Chapter 6. Restricted civil liberties

This chapter presents an overview of discrimination against women’s civil liberties in Eurasia. It examines discriminatory social institutions – formal and informal laws, social norms and practices – that obstruct women’s access to, participation and voice in the public and social spheres across 12 countries, covering areas such as citizenship rights, political voice, freedom of movement and access to justice. The chapter seeks to provide policy makers with the necessary tools and evidence to design effective gender-responsive policies in order to strengthen women’s political participation and civil liberties.



Box 6.1. Measuring women’s restricted civil liberties

The restricted civil liberties (RCL) sub-index captures discriminatory laws and practices restricting women’s access to, participation and voice in the public and social spheres. It encompasses laws, practices and social norms that restrict the mobility or movement of women and girls and that limit their access to the public space, including their ability to travel or apply for a passport.

The civil liberties sub-index is composed of four indicators, all of which take into account non-statutory (societal) discrimination against women in traditional, religious and customary laws and practices.

  • Citizenship rights” captures the level of legal discrimination against women regarding their citizenship rights and ability to exercise these rights in practice.

  • Political voice” captures the level of legal discrimination against women with respect to their political participation and right to vote, as well as their representation in national parliaments.

  • Freedom of movement” captures the formal and informal restrictions that limit women’s freedom of movement and access to public space, such as restricted ability to apply for a passport or travel outside the country.

  • Access to justice” captures discrimination against women’s rights to access justice and opportunity to benefit from justice systems, including religious and customary courts.

Figure 6.1. Level of discrimination regarding women’s civil liberties
Figure 6.1. Level of discrimination regarding women’s civil liberties

Note: Higher SIGI values indicate higher inequality: the SIGI ranges from 0% for no discrimination to 100% for absolute discrimination. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Mongolia and Uzbekistan have low levels of discrimination (10-25%). Tajikistan and Ukraine have medium levels of discrimination (25-50%), and Turkmenistan is not rank due to missing data. For more information see Annex A, Table A1.

Source: OECD (2019), Gender, Institutions and Development Database,

Women and men in Eurasia enjoy similar civil liberties. The regional average in the restricted civil liberties sub-index is the second best of the four SIGI sub-indices. With a discrimination level of 21%, the region performs better than the global average (29%). Discrimination is evenly spread across the sub-regions: scores range from 20% in the Caucasus and in Eastern Europe to 22% in Central Asia (Figure 6.1). All 11 of the countries1 ranked in this sub-index show a low or a medium level of discrimination. Moldova is the best performer with a score of 11%. Nine countries follow with a low level of discrimination (from 18% in Kyrgyzstan to 25% in Tajikistan), while Ukraine (29%) lags behind. The three sub-regions perform similarly in the four indicators of this sub-index (Figure 6.2). For example, discrimination against women’s freedom of movement ranges from 15% in the Caucasus to 18% in Eastern Europe.

Women’s political voice faces the most discrimination across all sub-regions. With an average level of discrimination of 46% in the political voice indicator, women are not perceived in Eurasia as being capable political leaders (by 62% for the population, from 54% in Eastern Europe to 70% in Central Asia) and remain under-represented in national parliaments (they occupy 19% of parliamentary seats, with little sub-regional variation). However, women and men in all countries have the same citizenship rights. Women’s access to justice and freedom of movement are somewhat limited in practice (15% and 16% in the respective indicators), but discrimination remains low.

Figure 6.2. SIGI results in the “restricted civil liberties” indicators
Figure 6.2. SIGI results in the “restricted civil liberties” indicators

Note: Sub-regional and world averages in the four restricted civil liberties indicators. For more information see Box 6.1.

Source: OECD (2019), Gender, Institutions and Development Database,

Moldova is the best performer of the region, with a discrimination level of 11% in this sub-index. Women and men can equally acquire, change and retain their nationality and confer it on their non-citizen spouse and children. They have the same freedom of movement and can apply for a national identity card and passport in the same conditions. The country’s commitment to reaching gender equality in public life culminated in 2016 with the adoption of Law No. 71 strengthening non-discrimination requirements in several areas. The law notably introduced a 40% gender quota for candidate lists for national and local elections. Nonetheless, 51% of the population believe that women are less capable political leaders than men. Women hold only 23% of the parliament seats, and they are more likely than men to feel unsafe alone at night in the street.

