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Across Europe and Central Asia, a combination of lack of sufficient legal frameworks and policy measures, as well as the inadequate implementation of existing laws leave women and girls vulnerable to violence and discrimination.

Overview

Governments are failing to protect women and girls from violence and discrimination. Intersecting forms of discrimination, including on the basis of race, immigration status, disability, sexuality, and gender identity, can leave women and girls facing additional barriers to justice.

Though international human rights law, including the CEDAW Committee and the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention, provide strong frameworks for combatting violence against women including a consent-based definition of rape, many countries retain definitions requiring the use of force, threats, and abusing helplessness and in most countries in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, rape committed through coercion is not defined as rape but as some other light crime. 

The Istanbul Convention has not been universally ratified across Europe and only three countries of the former Soviet Union, namely Estonia, Georgia, and Moldova have adopted it. 

Equality Now in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia at a glance

Analyzing rape laws across Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Our 2019 report, Roadblocks to Justice, found rape laws across the countries of the former Soviet Union are failing to protect women and girls

Improving outcomes in sexual violence cases. Together with partners in Georgia, in 2021 we produced a manual for investigators, prosecutors, and judges, as well as conducting specialized training for investigators and prosecutors.

Holding governments accountable for protecting women and girls from sexual violence. Through international advocacy, we’ve brought the issue of sexual violence across many countries of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia to the attention of UN Human Rights mechanisms and mobilized support locally in partnership with local human rights organizations.

Achieving Legal Equality

Though there has been progress toward ensuring formal equality, most of the countries do not have legal provisions to provide for substantive equality

Ending Sexual Exploitation

Online sexual exploitation and abuse is a growing issue for women and girls across the region

Ending Sexual Violence

Sexual violence remains endemic, and many countries across the region have force-based, rather than consent-based definitions of rape and discriminatory criminal procedures

Ending Harmful Practices

Women and girls are living with the consequences of FGM in some parts of the region. Girls are also at risk of child marriage and bride kidnappings, particularly across Central Asia and the Caucasus

Our work

Equality Now works with partners, particularly across Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, including civil society organizations and relevant duty bearers and governments, to strengthen legal frameworks around sexual violence, harmful practices, and sexual exploitation, as well as addressing explicit discrimination in the law.

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Key resources

A Culture of Shame: Sexual Violence and Access to Justice in Uzbekistan

Around the world, rape and sexual abuse are everyday violent occurrences. Rape is always an act of violence and an expression of power and control. However, the way laws are framed in many countries …

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Ending Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Women and Girls: A Call for International Standards

Online sexual exploitation and abuse are growing at an alarming pace globally. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable as offenders take advantage of the sex, gender, …

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Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom (UK) is a key player in the fight against online child sexual exploitation and abuse. Their Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy 2021 outlines the government’s ambitious objectives to address all forms …

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Countries

Equality Now works with partners across the region, including the European Union and the Council of Europe, to hold governments accountable for protecting the rights of women and girls. Explore progress towards gender equality across the region.

Georgia

Despite the progress achieved in improving legal framework and mechanisms to combat violence against women in recent years (including ratification of the Istanbul Convention in 2017), Georgia’s legal system still faces challeges in ensuring access to justice and providing protection to survivors.

26% of women reported having experienced sexual violence and/or sexual harassment by a non-partner, including sexual abuse as a child

The definition of rape in Georgia still relies on the use of force, threats and abusing helplessness

Child marriages are still prevalent and there are incidents of forced marriages, including bride kidnappings

Key Resources for Georgia

Effectively Investigating, Prosecuting and Adjudicating Sexual Violence Cases: A Manual for Practitioners in Georgia

Effectively Investigating, Prosecuting and Adjudicating Sexual Violence Cases: A Manual for Practitioners in Georgia was developed as a result…

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Georgia – Submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child – 90th Session September 2021

This submission details our concerns with regard to access to justice for sexual violence against children and adolescent girls, including in the context of…

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Amicus Brief Against Using Defamation to Silence Survivors of Gender-Based Violence and Discrimination in Georgia

On 23 June 2021, Equality Now submitted this amicus brief at the Supreme Court of Georgia in regards to the case in which, as a result of the defamation…

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Kazakhstan

The law in Kazakhstan provides an inadequate and limited definition of sexual violence, leaving many survivors of a range of sexual violence crimes, including child marriage and bride kidnapping, without access to justice.

The law in Kazakhstan allows the possibility for reconciliation, even in cases of sexual violence, leaving perpetrators unpunished.

As in Russia, some forms of domestic violence were decriminalized in Kazakhstan in 2017.

Despite the minimum age of marriage being 18, child marriage and bride kidnapping remains common in Kazakhstan

Key Resources for Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan – joint submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) 74th Session October 2019

This submission details concerns with regard to laws related to rape and other forms of sexual violence…

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Kazakhstan – Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review 34th Session October 2019

The submission deals with our concerns with regard to laws related to rape and other forms of sexual violence and practices which effectively deny access to justice for survivors…

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Roadblocks To Justice: How The Law Is Failing Survivors Of Sexual Violence In Eurasia

Released in January 2019, this report contains a general overview of the laws on sexual violence in the 15 countries of the former Soviet Union and analysis of gaps in the law and examples…

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Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan’s legal system provides a number of opportunities for perpetrators to escape criminal liability or punishment, inlcuding an inadequate and limited definition of sexual violence.

