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 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…
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.
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.
Flowers, candy and cakes. Not much about women’s rights which originally signified the 8th of March. Flowers are sold at every corner and every woman is entitled to a gift and attention. I saw local police giving flowers to women drivers at the main Ala-Too Square. Interesting idea possibly copied from Russian police recent Valentine’s day quest with giving heart-shaped baloons instead of fines to traffic rules violators.
At the same time recently the parliament’s committee on ‘everything unimporant’ e.g. youth, sports and gender policy voted in a bill on ‘National Sport types’ while the bill on ‘State guarantees for equal rights and opportunities for men and women’ reports MSN newspaper . The number of women in Parliament seems not to influence the attitude towards gendered approach to legislation. This was the worry of researcher and gender specialist Gulnara Ibraeva and it is likely that the women from privileged and elitist groups might not find gendered realities of Kyrgyzstan as a key issue to support.
The first time I saw Nurlan Motuev speaking was during the March 2005 ‘Revolution’ on TV, after listening for some five minutes I realized that I was doubting his sanity. Now he is running for ombudsman’s position. He is known of seizing a land mine and criminal charges plus ‘an extraordinary personality’.
The current Ombudsman’s official website comments about another candidate Tursunbek Akun in similar manner ’Kyrgyz Ombudsman does not intend to comment stupid and libellous statements by chair of the [Kyrgyz] human rights committee under president of Kyrgyzstan presented in mass media. The psychiatrists should comment on them’.
Tursunbek Akun is a former opposition activist and a devout Muslim. The commission that he used to chair has been dissolved on Kyrgyz President’s order recently.
24.kg website collected comments from political activists about the elections and candidates. Most of them were surprised to hear that Motuev is running. Tokon Shailieva, leader of the least popular women and youth party ‘New Power’ said ‘I feel pity for my country’ while Galina Kulikova of president’s ‘Ak Jol’ party says that Motuev running is a ‘nonsense’. She personally would nominate female human rights activists Tolekan Ismailova or Aziza Abdirasulova.
Out of the five mentioned activists I would only vote for Tolekan Ismailova, leader of NGO ‘Civil Societ Against Corruption’. She was one of the very few human rights activists who signed a petition to stop homophobia in Kyrgyzstan in 2005 which to me is an indicator that she commits to human rights for everyone unlike the other four.
Among Kyrgyz NGOs we say that we are ‘just unlucky’ about the ombudsman who is supposed to help us not create more work. The next five years look just as unpromising.
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.”