SGS Report: Harmony Plus – Young couples and the in-laws: learning together to prevent domestic violence

Grant recipient: Harmony Plus, Karakol, Kyrgyzstan

Project: Workshops for young mothers and mothers-in-law, NGO and other professionals, and officials including law enforcement


In Kyrgyzstan, violence towards women has increased in recent years. It is estimated that half of all young married women in Kyrgyzstan experience violence  from their husbands and other relatives, including both psychological and physical abuse. But while many people understand the concept of ‘domestic violence’ as abuse perpetrated by a man against his partner, violence is also driven by other family members. In particular, the role of the mother-in-law remains an important institution in many Central Asian families and is often a cause of violence and family breakdown.

Violence perpetrated by mothers-in-law is not generally seen as violence: it’s common practice, and it is often seen as ‘acceptable’ to abuse new family members. Frequently, the mother-in-law is allowed to interfere in the relationship between her son and her daughter-in-law, and is not challenged even when she commits physical violence. Unfortunately, the daughter-in-law cannot turn to her own relatives, as it is believed that matters should not be discussed more widely. But family affects all aspects of life and has severe consequences for the whole family.

Today, the institution of the family is losing prestige and is becoming more fragile. So it is important that the younger and older generations develop greater tolerance and understanding.

  Aigul’s story    “My husband was the youngest son, so according to Kyrgyz tradition, I had to go and live with his parents. My mother-in-law constantly accused me of being unworthy of her son and said that she would make every effort to get us divorced. She had a foul temper and was never interested in what I needed or wanted. They just wanted one thing from me – free labour and grandchildren. About the rest of my problems, my husband and relatives did not care – for them, I was not a human being. I felt like I was being bought into slavery. My husband often joined my mother in law’s constant humiliation, and he also raised his hand to me.”  

The project

Our project aims to change the behaviour and understanding of both victims and perpetrators of violence within in the family, by educating young couples and other family members, including mothers-in-law. Traditionally, the men in Kyrgyz families are ‘always in the right’, even if they use violence: our project is innovative, in that as well as focusing on the victims of violence,  it trains young men and mothers in law to change their behaviour and attitudes as the perpetrators.

We ran five training sessions for young daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law and young men, aimed at raising their awareness of the need to prevent domestic violence, and on learning how to behave in cases of domestic violence. The training used methods developed by the Polish American Association Partner Intervention Programme (a scheme aimed at perpetrators of violence) and the Gender Action Learning System (GALS), a community-led empowerment methodology which seeks to enhance the capacity of family members.

The training sessions were also attended by members of the Committee for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (KPNS). This is an informal, voluntary association of key members of the local community, which seeks to counter domestic violence by working with public sector bodies and civil society institutions. At the training sessions, KPNS representatives described the committee’s work as an effective tool for preventing domestic violence.

Fig. 1: Married couples with mothers-in-law during training session, July 2019

  Bakyt’s story   “I often raised my hand to my wife, I could not control myself. We’d argue because there isn’t enough money because I don’t have a permanent job, and because of alcohol.    I really enjoyed the training. I admit my aggression, but now I know how to control myself. I think in the future, the family will be mutually respectful and tolerant. I’ll try to be responsible.”  

Fig. 2: Mothers-in-law at a seminar

  Gulnara’s story   When I was young, my mother-in-law ruled over all the family members. Her word was law, she said it was ‘tradition’, so everyone put up with it in silence. But when my son got married, I also commanded my daughter-in-law, forced her to do all the housework and interfered in their relationship. There were often arguments in the family.   Since the training, I know I’ve behaved badly. I’m going to try to share the housework out among all the family”.  


Through the training sessions, 88 people (mothers-in-law and young daughters-in-law and their husbands) gained knowledge aimed at changing the understanding and behaviour of both victims of violence and perpetrators of domestic violence. As a result of the project, participants…

  • received information on domestic violence law
  • received practical information and handouts on how to stop violence and how to interact in a non-controlling and respectful manner
  • know how to identify and challenge violence and identify the cultural and social factors that contribute to it
  • learned how to behave in cases of domestic violence
  • gained knowledge and skills to promote fair and equal participation in housework and change the dynamics of power relations within families
  • learned how to strengthen family and intergenerational ties
  • and understand the short- and long-term effects of domestic violence
  • discussed ways of creating a positive relationship between a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law

Ultimately, those couples and mothers-in-law in Karakol who participated in training have changed their understanding and learned how to prevent domestic violence and improve understanding in the family.

Fig. 3: Mothers-in-law, fathers-in-law and young men and women learn methods to prevent domestic violence


  Venera, Coordinator of Abiyir el, Karakol:   “The ‘institution’ of the mother-in-law in our country needs to change. The younger and older generations need to be taught mutual understanding and skills to resolve conflicts and disputes in the family and partner relationships. We must not forget that violence breeds more violence.”  


Gulshara Orozbakova

Harmony Plus Project Coordinator: 

Tel.: +996 550 770 043 | Email:

Training was delivered in collaboration with Abiyir El, Karakol:

Co-ordinator Venera Yzakova

Tel.: +996 556 928 778 | Email:

Photo credits: Gulshara Orozbakova; Venera Ysakova

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