“Although the country’s legislation does not provide for discrimination, a de facto large number of cases of gender-based violence indicate the systemic failure of at least the judicial system,” said Gulzada Rysbekova, an independent researcher in the field of international relations, in an article just for CABAR.asia.
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The events in Kyrgyzstan related to physical, sexual, and domestic violence prompted peaceful rallies opposing violence against women and feminist marches striving for the protection of women’s rights in Kyrgyzstan. These events, nonetheless, have triggered conflicts between conservative, national and liberal groups.
Following the attack on activists during the peaceful march for protecting the rights of women, neither the judiciary nor the parliament responded whatsoever. On the contrary, they detained the activists instead of their attackers, the masked provocateurs. While gender discrimination does not officially exist in Kyrgyzstan, gender-related crimes happen every day. Those are the practice of kidnapping and forced marriage; physical, sexual, and domestic abuse.
What is feminism?
Feminism is a movement aimed at countering gender discrimination. Most feminist activists advocate for the equal rights of women over men. The values of feminism might contradict the values of national and conservative groups whose culture mandates certain customs and traditions. That, in its turn, results in the domination of one of the parties over the other.
In most cases, feminist movements are liberal democratic and socialist in nature. From a liberal point of view, feminism advocates the upholding of human rights as an individual, for freedom of choice and pursuit of equal rights in various areas of life. Liberal feminists fight for equality between women and men. We should keep in mind that both men and women are humans first, and domination at one end leads to discrimination and oppression that entail a threat to security, violation of individual human rights, conflicts, and crises.
Socialist feminism aims to combat the oppression of women in patriarchal societies, where men have certain privileges. A woman can perform just as well as a man if structural and institutional sexist barriers are removed in her career path. All those women ask for is not an unfair advantage, but the very same opportunities that men have.
Feminist Movement in Kyrgyzstan
The feminist movement in Kyrgyzstan is important, albeit not the only, factor in the democratization of the State. Every year on March 8, International Women’s Day, civic activists and feminists go out on a peaceful march for upholding the rights of women and men, as well as opposing physical, sexual, and domestic violence. Although discussed separately, feminism and democracy are closely interlinked. In democratic theory, the feminism discourse implies the involvement and commitment to the issues of structural inequality, deeply rooted in the system.
Feminist movements and protests occur because there are problems within a given polity. Such protests and marches hold a certain value while raising hopes for positive changes in the country. The feminist movement in Kyrgyzstan seeks to enlarge its scope to include other groups that are discriminated against and oppressed by certain gender-based stereotypes; this can be regarded as a goal. On top of all, statistics suggest that a certain percentage of women believe a husband has the right to beat a spouse under certain conditions.
Such statistics demonstrate the scale of the problem, whereas laws do not govern people. Besides, the women’s march participants have been fined, while police actions were recognized legitimate. Activists held a series of single pickets against police brutality right after but were dispersed by the police, despite their constitutional right to protest.
According to the UN 2016 data, in 2012, 23% of women in Kyrgyzstan aged 15-49 were victims of domestic violence. Again, figures indicate that gender inequality and violence problems existed long before feminist movements and protests. So, witnessing no positive developments and the state actions over a few years, people start to hold rallies.
What is the State doing about it?
On August 4, 2008, the law “On State Guarantees of Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities for Men and Women” was adopted, supplements and amendments were also made on July 14, 2011. Complementary acts imply the introduction of special measures to facilitate the implementation of the gender policy aimed at guaranteeing equal opportunities to various social groups, in accordance with international obligations.
On March 16, 2017, the Law “On Protection and Defense against Domestic Violence” was adopted. According to article 4, the document mentions the following principles:
“1) compliance with legislation and international standards in the field of human rights and gender equality;
2) equality of access to protection and defense against domestic violence;
3) ban on folk customs and traditions that violate human rights and freedoms and foster domestic violence”
Due to coronavirus pandemic – induced home quarantine, victims stay with their abusers that led to an increase in the number of victims by 62%.
On March 31, 2020, the Parliament passed a statute “On Amendments to the Code on Misconduct of the Kyrgyz Republic”. This bill is designed to adopt more effective and efficient mechanisms to protect against domestic violence. Women that are beaten by their husbands have to withdraw their applications. The penalty hurts the family budget. The draft says that the offender, instead of a fine, will be sentenced to up to 15 days of administrative detention.
On November 25, 2019, the government launched the “16 Days Against Violence” campaign, the purpose of which is to develop attitudes of zero tolerance for domestic and gender-based violence and raise social awareness of all forms of violence.
