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.
24.kg reports about 5388 children living in orphanages in Kyrgyzstan, 80 % of these children have parents who could take care of them. The factors that contribute to abandoning children are diverse and complicated. The first and foremost is taboo on sexual education and communicating about sex, women do not have a choice but to agree to unprotected sex and then some might not even have the information how pregnancy may occur. The second issue is the poor economic situation of families or single parents which sometimes forces them to leave children at the orphanage. It broke my heart when I was visiting a toddler orphanage some years ago and I saw mothers coming to visit their children on Sundays. The third issue is yet again related to social taboo on sexuality and large numbers of children in families. Kyrgyz women are expected to have at least three children and get married by age of 22-23 which puts some of them in dire poverty because they did not have a chance to acquire skills to sustain a well-paid job to afford raising three children. Early marriages and unplanned early age pregancies usually result in a lot of unexpected children and parents abandon them.
I am at a seminar near Berlin and doing a lot of gendered discussions. I am a co-teamer for Queer Animation and our group of ten people prepared an animation about some of the Yogyakarta principles (international law in relation to LGBT people). It can be viewed on Youtube.
The week brought a lot of discoveries and I learned a lot of methods of disseminating information and perspectives. Most of them are very interactive and I can’t wait to start using them in my work.
This week I am mostly on the road on my way to Berlin and mostly thinking about migrants and their lives in Russia. Just two days ago spent about an hour at a train station trying to buy a Russian entry [migration] card with a relative. The train attendants sell these cards for 300 to 1000 roubles (13$ to 35$) and their usual customers are migrants who have to renew their cards but according to the law have to leave the country and return with a new card (yeah, this is especially fun if you are a migrant somewhere in Siberia and the nearest border is thousand plus kilometers away). It became a business, the train attendants on trains which cross Russian borders sometimes ask if anyone needs a spare card with valid date of entry. You van also buy the card at Moscow train stations.
Meanwhile, Labrys staff managed to put the promised videocast on Google and also on Labrys blog. The video is available at p://kyrgyzlabrys.wordpress.com/2008/03/14/videocast-on-google-video/
Tursunbek Akun reminds me of hunger strikes, bragging about his experiences during Chechen war and senseless speeches. Same old faces, same politics, maybe a little bit easier on gender than Bakir uulu. I still wonder why his State Human Rights Commission had to be dissolved?
Nominated by the President for this seat and elected, it seems that things are going to be this way from now on. Once the President nominates someone, the dominating party Ak Jol supports them and then we play democracy.
Irony: usually human rights activists challenge the state which infringes upon human rights and freedoms. Why do then representatives of the State vote to elect the new Ombudsman?
MSN newspaper ran an article featuring comments of Cholpon Baekova, former MP and number one on Ak Jol party list, and Bakyt Beshimov, former Vice President for Academic Affairs at American University -Central Asia and member of SDPK party. Both MPs find it normal that many ethnic Kyrgyz turn to Islam. Baekova emphasized that Kyrgyzstan is a secular state, Beshimov is worried about Kyrgyzstan becoming a battleground for Islamic extremist forces. Both agreed that the issue is about two holy places, as both Islam and World War Two are important for
I head complaints about the ombudsman’s office over and over. Local women’s NGOs uniting against Ombudman’s initiatives and other NGOs complaining about lack of understanding of what the rights actually represent.
Yet the Office does respond timely to letters and requests in person and people do file complaints to them about their rights violations. The Ombudman’s office estimated that the number of received complaints over the five years of its existence constituted over 130 thousands. Most of the complaints came from people claiming their land property (11000), 1600 complaints about courts, over a thousand about quality of goods and services. The most unpopular rights turned out to be – education, women, religion, children. Compaints about gender-based discrimination constituted about 150 in 2007. This, of course, does not mean that there are no violations. There is no culture of documenting and reporting along with realizing that the discrimination somebody experiences is something that can be challenged.
The good news is that the Ombudsman elections are coming up with nominations being accepted until 10 February. President nominated Tursunbek Akun who is currently the head of Kyrgyz National Human Rights Committee. So it’s very likely that he is going to win. My concern about Akun is the same as with Bakir uulu. Their offices are covered with green flags and verses from Koran. In Kyrgyz context it means that ‘human rights’ will be interpreted based on Koran which is a scary development.
Tomorrow most governmental institutions are going to start their activities for the year, including the new parliament. NGOs are starting their financial and activist year as well. It is difficult to predict whether this year will bring changes in the social structures of Kyrgyzstan but let’s hope that it will.
I will continue writing about most important developments in the field of gender (which is almost everything) in Kyrgyzstan.
There are comments in the blogosphere about the new parliament: now the parliament has more space, laptops and women… Was just watching evening news and realized that the 22 women in parliament remain invisible. The journalists continue to do close-ups of men and interview them only. The one woman who was mentioned in the news was former head of Constitutional Court Cholpon Baekova. I am so wishing for women who speak in the parliament. Can’t wait to see them in action. Hoping that they will realize how important their presence is for us, other women. 22 out of 90.
On the mono-party parliament, there are ten committees and mostly Ak Jol party members in them. The dominating party chose the new Prime Minister today. He is an ethnic Russian (I assume from the last name and looks) and a mathematician. President Bakiev approved the parliament’s choice. How surprising! Bakiev also said today that the political battles are over now and Kyrgyzstan is entering the new year with a new promising parliament.