Citizenship rights

Key messages

  • Women and men have the same citizenship rights in all countries. No traditional, religious and customary laws and practices infringe upon these rights.

  • Other issues affect women and men alike in some Eastern European and Central Asian countries, such as low birth registration or high rates of statelessness.

Key policy recommendations

  • Continue efforts to register all citizens, both at birth and at later stages of life (Box 6.3).

  • Ensure that all people are aware of birth registration requirements and that they are able to access registration services.

  • Target isolated population groups where registration is lower, through initiatives such as the campaign targeting the Azeri community in Georgia.

Box 6.2. International standards concerning nationality rights

The right to a nationality is paramount to the realisation of other fundamental rights such as education, social security, employment or political participation. Equality between men and women in this regard is mandatory under a number of international agreements.

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states that “everyone has the right to a nationality” and that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality” (Art. 15).

  • The Convention on the Nationality of Married Women (1957), ratified or accessed by six Eurasian countries, specifies that “neither the celebration nor the dissolution of a marriage [...] shall automatically affect the nationality of the wife” (Art. 1).

  • The CEDAW (1979), ratified or accessed by all 12 countries, explicitly calls upon States Parties to “grant women equal rights with men to acquire, change or retain their nationality”, as well as to “grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children” (Art. 9).

  • Resolution 32/7 adopted by the UN Human Rights Council (2016) urges States to “adopt and implement nationality legislation consistent with their obligations under international law, including with respect to the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls in nationality-related matters” (Para. 3).

In-depth analysis of citizenship rights

Women and men have equal citizenship rights in Eurasia. Every country in the region complies with international standards (Box 6.2) and provides women with the same rights as men to acquire, change and retain their nationality, as well as to confer their nationality on their non-citizen spouse and children born within and outside of their territories. The law applies to all groups of women and there is no evidence of non-statutory (societal) discrimination against women in traditional, religious and customary laws and practices.

Birth registration is generally high. Across the region, some 98% of children under 5 are registered (World Bank, n.d.[1]). Birth registration rates have traditionally been high in the region and efforts in the last two decades have been devoted to reaching marginalised population groups. There are no significant differences in registration between boys and girls; urban and rural areas; and household income levels (UNICEF, 2013[2]). However, an estimated 700 000 Eurasian children are unregistered, most of them in Tajikistan, where 12% of children are not officially registered. Non-registration of the birth of child has a wide range of dramatic effects, including no civil rights, lack of access to public services such as health care and education, or increased risk of human trafficking and child marriage.

Statelessness is a major issue in some countries. An estimated 160 000 persons in the region are not considered as nationals by any state under the operation of its law. Although it is difficult to know the exact numbers, approximately 85 000 stateless persons live in Uzbekistan, 35 000 in Ukraine, 10 000 in Tajikistan and 30 000 across the other countries (UNHCR, 2018[3]) (Figure 6.3). Unlike in some other regions of the world, where discriminatory nationality laws are often at the origin of statelessness, in Eurasia many people became stateless as a result of not having obtained national documentation upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This affected men and women alike. However, stateless women are often more vulnerable than men to a range of issues, such as human trafficking, child marriage or poor access to healthcare services. In addition, in many households, it is often male family members who obtain an identity document to seek employment abroad, while women engage in informal work opportunities that do not require identity documents. Moreover, women who are living in an informal union because they do not have the papers necessary for official marriage registration have no recourse to the rights and compensations of divorce (UNHCR, 2011[4]).

Figure 6.3. Number of stateless persons by country
Figure 6.3. Number of stateless persons by country

Note: Estimated number of stateless persons living in each country as of the end of 2017. Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia are not shown as there as less than 1 000 registered stateless persons in these countries.

Source: UNHCR (2018), Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2017,

Box 6.3. Government-led campaigns to address statelessness in Turkmenistan
Thousands of citizens with undetermined nationality moved to Turkmenistan during Soviet times and were left stateless following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. In addition, the nationality law of neighbouring Uzbekistan requires the country’s nationals who establish permanent residence abroad to register with an Uzbek consulate within five years or lose their nationality. Many Uzbek citizens living in Turkmenistan were not aware of this requirement and thus lost their citizenship. As a result of both of these factors, thousands of stateless persons were living in Turkmenistan as of 2007.

