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.
Today I acutely felt the differences between mainstream gender NGOs and gender NGOs working with stigmatized communities like sex workers or lesbian women. CEDAW reports that come from Kyrgyzstan hardly include the latter groups and the people working for putting together the reports usually come from mainstream NGOs e.g. working with ‘normal’ women. A normal woman would be a young woman, probably married, probably with one or two or three children and probably in need of support in terms of a mini-credit or legal support in case she is divorcing or shelter/consultation in case she is living with an abusive partner. The usual approach to this ‘normal’ woman is victimizing, she does not sound like an agent in the reports but rather as somebody who is a recipient of care and support.
The ‘other’ women are not present in the mainstream reports or discussed in one sentence because it is a requirement (‘the number of sex workers under 16 years old has increased due to harsh economic situation’ or ‘criminal code mentions forced lesbian sexual contacts as grounds for longer rape sentence’).
This post is rather a short though on the larger reports, I will be looking at the texts soon and posting more in detail about some of the interesting mismatches in the reports.
As I have previously written, Labrys was preparing a videocast in response to the homophobic and insulting statements presented by Russian Orthodox Church. The videocast was uploaded to Kyrgyz video portal and has been watched 409 times within the first 15 hours of being up. The video in Russian features Gulnara Kurmanova of AntiAIDS Association who is a strong LGBT ally, journalist Bektour Iskender, priest Maksim Bratukhin and head of LGBT Organization ‘Labrys’ Anna Kirey. Together they explore the view of religion on LGBT and discuss the possibility of opening a dialog on LGBT issues which most organizations are silent about. The videocast can be viewed here
The worrying trend that I see in this situation is that the word ‘sodomite’ might become part of everyday language and was presented as synonymous to LGBT in most of the media coverage of the press conference by Russian Orthodox Church.
Today a person from Russian Ortodox Church called my office and said that they were planning to sue Labrys for something. This something is not very clear but it is related to Labrys press conference on 14 February where an LGBT-friendly priest Maksim from Apostolic Orthodox Church spoke about his church’s views on homosexuality (which are positive).
There is no case for putting to court because Maksim was not representing Labrys but the reaction of the church is a little strange and unexpected. The media did not focus their attention on religion during the press conference and there was hardly any information about Maksim speaking. Most of media focus turned to usual ‘exotic’ issue of transsexuals struggling to change their gender marker officially which was not the news hook at all.
The press conference was supposed to raise the LGBT issues and talk about Labrys experiences during for years of its work and the official opening of the new LGBT community center. Somehow only Labrys Programmer Department Manager Alex Mamytov who spoke about transgender issues and social worker Viktoria Lotz talking about ‘rehabilitation’ center made it to the news. I actually wrote to 24.kg news agency which hosted the press conference and asked to take the ’rehabilitation’ part out of the text and ‘sexual minorities’ as well. Journalists somehow mix things up all the time and only write about things they find interesting or exotic, e.g. political news (= the state might allow transsexuals change their gender in passports).
If I were to write about the press conference, I would focus on positive developments in Labrys and get in-depth information about the issue, maybe ask to visit the center or talk to priest Maksim in detail, request information from Ministry of Health about their views on transgender documents change. Easy and Shocking unchecked and distorted information made it to media. You may read some of the reactions here.
Labrys blog has some more information about the events surrounding the press conference and will feature
During these past days I have been quite focused on learning more about HIV. I knew what a common person exposed to Western information would know – ways to get it, importance of testing, so-called ‘risk groups’ and some detailed stufffrom the training on sexuality for teenagers I used to run.
HIV got closer when my 22-year-old close friend told me that he was positive. Then I started to really think more on the issue, it used to be my phobia that he’d get it because he is from one of these so-called ‘risk’ groups. At some point I got to know over 30 HIV-positive people in one day at a training, it turned out they were facing issues very similar to what LGBT people, myself including, are facing in everyday life – isolation, fear of telling about their status and lack of access to services. I was walking from the office to the center with one of staff members of a grassroots NGO and he told me that sometimes people can test positive for syphilis and HIV if they had a lot of alcohol within 18 hours before the test. He also told me about outreach work with sex workers and where in Bishkek the street sex workers stand. I was amazed by how much he knew and the outreach the organization had.
Just recently I took part in assessing NGO concepts of involving HIV-positive people in decision-making with people from mostly international organizations and medical organizations on the committee. I could sense the difference in approach. The community NGOs stressed that people need peer-to-peer support, care and somebody to talk to. The usual HIV decision-makers emphasized the need for space in the hospitals, teaching HIV-positive people ‘how to’ and making space for HIV-positive people in the hospitals or local AIDS centers. This is so similar to linking women only with family (with state bodies called ‘department on family, women and children’) and LGBT people with only HIV. People in power having no clue about what the communities need and care for and designing multi-million programs.
Right now I also know people from organizations working on HIV prevention and groups organized by HIV-positive people in Kyrgyzstan. A lot of excellent work with communities directly being involved in making decisions about programs. There are some NGOs which could not survive recent round of donor financial auditing which lead to gossips within the NGO community. Corruption in NGOs is another story to talk about on this blog at some point. Donors supporting HIV projects coming from organizations which usually work on trafficking and donor policies is another issue I want to mention one day.
The figure of Aziza Abdirasulova is often associated with women’s movement because she is herself a woman and an activist. I know her since 2000 when she was protesting results of parliamentary elections, making protests against de-registering Daniyar Usenov, then a candidate for an MP seat. She brought food and water to the protests, helped to release prisoners of conscience and cried over the results of recent elections saying that they went dirty and she is ashamed.
Yet… Abdirasulova was among people to publicly denounce the book for teachers about healthy lifestyle which contained information about how to use a condom. Recently she commented about the gender situation in Kyrgyzstan.
“In life we [women] have more rights than men, this has been around for centuries. In Kyrgyz traditions women were never persecuted or pressured and they rights were not violated. Our [Kyrgyz] men always respected their women and mothers. A girl would always be considered as a guest who would in the future leave her native home and stay with another family. Young women who got married and moved to other families were honored. They did not suffer from lack of attention and always had support both in material and moral terms. That’s why based on this right now in Kyrgyzstan I do not see such phenomena as gender inequality of violation of rights. I personally have never felt discrimination based on gender. And in general why aren’t we talking about violation of men’s rights, it’s gender as well?! So you say gender, gender, I am against this kind of talks. The fact that there are few women in the parliament and state apparatus depends on us ourselves [women]. We have to solve our problems. Women have all the oppostunities to protect their rights in lawful way. There are a lot of legislation provisions on this issues but women do not use these norms.”
Just couple of days ago I wanted to join a protest called ‘I don’t believe’ in front of the Central Election Commission. The election process turned out very flawed and I do not believe that people voted in favor of a party they did not know much about. I did not go because of loads of work in the office and this very day found out that all the people who joined the protest were arrested. They received their sentences yesteday ranging from 500 soms (10 Euro) fines to 7 days incarceration. Strangely enough the wellknown activists received more drastic sentences. One of the people who is supposed to spend 7 days in jail is Mirsulzhan Namazaliev who is a youth activist and my fellow blogger.
These events reminded me about the arrests and bans on freedom of assembly during Akaev’s time. Is this history repeating?