Last September, UNDP invited FutureGov to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to bring new ways of working to government public services. Just before Christmas, Simone and I returned to help explore a new project around prototyping in gender-based violence centres.
Gender-based violence in Kyrgyzstan is a massive, complex, deeply-rooted issue. It can be the biggest thing in one person’s life or swept under the carpet for another. It’s so widespread that it’s seen as normal, expected, nothing special to make any noise about. We found that “most Kyrgyz women live like this, it’s not surprising” (statistics say 84%). And while we all felt a bit rocked by the stories we heard, I don’t think any of us were surprised. Which is heartbreaking in itself.
Everyone has a story, here’s mine
We ran two days of user research sessions with women who have experienced gender-based violence and three days of staff workshops. We developed ideas to be taken back to centres and a project platform outline for local and national organisations.
Although the process of running research and then staff workshops is very familiar to me, I learned a lot about running them in a different setting.
Translation is hard
Simultaneous translation takes getting used to. You have to adjust your language, accent and way of asking questions. In an interview, it’s easy to speak to the translator and not the person asking or answering questions. It’s unsettling. Eye contact is crucial. In a safe space, people are generally willing to share their story, but the breaks in rhythm needed for translation made follow-up questions difficult because our interviewee was ready to share their next story. It must have been exhausting for the interpreter.
I have biases
There are four generations of police officers in my family. I was raised to trust in the justice process, to believe in and work with victims, to listen when a woman tells a story (because she’s usually got more to add). I also live in a place where psychological abuse is convicted as strongly as physical violence. For this trip, I knew I needed to hold these views separately as I listened and learned.
As a researcher, I was prepared to pause and ask for more information. This allowed the space for me to discover more about how police practices affect the way women are treated when reporting an incident. If a woman presents herself without any signs of physical struggle (i.e. ripped clothing or bruises) a consensual relationship is assumed. Regardless of her testimony, she might be turned away and the incident will go unreported.