To address this issue, the Turkmen government and partners, in particular the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), organised several identification and registration campaigns over the years. A 2007-10 campaign allowed the registration of 4 000 persons. An Action Plan for Joint Activities on Prevention and Reduction of Statelessness was adopted in 2010, and the 2007 campaign was scaled up for the period 2011-14. In addition to the UNHCR, the government partnered with a national NGO, local authorities, village administrators and the embassies of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries to deploy stationary and mobile teams to more than 70 registrations points throughout all provinces in order to assist individuals with the registration and application process. During this campaign, thousands more people received Turkmen nationality.

The review of applications is ongoing, and the government continues to affirm its commitment to addressing statelessness. In 2011, the country acceded to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and in 2012 to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. In 2013, the government adopted a new Citizenship Law incorporating several safeguards to prevent statelessness.

Source: UNHCR (2019), UNHCR Population Statistics Database,; UNHCR (2014), Ending Statelessness Within 10 Years: Good Practices Paper Action I,

Political voice

Key messages

  • Most countries are committed to strengthening women’s political voice. Legal measures to promote gender-balanced representation in elected public offices exist at the national level in seven countries and at the local level in eight countries2 across the three sub-regions. Four countries3 have introduced or strengthened this type of measure since 2014.

  • But quotas have not been enforced because of legal loopholes. No country has achieved the targeted female representation in parliament.

  • Women remain underrepresented in political life. They occupy only 19% of parliamentary seats in the region, and Belarus is the only country where women represent more than 30% of members of parliament. Women’s political representation ranges from 17% in the Caucasus to 21% in Central Asia.

  • Women’s political leadership abilities are still underestimated due to discriminatory social norms that place women in the home and men in the public space. In all countries, more than half of the population believes that a man makes a better political leader than a woman.

  • Moldova is the best regional performer. Women and men have the same rights to participate in the political life of the country, and a 40% gender quota for candidate lists for national and local elections has been in place since 2016. But with a discrimination level of 31% in this indicator, the country ranks 42nd at the world level. Stereotypes regarding the role women should play in the society are entrenched: 51% of the population think that women do not make as capable leaders as men, and women occupy fewer than 23% of seats in the parliament.

Key policy recommendations

  • Introduce temporary special measures such as quotas, reserved seats and requirements for political parties to include women on candidate lists and to fast-track women’s representation in national parliaments and local decision-making entities.

  • Supplement quotas with rules and monitoring. Rules should be established concerning candidates’ rank order on lists (women must be placed in winnable positions) and candidates’ replacement (a retiring member should be replaced by the next one on the party list from the least represented sex). This should be supported by dedicated funding and accompanied by enforcement and monitoring mechanisms. Sanctions for non-compliance, in particular rejection of candidate lists, have proven more effective than financial incentives.

  • Implement measures to shift mentalities. Measures are necessary to overcome discriminatory perceptions of women’s ability to be competent political leaders (Box 6.5). Recognition of the role women play in policy- and decision-making processes should be promoted and female role models should be spotlighted. Girls’ and women’s participation should be encouraged in schools, universities and corporations, and civil society organisations should foster women’s leadership skills and highlight their presence in decision-making spheres.

  • Implement measures to support women who wish to run for election, such as leadership training or financial support for campaign expenditures. For example, the joint EU-UNDP programme “Women in Local Democracy” in Armenia is designed to enhance women’s participation in local governance. It provided training, consultations and networking events to 133 women candidates and helped to elect 87 of them as heads of community and members of local councils.

Box 6.4. International standards concerning equal access in politics and government

Women’s presence in politics and government decision-making structures is positive for democratic governance and for education, infrastructure and health standards. This is acknowledged by the international community.

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states that “everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country” and “to equal access to public service in his country” (Art. 21).

  • The Convention on the Political Rights of Women (1952), ratified or accessed by all Eurasian countries but Azerbaijan, establishes that women shall be “entitled to vote in all elections”, “eligible for election to all publicly elected bodies” and “entitled to hold public office and to exercise all public functions” on equal terms with men (Art. 1, 2 & 3).

  • The CEDAW (1979), ratified or accessed by all 12 countries, calls on States Parties to “take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country” (Art. 7). In its General Recommendation No. 23 (1997), it further encourages “the use of temporary special measures in order to give full effect to Articles 7 and 8”.

  • The Beijing Platform for Action (1995) lists women in power and decision-making among its 12 strategic objectives. Specifically, it enjoins states to take measures “that encourage political parties to integrate women in elective and non-elective public positions in the same proportion and at the same level as men” (Strategic Objective G.1.b).

