It has been more than two years since my last entry. I don’t follow current events as much as I would like to but at the same time I think a lot about gender perspective and what it means in Kyrgyzstan. Most recently I am looking at legal and medical regulation of (homo)sexuality and gender identity in Kyrgyzstan within the past 20 years. It is a massive amount of work with 1990s being recoverable mostly through fragments of memories and hopefully newspaper articles if I manage to find them. Some of the questions that I am looking at is who and why decided to decriminalize homosexuality in Kyrgyzstan in 1998, how the process of adopting ICD-10 went in Kyrgyzstan especially in relation to homosexuality which all of a sudden was not treatable anymore. In the 2000s I am interested in looking at how interest/civil society groups were formed around ‘queer’ identities.
Originally I thought that I would be writing a story of the small ‘LGBT’ movement in Kyrgyzstan but somehow right now I feel that this story that I am working on is more about development and international institutions.
I know, for example, that women’s organizations started to form in Kyrgyzstan closer to 1997-1998 with funding available from Counterpart Consortium, USIS and Soros Foundation – Kyrgyzstan. What kind of participation of ‘civil society’ was present before 1997, история умалчивает. I really want to know what happened between 1991 and 1997. What was the reform of psychiatry field like? How did the reform of the criminal code reflect the neoliberal blueprint that was part of ‘transition’ that attracted foreign funders and set Kyrgyzstan in an ‘island of democracy’ mode. Sometimes I think that Kyrgyzstan is a success story guinea pig. It’s small enough and flexible enough to test new models and implement them without much resistance but quickly and in a way that attracts more funds because now there is so much to build on.
I just got back from the United States and was out of touch with Kyrgyz reality for women for some time. Yesterday it hit me hard. My housemate is a graduate of Sports Academy and has been teaching there until a year ago. She enjoyed teaching but had to leave because her university instructor’s salary being too low to sustain herself. She played rugby professionally for years and started looking for other jobs. The only available choices were either in teaching or being a security guard. She trains a girls’ soccer team to fulfill her passion for sports and has been working as a security guard with 24-hour shifts every two days. I only see her at home every other day and she is usually very sleepy and tired. Recently she was transferred from a job of security guard to an office job at the same company. Last night she came back home and said that her boss told her to dress more feminine and start wearing skirts and blouses. She does not have any feminine clothes so I got out whatever dresses, blouses and skirts that I had and we had a drag evening because neither her, nor my other lesbian housemate ever wear this kind of clothes. I personally wear them only when I need to appear as a ‘standard woman my age’.
When both of them were dressing up there were jokes thrown about how they both would get a raise if they wore this kind of clothes to work and how we should start dressing like that more often because we’d be driving Mercedes. It is sad that we see more prospects in dressing in a certain way than in studying or improving our skills. It’s true that job prospects in Kyrgyzstan improve with changes in length of hair, style of clothes and willingness to respond to men’s invitations.
Today Klara Kabilova, former head of the Central Election Commission, made a statement about receiving threats from Maksim Bakiev, son of President Kurmanbek Bakiev. In her statements she mentions that he swore at her and threatened her safety.
I am not surprised that this happened. Kyrgyz masculinity is very violent, quite a few men find it acceptable to threaten other people, swear at them and use violence to pressure a person into agreeing or submitting. It is seen as part of being a man and hardly challenged. I want to give credit to Klara for speaking up against abuse. In her statement she highlights power dynamic between her and the president’s son. She is older than him, a woman, a mother, a daughter of elderly parents and holds an important government position. I hope she is feeling safe where she is right now. I am so glad that I am away from political opposition now and am dealing with ‘soft issues’ though who knows what is going to happen after CEDAW session or OSCE Human Dimension Meeting. Again thank you to Klara for speaking up, I hope more people will do that to make the state transparent and to put an end to abuse of authority and nepotism.
Elections in Kyrgyzstan always give me a lot of food for thought. As I am looking through lists of candidates kindly put in the web by Kloop.kg. Every year I hope that the lists would surprise me but they don’t. It is mostly men of one ethnic group, they are either presidents or executive directors of different businesses. Some of the men who are running are unemployed [how can you run for a council post if you are unemployed?]. Some of them are advisors to Members of Parliament. The surprise of the day is that the most represented party at least in the list online is the Green party. The parties which name themselves ‘green’ are supposedly progressive. I wonder what their stand is on women’s and LGBT rights.
And all the women who are running are either teachers or school directors, doctors or assistants to MPs. Feel the difference. Only maybe one or two who are executive directors.
My personal favorites are candidates from Bishkek AIDS Center, Olympics Reserves coordinator and Ortosay Bazaar head of security. Just to give you an idea about who would like to make decisions on behalf of communities. Basically it is businesses who want to have more space for their businesses, only maybe less than a dozen of NGO representatives. I am happy to see a lot of young people and a handful of women (no, they are not following the quota system this time, every fourth candidate has to be a woman…). For example, in Asanbai disctrict there are 6 women out of 42 candidates.
