WINGS: A journey from the US, Kyrgyzstan, India, and Ukraine to Kazakhstan – UMAI Study

Sholpan Primbetova1, Assel Terlikbayeva2, Louisa Gilbert3

Denying women from marginalized communities access to life-saving violence prevention and response services remains a serious health and human rights issue in Kazakhstan and globally.  Umai is the goddess of fertility in Turkic mythology and Tengriism, and is the title for a new research project implemented by the Social Fund “Center for scientific-practical initiatives” of Kazakhstan, supported by the Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI). Umai aims to improve access of women from marginalized communities to mainstream services for intimate partner and sexual violence.

The study will focus on adapting, evaluating, and implementing a package of two evidence-based interventions: Women Initiating New Goals for Safety (WINGS) – which is a GBV screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment/services tool – and the Community that Cares (CTC) intervention which is an evidence-based community coordinated response intervention that has been used to reduce violence and substance misuse in different countries.

WINGS  was originally designed and evaluated in the US with women who use drugs and later successfully adapted and implemented in Kyrgyzstan, India, Georgia, and Ukraine. WINGS has been translated into eight languages and is currently being widely used in six countries serving women from marginalized communities.

Why do we focus on marginalized populations such as women living with HIV, women who use drugs, trade sex, and transgender women in our study? Unfortunately, the rates of intimate partner violence among these groups range between 23%-75% globally in the past year, which is much higher than rates among general populations of women. (El-Bassel et al., 2022). Accumulating research suggests that poverty, discrimination, stigma, and other social determinants of health are major drivers of IPV/SV among women from these key affected populations.

To raise awareness about the specific needs of marginalized women and the aims of the project, our local team has met many key stakeholders in Kazakhstan, such as local NGOs working with key affected populations, the police department working with GBV, the social service workforce, and Co-Investigator, professor Louisa Gilbert from Columbia University presented our research project at the SVRI Forum 2022. Unfortunately, we mostly see surprised eyes and the audiences don’t seem to understand the focus on “these” women and not women from the general population. As if “these” women do not belong to our society? Do not they live on this earth as we all do?


Assel Terlikbayeva and Sholpan Primbetova meeting the police department on response to violence against women.

May 2022, Almaty, Kazakhstan      








Assel Terlikbayeva presents the Umai study to key stakeholders. May 2022, Almaty, Kazakhstan      



One of the main goals of our study in Kazakhstan is to address gaps in services for marginalized women by implementing an innovative digital online intervention for women and active community engagement for system-level changes. We have been working hard to bring many key stakeholders together in a Community Action Board to talk about the needs of and response to violence against women and the inclusion of marginalized women into state-run services like shelters, crisis centers, and further support to victims of intimate partner and sexual violence. The groups we are working with, feel stigmatized and isolated not only from each other but from society. Unfortunately, based on the focus groups with key stakeholders, visiting state-run crisis centers for women survivors, we found out that they do not accept women living with HIV, using drugs, or who identify as transgender due to their lack of knowledge, comfort, and skills in working with these key affected populations of women as well as perceptions that these women are “undeserving” of help or that they are somehow responsible for the violence they suffer.

Partners meeting, Almaty, 31 May 2022.

Our team works closely with local NGOs from Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and India who previously worked on WINGS to learn their successes and lessons learned and build our capacity on the ground. Velta Parhomenko from Ukraine shared her experience of working with women victims of violence who engaged in sex work. Danil Nikitin, chair of NGO GLORI, and Elena Tkacheva shared their experience with implementing WINGS of HOPE in Kyrgyzstan. Later, Elena Bilokon from the Kazakhstan Association of Women living with HIV, who is the head of our UMAI Community Action Board, shared her insights: “This UMAI project is so needed in Kazakhstan! No one works with women from marginalized groups who are suffering from violence. Thank you for bringing it here! We support this project and are happy to be a part of it!”

We strongly believe that with passion, strong partners, and readiness to work in the field of violence against women in Kazakhstan, we will bring light and make changes to ensure that ALL women have access to quality IPV/SV services.

1 – Co-Principle Investigator, Vice President of Social Fund “Center for scientific-practical initiatives”, Kazakhstan

2 – Local Principle Investigator, President of Social Fund “Center for scientific-practical initiatives”, Kazakhstan

3 – Co-Investigator, professor, Social Intervention Group, Columbia University School of Social Work



El-Bassel, N., Mukherjee, T. I., Stoicescu, C., Starbird, L. E., Stockman, J. K., Frye, V., & Gilbert, L. (2022). Intertwined epidemics: progress, gaps, and opportunities to address intimate partner violence and HIV among key populations of women. Lancet HIV. 2022 Mar;9(3):e202-e213. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(21)00325-8. Epub 2022 Feb 10.

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