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.
Yesterday evening Euronews reported about the riots of Muslims who were protesting against women receiving the rights to inherit property equally to men in Bangladesh. It was the first time that I actually realized that globally women’s struggle for equal rights will take dozens if not hundreds of years. It was maybe a hundred of women marching, some of them had severe scars on their faces after men who proposed to them spilled acid on them. Men were throwing rocks and screaming. Rather a strange picture for a post-Soviet person, women against men walking on the streets.
I hope that Kyrgyzstan will never turn to Sharia law which is the justification that they use in Bangladesh.
Strangely enough I am writing about Islam more and more and thinking about its influence a lot more than before. I pass almost everyday near one of Bishkek squares – the Victory Square and enjoy the vast space around it. Just recently there was an idea put forward by local Muslim groups to remove the monument at the Victory Square and build a Mosque there because they found historical evidence of this space belonging to a Mosque. This is done in response to Ministry of Interior request to ban public prayers in the central squares on Muslim holidays which were quite common for Kyrgyzstan.
I immediately imagined World War II medalled veterans on one side with red flags and bearded religious men on the other side all arguing and claiming historical ownership of the space. I would go for WWII veterans’ point for two reasons: 1. there is hardly any other space to recognize their effort to ‘bring peace to future generations’ and 2. it’s scary to think of a huge mosque built so close to a sex worker space, gay club, circus, casino and marriage registry palace.
Plus it is scary to have one more mosque. Had a huge discussion about women’s situation and development yesterday at LGBT community center.
Very short concept:
a non-consensual religious marriage at 17 for a woman =
= 3-4 children an+ divorce within 10 years =
= poverty * poor health* malnutrition =
= Kyrgyzstan becoming poorer
Therefore, ‘NO, I do not support restrictive religious presence in families, on the streets and in institutions’
Yesterday Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister, was assassinated in Pakistan. She was one of the inspiring female politicians and working in a country full of conflict and actively speaking against severe abuse of women in her country. She was a person of great courage and thousands of women activists are mourning about this loss. Benazir had the courage to speak against Shariya laws in an Islamic country and against an abusive political regime in Pakistan. It’s amazing that she had so many supporters, it is rather unusual for Pakistan. She was the first woman ever to be in such a high position in an Islamic state.
Just to discuss the hypocrisy of interpretation of the concept of human rights in Kyrgyzstan. I was just watching Tursunbai Bakir uulu (who was Kyrgyz ombudsman for five years) on an ‘analytical’ program. He was talking about how flawed the elections wear and saying that the people in power in Kyrgyzstan do not fear God and do not prepare for their second life after death. At one point of the interview he took out a tiny Koran out of his pocket and said that he always carries one with him. During his speech he has not mentioned human rights a single time, yet religon was indeed the main topic of conversation. According to Bakir uulu, Kyrgyz people need to have an ideology which will be rooted in religion to replace the old communism ideology and not to have ‘vacuum’ in their heads. At some point he also said that he prays five times a day but does not even make his staff to do so in response to concern about his religiosity being an issue.
I can’t wait for the new ombudsman elections and actually need to ask around about the possibility of taking part in the elections process.
Today is Kurman Bairam, a big Muslim religious holiday. It’s an official day off and according to the tradition you have to cook special ethnic meals today and visit your family and friends. Three people brought food from their homes to my organization’s office today. Meanwhile, I am thinking about gender and religion. Just to give a glimpse of what visual images I have of Islam. The picture shows a square full of praying men, this is the usual start of Muslim religious holidays in Kyrgyzstan. Women are not supposed to pray close to men. One of the reasons I know of is that the kneeling may expose parts of women’s bodies (because women are supposed to cover their ‘seductive’ ‘bodies completely, yet it does not save them from ‘revealing’ when they kneel as they are not supposed to wear trousers).
I am not a Muslim woman and I do not know how it feels not to be able to attend a funeral ceremony at the cemetery or pray at the same square with men on a religious holiday. What I do know is that some intepretations of Islam bring enournous harm to women. Read an article today about sexual relations in Iran, it is scary. 12-year-old women being married, rape in marriage being a common thing and of course a taboo issue. To name some other ways to control women’s bodies: virginity testing in state clinics, stoning for alleged adultery, honor killings of women who allegedly had premarital sex by their families, death sentence for same-sex affection.
It scares me that I see more women in Kyrgyzstan following religious traditions. More women wear head scarves, more men come to the square to pray on religious holidays, some state leaders are openly supported by states with Sharia law. I do not want women in Kyrgyzstan to experience what their sisters go through in Iran. I would not wish anyone to go through a virginity check or a rape.
There are new arguments for an interpretation of human rights that are raised by the organized Muslim believers. I heard this argument in relation to homosexuality, that ‘homosexuals violate the rights of 4 million Muslim believers in Kyrgyzstan for whom homosexuality is a sin’. Today the president and the new Constitution are violating the rights of believers, writes 24.kg. First of all, the Constitution states that Kyrgyzstan is a secular state which means that Kyrgyzstan is a ‘godless, spiritual-less and moralless state’ said Akim Toktaliev (source: 24.kg), chair of the committee of protection of the Kyrgyz people’s honor and dignity.
There is an ongoing discussion about wearing hijabs to school in the South. Girls could be dropping out of schools (which has been a trend before) without the possibility to wear what their religion instructs them to do.
From gender point of view, the main concern is freedom of expression and belief. There are more and more women in Bishkek wearing hijabs. People living in Jal district of Bishkek report being woken up at 5 am by visitors from nearby mosque who are asking all men in the family to come for a prayer. If a woman opens the door and her hair is not covered, the male visitors turn away and ask her to call her husband or another male relative to the door. Would it be possible for a woman who chose not to cover her hair or body to speak in Parliament or walk on the streets without ‘violating rights of believers’?