A study tour took place in Bishkek on June 13-15 with participation of NGOs from Tbilisi, Osh and Bishkek that service female drug users and sex workers suffering from intimate partner violence and other forms of gender-based violence. The study tour was arranged with finance and technical support of Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan and Open Society Foundations (New York). Dr Louisa Gilbert of Columbia University School of Social Work who is an expert in gender-based violence prevention, took part in it.


The issue of violence against vulnerable women is quite actual for many countries. According to the colleagues from Georgia, in their country women constitute about 10% of the whole 40 thousand drug using population. It is a close group whose majority is exposed to various forms of discrimination and is not covered by any treatment or social services. Most female drug users in Georgia live in poverty and have to provide sex services to somehow survive. More than 80% of them experience domestic violence and don’t have opportunity to seek support from either police or medical professionals who are said to be quite aggressive while servicing these women and humiliate them.


Because of stigma and discrimination sex workers also are not willing to apply for help despite the fact that their civil rights are often violated. Half of the recently surveyed sex workers reported being beaten and offended by police at least twice a week whose staff often forcibly engage them in sex work, whereas medical staff are not willing to provide them with medical services thus worsening situation.


In Kyrgyzstan female drug users and sex workers are also exposed to the whole bunch if risks and issues that include unjustified detention, beating, money extortion, sexual violence and other violations of rights that are not known to mainstream population. This was the context in which Kyrgyz-based Asteria and Podruga non-government foundations in 2013 decided to adapt and pilot WINGS of Hope project based on WINGS (Women Initiating New Goals for Safety) principles developed by Columbia University Social Intervention Group headed by Dr Louisa Gilbert. This year four other NGOs, Positive Dialogue, Socium, Chance Crisis Center and Plus Center Foundation, joined Asteria and Podruga as the project co-implementers, thus expanding the project geography and enhancing access to its services for the local drugs users and sex workers.


In Kyrgyzstan, it is Global Research Institute (GLORI Foundation) that coordinates the project that is sponsored by Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan and Open Society Foundations (New York).  The program is a combination of a computer-based screener, intervention sessions and referral tools that allow to document cases of violence against vulnerable female project participants, and conduct intervention sessions for developing in women risk reduction skills. At the sessions, women also get involved in safety planning that significantly increases their individual capacity and helps every woman feel not just like a wordless victim unable to protect herself and unwilling to refer for help for punishing the abusers, but convert her to a full-right member of the society.


On June 1 through 15 colleagues from Georgia had a nice opportunity to see the context in which WINGS of Hope work in Kyrgyzstan, communicating with the project staff and its authors, and also share their unique experience and assess how much such project is important for Georgia and what should be done for adapting it to the context of Georgia and each of participating agencies. The Georgian delegation was headed by Mari Chokheli of the Open Society Foundation-Georgia and Tamar Dekanosidze of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, and included Eka Gardapkhadze and Irina Mezvrishvili of the NGO ACESO, Irina Bregvadze of NGO Tanadgoma, and Irma Aladashvili, the Head of Legal Provision, Public and Donor Relations Department of the State Fund for Protection and Assistance of (statutory) Victims of Human Trafficking.


The 3-day study tour agenda included plenary meeting, site visits and a strategic planning session. Open discussions and dozen of presentations demonstrated relevance of the WINGS and its applicability to the context of Georgia. The guests were impressed by collaboration of the local NGOs Asteria, Podruga, Chance, Socium, Plus Center and Positive Dialogue, and sincerely appreciated the opportunity to see the professional accomplishments that we are proud with. The coordinators from the Public Health Program at Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan highlighted that we are open to keep sharing the experience with our colleagues in Georgia and provide them with technical and consultation support.


We have a lot to do yet. The level of Gender-based violence among female drug users and sex workers is too high, and makes us to start thinking whether everything is all right with the community whose “mainstream” members chose to abuse women who don’t have any access to the services that exist in the country at least at minimal rate. These services are available to wealthy and socially protected people, but women who use drugs and are engaged in sex work do not have such opportunity. That is why it is nice to have a project like WINGS of Hope that helps coping with multiple issues.


You can email GLORI Foundation that coordinates WINGS of Hope in Kyrgyzstan, with any questions regarding project specifics, findings or available methodological resources, via globalresearchinstitute.kg@gmail.com .