Apart from the government, various non-governmental organizations are involved in the processes fostering social and legal protection of women against violence, which reinforces the urgency of the domestic violence problem, especially in rural areas, while underpinning the fact that the lack of official records of cases impedes a qualitative analysis.
Although authorities implement counter – violence and discrimination measures, the number of violent incidents against women and children is still rising.
Prerequisites for the radicalization of feminism in Kyrgyzstan
For many, feminism appears radical and this is due to the fact that conservative, traditional values contradict the ideas and values of liberal democratic feminism. In Kyrgyzstan, however, feminism might get radical in case:
- if the state fails to address the dire consequences of discrimination and oppression, such as physical, psychological, domestic, and sexual violence.
So, society starts to embrace the cultural and social approaches, shouting protest slogans on peaceful marches, meetings, discussions, protests, and so on. This prerequisite for the radicalization of feminism was observed after the tragic incident with Burulay and other cases of domestic violence against women. There have been cases of addressing violence and discrimination through art, like activists from Osh who fought using drawings, or the opening of a feminist exhibition in Bishkek that prompted a huge scandal.
According to the 2017 World Health Organization report, one in three women (35%) in the world is a victim of physical or sexual violence.
In Kyrgyzstan, according to 2018 data, the number of recorded crimes committed against women amounted to 9,285 cases of rape, forced marriage, kidnapping, murder, and bodily harm. This only goes for registered cases, in fact, there may be more than that.
- If inequality between men and women in the political, economic, and social areas of life rises, which results in the prevailing patriarchal value system.
According to the National Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic, in 2018, there were only 19 women deputies in the Jogorku Kenesh out of its 120 members. The gender pay gap for 2018 is 71.6.
Patriarchy is one of the main mechanisms for pressure and dominance in the country. Inequalities subsequently arise not only in the economic and social aspects but also in the everyday life of people, from the imposition of traditional inhumane value systems in the family and at school, to the end of life in attempts to please all gender stereotypes.
The feminist movement in Kyrgyzstan is a reaction to injustice. Although the country’s legislation does not provide for discrimination, de facto a large number of cases of gender-based violence indicate systemic failure of at least the judicial system. Reactions in the form of peaceful gatherings and rallies by feminist movements are just the surface, the tip of the iceberg.
The UN has identified strategic points for women’s empowerment and gender equality, including the following items:
- Invest in girls’ education and address gender inequality in the education system.
- Improve women’s and girls’ access to quality health care and family planning services.
- Advocacy and behavior change communication for inclusive/open development and empower women at the national and local levels.
- Consider social awareness and impunity for violence against women and girls and gender discrimination.
- Support the implementation of the legislative framework, turning public policy to real-life actions.
- Support the processes of public finance reform.
Civic engagement is also essential since no one tries to hear the voices of and attaches great importance to victims of discrimination. Therefore, people go to rallies and peaceful marches in order to be heard and give a voice to the voiceless. Feminist protests and peaceful marches in Kyrgyzstan advocating for equal rights between men and women are tools against gender-related violence. The state should turn its attention to what is happening in society. The attack on activists on March 8, 2020, the death of Burulay, events following the “Feminale” exhibition and other cases of physical and sexual violence against women suggest that in Kyrgyzstan there are threats of public safety. All these movements, peaceful protests, and marches have not been prompted by just one case of rape or murder; instead, there is a lot of tension and discontent with the fact that they are helpless and greatly threatened, and therefore there is every reason for the feminism to become radical.
That having been said, many movements and rallies are a direct democratic tool that society uses to evoke at least some answers, reforms, reactions and decisions. According to estimates and the data available, patriarchal dominance prevails in society and this is one of the main causes of gender inequality, with dire consequences of deep societal and state crises. Persistent patriarchal stereotypes form gender discrimination in society and in the labor market, which leads to dysfunctionality and security problems in people’s lives.
This material has been prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial board or donor.
Cover illustration: Tatyana Zelenskaya
 In Jalal-Abad, a man videotaped torturing and beating his wife. He was placed in a temporary detention center; 24.kg;
 In Nooken, a third-grader rape suspect was detained; kloop.kg;
 The torn march of feminists in Bishkek: Aggressive people attack, detention of participants; knews.kg; https://knews.kg/2020/03/08/sorvannyj-marsh-feministok-v-bishkeke-napadenie-agressivnyh-lyudej-zaderzhanie-uchastnits/
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