  • The UN General Assembly Resolution 66/130 on women and political participation (2012) calls upon States to “enhance the political participation of women” (Para 3).

  • SDG Target 5.5 explicitly calls on States to “ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life”.

In-depth analysis of political voice

Countries are increasingly acting to strengthen women’s political voice, as encouraged by international treaties (Box 6.4). All women in the region have the right to vote and to hold public and political office in parliament, the public administration and government. To help ensure that these rights translate into gender-balanced representation in elected public office, eight countries4 across the three sub-regions have instituted measures to promote women’s political participation. Six countries instituted mandatory legislated quotas under which party lists of candidates for national and local elections must contain no fewer than 20% of candidates of either sex (Mongolia), 30% (Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan) or 40% (Moldova). Some countries instituted measures to encourage parties to comply with the quotas, such as financial incentives (e.g. in Moldova, parties that respect the 40% quota benefit from 10% additional funding) or sanctions for non-compliance (e.g. in Mongolia, candidate lists that do not comply with the 20% quota will not be registered for the elections). In Georgia, the legislation provides 30% supplementary funding to parties that present lists where at least 30% of the candidates are women. In Azerbaijan, there are reserved seats for women in local governments. Four countries have reinforced political commitments in this area since 2014: Georgia increased the additional funding from 10% to 30% in 2014; Ukraine introduced a gender quota at the local level in 2015; Moldova introduced a quota for national and local elections in 2016; and Armenia increased its quota from 20% to 30% in 2016. However, four countries (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan) have no special measures to promote women’s political participation.

Box 6.5. Legal measures to fight discriminatory norms in Moldova

Women in Moldova occupy only 23% of the seats in parliament and 22% of ministerial positions (NBS, 2019[5]). To enhance gender equality, the parliament passed Law No. 71 in 2016. The law introduced amendments to favour gender equality in the public and economic spheres in 15 legal documents, including the Electoral Code, the Law on Government and the Labour Code.

Most notably, this reform introduced a 40% quota for party lists of candidates and for cabinet nominees. In addition, recognising that discriminatory social norms are a major barrier to equality in practice, Law No. 71 introduced provisions prohibiting the use of sexist language and advertising, and established fines for individuals, civil servants and legal entities that do not comply.

Separately, a 2013 project in Moldova, called “Mass-media institutions self-assessment through gender dimension”, analysed the representation of men and women in print and online media. The 17 largest Moldovan mass-media institutions participated in a monthly self-assessment process to evaluate women’s representation in their publications. At the beginning of the project, fewer than 17% of articles published had a female protagonist. Nine months later, 29% did (API, 2013[6]) .

Source: UN Women (2016), “Moldova takes historic step to promote gender equality in politics”, (accessed 7 March 2019).

Women are still under-represented in political life. In all countries, women are less likely than men to stand for political office and to be elected (COE, 2016[7]). They occupy 19% of parliamentary seats across the region. Female representation is slightly higher in Central Asia (21% of MPs) than in Eastern Europe (18%) and the Caucasus (17%), but in all sub-regions it remains below the global average of 23%. Only three countries stand above this average (Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Belarus) and only one country (Belarus) has reached the 30% mark for female representation in the parliament.

Quotas have not yet translated in gender-balanced political representation. Across the region, there is no direct correlation between legislative quotas and the number of women in parliament (Figure 6.4). Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Belarus are the three countries with the highest female representation, yet they are also three of the four countries that did not enforce quotas or other special measures to boost women’s representation. In the eight countries that did introduce special measures, women remain less represented than required under the legislation. Quotas are important to help compensate for the discriminatory social institutions that confront women who participate in politics, but these quotas need to be properly enforced. Legal loopholes often cause female candidates to be evicted from the lists. In Armenia for example, candidate lists must contain at least 30% of candidates of both genders in every integer group of five candidates. However, women candidates often withdraw after the list has been registered and are replaced by men, as the law does not require the original gender proportions to be maintained (COE, 2016[7]).

Figure 6.4. Women’s political representation and quotas
Figure 6.4. Women’s political representation and quotas

Note: Female share of seats in national parliaments, by whether the government introduced special measures to promote women's political representation.

