FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

“There is always a way”

Samira lives in a very remote village in Kyrgyzstan with her husband and four children. They grow vegetables in a small greenhouse to feed the family. In addition, Samira works at the bakery with 10 other women – they bake bread for the local school. This might sound like “a typical life” in a rural setting, but their life was not like this before.

Samira’s husband, Amir, is a farmer, but for the last three years he has not been successful with the agricultural land he rents. Their area is severely affected by climate change. Sudden water shortages and unusual dryness have burned the crops and the family has barely been able to feed themselves during the last few winters. Many people, especially young people, have already left. Amir, under societal pressure to provide for the family, lost all hope. It was not possible to move out and seek better opportunities due to a lack of financial means.

Gradually, he started to drink heavily.

“These were difficult times,” Samira recollects. “I did not know what to do and all I could do was asking for help from my parents. When Amir found out, he became furious. My children and I were shouted at often. It was really scary. And what could I do? All I knew was a regular “women’s” routine: to bring water, cook, clean the house, and look after the children. When there were possibilities, I helped my husband in the field, while our kids were at school.”

A decisive moment came when Samir became part of the UN Joint Programme on rural women’s economic empowerment supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), FAO, UN Women, and World Food Programme (WFP) and helping the most vulnerable households. With this, Samira received training in crop production, participated in the call for grant funding, and received support to build the greenhouse. With her husband’s support, Samira has joined the bakery cooperative together with other local project beneficiary women.

“It turns out, there is always a way,” she smiles. “With some support, to fulfil at least the basic needs, the stress of extreme financial hardship releases and so do the tensions and triggers within the family.”

In Europe and Central Asia, gender-based violence (GBV) is as widespread as it is globally. Unequal power relations between men and women play a critical role in the causes, often exacerbated by food insecurity and poverty, especially in rural areas. Gender-based violence has severe consequences not only for victims and survivors, but also for their families and communities. According to FAO, it affects the health, resilience and productive capacity of survivors negatively, and has a devastating impact on agricultural productivity, food security, and nutrition.

The COVID-19 pandemic has widened beyond a health crisis to severely impact the economy, labour markets, and even social issues, putting women’s safety, employment, and livelihoods under serious threat. In response to these challenges, FAO has released a policy paper on the gendered impact of the pandemic on agriculture, food security, and nutrition. Alongside a discussion of policy issues, the paper recommends addressing gender-based violence through data collection, strengthening awareness raising and the capacity of partners and affected populations, adopting the “do no harm” principle, and prioritizing risk mitigation strategies.

As an example of the policy advice in practice, FAO designed a project in Kyrgyzstan on family poultry development that  takes into consideration the available data and engages beneficiaries in the design and gender equality sensitization already at the inception phase. It embraced the idea of engaging men to support their spouses in income-generating activities and childcare to balance the workload of women and men in the family.

In Turkey, an FAO project on employment opportunities established a simple feedback mechanism for women and men to report cases of mismanagement, misconduct, and/or sexual harassment during the project’s implementation.

Since 2015, FAO participated in the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaigns in Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, and Turkey. This well-known initiative that runs each year from 25 November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) to 10 December (Human Rights Day), demonstrates that violence against women is a pervasive breach of human rights that affects women and families around the world.

Every year, awareness raising events target decision-makers and different institutions, the media, and the general public through sports events, social media messaging, the Orange the World campaign, and many more.

FAO, together with other United Nations development partners, continues its work to support livelihoods, economic development, and life skills training with individuals like Samira and Amir, and other groups that are most at risk of gender-based violence. The Organization strives to ensure that proposed actions address the specific needs of women and men and map local women’s organizations for future potential collaboration or gender-based violence referrals.

More information about FAO’s activities in supporting the elimination of GBV.

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25 November 2020, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan