Almost 24 hours after the vote, and after a widespread public outcry in Bishkek, parliament has published the text of the controversial resolution it passed last night. It turns out, though MP Irgal Kadyralieva is still insisting to the press that she wishes to protect the Kyrgyz "gene pool,” the final resolution does not limit travel for women based on their age.
In the confusion -- fueled by multiple press appearances where Kadyralieva insisted women under age 22 or 23 must be forbidden from traveling abroad without a parent's consent -- early on June 13 activists in Bishkek lashed out at the resolution.
“This legal act is absurd,” Vechernii Bishkek quoted Aikanysh Jeenbaeva, co-founder of the Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ as saying. “It's not going to protect anyone. It will only increase corruption. Now girls will have to pay bribes at the border.”
“Deputies acted ignorantly by passing the resolution,” human rights Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun was quoted as saying. “Don't they know that they're violating the Constitution, civil rights, and freedom of movement?”
A draft resolution that would ban women under the age of 23 from traveling abroad without a letter from a parent has enraged rights activists in Kyrgyzstan. The idea, they say, is sexist and – with the resolution’s lead author claiming she is trying to protect women from sexual abuse abroad – encourages entrenched notions that women who suffer sexual violence are themselves to blame.
IWPR interviewed journalist Aida Kasymalieva who has reported on sexual violence within the Kyrgyz migrant community in Russia for RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service. In a disturbing series of reports last year (here and here), Kasymalieva shared the stories of Kyrgyz women like Sapargul – abused and raped by Kyrgyz men who call themselves “patriots” and claim they are protecting Kyrgyz “honor” by attacking Kyrgyz women who see non-Kyrgyz men.
Irgal Kadyralieva, the parliamentarian who drafted the proposal, says she is trying to protect women like Sapargul. Kasymalieva, the journalist, says the deputy has missed the point, blaming the victims and failing to help society see “why you can’t go out and assault or rape someone just because she’s seeing a man from a different ethnic background.”
IWPR: Supporters say that it seeks to protect women, while those who are against it believe it’s a violation of women’s rights. What’s your view?
Seeing as its International Women's Day today, Hurriyet Daily News economics columnist Emre Deliveli uses the occasion to remind readers that the labor force participation (LFP) rate for women in Turkey is a woeful 29.5 percent (the average among countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which Turkey is a member of, is 61 percent).
Improving the visibility and participation of women in the workplace has certainly been one of the areas where the current Turkish government has failed to take any strong action. The most recent World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index, for example, finds Turkey ranked 124 out of 135 countries. Beyond the low LFP rate for women, Turkey also has extremely low numbers of women in senior and managerial positions in government and academia.
Still, despite the discouraging numbers, things may be changing. From a recent article by Guven Sak, executive director of the Ankara-based Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey:
International Women’s Day on March 8 is seen in much of the world as an opportunity to raise awareness about gender equality – but, as in most other former Soviet states, in Kazakhstan the holiday is more about giving flowers and chocolates and making saccharine speeches extolling the virtues of the fairer sex.
While women’s rights activists in other parts of the former Soviet Union – including neighboring Kyrgyzstan – have stepped forward to try to reclaim Women’s Day, in Kazakhstan the image of the female as either beauty idol or perfect wife remains central to the festivities.
To celebrate the rising role of women in the military – and there are over 8,500 of them, including 750 officers, according to the Defense Ministry – why not vote for Miss Military Kazakhstan? Vox Populi, a magazine, is running an online contest featuring uniformed women striking sexy poses, with readers voting for their favorite military sex bomb.
Not to be outdone, Kazakhstan’s rail industry has its own beauty queen: This year's proud Miss Railways is HR specialist Minuar Sarkynshakova, who won the beauty pageant after a stiff competition in the pages of trade magazine Kazakhstan Railroader.
A lawmaker in Kyrgyzstan is pushing a resolution that would ban young women from leaving the country without their parents’ written consent.
Irgal Kadyralieva from the Social Democratic Party says the resolution, which would apply to girls under 23 years of age, is intended to "protect their honor and dignity” from trafficking or sex work. “Such measures are needed to increase morality and preserve the gene pool," Vechernii Bishkek quoted her as saying on March 4.
The ban would not prevent girls from studying abroad, Kadyralieva says, but is specifically designed to stop them from traveling abroad for work. Hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz women work abroad, mostly in Russia, often in unskilled jobs for low wages and sometimes in dangerous conditions.
Kadyralieva says she was specifically motivated by a series of reports last year about Kyrgyz women in Russia being beaten and raped by Kyrgyz men calling themselves “patriots.” The men were angry at the sight of Kyrgyz women socializing with non-Kyrgyz men.
"This proposal of mine protects national security, social security, moral security and [is an] economic issue," Kadyralieva said in an interview with Kloop.kg.
In addition to being Valentine's Day, February 14 this year was also V-Day, which thousands of people worldwide marked by participating in One Billion Rising, a global day of action – and dancing – to protest violence against women and girls. Bishkek was no exception.
Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ organized a ‘dance strike’ in front of the statue of Urkiya Salieva, a heroine of female emancipation who was killed by conservative basmachi in 1934. The event, which was organized via social media, drew about one hundred people, who danced to a Russian cover of the One Billion Rising anthem, Break the Chain, performed by local singer Saltanat Ashirova.
According to organizers, the aim of the protest was to increase local awareness about violence and injustice against women, as well as to show support for local organizations that work with women and girls who have survived violence. Co-organizer Galina Sokolova explained: “Crisis centers are constantly underfunded, understaffed and overcrowded. In 2009 and 2011 our V-Day benefit productions of the Vagina Monologues raised a total of around $4000 to support crisis centers in Bishkek and Osh. This year our team is fundraising for Crisis Center “Shans” in Bishkek, which has been working without funding for two years and still provides vital support to survivors of sexual violence. We want to make safe spaces and crisis centers visible.”
A new school has opened in Almaty to prepare perfect brides for discerning Kazakh husbands-to-be.
Bride School is teaching women all the skills they need to keep their men happy, reports Tengri News. Diligent students can go on to enter a competition for Kazakhstan’s best bride.
The skills deemed necessary to be the perfect kelin – Kazakh for bride – range from cooking to applying makeup to parading like a model.
“At the lessons the students will be able to learn to cook, parade, grasp the basics of makeup; there will be classes in family psychology – in how to understand your husband, for example,” Bella Satmyrza, the woman who runs the school, said. “We want to create our ideal of a real kelin – a modern girl who looks after herself, looks good, is educated and well-read, but at the same times pays attention to national traditions, habits, culture and cooking.”
The culinary classes will naturally involve cooking beshbarmak (“five fingers”), Kazakhstan’s signature dish of flat noodles with mounds of meat heaped on top. The cut of choice is horsemeat, currently the subject of controversy in Europe but beloved in Kazakhstan.
Satmyrza is bringing in experts to advise the girls on how to please their husbands, from a choreographer who worked on the recent Kazakh dance film Forbidden Dances to “experienced mothers” offering training in how to raise children.
Talk about changing the subject. For the last few weeks, Turkey had been consumed by a heated debate over last December's Uludere incident, in which 34 Kurdish smugglers were killed near the Iraqi border after the Turkish military mistakenly thought them to be Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants. Questions about the slow pace of the investigation into the incident, new allegations about the role that intelligence provided by American drones played in the attack, and some truly unfortunate remarks by Turkey's Interior Minister all threatened to turn the months-old incident into a major headache for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Over the past year, human rights activists in Kyrgyzstan have directed increasing attention at bride kidnapping. Though illegal, and notoriously difficult to quantify, the practice is thought to be widespread, especially in rural areas.
Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun, who says legislators are little interested in the issue, announced today that up to 8,000 Kyrgyz girls are kidnapped and forced into marriage annually.
Few statistics on bride kidnapping are available, and it’s unclear how Akun did his research, but one study last year found that 45 percent of women married in the eastern town of Karakol in 2010 and 2011 had been non-consensually kidnapped.
As Azita Ranjbar reported last week, many of the girls are pressured into marriage and have little recourse to justice.
Although bride kidnapping is illegal under Article 155 of Kyrgyzstan’s Criminal Code, prosecutions are almost unheard of. The state can intervene only if a complaint is filed directly by the victim. But, in many bride-kidnapping cases, the woman is isolated within the home of the abductor, and must overcome daunting obstacles to contact her relatives or the police. Even if her family is aware that she has been kidnapped, they are usually powerless to press charges against the abductor on behalf of the woman. In conservative villages, opposing a bride kidnapping can also bring the family shame.
Moreover, many victims have few legal rights because local religious leaders, rather than the state, certify their marriage ceremonies. Without a government-issued marriage certificate, the courts can do little to protect a woman and her children should she try to leave her husband.
Ahead of tomorrow's International Women's Day, a Turkish NGO is shining a light on Turkey's persistent gender gap problem. The group, the Association for Education and Supporting Women Candidates (KADER), conducts an annual survey that looks at the number of women in high places in Turkey, with the results usually fairly dismal. This year's study is no different, as Today's Zaman reports:
“For five years the situation has not changed. We are tired of reporting the same statistics each year. We are concerned,” said Çiğdem Aydın, representing KA.DER. The reason for their outrage was explained in the statistics they have compiled. In a nationwide campaign prior to the June 12 elections last year, they asked for 50 percent representation in Parliament, but the percentage of women who entered Parliament remained at only 14.2 percent. This is a small increase from 9.1 percent female lawmakers in Parliament in 2007. Moreover, out of 26 ministers in Turkey's cabinet there is only one woman, Family and Social Policy Minister Fatma Şahin.
In other administrative public offices, the situation is also bleak: Only 26 female mayors out of 2,924; 65 village heads out of 34,210; one female governor out of 81; five female rectors out of 103 and 21 female ambassadors out of 185. There are no female undersecretaries and no female members at the Supreme Court of Appeals, Court of Accounts or the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency.
“What do we have in Turkey?” KA.DER representatives asked again. “Violence against women, exploitation of female labor and bodies, female poverty, female unemployment, child brides and girls who are not sent to school.”