Source: OECD (2019), Gender, Institutions and Development Database,

Discriminatory social norms and practices limit women’s participation in politics. Across the region, 62% of the population believe that men make better political leaders than women do, from 51% in Moldova to 75% in Uzbekistan. Discriminatory attitudes are more prevalent in Central Asia (70% of the population) and the Caucasus (65%) than in Eastern Europe (54%). Stereotypical views of the role men and women should play in society are major barriers to women’s effective participation in political and public life (COE, 2016[7]). Women are primarily seen as caregivers whose place belongs in the home (85% of women and 81% of men think that being a housewife is just as fulfilling as working for pay), while men are seen as breadwinners and decision makers. No country’s laws provide for training for women to support their effective participation in political and public life. As women generally have fewer financial resources than men (see Chapter 5), they also face higher economic barriers to stand as candidates or run a campaign. In some countries (e.g. Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine and Tajikistan), candidates for an election must pay an electoral deposit, which can be prohibitive for some women.

Freedom of movement

Key messages

  • Women and men share the same rights to freedom of movement and to identity and travel documents in all countries.

  • But in reality women are less free than men to access public places. Due to discriminatory social norms, women are seen as caregivers who belong at home.

  • Women face more challenges in accessing public spaces. Public spaces and infrastructure are not built to best answer women’s needs: women represent 69% of the people who do not feel safe alone at night in their neighbourhood, from 65% in the Caucasus to 68% in Central Asia and 72% in Eastern Europe.

  • The best performer in this indicator is Turkmenistan. As in the rest of the region, women and men have the same rights to apply for passports for themselves and their minor children, and to travel outside the country. However, Turkmenistan performs better in this indicator because it is the only country where women in general do not feel less safe than men.

Key policy recommendations

  • Organise awareness-raising and information campaigns around gender-based violence, harassment and harmful stereotypes hindering women’s freedom of movement. In Georgia, the women’s rights organisation Union Sapari devised a five-month multimedia campaign to raise awareness on sexual harassment and to encourage women to come forward. A video broadcast on social media reached 100 000 viewers, and more than 90 women shared their own stories.

  • Mainstream gender equality in the design, development, implementation and evaluation of relevant public policies and budgets, and promote the participation of women in public infrastructure decision-making bodies (Box 6.7). For example, one objective of Kazakhstan’s Strategy for Gender Equality for 2006-16 was “to introduce gender approaches into the development, realisation and control over implementation of the national legislation, republican and local budgets and state, social and economic programmes”.

Box 6.6. International standards concerning freedom of movement

Freedom of movement is a universal human right and is recognised as such in various international documents.

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states that “everyone has the right to freedom of movement” and “to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country” (Art. 13).

  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), ratified or accessed by all 12 countries, reaffirms that everyone shall “have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence” and “be free to leave any country” (Art. 12).

  • The CEDAW (1979), ratified or accessed by all 12 countries, calls on States Parties to “accord to men and women the same rights with regards to the law relating to the movement of persons and the freedom to choose their residence and domicile” (Art. 15).

  • More recently, the necessity to “provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces” (SDG Target 11.7) and to “significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere” (SDG Target 16.1) has been integrated to the SDG framework.

In-depth analysis of freedom of movement

Women and men in Eurasia have the same legal rights to move freely, in line with international standards (Box 6.6). Women and men in all countries have the same rights to apply for identity cards (when applicable) and passports for themselves and their minor children, and to travel abroad. There is no evidence of customary, religious or traditional practices or laws that may interfere in women’s rights to obtain identity cards, passports and to travel abroad.

But social norms constrain women’s freedom of movement. Social norms around the role men and women should play in society are still discriminatory, notably because they place women in the home, as described in Chapter 3. Particularly in rural areas, there are reports that some women require their husband’s consent to leave the house or travel within the country. In Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, around one in three women need their husband’s permission to visit their own family or relatives (DHS, n.d.[8]).

Women’s ability to enter public space freely is reduced by a lack of gender sensibility in public infrastructure planning. Spatial and public transport planning are often carried out by men, who do not necessarily know about the use women make of these services. In Tajikistan, for instance, only 11% of division heads of the Ministry of Transport are women (ADB, 2016[9]). Yet women rely on public transportation more than men do. In Moldova, for example, women spend 76% of their travel time on public transport, compared to 40% for men (NBS, 2012[10]). Women thus face greater travel challenges, especially rural women: in Kazakhstan, 31% of rural communities do not have regular connections to towns (ADB, 2013[11]). Challenges include the distance between bus stops and low-frequency bus routes, placing isolated women at a greater risk of gender-based violence. Urban women are also at risk: a survey in the Tbilisi metro in Georgia revealed that 45% of women had experienced sexual harassment in the previous six months (ADB, 2014[12]). The gender blindness of public infrastructure planning results in a higher feeling of insecurity in public places among women. Across the region, women represent 69% of the persons who do not feel safe walking alone at night in their neighbourhood, slightly above the world average of 65%. Turkmenistan is the only country where men and women feel equally safe (Figure 6.5).

