The New Beginnings Club
Grant recipient: Crisis Centre Sezim, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Project: “New Beginnings”, a project to establish club meetings for women of 55+ who are victims of domestic violence.
Woman in Kyrgyzstan encounter many obstacles such as domestic violence, early marriage, sexism, abduction of girls for marriage, polygamy, etc. Many suffer, regardless of age, but more attention has always been paid to young women who have suffered violence. The crisis centre Sezim decided to focus on and support the older generation of victims of violence who are experiencing a psychological crisis due to ageing.
in June 2019, with the support of The BEARR Trust, we organised a club for women of 55+ who are in difficult situations. Our goal is to provide members with psychological assistance, moral support, the opportunity to socialise and, as a result, to be free from violence and able to set new life goals. Club members are united by similar problems: financial dependence on the family, lack of work or any social hobbies, and psychological and/or physical violence in the family.
42 women have participated in the Club since the beginning. Currently, 18 women remain permanent members of the Club, which is a fully formed group that already takes initiatives, organises meetings and supports its members. Club meetings are held on various topics. Since June, we have tried out laughter therapy and art therapy, which lift the emotional mood of the members. Since many participants find it difficult to express their feelings in words, creative therapies really helped them open up.
Great emphasis was placed on the interactive part of the project. Participants often prepare theatre performances, songs and dances on sensitive social topics, such as excessive use of gadgets by children, family relationships, violence, etc. The Club holds discussions on such subjects with expert psychologists, who help club members raise their awareness of a particular topic. Here is what one of members, Bermet, says about our discussions and art therapy: “I almost lost hope that I would ever feel satisfaction and joy. But with other Club members, yes, they became my friends, I feel that I want to live, and plan the best for myself”.
A month after the establishment of the Club, women began to take the initiative in drawing up the rules for participation.. Indeed, the participants came together and played a full part in improving the Club. Recently we have been actively engaged in gymnastics and fitness, have composed songs and been on trips to the countryside. All meetings at our Club end with a tea party, where participants talk about their daily affairs, tell stories about their relatives and discuss future meetings.
In October, we ran a debate at a university in Kyrgyzstan between our Club and students on the topic “Family Relations. Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law”. Our participants themselves prepared a sketch on this subject and performed it on stage. After the performance there was a heated discussion that symbolised a generational clash between seniors and young people. This benefited the participants from our Club, as they got to see the point of view of young people on this conflict, which helped expand their comfort zone. Here is what Asel, an active Club member, says about the debate: “I always thought that a daughter-in-law should be as I imagined her. But now I understand that the girl who becomes my son’s wife is very vulnerable if you expect her to obey her husband’s family completely. I understood a lot for myself, and I want my children to be free in their choice”.
Sezim’s staff trained Club members to use theatre as a tool for social activism. Club members wrote a script depicting the family conflict that unfolds when a 16-year old daughter reveals she has been raped. The sketch focused on the dynamics of victim-blaming that typically emerge in inter-generational households where notions of family honour and traditional gender norms hold sway. At the end of the scene, the young girl’s family acquiesce and she registers her case with the local police.
During the 16 Days Campaign, Sezim’s 55+ Club performed the sketch for numerous university audiences in Bishkek. Following each performance, Sezim’s professional team of psychologists and lawyers engaged students and elderly performers in a spirited discussion on topics ranging from social norms that reinforce gender stereotypes to the rights and legal protections afforded victims of sexual assault under Kyrgyz law. For all participants, it was the first time the taboo topic of rape was openly discussed across generations and genders.
Our future plans include running a discussion between young people and Club members on the topic of sexual violence. From November 25 to December 10, the annual 16-day International Action against Gender-based Violence against Women takes place, in which Sezim regularly takes an active part.
The New Beginnings Club is a lifeline for the 55+ generation. The benefits of this project are undeniable and we intend to continue trying to use creative methods to support older women in the name of a healthy 55+ generation.
Crisis Centre Sezim