Men’s Health as a gender issue

Today I found a news piece about men’s health in Kyrgyzstan with some interesting facts worth sharing. As gender is also about men and sometimes it is not clear that it is, I want to share some of my thoughts and available research about it.

The news piece covers a action on men’s health which is organized every year by Kyrgyz Republican Center of Urology. This year the action takes place in the south of Kyrgyzstan. The action basically encourages men to come to the hospital for free check-ups  with a team of specialists working on men’s reproductive health issues.  About 1500 men every year are recommended to receive treatment for their identified diseases during the action.

Men’s health has been the concern of the Ministry of Health and international organizations in the past years. Women Support Center conducted a research project on men’s attitudes to health care (available at their office or via email roza@users.kyrnet.kg). The main findings were that men in Kyrgyzstan generally disregard their health and consider turning to medical specialists for treatment as unmanly and weak.  These attitudes result in poor health among men and leads to higher mortality rates and lower life expectancy. While women are expected to be future mothers and encourage to attend medical clinics or go for regular check-ups during pregnancies, men are rare clients in the doctors’ offices.    

Kyrgyz Ministry of Health reports that suicides among men are three times more common than among women and 80% of people with HIV in Kyrgyzstan are men. 

Rigid gender expectations about what is masculine (drinking alcohol, being too tough to see a doctor) seem to be affecting men in Kyrgyzstan at a large scale, yet the media and the parliament continue to perceive men as the ‘stronger sex’ which does not need gender equality.  The issue is hardly talked about.

Блог по-русски. Blog in Russian

Я решила, что блог пора переводить на русский язык, а мне пора учиться писать по-русски с меньшим количеством ошибок.

Добро пожаловать!

На русском тоже пишут о гендере.  

Мысли этой недели: и все же почему нельзя ввести квоты для женщин в парламенте, или для мужчин в детских садах и школах? Почему бы вдруг в один прекрасный день не попробовать сделать наше общество чуть-чуть более равноправным?

Например, предложить президенту Бакиеву не только пройти по улицам Бишкека, как простые смертные, но и попробовать пожить один день в роли кыргызской женщины из села с пятью детьми, пьющим неработаюшим мужем и восприятием своей жизни как бремени, которое является частью ‘женской доли’.  Может быть, тогда Бакиев стал больше времени уделять гендерному (не)равенству.

На днях меня попросили прокомментировать ситуации в Кыргызстане после революции. Я сказала, что для себя поняла, что если в стране в семьях старшие принимают решения за младших, а мужчины за женщин, сложно говорить о демократии и равенстве, потому что изначально какие-то группы людей общество представляет как неспособных на самостоятельное принятие решений.  Учителя считают, что они умнее учеников, а люди на улице могут подойти к тебе и прокомментировать твою одежду или прическу.

Kyrgyz politics, election code and gender.

As I was looking through the blogs and news over the past week to gather information to post here, it surprised me how few women’ faces or commentary was available at these resources. Are there any female political analysts around? Out of seven experts in the Institute of Public Policy, all are male. Looked ar AkiPress website to find out that most of the news are about men.  Here I am expecting responses that men make the politics and women have their own domain of home and children. How would it feel if we said the same things about different ethnic or religious groups – that they have their own role and domain and should not cross the boundaries.

On 24.kg read through the news about the committees and commissions that exist within the Kyrgyz parliament. Out of 17 committees, three are not working and 14 are headed by men. Three commissions are headed by men and two are not working. There are no women in parliament since March 2005 when the only three women who were elected had to leave due to their connection to the president and irregularities connected to their election. 

During the past week there was a number of interesting meetings related to the issue of women not being represented in government structures. In the light of making changes in the Kyrgyz Election Code, proposals from civil society to include a quota for women could be considered by the parliament.  Reactions to this idea followed immediately. Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir uulu  declared that he ‘wants a woman’ (source: 24.kg) to be one of his deputies.  Adakham Madumarov, Kyrgyz Secretary of State, asked during a discussion of the second national plan on achieving gender equality in Kyrgyzstan, what are the obstacles of achiving gender equality in Kyrgyzstan. The question was asked during the speech of Toktokan Borombaeva (an expert of the sector of social and gender department of economic and social polocy of the President’s administration) about Kyrgyzstan’s obligations to international community and the importance of the national plan. Madumarov allowed himself to interrupt the speech without letting Borombaeva finish it which illustrates well the attitudes to gender equality and quotas for women in the Parliament. Women activists are rather skeptical about the possibility of including quota or appointment procedures for women to be represented in decision-making bodies, yet they promised to file a complaint to the UN (Mira Karybaeva, expert from Agency of Social Technologies in her speech during parliamentary hearings on the new election code 24.kg).  Male MPs have their own view of the situation:

 ‘The new “Election” Code, which was discussed in the parliament today, does not contain the women quota, parliament deputy speaker Kubanychbek Isabekov told the press today.

The deputy speaker thinks that such a quota is insulting for women. “It may humiliate them. Women make the biggest part of our constituency and unfortunately there is no a single woman in Kyrgyz parliament today. Women should vote for women candidates more actively. I know that ladies usually have very active social life, they drive cars, go to clubs and cafes. We should turn their energy into the right direction,” Isabekov said.’ (24.kg)  

In 2006 President Bakiev signed a decree about women’s representation of at least 30% in  

More information of different views could be found in IWPR article on women’s participation in decision-making

Quotas for underrepresented groups exist in order to make the decision-making bodies more representative and attentive to the needs of these groups.  Without having experienced what the minorities go through in their everyday lives, the decision-makers have a distorted view of how to address their needs, therefore, it is important to include minorities in decision-making. This is a very mild approach to inclusiveness. It is the existing social system that does not allow women to be represented and elected, ideally it should be challenged and changed but majority of politicians see the situation as a norm (due to their social status of well-off older Kyrgyz men).   

While being in a numerical majority in Kyrgyzstan, women have a minority status with higher unemployment rate, lower salaries and few options to present their views at political arenas.  The previous national plan of achieving gender equality (2002-2006) introduced secretariats on women and family in each akimiat (local governing body) which were underfunded and unpopular among the officials.  

This is the latest update of the situation. 

why gender? why stan? why?

It’s been ages since I started thinking about how the society functions in general, somehow certain things did not fit into my idealistic worldview and got me questioning and wondering. Gender is one of the big puzzles for me. Very rigidly defined and hardly ever questioned but at the same time so fluid and flexible.  

I live in Kyrgyzstan, ‘stan’ meaning a place-state-home. This blog is like a home in a way, too,  for gender-wonderers (benders, blenders, feminists, misogynists (yes, them, too because they have a view as well which is based on how they interpret gender)) and actually anyone who is interested. 

What I want to do here is to look at Kyrgyzstan’s society in a gendered way with gender meaning diversity and recognition of different statuses that people are given by the society.