Figure 6.5. Women among population not feeling safe when walking alone at night
Figure 6.5. Women among population not feeling safe when walking alone at night

Note: Proportion of women among the total population declaring that they do not feel safe walking alone at night in the city or area where they live.

Source: OECD (2019), Gender, Institutions and Development Database,

Box 6.7. Urban planning for women with disabilities in Ukraine

More than 2.6 million persons in Ukraine live with a disability. However, a lack of reliable, sex-disaggregated and relevant disability data has limited actions by urban planners to eliminate the challenges faced by women with disabilities in accessing public spaces and services.

To address this shortcoming, UN Women, the National Assembly of People with Disabilities of Ukraine and local administrations conducted a Gender Accessibility Audit in the city of Kramatorsk. The audit identified architectural, infrastructure, information and communication barriers restricting the access of women with disabilities to public services, from a lack of ramps and elevators to a lack of staff training on non-discrimination.

The audit findings were used to inform city development programmes and the budget for 2018. The municipal authorities discussed the findings with women and men with disabilities, and they jointly identified practical measures and steps to be implemented.

Source: UN Women (2017), “Gender accessibility audit of the city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast”, (accessed 7 March 2019).

Access to justice

Key messages

  • Women have the same rights to benefit from justice systems as men do in all Eurasian countries.

  • But women face de facto discrimination when trying to access to justice. Barriers include low awareness of women’s rights, lack of gender sensitivity in law enforcement systems and discriminatory social institutions. As a result, women represent 59% of the persons who do not trust the justice system and courts of their country, from 46% in the Caucasus to an alarming 63% in Eastern Europe.

  • Recourse to local or informal dispute-resolution mechanisms further complicates women’s equal access to justice in four Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan).

  • Georgia is the best regional performer in this indicator, with a discrimination level of 0%. Women and men have identical legal rights and share the same level of trust in the justice system, and no customary, religious and traditional laws or practices appear to discriminate against women. The government has been committed to ensuring women’s access to justice, in particular in cases of domestic violence. Since 2010, the procedures of applying to court by and on behalf of victims of domestic violence have been streamlined, taking into account the particular interests of women and girls.

Key policy recommendations

  • Promote awareness of women’s rights among the population and ensure that women know how to exercise their rights. In Azerbaijan, for example, 20 regional legal advisory service centres have been established to inform women about their rights and enhance their access to free legal aid services, including in relation to violence against women.

  • Promote women’s participation at all levels of law enforcement systems. Kyrgyzstan presents a good-practice example (Box 6.9).

  • Provide mandatory gender-sensitivity training for law enforcement officials, including judges, prosecutors and police officers, on how to deal with female victims, particularly in cases of gender-based violence. Kyrgyzstan, for instance, developed training material and organised seminars under its National Action Plan on Gender Equality 2015-17 to ensure that employees of law enforcement bodies uniformly apply the law in criminal cases involving women and girls.

  • Support the alignment of rulings of customary or local courts with national legal standards. It is important to co-operate with members of these local bodies, who are often more accessible to the population and can help increase awareness of women’s rights and guide women through procedures.

Box 6.8. International and regional standards concerning equal access to justice

Access to justice encompasses the entire process of obtaining redress against the violation of a right. This includes the right and ability to bring a legal case before a judicial authority, benefit from legal aid, access courts, obtain a fair trial with an effective remedy and provide testimony.

The right to access to justice and equality between men and women in this regard is guaranteed in international instruments.

  • The CEDAW (1979), ratified or accessed by all 12 countries, calls on States Parties to “accord to women, in civil matters, a legal capacity identical to that of men and the same opportunities to exercise that capacity” (Art. 15). Its General Recommendation No. 33 (2015) recalls the “obligations of States Parties to ensure that women have access to justice”.

  • SDG Target 16.3 aims to “promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all”.