I have not been writing much for the past months. The work never stops and the gendered world is always there. Today I want to touch on the issue of UN mechanisms of protection of the rights of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. There are two mechanisms that I am very familiar with because of producing quite a few reports using them recently. One is a shadow report mechanism for reporting on state implementation of the UN conventions (GenderStan focus is particularly on Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women).
The other is a relatively new procedure of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) which is basically similar to convention reports but it includes more opportunities for NGOs to be involved and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reviews the reports which come to them and prepares a summary of all the concerns. The UPRs usually focus on specific human rights issues. The ones posted here are on sexual and reproductive rights in Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. I am posting them because, first of all, Kyrgyz NGO worked on putting them together and, second, the issues are very similar to Kyrgyzstan largely because traditional attitudes in all three countries are similar.
There are two issues right now which I am concerned about…
One is Georgia and Russian involvement in the conflict. It’s scary what can happen next to other autonomies which Russia just has to support ‘due to its Soviet legacy’ (read Russian media to find support for these arguments). My mom’s friend said that its all about elections in the US, they need a war to win elections, Iran and Iraq are not popular anymore so now its Georgia. A name of a country and a name of US state. See picture below for details on why some Americans feel that their country is invaded. It’s like ‘Wag the dog’ movie with ‘who cares about Albania?’.
And another one is gender-based violence. A transsexual woman was raped three weeks ago in Bishkek by three men, they burnt her nipples and genitals with cigarettes and burnt her bra, she did not dare to seek help and did not believe that it was possible to address the rape in court. This was a hate crime which could’ve been prevented. We could not register the rape because her legal gender is not female and only females can be raped according to the Kyrgyz law. The image below is directly relevant to the hate crime…
This is our third day at the 41st CEDAW Session. Today Lithuanian governments is answering the questions of the CEDAW Committee. The session will take the whole day and the questions range from the rights of Roma women to sexual rights which Lithuania is violating due to putting restrictions on abortion and limiting young people’s access to information about sexuality.
It is amazing to see a situation when government is put through the international embarassment on the rights of people whom they usually consider unimportant. The process takes about 4-5 hours and questions asked are very detailed and sometimes they are very embarassing. Yesterday Yemen government had the floor and they could hardly respond to some of the questions.
Kyrgyz government will be presenting in the end of October and we are preparing for it with effort and zeal.
It has been over a month since I wrote last time. I have been very busy with a vacation and working on moving my commitments to a more international level. Right now I am preparing two reports on two Central Asian countries on sexual and reproductive health which is an interesting endeavor.
And right now I am sitting in the UN building in New York and listening to the Director of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. He is now welcoming the participants of the 41st Session of the Committee on the Conventional on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). During this session Yemen, Nigeria, Tanzania, Finland, the UK and Lithuania will present their reports. The structure of reporting allows NGOs to present their shadow reports in response to the official government reports. The Committee will consider both reports and make recommendation to the governments on what needs to be done to improve the situation of women in their country.
Kyrgyzstan is presenting in October 2008 and I am here to learn about the process and to prepare for presenting Labrys report on the situation of lesbian, bisexual women and transgender people. Kyrgyz government has submitted their report already and Kyrgyz women’s NGOs are working on preparing their shadow reports. Council of Women’s NGOs, Forum of Women’s NGOs, Labrys and possibly sex workers organization Tais Plus are drafting reports.
Just found very interesting statistics about the percentage of men and women working at administrative positions in the government. It is 86% men and 14% women at top positions, 91% men and 9% women at mid-level positions and 41% men and 59% women at junior positions. So guess who’s got the power in this country?
Some of recent highlights was talking to a lot of HIV positive people from Kyrgyzstan from other countries of the former Soviet Union. I admire their energy and activism. It takes a lot of strength to be open about their status and to live knowing that there is no cure yet. I wish we had so much energy flowing in the women’s/gender ‘movement’.
The past weeks have been hectic and I was in and out of the country which probably is noticeable on the blog. The most interesting information flow that I am coming across everyday is how LGBT Organization ‘Labrys’ is responding to the police visits that it has encountered in the past weeks. The first raid which happened two weeks ago received a lot of responses and reactions because it was an official event with guests from Dutch donor organizations and because Labrys acted on the situation using international human rights protection mechanisms. Labrys contacted Human Rights Watch and used UN Special Procedures to address the issue. Human Rights Watch issued an official press release condemning the police raid while the UN sent a note to Kyrgyz Ministry of International Affairs.
The press release has a photo of the district police officer who lead the raid and it was put on the wall in the community center to be shown to other police who might want to raid the center. The community center staff has a strategy to deal with new visits and list of contacts of people and organization who could help in case of police visit. There are two duty staff at nights and Labrys is in high alert due to possible revenge from the police which other human rights activists warned Labrys about. Meanwhile the reactions to the visit are coming from all over the world with LGBT organizations expressing solidarity and asking what they can do about the situation.
In my opinion the reactions and the impact that the information has made will improve Labrys advocacy because the Kyrgyz human rights activists who usually do not relate LGBT matters to their priority work can now understand that LGBT activists experience the same harrassment and pressure from the state that the other organizations do. Also Labrys realized that there is a lot of support from both within and outside of Kyrgyzstan and will be more active in its advocacy work.