. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(21)00325-8. Epub 2022 Feb 10.


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