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.
A lot of women in Kyrgyzstan are working as seamstresses in very harsh conditions. The issue of working conditions in private businesses has been around for over a decade. Seamstresses work in small rooms stuffed with sewing machines and people, sewing day and night for prices like 20-30 soms for a piece of easy-made clothes. Now it’s changing a little bit, at least the underground businesses are coming out which should make them a little more worker-friendly due to required adherence to the labor code (which is actually a nice document with a lot of provisions that would surprise even sophisticated unionists). According to MSN newspaper, the number of state patents for sewing businesses purchased in 2007 doubled and constituted 38000 bringing 8 million soms (220,000 dollars) income to the state. Hopefully the conditions will improve for seamstresses and the experience will help other businesses to be public as well. Interestingly enough most of the sewing products are sold in Russia and Kazakhstan and I am sure that it says ‘made in Turkey’ etc on the labels.
Picked up couple of newspapers today to read about what’s going on. These are some of interesting gendered quotes and summaries.
Linking women and social issues – the Minister of labor and social development
‘The Minister of labor and social development Uktomkhan Abdullaeva can answer questions on increase for utilities cost, stipends for students, social payments and issuing coins, call 28-88-72’ (Vecherniy Bishkek 18 January 2008 issue)
Forced marriage legislation being implemented
‘A man accused of forcing a woman to marry him detained and facing sentences ranging from 10000-20000 soms (300-600 $) to couple of years in prison’
Western ideas challenging local traditions
‘Three students of American University – Central Asia, alumni of US-government sponsored exchange programs, travelled to villages to talk about bride kidnapping’
Women adding smell to the parliament
‘The atmosphere [in parliament] is lively and a little perfumed since third of the people in hall is women who decidedly use their secrets of charming the world’
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.
Quoted from http://tazar.kg/news.php?i=7187 (verbatim translation from Russian):
“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 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.
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.