In-depth analysis of access to justice

Women and men in Eurasia have equal rights to benefit from justice systems. In all 12 countries, women and men have the same rights and potential to sue and to be sued, and to hold office in the judiciary, and a woman’s testimony carries the same evidentiary weight in court as a man’s in all types of court cases. The law mandates legal aid in civil/family matters in six countries5 and in criminal matters in all countries but Tajikistan (World Bank, 2018[13]). In addition, several countries have implemented procedural rules taking into account the particular interests of women and girls, such as closed-door hearings in cases of domestic violence (e.g. Azerbaijan, Ukraine), free legal aid in cases of domestic violence (e.g. Georgia) or if the victim is a single mother raising a minor child (e.g. Kyrgyzstan), and translation services (e.g. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan).

However, women in all countries face non-legislative barriers to accessing justice. Women face practical difficulties to enjoy rights that are not in compliance with countries’ international commitments (Box 6.8). The principal hurdle lies in low awareness about women’s rights. Not just many women, but also the public at large, including law enforcement officers, are unaware of women’s rights, remedies available to claim violations and accessible resources for legal assistance. In Tajikistan, for example, only 64% of the population knows that a wife has a right to initiate a divorce (EFCA and CRRC, 2011[14]). As a result, women often do not go to court even though they have the right to do so. In addition, the cost of accessing justice acts as a barrier for many women. In some instances, especially for women living in remote areas or in countries with a low population density, the distance to the court can also prevent them from accessing justice. A survey in Kazakhstan revealed that more than 80% of the population live more than an hour away from their district capital (where courts are usually located), and that more than 40% live four hours or more away (EFCA and CRRC, 2011[14]). Finally, justice systems often lack gender sensitivity, and some women may face stigma and discriminatory attitudes. The lack of female staff in justice systems compounds this difficulty: only 27% of judges on the constitutional courts of the 12 countries are women, from 6% in Ukraine to 44% in Georgia (World Bank, 2018[13]).

Box 6.9. Promoting gender equality in Kyrgyzstan’s law enforcement system

Gender sensitivity in a country’s law enforcement system is crucial to achieving equality. In Kyrgyzstan, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) conducted a Criminal Justice Programme over the period 2009-16 to strengthen the capacity of justice and law enforcement institutions. Although promoting gender equality was not the primary goal, it was taken into account as a cross-cutting theme.

The UNODC, in collaboration with police officers, conducted gender assessments, provided gender training and raised awareness on the role of women in the police. It also introduced a mentoring programme aimed at encouraging more young women to consider a career in the police and tested gender-balanced street patrols. In 2014, encouraged by the programme, the government modified the recruitment policy for police officers: if two candidates for positions in the police academy or the traffic police obtain equal results, preference shall be given to the candidate belonging to the underrepresented ethnicity or gender.

However, the programme achieved limited progress in terms of balancing gender representation in the police. Barriers that were identified include deeply entrenched social norms that view this profession as reserved for men, and the overall low representation of women in all sectors of the economy. Changing gender stereotypes requires time, and sufficient time and resources should be invested.

Source: UNODC (2017), “Final Independent Project Evaluation of UNODC Criminal Justice Programme in Kyrgyzstan”, (accessed 7 March 2019).

Women face the greatest difficulties in matters of domestic violence. Human rights bodies have documented a lack of gender sensitivity in the investigation and prosecution of violence within the family, and this is common to all countries.6 Discriminatory attitudes and norms surrounding women’s physical integrity are widespread and result in a high prevalence and normalisation of violence against women in the region – and domestic violence in particular (see Chapter 4). The few women who speak out and seek justice face institutional discrimination (UNFPA, 2015[15]), due at least in part to the scarcity of proper training on gender-sensitive procedures for women who are victims of violence. The police and justice personnel often hold pejorative stereotypes that may translate into unwillingness to investigate or inadequate treatment of victims. Mediation procedures aim mainly to preserve family unity. The criminal codes of several countries allow the discharge of an offender if he has reconciled with his victim; these reconciliation remedies can be applied to cases of domestic violence (e.g. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan).

Women’s distrust of the justice system is greater than men’s. Across Eurasia, women represent 59% of the persons who do not trust the justice system and courts of their country (Figure 6.6). This average hides wide sub-regional disparities. In Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, with the exception of Ukraine, women and men generally share the same level of trust. In Central Asia, however, four countries present an alarming imbalance. In Mongolia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, women represent up to 66% of the people who do not trust the justice system and courts of their country. The same is true in Ukraine.

