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Kyrgyzstan: Gender Equality Issues Must Always Be on the Agenda

One third of Kyrgyzstanis wants to see more women in politics, while the majority of people thinks that women should fulfil themselves in social sphere and household.


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Назик Акпарова с семьей. Фото из личного архива

Nazik Akparova is the youngest deputy of Saruu aiyl kenesh (village council – editor’s note) of Issyk Kul region. At her 28, she raises four children, teaches at school, and has time to work with her voters. Her relatives suggested that she take part in the election campaign, and her husband supported her much.

However, it was not easy to win the necessary number of votes – male candidates acted openly against the women’s quota. According to the amendments to the law “On election of deputies of local councils of the Kyrgyz Republic” made on August 8, 2019, local councils should have at least 30 per cent of women.

“During the election campaign, male candidates were campaigning in a wrong way. They assured the voters that women wouldn’t work but would be sitting at home with children,” Akparova said.

As a result, due to new amendments, nine women of 16 candidates won the election.

“This case has inspired other women, too – they believed in their power and are going to run in next election,” Akparova said.  

Differences of opinion

Election in Saruu demonstrated that active participation of women in politics is a new phenomenon for the society of Kyrgyzstan. Many men were simply not ready for the amendments in law.

The imposition of 30 per cent quota in 2019 for women was a necessity. In the last 15 years, the country has had a steady downward trend among female deputies of village councils.

According to the UN office in Kyrgyzstan, in 2004 the share of women was 19 per cent across the country, in 2016 this figure fell almost by half. Every fifth local council had no woman elected.

 

The attitude towards women in politics in Kyrgyzstan is ambiguous. According to the survey held by International Republican Institute (IRI), “Public opinion poll of citizens of Kyrgyzstan” held from November 19 to December 2, 2019, every third citizen of the country thinks there should be more women in politics. The same number believes their number should be as it is now.

 

See also: Number of Women in Kyrgyz Local Councils is Falling

However, despite rather loyal attitude towards women in politics, when it comes to the spheres where women can fulfil themselves, politics is not among the top three spheres. The most popular spheres were education, health and household. 

 

Stereotypes as barriers

Why the majority of Kyrgyzstanis think that women are needed in politics, emphasise their advantages over men in task-solving, and yet many think that their place is in social sphere and family?

According to experts, it is related mostly to the traditionalist society.

“We develop, keep up with the times, and at the same time the society has the traditional attitude towards women. Woman is taken as a tool in the household. […] Today a woman can take leading positions, she can be financially independent. However, when it comes to important decision-making, she remains an obedient family member,” Cholpon Turdalieva, professor of anthropology programme, AUCA, said.

According to her, the situation is that on the one hand a woman is independent and self-sufficing, and on the other hand she is subordinate, driven, and has no tools of power. Moreover, this situation is exacerbated by the increasing religiosity of people.

“Today, there’s an observable trend of growing interest to Islam, where a woman is taken not as a leader, but as a householder. All main control levers and decision-making are imposed on a man. Many parents see their daughters in future as mothers involved into household rather than socially active mothers,” Turdalieva said.

However, we cannot say this is a common tradition. There are a lot of examples in the Muslim community of Kyrgyzstan when women wearing headscarves are engaged in business, sports, non-governmental sector, fashion and other directions.

In order to overcome these stereotypes, we need to take a comprehensive and multi-level approach. According to Ruslan Rakhimov, assistant professor of the anthropology programme, AUCA, the emphasis should be placed on education and economic development, which are two wings on the way to gender equality. Also, it is important to have critical thinking skills to analyse political processes, differentiate between “politicisation” of gender processes and holding of reforms.

“For example, social protests very often are tagged as LGBT protection, which is not directly related. Thus, we have a substitution of notions here, manipulation of public conscience. Therefore, it’s important to raise public awareness of vital subjects in a plain language, and to have critical thinking skills to analyse the situation,” Rakhimov said.

In 2012, Kyrgyzstan adopted the National Gender Equality Strategy until 2020. The document specified a few priorities of development: political equality, access to justice, education and economic resources.

See also: Women in the parliaments of Central Asia

“We cannot say expressly that this programme has achieved its goal. Speaking in global terms, no country can answer this question. As to political participation of women, we have taken all necessary measures,” said Vice Prime Minister Altynai Omurbekova in the interview to CABAR.asia.

However, the problem is that laws don’t always work as they have loopholes, and the state doesn’t control law enforcement.

“Nevertheless, there is certain progress in this direction. The law on 30 per cent quota for women has shown its first outcomes. I’d also like to emphasise that according to the new law, if a female deputy leaves her office early, her seat must be taken by another woman. This norm was not available before,” Omurbekova said.

This spring, Kyrgyzstan will be holding elections to village councils and then to the parliament. According to the vice prime minister, they will show how gender-based laws will apply in practice. Moreover, this year the government is planning to monitor the performance of gender equality strategies, and we’ll see what indicators have been improved.

“Gender equality issues cannot be solved in 10 years, they should always be on the agenda,” Omurbekova said.

Main photo: sdg.openshkola.org

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