Spotlight Initiative Regional Civil Society Forum
Central Asia

 November 1-2, 2022
Turkestan, Kazakhstan

The Spotlight Initiative Regional Programme for Central Asia and Afghanistan (the SI Regional Programme) in partnership with the FemAgora Public Foundation and in collaboration with Akimat of Turkestan Region and Akhmet Yassawi International Kazakh-Turkish University will hold the Spotlight Initiative Civil Society Regional Forum – Central Asia (the Forum) in Kazakhstan, on November 1-2, 2022.

The Forum aims to empower Central Asian civil society to meaningfully and strategically engage with the Spotlight Initiative Regional Programme and the Central Asian Alliance on ending Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) and harmful practices. It is co-chaired by Leyla Zuleikha Makhmudova, founder of FemAgora Public Foundation, and Shamah Bulangis, coordinating member of Spotlight Initiative Global Reference Group (CS-GRG).

The event brings together civil society (CS) organizations and representatives from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, on campus of Ahmed Yassawi University in the city of Turkestan.


The Central Asian civil society has already been involved in the various global processes and efforts in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for a long time. High-level statements and discussions within the latter largest Regional SDG Summit︎︎︎ of Central Asian countries in June 2022 once again highlighted the need to strengthen constructive regional partnerships and bold actions to achieve sustainable development, including eliminating SGBV.

There is a wide range of local and regional public sector associations and CS platforms addressing and responding to SGBV and harmful practices within the region. For three decades Central Asian women-led organizations and women experts have been part of and contributed to global processes such as Beijing Platform for Action, Commission on the Status of Women, Generation Equality Forum (GEF) and so on. At the same time, particular thematic, sectoral, and community-oriented initiatives and collaborations continue to work in silos and have not had an opportunity to join global efforts and participate in the SI Regional Programme activities.

There are larger diverse multi-stakeholder ecosystems that inform gender equality and sustainable development impact in the region, however they are not yet directly involved in the response to end SGBV and harmful practices. Social and cultural enterprises, private sector stakeholders running social and corporate responsibility initiatives, community-based initiatives, researcher groups, academic institutions, artist collectives, media outlets, internet influencers, and local celebrities are potential valuable contributors to the SI, GEF processes, and SDGs agenda, and are to be equally engaged.


Pre-Forum Online Expert Discussions (September 2022)

The Forum agenda will be informed by the prior online expert discussions with participation of Central Asian women-led groups, CS organizations and representatives, and other agents of change responding to SGBV, as well as CS-GRG members, SI Global Secretariat and Regional Programme staff, to be held in September 2022. A monetary gratitude will be offered to CS experts participating in the discussions.

200 CS organizations and representatives from five Central Asian countries will be invited to join the online expert discussion with the objective to design Forum agenda, activities, and resulting documents.

Open call registration process will give an equal opportunity to CS organizations and representatives to express their interest to join online expert discussions. Invitation process is based on the “first come-first served” principle and screened based on the regional geographical representation and the level of engagement with the SI. List of participants and agenda of online expert discussions will be tailored to fit in with their experience and level of engagement. If needed, a waiting list will be created.

Registration period is open 15 - 31 August

Spotlight Initiative Regional Civil Society Forum
Central Asia in Turkestan (November 2022)

Regional CS Forum will take place in a hybrid format and be organized from a cross-sectoral and multicultural perspective on campus of Ahmed Yassawi University in the city of Turkestan. The Forum will be co-chaired by the SI Global Reference Group and FemAgora Public Foundation to ensure global-regional coherence of the efforts, allowing for the preparation of the CS statement on joining the Central Asian Alliance on ending SGBV and harmful practices. 

The Forum will unite around 30 civil society organizations and representatives from five Central Asian countries present offline along with their 30 counterparts present online to multiply each country’s CS presence in the regional exchange. The UN Resident Coordinator for Kazakhstan, members of the SI Regional Steering Committee and Programme Management Unit as well as other implementing partners from Recipient UN Organizations (UN Women, UNFPA, UNDP) and the EU will join the Forum.

Such a diverse presence will allow for partnership-building and strategizing with each other across thematic sectors and national agendas in regional efforts of SI and larger response to end SGBV and harmful practices in the region.

Spotlight Initiative (SI︎︎︎)

The Spotlight Initiative is a global initiative of the United Nations which has received generous support from the European Union. Its aim is to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls. The Initiative represents an unprecedented global effort to invest in gender equality and women’s empowerment as a precondition and driver for the achievement of the SDGs.

The Spotlight Initiative's governing body is chaired by United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed and European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission Josep Borrell, who provide the Initiative's overall strategic direction. Regional-level implementation is led by the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Kazakhstan Ms. Michaela Friberg-Storey, in partnership with UN agencies, European Union delegations and civil society organizations.

The Spotlight Initiative Regional Programme for Central Asia and Afghanistan is fostering legal reforms, strengthening capacities of the respective institutions and women’s movements, promoting gender-equitable attitudes, and enhancing systems for collecting data on violence against women and girls. The SI Programme partners with a broad range of actors, including civil society, donors, practitioners, academia, and media, to facilitate the elimination of harmful practices and advocate further gender transformation in the region. 

