UN Reporting: discrimination against women and sexual/reproductive rights

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.

UPR report on Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Uzbekistan

UPR report on Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Turkmenistan

UPR report on Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Azerbaijan

LGBT Organization ‘Labrys’ responds to police visits

The past weeks have been hectic and I was in and out of the country which probably is noticeable on the blog.  The most interesting information flow that I am coming across everyday is how LGBT Organization ‘Labrys’ is responding to the police visits that it has encountered in the past weeks. The first raid which happened two weeks ago received a lot of responses and reactions because it was an official event with guests from Dutch donor organizations and because Labrys acted on the situation using international human rights protection mechanisms.  Labrys contacted Human Rights Watch and used UN Special Procedures to address the issue. Human Rights Watch issued an official press release condemning the police raid while the UN sent a note to Kyrgyz Ministry of International Affairs.  

The press release has a photo of the district police officer who lead the raid and it was put on the wall in the community center to be shown to other police who might want to raid the center.  The community center staff has a strategy to deal with new visits and list of contacts of people and organization who could help in case of police visit. There are two duty staff at nights and Labrys is in high alert due to possible revenge from the police which other human rights activists warned Labrys about.  Meanwhile the reactions to the visit are coming from all over the world with LGBT organizations expressing solidarity and asking what they can do about the situation.

In my opinion the reactions and the impact that the information has made will improve Labrys advocacy because the Kyrgyz human rights activists who usually do not relate LGBT matters to their priority work can now understand that LGBT activists experience the same harrassment and pressure from the state that the other organizations do.  Also Labrys realized that there is a lot of support from both within and outside of Kyrgyzstan and will be more active in its advocacy work.   

Women’s Day in Kyrgyzstan

Flowers, candy and cakes. Not much about women’s rights which originally signified the 8th of March. Flowers are sold at every corner and every woman is entitled to a gift and attention. I saw local police giving flowers to women drivers at the main Ala-Too Square. Interesting idea possibly copied from Russian police recent Valentine’s day quest with giving heart-shaped baloons instead of fines to traffic rules violators.

At the same time recently the parliament’s committee on ‘everything unimporant’ e.g. youth, sports and  gender policy voted in a bill on ‘National Sport types’ while the bill on ‘State guarantees for equal rights and opportunities for men and women’ reports MSN newspaper . The number of women in Parliament seems not to influence the attitude towards gendered approach to legislation. This was the worry of researcher and gender specialist Gulnara Ibraeva   and it is likely that the women from privileged and elitist groups might not find gendered realities of Kyrgyzstan as a key issue to support.

Kyrgyz Ombudman office statistics and updates on the new ombudsman elections

 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.  

homophobic article in Kyrgyz newspaper to be addressed by human rights organizations

Journalists in Kyrgyzstan pick up on the topics related to homosexuality or transsexuality whenever they have a chance.  There were attempts to address this issue which did not have much reaction from the media.

Recent coverage of a press conference about first brochure in Kyrgyz language about realities for homosexual and bisexual people in Kyrgyzstan turned out quite diverse.  It ranged from a positive BBC article in Kyrgyz language to a very negative reaction from a journalist in ‘Beliy Parohod’ newspaper which is posted below.  Kyrgyz language newspaper ‘Alibi’ quotes Dzhypar Dzheksheev, Head Representative of national commission on UNESCO affairs in Kyrgyzstan saying:

“In my understanding the Kyrgyz people must respect its traditions and not imitate the Western culture. Leaning on democracy and blaming it for everything, the Muslim people should not shut their eyes on such issues. I do not agree with this [state of affairs]. I consider this disgrace. And we must not agree with them [LGBT community] just because they say so – we must never forget our roots. “ 

The homophobic reactions did not go unnoticed, human rights organizations. LGBT activists picked up the issue and are planning to send out a number of open letters to the newspapers, UNESCO and Kyrgyz media representative urging them to address homophobia in the mass media and of their employees.

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