Turkmenistan: Domestic Abuse Hotline Launched


A new phone line for victims of domestic abuse in Turkmenistan, although commentators say the government should be doing a lot more to address the problem. The hotline began operating in mid-September, with the support of the OSCE mission in the capital Ashgabat. “Violence is commonplace in Turkmen families,” said an observer in Ashgabat. “There is widespread beating of wives, coercive sex, and slave labour where men make women work at home, for example to make carpets to sell and support the family.”

“Although the line has only just opened, we are getting calls,” said a member of staff at the help centre. “We provide not just advice but moral support, which is very important for such people. I’ve been a victim of domestic violence myself, and our psychologist helped me.”

No official statistics on domestic violence are available in Turkmenistan, but local observers say the problem is quite widespread. The Turkmen authorities do not discuss the problem openly, apparently because of the dearth of clear information.

Many victims are afraid to speak out because of the taboo surrounding domestic abuse in a society where patriarchal traditions are still strong. “It isn’t every Turkmen woman who would take family problems outside the home,” said an activist of an unregistered non-government group in Ashgabat.

Many women welcome news of the hotline, saying they would use it if they needed help.

A victim of domestic abuse in the Lebap region of eastern Turkmenistan said she would feel ashamed if she went to the police to complain about assaults committed by her husband, so it would be “more convenient and comfortable” to call the helpline and seek advice anonymously.

“We don’t have the service in our region yet,” she added.

Women’s rights activists say there is little public awareness of violence in the home, few psychologists or lawyers specialising in this area, and no systems for rehabilitating the victims. Tight restrictions on the non-government sector make it impossible to set up organisations to combat domestic violence, track the scale of the problem, and offer support to victims.

“I’ve read that some countries have special rehabilitation facilities for such victims, constituted as NGOs,” said a member of one unregistered group. “I would like to work for such an organisation and provide real support to women facing violence.”

An experienced human rights activist said he favoured “tangible measures” such as legislation to protect victims of domestic violence, and a government programme to support the family.

“One hotline will not save all the victims,” he added.

When Turkmenistan was discussed at the United Nations Human Rights Council last December, the working group express concern at the apparent lack of awareness on violence against women as a problem, and at the failure of Turkmen local legislation to establish mechanisms to prevent domestic violence and assist its victims. Turkmenistan ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1996.

(NBCentralAsia is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service has resumed, covering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.)