Since 2020, the Spotlight Initiative Regional Programme for Central Asia and Afghanistan is being implemented by three UN Agencies – UNDP, UNFPA and UN Women under the overall coordination of the UN Resident Coordinator. The programme team is based in Almaty, Kazakhstan. One of the SI Regional Programme’s critical outputs is the development of the Central Asian Alliance on ending SGBV and harmful practices, composed of multistakeholders including government and non-governmental stakeholders.

Civil Society Global Reference Group (CS-GRG)

Within the Spotlight Initiative, civil society is systematically engaged at national, regional and global levels through the partnership with Civil Society Reference Groups. They represent civil society at the governance and decision-making bodies of the Initiative and aim to advise the Initiative, to advocate for the realization of its objectives and to hold the Initiative accountable for its commitments. At the global level, the CS-RG is comprised of 20 diverse members, selected by a civil society-led selection committee in April 2019. 

The Forum is co-chaired by Shamah Bulangis, the youngest member and the Advocacy and Monitoring Co-Coordinator of the SI CS-GRG. Shamah is also part of Transform Education, a feminist coalition of youth-led networks hosted by the UN Girls Education Initiative. She is an alumnus of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Academic Fellowship on Social Entrepreneurship and Economic Development from the University of Connecticut, USA.

Generation Equality Forum (GEF︎︎︎)

The 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and its historic Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, considered the most influential blueprint for women’s rights to date, presented civil society and feminist advocates with an opportunity to build stronger advocacy movement for gender equality and foster multi-stakeholder partnerships. GEF aims to channel high-level public and private investment and political leadership from various actors over the next five years. Its 5-year action journey is built around a Global Acceleration Plan - a global road map for gender equality that aims to fulfill the promise of the Beijing Platform for Action and achieve SDGs.

In Central Asia, the Governments of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, FemAgora Public Foundation, and NASL Public Organization officially joined the GEF Global Acceleration Plan in combating the global pandemic of SGBV.

FemAgora Public Foundation

FemAgora is a Central Asian civil society organization founded by women and gender-sensitive experts, grassroots practitioners, artists, media professionals, and researchers in 2018 and registered in 2019 as a public foundation in Kazakhstan. Our commitment is to strengthen our women-led ecosystems, amplify intersectional practice, and make ideas, work, and contributions of women visible through public engagement, knowledge management, and creative production.

FemAgora Public Foundation is a GEF commitment maker. Our Action Coalitions' (AC) themes of interest are: Action to end Gender-Based Violence; Feminist Action for Climate Justice; Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality; and Feminist Movements and Leadership. FemAgora is committed to addressing peace and security, pandemic response, sustainable development, youth leadership through locally driven and intersectional experiences of Central Asians across all thematic commitments.

Our immediate expert outreach is currently 200 people and counting, including men and masculinity experts among many. Our co-founders and team members serve on various civil society advisories and reference groups of the national and international organizations such as MFA Kazakhstan working group on human dimension, UN Women CSAG, Spotlight Initiative RCS-RG, FREE STEM Fund, IREX Community Engagement Exchange programme, Young Feminist Fund FRIDA, and others.

The Forum is co-chaired by Leyla Zuleikha Makhmudova, a founder of our organization and a survivor of gender-based violence. She is a National Gender Youth Advisor engaged by UN Women to consult on strengthening multi-stakeholder engagement and collaboration in GEF processes in Kazakhstan and Central Asia. Leyla is a Central Asian gender expert with ten years in movement-building, social entrepreneurship, and professional consulting for local non-profits, international organizations, and financial institutions. Kazakhstan Forbes has recognized her as 30 under 30 in 2020.

Ahmed Yasawi University is one of the leading multidisciplinary universities in Kazakhstan. Established in 1991 on the basis of the Intergovernmental Agreement between Kazakhstan and Turkey, University aims to train modern highly qualified specialists among youth from the Turkic-speaking countries. 140 educational programmes are implemented at all degree levels in following nine areas: Pedagogical Sciences; Arts and Humanities; Social Sciences; Journalism and Information; Business, Management and Law; Natural Sciences; Mathematics and Statistics; Information and Communication Technologies; Engineering, Manufacturing and Construction Industries; Health, Social security (medicine), and Services. 

Current university rector Dr. Zhanar Temirbekova is a distinguished leader and researcher in the field of education, transformative management, and women entrepreneurship. Previously she served as an advisor to the president of the Almaty University of Management, was rector of the Eurasian Technological University, and worked in KBTU, SDU, and KIMEP University.

The Turkestan region was formed on March 10, 1932. The administrative center is the city of Turkestan, which is a touristic center with invaluable historical heritage and contemporary cultural landmarks. The Turkestan region Akimat (governor’s office) provides guidance and regulation, legal, administrative, advisory and logistical support for the activities in the region. The progressive programme of intersectoral response to gender-based violence piloted in the region by UNFPA Kazakhstan and Akimat became one of the leading national practices.