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| Women's Rights

In Kazakhstan, wives of radicals tell stories of violence, horror

By Ksenia Bondal

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A woman who says she suffered abuse from her radical husband is shown in Astana in November. She hid her face to protect her identity. [Ksenia Bondal]

ASTANA -- Kazakhstani women are coming forward to describe the ordeal that befell them when they married abusive, extremist men.

A Caravanserai correspondent and several women who have suffered abuse from their radical husbands conferred recently.

Kazakhstan does not track how many women nationwide suffer such violence.

"Extremists invent all sorts of ideologies to appeal to various social classes and their mentalities," Astana religious scholar Beibit Saparaly told Caravanserai in an interview. "They spruce up their poison and offer it to the public through the culture and religion."

Marriage as a tool to radicalise women

Valentina Gupenko of Kostanay tells the story of her 26-year-old daughter, who met her future husband in December 2014.

The daughter, an ethnic Ukrainian, converted to Islam for her husband and married him under Sharia law.

Later, the daughter found out that her husband's commitment did not match hers. He had two wives in other cities.

When she resisted his radical religious views, he began beating her.

One common method for an extremist man to bring women into his organisation is to marry various women in many cities. The practice is called "going on tour".

Twice, Gupenko's daughter left him after beatings, but he talked her into coming back each time. She last lived with him between January and May 2016, said Gupenko.

Her daughter had a year-and-half-old son and was pregnant with another son when she finally broke with her abuser, said Gupenko. "One day she called me in tears ... begging me to take her home. She said that if I didn't, her husband would kill her."

Gupenko picked up her daughter and saw that she had many bruises and abrasions that her husband had inflicted, said Gupenko. He had accused his wife of being an infidel and a poor wife.

Since then, the abused wife has fled abroad with her children to escape him.

Months of horror, humiliation

A 25-year-old from Astana, who introduced herself as Raziya, spoke with Caravanserai on condition of anonymity.

In February 2014, she met a member of Tablighi Jamaat, an international religious organisation banned in Kazakhstan. Six months later, she married him.

"My husband promised my parents that he would care for me and our future children," Raziya said. "But six months after the wedding, he moved me into a two-room apartment with his other wives. He slept with each of us one after the next, in full view of the other wives."

Fed up with the humiliation, she took their seven-month-old daughter and abandoned her husband in February 2016. She was unable to turn to her parents for help because her husband had forced her to cut off ties with them.

"My daughter and I now live with my sister," said Raziya. "I'm hiding from my husband."

Women as a 'gift' for a night

Aliya, a resident of Almaty who also requested anonymity for fear of being shunned in her community, married her husband in January 2016 in Astana, knowing nothing of his extremist views. She was only 20.

"One time my husband gave me to [another extremist Muslim] for a night," she told Caravanserai. "I protested, but he retorted that since I belonged to him, he could give me to his brothers in faith."

"He gave me to someone else another time," she said.

Aliya endured six months of beatings, periodic deprivation of food, and various humiliations before fleeing to Almaty one night last October.

Aliya is undergoing psychological rehabilitation.

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Every day I see covered "matryoshkas" [a Russian traditional wooden doll dressed like a peasant] accompanied by their husbands. Why don't Kazakh women adhere to the traditions formed by the centuries? A Kazakh woman neither covered her face nor dressed in black. And here she is in black, with her face covered. It looks bad. I don't believe they had any idea what they were in for, that they knew - they simply didn't think they would become an object, to be presented to a brother in faith for one night. Crazy! I don't feel sorry for them. Everyone is the architect of their own happiness.

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Yes, it's terrible what they are doing to women and young girls, and they are so far away from real religion, this is a sect.................. Girls, take care of yourselves. Become a personality, not an object of someone's ideas.

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Eyes. Where were your eyes before that? [Meaning that you should have used your eyes]

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It is the women's own fault - they know perfectly well that a woman is nothing compared to a man in radical Islam, and does not have rights or her own opinion!!!

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It's time to kill those bearded men! They are a waste.

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