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…
This is our third day at the 41st CEDAW Session. Today Lithuanian governments is answering the questions of the CEDAW Committee. The session will take the whole day and the questions range from the rights of Roma women to sexual rights which Lithuania is violating due to putting restrictions on abortion and limiting young people’s access to information about sexuality.
It is amazing to see a situation when government is put through the international embarassment on the rights of people whom they usually consider unimportant. The process takes about 4-5 hours and questions asked are very detailed and sometimes they are very embarassing. Yesterday Yemen government had the floor and they could hardly respond to some of the questions.
Kyrgyz government will be presenting in the end of October and we are preparing for it with effort and zeal.
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.
Today I acutely felt the differences between mainstream gender NGOs and gender NGOs working with stigmatized communities like sex workers or lesbian women. CEDAW reports that come from Kyrgyzstan hardly include the latter groups and the people working for putting together the reports usually come from mainstream NGOs e.g. working with ‘normal’ women. A normal woman would be a young woman, probably married, probably with one or two or three children and probably in need of support in terms of a mini-credit or legal support in case she is divorcing or shelter/consultation in case she is living with an abusive partner. The usual approach to this ‘normal’ woman is victimizing, she does not sound like an agent in the reports but rather as somebody who is a recipient of care and support.
The ‘other’ women are not present in the mainstream reports or discussed in one sentence because it is a requirement (‘the number of sex workers under 16 years old has increased due to harsh economic situation’ or ‘criminal code mentions forced lesbian sexual contacts as grounds for longer rape sentence’).
This post is rather a short though on the larger reports, I will be looking at the texts soon and posting more in detail about some of the interesting mismatches in the reports.
As I have previously written, Labrys was preparing a videocast in response to the homophobic and insulting statements presented by Russian Orthodox Church. The videocast was uploaded to Kyrgyz video portal and has been watched 409 times within the first 15 hours of being up. The video in Russian features Gulnara Kurmanova of AntiAIDS Association who is a strong LGBT ally, journalist Bektour Iskender, priest Maksim Bratukhin and head of LGBT Organization ‘Labrys’ Anna Kirey. Together they explore the view of religion on LGBT and discuss the possibility of opening a dialog on LGBT issues which most organizations are silent about. The videocast can be viewed here
The worrying trend that I see in this situation is that the word ‘sodomite’ might become part of everyday language and was presented as synonymous to LGBT in most of the media coverage of the press conference by Russian Orthodox Church.
Today a person from Russian Ortodox Church called my office and said that they were planning to sue Labrys for something. This something is not very clear but it is related to Labrys press conference on 14 February where an LGBT-friendly priest Maksim from Apostolic Orthodox Church spoke about his church’s views on homosexuality (which are positive).
There is no case for putting to court because Maksim was not representing Labrys but the reaction of the church is a little strange and unexpected. The media did not focus their attention on religion during the press conference and there was hardly any information about Maksim speaking. Most of media focus turned to usual ‘exotic’ issue of transsexuals struggling to change their gender marker officially which was not the news hook at all.
The press conference was supposed to raise the LGBT issues and talk about Labrys experiences during for years of its work and the official opening of the new LGBT community center. Somehow only Labrys Programmer Department Manager Alex Mamytov who spoke about transgender issues and social worker Viktoria Lotz talking about ‘rehabilitation’ center made it to the news. I actually wrote to 24.kg news agency which hosted the press conference and asked to take the ‘rehabilitation’ part out of the text and ‘sexual minorities’ as well. Journalists somehow mix things up all the time and only write about things they find interesting or exotic, e.g. political news (= the state might allow transsexuals change their gender in passports).
If I were to write about the press conference, I would focus on positive developments in Labrys and get in-depth information about the issue, maybe ask to visit the center or talk to priest Maksim in detail, request information from Ministry of Health about their views on transgender documents change. Easy and Shocking unchecked and distorted information made it to media. You may read some of the reactions here.
Labrys blog has some more information about the events surrounding the press conference and will feature