Kyrgyzstan’s criminal code understands rape to be as penile-vaginal penetration, committed by use of force, threat of force and abusing helplessness.

Child marriage and bride kidnapping remain common in Kyrgyzstan, despite the minimum age of marriage being 18

Law enforcement and courts also interpret a lack of additional physical violence in cases where rape is alleged as consent to sexual intercourse

Key Resources for Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan – joint submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women 76th Session June 2020

This submission covers concerns in regard to laws related to rape and other forms of sexual violence and procedures and practices which…

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Kyrgyzstan – joint submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women – November 2019

This submission details concerns with regard to laws related to rape and other forms of sexual violence and procedures and…

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Kyrgyzstan – joint submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review 35th Session – January 2020

This submission deals with our concerns with regard to definitions of sexual violence crimes enabling impunity for perpetrators, legal provisions…

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Russia

Russia is failing in its obligations to protect women and girls from gender-based violence and discrimination, for example, Russia has not yet enacted a domestic violence law.

Though 1,240 girls are estimated to be at risk of FGM every year, there is currently no specific law in Russia against FGM

Russia’s sexual violence laws are based on use of force, threat of force and helplessness, violating international human rights law

Women are restricted by law to enter certain professions

Key Resources for Russia

Russia – Submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) 81st Session 2021

The legal provisions and practices detailed in our report highlight the failure of the State to comply with its duty to provide equal protection…

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Russia CAT Submission 2021

Our joint submission details our concerns with regard to laws related to rape and other forms of sexual violence and procedures and practices which effectively deny access to justice for survivors of sexual violence. Russia’s legal system continues to provide a…

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Letter to General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation Regarding the Khachaturian Sisters Case

Equality Now wrote to the General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation in July 2020 in relation to the investigation into the case of the Khachaturian sisters – Maria,…

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Tajikistan

Tajikistan’s legal system effectively denies access to justice for sexual violence with a limited definition of rape and disriminatory procedures.

The definition of rape under Tajikistan law focuses on the use of violence, threat of violence, and abusing the helplessness of the victim, rather than focusing on the absence of free and voluntary consent

The law in Tajikistan allows the possibility for reconciliation for sexual violence, leaving perpetrators unpunished

Although the minimum age of marriage is 18, with some exceptions, child marriage and bride kidnapping remain common in Tajikistan

Key Resources for Tajikistan

Roadblocks To Justice: How The Law Is Failing Survivors Of Sexual Violence In Eurasia

Released in January 2019, this report contains a general overview of the laws on sexual violence in the 15 countries of the former Soviet Union and analysis of gaps in the law and examples…

READ MORE

Uzbekistan

Despite recent developments to put in place a framework to protect women’s rights and to combat gender-based violence, Uzbekistan’s legal system continues to provide a number of opportunities for perpetrators to go unpunished and victims are not provided with adequate support.

The definition of rape under Uzbekistan law focuses on the use of violence, threat of violence, and abusing the helplessness of the victim, rather than focusing on the absence of free and voluntary consent.

Although the minimum age of marriage is 18, with some exceptions, child marriage still remains common in Uzbekistan

The law in Uzbekistan allows the possibility for reconciliation for sexual violence, leaving perpetrators unpunished

Key Resources for Uzbekistan

A Culture of Shame: Sexual Violence and Access to Justice in Uzbekistan

Around the world, rape and sexual abuse are everyday violent occurrences. Rape is always an act of violence and an expression of power and control. However, the way laws are framed in many countries…

READ MORE

Uzbekistan – joint submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) 78th Session 2020

This submission details our concerns with regard to laws related to rape and other forms of sexual violence and…

READ MORE

Roadblocks To Justice: How The Law Is Failing Survivors Of Sexual Violence In Eurasia

Released in January 2019, this report contains a general overview of the laws on sexual violence in the 15 countries of the former Soviet Union and analysis of gaps in the law and examples…

READ MORE

Stories

Hear from some of the incredible survivors and activists committed to raising their voices to make equality reality across Europe and Central Asia, and around the world.

white hands with red nail polish hold a mobile phone near a laptop keyboard

Louise – United Kingdom

I don’t remember anyone speaking to me at school about online safety. The focus was on stranger danger, not about the guy on the internet. I was around nine when I first went on an online chatroom. You were supposed to be over 13 to join but I didn’t have …

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A hand with pink painted fingernails taps on a smartphone resting on a black table.

Cassie – United Kingdom

We got our first computer when I was around ten. Chatrooms were a big thing. You’d get private messages from people you didn’t know and have conversations. It didn’t seem a big deal. We never had lessons about online safety, so we didn’t know that …

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person's hands holding a smartphone in a dark room

Ruby – United Kingdom

This interview was shared with Equality Now through #myimagemychoice, a survivor-led coalition asking for trauma-informed global laws and policy on intimate image abuse. I’m a 28-years-old teacher and I first became aware of explicit images being shared …

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Mariam – Armenia

Equality Now has the privilege to partner with women’s rights activists from around the world. We’re sharing their unique perspectives and challenges advocating for change in their communities. We spoke to Mariam Torosyan, CEO & Founder at Safe YOU / Impact …

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None of us can afford to sit back and wait for equality to arrive – we need to act now. Only by working together will we achieve the legal and systemic change needed to address violence and discrimination against women and girls.

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Social change begins with legal change and people like you — raising your voice against injustice — play a vital role in our collective success.