(Alisa Massaleva received a grant and mentorship from Internews through USAID’s Central Asia Media Program)
Alisa Massaleva, 41, is a seasoned journalist from Shymkent, South Kazakhstan. She’s been a reporter for over two decades and has worked for a regional newspaper, Yuzhnyi Kazakhstan, for 15 years.
For about five years now, Alisa has been reporting on domestic violence to raise awareness about the problem. Domestic violence is particularly prevalent in South Kazakhstan, a conservative society, where girls grow up in homes watching their fathers commit physical abuse against their mothers.
“They think it’s normal. All too often girls don’t get to study beyond school, are married off at a young age, and encouraged to have many children. They don’t have the resources to leave an abusive home,” Alisa says.
According to a report published by the Kazakhstan Ministry of National Economy, 17 percent of women ages 17 to 85 have experienced some form of physical violence by a male intimate partner in their lifetime.
Yuzhnyi Kazakhstan’s editor-in-chief is a woman, an essential reason according to Alisa that she is empowered to write about social issues.
“It’s very important to understand what it means to have a woman editor. Her attitude towards the problem is very different. She takes it seriously.” —Alisa
Since she has been reporting on domestic abuse, Alisa has been drawing attention to the lack of resources available for women who need help: “There were no shelters, no funding to rent an apartment for battered women, there was nowhere for them to go.”
About three years ago, a project called Kazakhstan Without Violence in Families was formed to provide shelter for victims of domestic violence.
“There is finally a space women in South Kazakhstan can turn to to get away from their abusers.” —Alisa
In March 2020, Alisa received a grant from USAID’s Central Asia Media Program, implemented by Internews, to publish a series of articles on domestic violence in South Kazakhstan. The main goal of her project was to raise awareness about the prevalence and scale of domestic abuse as well as the lack of recourse for victims of gender based violence in South Kazakhstan. She is the only journalist in the region that consistently covers gender-based violence.
“In addition to financial support, Internews also provided me with two outstanding mentors. They mentored me throughout the year, offering me helpful advice and giving me both professional and moral support, especially through dark days when I’d be upset by the state of affairs," says Alisa.
As part of her grant, Alisa mapped resources available for victims of domestic violence. South Kazakhstan is divided into 16 districts: only five have special inspectors assigned to address and protect women’s rights. These special inspectors deal exclusively with crimes against women.
“There is a huge difference between the districts that have a dedicated special inspector and those that don’t. In districts that don’t have dedicated resources, the police treat it like an additional burden because it’s not part of their ‘main role,’” says Alisa. “In all my reporting, I stress how important it is to assign an agency or resources specifically for victims of domestic violence.”
Through the USAID grant, Alisa produced 15 articles in local newspapers, reaching approximately 50,000 readers. “My main goal was to reach local authorities. To affect change, it’s very important to reach them directly. I knew they read these publications and I wanted to get their attention. They didn’t understand the scale of the problem and the challenges women face trying to seek help,” says Alisa.
Alisa’s hard work has paid off. Local authorities have agreed to make dedicated resources such as special inspectors, available in 2021 in every district in South Kazakhstan. She is hopeful this will ease victims’ ability to access social services.
Currently, Kazakhstan is drafting a national law to address domestic abuse. “I sent all the materials I produced through the grant to the National Commission on Women’s Rights and the Working Group drafting the legislation. They acknowledged receipt of it. I hope the new law makes real provisions for victims to get financial and psychological help,” says Alisa.
“I can’t express in words how I feel about this. I know I would have written about domestic abuse with or without the grant but I was able to reach a far wide scale and get the authorities to respond, thanks to USAID and Internews,” says Alisa.
ABOUT THIS STORY
The USAID-funded Central Asia Media Program works to develop a more balanced information environment and increase civic participation in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan among youth and adults with differing ideas, opinions, and perspectives. Since 2018, the program has been working with journalists to raise awareness about socio-economic issues across the three countries, reaching over 1,500 journalists to date. In 2020, USAID provided much-needed financial support to 37 media outlets and journalists that ensured the continuation of their operations during the economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. That support helped journalists produce a total of 1,317 pieces of news content on a broad range of COVID-19-related issues. The content reached over 23.9 million people across multiple platforms, equivalent to 46 percent of the population of the three countries.
Narrative by Hazel Correa, Senior Regional Development Outreach and Communications Coordinator for USAID/Central Asia; photos by Victor Magdeyev for USAID.
(Banner photo by Victor Magdeyev for USAID)