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The introduction of mandatory 30 per cent quota for women deputies has already proved its efficiency, however this statutory provision does not mean it is complied with, experts say.

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Today, according to the Women’s Democratic Network Public Foundation, women have about 800 out of 7,800 mandates in local councils. That is, there’s only one woman among 10 deputies in these elected bodies.

Local council (from Kyrgyz, aiyldyk kenesh) is an elected collegial local self-governing body elected by people in a respective political subdivision and having the power to solve local issues.

The norm of 30 per cent quota for women in the parliament was introduced back in 2007 to the Election Code of the Kyrgyz Republic. However, today Zhogorku Kenesh has only 18 women, which is 15 per cent of 120 sitting deputies. The gender composition of the government is 3 women per 18 men.

12 years later, the similar norm was introduced for local councils, as well. In mid-August, President Sooronbai Zheenbekov signed the legislative package designed to improve the election legislation, including the 30 per cent quota for women deputies in local councils.

Election in the village of Saruu

On September 22, a month after the adoption of amendments, early election for the aiyl kenesh was held in the village of Saruu, Issyk Kul region. However, male candidates for deputies thought that the 30 per cent quota was a “violation of rights of dzhigits” and wrote a collective complaint to the president.

“Election of three women as deputies in one election district, even if they don’t have enough votes, means that our men’s rights are not taken into account, which can cause conflicts between men and women,” the document reads.

Gender expert Banur Abdieva observed the voting at Saruu. According to her, women candidates agreed tacitly to withdraw one candidacy that will have the least number of votes compared to the candidacy of men due to the lack of knowledge of all subtleties of law and their desire to preserve peace in the village. However, according to the law, even if a woman elected to the council withdraws her candidacy for any reason, another woman must take her place.

Photo courtesy of Banur Abdieva, Facebook account

“The results of the voting were counted by 10 pm as the electronic voting system was used. According to the law, 9 women got into the council, which was 42 per cent of the total number of deputies. This figure was recorded in Saruu for the first time. In the last calling, there were three women, and in the one before last calling, there were two women,” Abdieva said.

According to her, when men candidates learned that there were even more women deputies than needed, they demanded that some candidacies were removed to make their number equal to 30 per cent.

“Unfortunately, this case has shown that there is a great gap between the progressive legislation and progressive conscience on site. I hope these vectors will coincide one day,” Abdieva said.

According to experts, such situations are also the result of low activity among women not only in Saruu, but also in other villages of Kyrgyzstan. In fact, only men compete for mandates. 

First-hand experience

A few years ago, the UN Women Fund calculated that with the current downward trend in numbers of women deputies of local councils, in 2020 women in local councils will be less than 2% and in 2028 there will be no women deputies in local councils.

Айнуру Алтыбаева. Photo: kaktus.media

The new law offers hope that the number of women deputies will be increasing. Legislator Ainuru Altybaeva is one of those who in 2015 started developing the law on quota of mandates for women in local councils. She thinks this law has already proved “effective” in the case of Saruu.

“Unfortunately, local councils still have the majority election system, which is unfriendly to women. But if the state didn’t pay due attention to assignment of quotas and the law wasn’t passed this August, the number of women in local councils would have been even lower,” Altybaeva said.

Women can tell more about some issues and be more effective than men, ex-deputy of parliament Shirin Aitmatova said. Especially, in the issues of abduction of women, domestic violence, payment of alimony. She hopes that quotas for local councils will be the first step towards the new generation of women politicians.

Ширин Айтматова. Photo: chyndyk.kg

However, she noted that very often public women are considered by the society as social climbers and even bad housewives.

“Here’s the example. Just recently, after the hearing on the milling lobby in Zhogorku Kenesh, deputy Bakyt Torobaev suggested that I’d better have the Aitmatov memorial house repaired than investigate his activity. I think what he really wanted to say was something like, “you’d better clean the house,” Aitmatova said.

Not a guarantee of observance

Despite the fact that in Saruu men deputies thought the quota was the violation of their rights, Baktygul Islanbekova, gender expert of the Agency of Social Technologies, emphasised that such measures cannot be called discrimination, vice versa, these are ways to overcome physical inequality. A wide awareness campaign about such special measures could help women become leaders with more enthusiasm, especially in rural areas.

According to her, women in villages face lack of support from the society and even family members, not to speak of the lack of financial resources.

“In villages, there are strong stereotypes of women as housewives, mothers. Besides, they have somehow negative ideas about women protesters, activists, etc. Therefore, a rural woman needs to be aware of her opportunities and of course she needs support,” Islanbekova said.

According to deputy Ainuru Altybaeva, government is doing good job to improve women’s status in politics, but activities of international organisations, NGOs and other entities are a good additional aid.

“I felt the efficiency and support of non-governmental women’s organisations when we were introducing amendments to the law on abduction of women. Then I saw that NGO officers were doing their job knowledgeably and how they contacted the residents of the majority of regions. Such organisations can be effective if they work along with the government to improve the status of women in politics,” the parliamentarian said.

However, the 30 per cent quota in law is not a guarantee of its observance. In case of Zhogorku Kenesh, this norm is valid only when a list of candidates is being made up, but after parties are elected to the parliament, women are often forced out, Baktygul Islanbekova said.

“By efforts of women deputies and women’s organisations, the norm was adopted that obliges to replace a vacant seat of a woman by the next woman on the party list. In 2020, we’ll see if it works during the election,” gender expert said.

So far, Kyrgyzstan has the lowest share of women among parliamentarians in the states of Central Asia, i.e. 15 per cent. In Kazakhstan, this share is 27.1 per cent in Mazhlis and 6.4 per cent in the Senate. In Turkmenistan, 25 per cent of seats in the Medzhlis are assigned to women deputies. In Tajikistan, there are 19 per cent of women in the house of representatives of Madzhlisi Oli, and 21.9 per cent in the National Council of Madzhlisi Oli. In Uzbekistan, 16 per cent are in the legislative house and 17 per cent are in the Senate of Oliy Mazhlis.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.