Everyday hero: Defending women’s rights in Kazakhstan

Women’s rights are human rights. You don’t need super powers to be a super hero or be a celebrity influencer to stand up for human rights.

To mark the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Human Rights Declaration and the work of the UN family and partners who are working everyday to end violence against women, we’ll introduce you to the everyday heroes who are standing up for women’s rights.

Human rights lawyer Aiman Umarova after meeting a client in Almaty. © Yulia Kozlova

Aiman Umarova is a human rights defender. She has worked as a lawyer and investigator in law enforcement for over 25-years in Kazakhstan. She works with the Almaty Regional Collegium of Advocates.

Why is your work important to you?

My morning begins with the words “Help!” I provide legal assistance, often free of charge for rape cases, I am engaged in legal informing of women, girls, children. I live my job, I believe that women are the biggest and most vulnerable part of society. The majority of the population are women, but this does not save women from lack of rights, violence, and discrimination. I will fight for the rights of women and girls until they cease to be “second class” in society.

My work is an important part of my life, where I try to do everything so that every girl and every woman is on an equal footing with males. I have experienced discrimination many times (being a student, working as a lawyer, in the police) and realized that the world is held by women, but those on whom the world stands are in need of protection.

How does violence affect the women and men in your community?

It is painful, cruel, scary. Violence makes society sick, incapable of development, creates a gender imbalance. All this contributes to the development of a cult of violence in society. The cult of violence affects not only the lives of women, but also the lives of men and children.

What the biggest threat or challenge women and girls in your community face when it comes to gender violence? When are they most vulnerable?

The biggest problem is the silence of a crime committed against them, since the honor of the family and shame takes precedence over the human mind, as a result, an offender remains unpunished and continues to commit crimes against other women. The second problem is the condemning and persecution of a victim by society (especially by women themselves). Third one is a lack of free legal assistance to victims of violence. The fourth — dishonest or unprofessional work of law enforcement agencies to investigate
criminal cases of violence. The fifth — rehabilitation and “return to life.”

Why did you decide on this as a job?

I have worked as a lawyer and investigator for more than 25 years.
I am engaged in grave and especially grave crimes. As a lawyer I specialize in cases related to terrorism, extremism, violent extremism and gender-based violence. I’ve handled cases of rape (including group rape) against women, girls, children, and problems of convicts serving sentences in institutions.

Why?

The reason I chose this profession was the fact that I have repeatedly experienced discrimination based on gender. I believe that the value of society should not be measured by the availability of natural resources such as oil and gas, but by the respect for human rights, especially for women. I myself suffered from sexual harassment in my student years, so this topic is close to me.

The state of the rights of women and girls are one of the indicators of the level of development of a society.

I give priority to defending women’s rights because I am a woman and daily violations of their rights is growing. During these 12 months I have participated in 19 criminal cases on violence. The most infamous cases I’ve handled most recently in Kazakhstan are:
1. Ms. S.N.1, who was raped and gave birth to a child in prison.
2. Ms. Z.M., who was the victim of abduction and group rape by four men.
3. Ms. N.K.,who was kidnapped and raped by two men whothreatened to 
murder her.

4. Ms. A. A., who was raped by a taxi driver, while being in helpless condition.
5. Ms. D.C. — a victim of domestic violence, whose face was disfigured.
6. Ms. S.O.,who was raped with the use of clonidine.
7. Ms. K., who was raped by a policeman.
8. Ms. Y.I. who became a victim of sexual abuse and was raped by a former Member of Parliament.

What is your advice for people worldwide who will read your story? What is the one thing they can do to help reduce violence against women and girls?

Only personal involvement. First, talk openly as much as possible.
The second is not to be indifferent to the problems of violence.

Why is addressing violence against women and girls in all form important to achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

First, women are the largest part of the population and at the same time remain the most vulnerable part in all spheres of society. It is important for the SDGs that a large part of citizens of any country feel well and live in stability, which is impossible if women’s rights are not respected.

Secondly, the amount of growing violence and violation of women’s rights creates a gender imbalance, which is an obstacle for SDGs.

Third, women are future mothers, affecting the decisions taken at the highest level by men. The way a mother will raise and grow her son, whether the son is a politician, a businessman, a policeman, a prosecutor affects the life of the whole country and life of all citizens.

With improvements in safety, what could improve for the women and girls in your community at risk of gender violence?

Openness and willingness to talk about a crime committed against them, which means that the offender will not escape punishment and will not repeat violence against other people (as a preventive measure). The fear of persecution and re-victimization will disappear. For victims, shorter rehabilitation and return to normal life will also increase.

What are the top three things they need to feel safe and confident to participate in daily life in your community?

1. Security
2. Social and financial security
2. Legal aid


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Interview conducted by: UNDP Kazakhstan