Abstract: "Since You Are Alive, What's the Problem?": A Qualitative Study on the Impact of Culture on Domestic Violence and Mitigation Efforts in Kyrgyzstan (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

575P "Since You Are Alive, What's the Problem?": A Qualitative Study on the Impact of Culture on Domestic Violence and Mitigation Efforts in Kyrgyzstan

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Saltanat Childress, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas-Arlington School of Social Work, Arlington, TX
Nibedita Shrestha, M.Phil, Graduate Teaching Assistant, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Kanykei Kenensarieva, MA, Research Assistant, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Background: Domestic violence (DV) is a widespread problem with adverse physical, mental and emotional health effects. Women everywhere are vulnerable to violence, but the risk of DV is magnified in traditional, patriarchal cultures such as Kyrgyzstan that maintain strict gender roles and display higher levels of tolerance. In spite of widespread underreporting, data suggest that more than one in four women will face physical and/or sexual violence in her lifetime. Researchers cite culture as the main reason why mitigation efforts fail, even when institutional and legal frameworks are strong. Despite the importance of the role of culture in violence, there is a lack of literature on cultural factors and their impact on the perpetration of violence. This paper helps to fill the gap in literature by examining DV from cultural perspective, its risk factors, and mitigation efforts as explained by frontline professionals.

Method: This study used a qualitative, grounded theory methodology. The sample included 60 expert interviews held with professionals in the criminal justice, public health, education, and social welfare sectors. The interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and translated into English from Kyrgyz and Russian. Data were analyzed using constant comparative method using Nvivo12 software.

Findings: Data analysis reveals that women in Kyrgyzstan are frequently victims of physical, psychological, sexual and economic violence. Findings reveal four cultural patterns which prevent help-seeking and perpetuate violence: 1) a pervasive culture of silence wherein the victims quietly suffer without reporting the incidence to authorities or family members; 2) the subservient role of women in which women are relegated to household chores and raising children; 3) the control and exploitation from in-laws; and 4) the widespread cultural acceptance of DV as a natural part of married life. Results indicate that a lack of trust between the victims and the police results in few official reports of violence cases and a negligible conviction rate of the perpetrators. Findings indicate victims do not leave the abusive relationship because of multiple factors, including the strong stigma associated with divorce, economic dependence on the perpetrators, lack of property rights for women, fear of losing children, victim blaming, and absence of social support.

Conclusion and implications: Findings highlight the critical importance of social and cultural norms on the behavior and decisions of victims, including (1) women continuing to stay in abusive relationships, (2) perpetuating the culture of silence because of shame, and (3) preventing help-seeking and normalizing violence in marriages. Findings indicate that it is imperative for social workers to collaborate with victims to develop and implement culturally appropriate interventions that are more likely to be successful such as marriage counseling and (co)parenting education, involving family members for social support, advocating for property rights for women and making it acceptable to talk about violence, and safety planning for survivors who wish to leave. Findings suggest that an important area of intervention directed at men could be implemented through gender sensitizing education to modify men’s culturally-sanctioned entitlement of abuse through cognitive reframing based on empathy, compassion, and equal rights.