Figure 6.6. Women among population who do not trust the judicial system of their country
Figure 6.6. Women among population who do not trust the judicial system of their country

Note: Proportion of women among the total population declaring that they do not have confidence in the judicial system and courts of their country.

Source: OECD (2019), Gender, Institutions and Development Database,

Informal courts complicate women’s access to justice in Central Asia. In four Central Asian countries, the formal legal system coexists with informal or local courts, such as Aksakal courts in Kyrgyzstan or Mahalla committees in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In Kazakhstan, people often refer cases to the Akim, or head of a local government (EFCA and CRRC, 2011[14]). People often rely primarily on these mechanisms. In Kyrgyzstan, for example, 52% of the population would turn to the community elders or a local government official to solve a dispute over land, while only 34% would turn to the courts or the police (EFCA and CRRC, 2011[14]). These systems have the advantage of being more accessible, both physically and financially, and might seem more trustworthy because they are closer to the community. However, they often exhibit systemic gender biases to the detriment of women. Members of these courts may not have an accurate knowledge of the law, which may result in rulings lacking fairness or consistency. More importantly, they can only issue limited sanctions; consequently, issues such as domestic violence are decriminalised and treated as civil matters, and women cannot benefit from protection orders. In addition, decision-making processes tend to be male-dominated and based on discriminatory social institutions. Committees often prioritise reconciliation in cases of divorce or domestic violence, or favour men in family disputes about inheritance (UNESCO, 2011[16]). It is worth noting that in all countries in the region, statutory law takes precedence over customary law.


[9] ADB (2016), Tajikistan : Country Gender Assessment, Asian Development Bank, Mandaluyong, (accessed on 15 March 2019).

[12] ADB (2014), Georgia: Rapid Assessment of Sexual Harassment in Public Transport and Connected Spaces in Tbilisi, Asian Development Bank, Mandaluyong, (accessed on 15 March 2019).

[11] ADB (2013), Kazakhstan Country Gender Assessment, Asian Development Bank, Mandaluyong, (accessed on 15 March 2019).

[6] API (2013), Mass-media institutions self-assessment through gender dimension (print and electronic press), Association for Independent Press, (accessed on 15 March 2019).

[7] COE (2016), Women’s political representation in the Eastern partnership countries, Council of Europe, Strasbourg, (accessed on 15 March 2019).

[8] DHS (n.d.), Demographic and Health Surveys, (accessed on 15 March 2019).

[14] EFCA and CRRC (2011), Equal Before the Law? A Study of How Citizens Experience Aaccess to Justice in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Eurasia Foundation of Central Asia and Caucasus Research Resources Centre, (accessed on 15 March 2019).

[5] NBS (2019), Gender Statistics, National Bureau of Statistics of the Republic of Moldova, (accessed on 15 March 2019).

[10] NBS (2012), How Much Time Do Moldovans Spend for Various Types of Transport?, National Bureau of Statistics of Moldova, (accessed on 15 March 2019).

[16] UNESCO (2011), Briefing Note on the Situation of Women in Central Asia, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, (accessed on 15 March 2019).

[15] UNFPA (2015), Combating Violence Against Women and Girls in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, United Nations Population Fund, New York, (accessed on 15 March 2019).

[3] UNHCR (2018), Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2017, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Geneva, (accessed on 15 March 2019).

[4] UNHCR (2011), Statelessness in Central Asia, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Geneva, (accessed on 15 March 2019).

[2] UNICEF (2013), Every Child’s Birth Right: Inequities and trends in birth registration, United Nations Children’s Fund, New York, (accessed on 15 March 2019).

[13] World Bank (2018), Women, Business and the Law 2018, World Bank Group, Washington,

[1] World Bank (n.d.), World Development Indicators (WDI), World Bank Group, Washington, (accessed on 15 March 2019).


← 1. The RCL score for Turkmenistan could not be computed because of a lack of information on the population’s trust in the justice system and courts of the country.

← 2. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Mongolia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

← 3. Georgia (2014), Ukraine (2015), Armenia and Moldova (2016).

← 4. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Mongolia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

← 5. Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Ukraine.

← 6. E.g. the CEDAW Committee. For sources detailed by country, please refer to the SIGI 2019 country profiles available at

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