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.
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…
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.
Yesterday evening Euronews reported about the riots of Muslims who were protesting against women receiving the rights to inherit property equally to men in Bangladesh. It was the first time that I actually realized that globally women’s struggle for equal rights will take dozens if not hundreds of years. It was maybe a hundred of women marching, some of them had severe scars on their faces after men who proposed to them spilled acid on them. Men were throwing rocks and screaming. Rather a strange picture for a post-Soviet person, women against men walking on the streets.
I hope that Kyrgyzstan will never turn to Sharia law which is the justification that they use in Bangladesh.
Somehow today is a the men’s day because it’s only men who are supposed to be con
victedscripted. The celebration originates from Soviet times and the day commemorates the initiating of Soviet Army. Somehow it’s always been a holiday to value men for their protection and defense powers. Men get ‘manly’ stuff for the holiday – socks and handkerchiefs, lighters and beer, and cards saying that they are ‘real men’ or ‘defenders’ with swords, naked women and axes. Would be really strange to see a card with ‘real woman’ sign for International Women’s Day. Somehow we know what ‘real’ men have to do – be tough, strong, aggressive, protect and kill the enemy. Yet we still have to remind the men that they have to be ‘real’ and link celebration of their ‘masculine’ characteristics to war and protection.
Just read through a magazine prepared by sex workers who came in December from different regions of Kyrgyzstan. Very simple language and design. Their stories touched me. The text of the magazine will be uploaded to this blog because the site where the journal was is in reconstruction.
I translated some of the shared stories which are real-life situations:
1. A young woman survived a group rape, she turned to police and her complaint was registered. There was no investigation because the rape was committed in a district where sex workers work.
2. A client instead of paying with a service for sex, brought a transsexual woman to a faraway district, beat and robbed. Because the woman was transsexual, she was scared to turn to the police as they treated her harshly before.
3. The police searched a woman’s bag and found five condoms in it, the woman was detained on the grounds of ‘prostitution’
In Kyrgyzstan sex workers find police as the major source of their troubles. The police detain them, blackmail them, take bribes and organize so-called ‘saturday work days’ (subbotniki) 2-3 times a month when the sex workers have to perform sexual services to the police for free.
NGO ‘Tais Plus’ which sees as its main goal empowering sex workers to achieve better conditions for them, has been working with sex workers since 1997. Their main principles are human approach, empowerment, self-governance and maximum independence.
Sexual violence is a taboo issue, I started writing about it in October and was trying to collect information about it. As of now I still have not found available services for survivors. From personal conversations I know that quite a few women have been raped either by strangers or boyfriends or in marriage, yet the rapes go unreported. I personally know a dozen of women who were raped at some point of their lives, some by relatives. Only one of this dozen of cases was reported to the police with criminal charges following. I know a woman who was raped during the days of revolution by the looters. Given my in a way ‘privileged’ circle of communication, I would assume that there is a lot more out there.
What made me think about the issue today is the reported case of alleged rape by 41-year-old father of his 19-year-old daughter. The Ministry of Interior says that the father has been continuously drunk and raping his daughter since September 2007.
The campaign has been going on for about a dozen of years and reached Kyrgyzstan around 2000. Yet usually the events go unnoticed as so-called ‘soft news’. You can find more information about this campaign at What is the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign?
The interesting figure is that - Over 2,000 organizations in approximately 154 countries have participated in the 16 Days Campaign since 1991!
Women’s organizations in Kyrgyzstan take part in campaign very actively. Crisis shelter ‘Sezim’ makes films about the common violence situations while other groups make public actions and train police about family violence.
Every year around 40 transgender people are reported to be murdered worldwide. Dozens and maybe hundreds more go unreported. Since 1998 transgender movements all over the world commemorate 20 November as a Transgender Remembrance Day.
Bishkek activists, mostly lesbian, bisexual women and transgender people gathered at Ala-Too square to honor those transgender people who were killed in hate crimes. In Kyrgyzstan transgender people often experience violence from their families, police and street gangs. There were no murder cases reported, but the activist community is aware of dozens of cases of severe violence against transgender people. The Kyrgyz cases include death threats, persecution and severe beatings from families. One transgender woman had to flee Kyrgyzstan fearing for her life.
Participants of the event lit candles for 26 murdered transgender people and released 26 baloons with the victims’ names on them. Each event participant had two candles and balloons with case information.
The organizers of event feared that the police might detain them for an unsanctioned meeting, yet the policeperson who stopped by only asked what was happening.
I finally interviewed Byubyusara Ryskulova, a woman activist providing direct services to through the only shelter for survivors of domestic violence in Bishkek. I very much trust her opinions because she knows of thousands of cases. The full text of the interview can be found on Transitions Online website.
Some quotes from the interview for now.
‘In Koran it says that heaven is where a woman puts her foot, we even made a documentary about this notion.but in reality it is very different. I would want to very much appeal to Islamic religious leaders so that they would promote nice suuras [versus] from Koran and not things like polygamy. I am not mentioning other things. And when women [who live in polygamous relationships] suffer from violence… not so long ago they [Parliament] almost managed to remove the 157 article [about prohibition of polygamy]. In reality polygamy is around us. So they [MPs] said that if the law does not work, it should be removed. But we think that the law could at least help to strain.’Women in polygamous relationships turn to ‘Sezim’, being first, second, third wives. Byubyusara was hoping to set a precedent to use the prohibition article but the women are too economically dependant on their husbands and decided not to initiate court cases.
On lack of funding for domestic violence services
‘The businesses give money to culture and sports events. This is nice, I don’t reject this. But our issue is delicate because the men are in power and women are usually suffering from violence while most resources are in men’s hands. So we cannot say that tomorrow immediately they will understand our problems but there are people who do understand.’