I just got back from the United States and was out of touch with Kyrgyz reality for women for some time. Yesterday it hit me hard. My housemate is a graduate of Sports Academy and has been teaching there until a year ago. She enjoyed teaching but had to leave because her university instructor’s salary being too low to sustain herself. She played rugby professionally for years and started looking for other jobs. The only available choices were either in teaching or being a security guard. She trains a girls’ soccer team to fulfill her passion for sports and has been working as a security guard with 24-hour shifts every two days. I only see her at home every other day and she is usually very sleepy and tired. Recently she was transferred from a job of security guard to an office job at the same company. Last night she came back home and said that her boss told her to dress more feminine and start wearing skirts and blouses. She does not have any feminine clothes so I got out whatever dresses, blouses and skirts that I had and we had a drag evening because neither her, nor my other lesbian housemate ever wear this kind of clothes. I personally wear them only when I need to appear as a ‘standard woman my age’.
When both of them were dressing up there were jokes thrown about how they both would get a raise if they wore this kind of clothes to work and how we should start dressing like that more often because we’d be driving Mercedes. It is sad that we see more prospects in dressing in a certain way than in studying or improving our skills. It’s true that job prospects in Kyrgyzstan improve with changes in length of hair, style of clothes and willingness to respond to men’s invitations.
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.
One small victory over the police very much thanks to human rights activists and presence of foreigners in the office.
24.kg reports about 5388 children living in orphanages in Kyrgyzstan, 80 % of these children have parents who could take care of them. The factors that contribute to abandoning children are diverse and complicated. The first and foremost is taboo on sexual education and communicating about sex, women do not have a choice but to agree to unprotected sex and then some might not even have the information how pregnancy may occur. The second issue is the poor economic situation of families or single parents which sometimes forces them to leave children at the orphanage. It broke my heart when I was visiting a toddler orphanage some years ago and I saw mothers coming to visit their children on Sundays. The third issue is yet again related to social taboo on sexuality and large numbers of children in families. Kyrgyz women are expected to have at least three children and get married by age of 22-23 which puts some of them in dire poverty because they did not have a chance to acquire skills to sustain a well-paid job to afford raising three children. Early marriages and unplanned early age pregancies usually result in a lot of unexpected children and parents abandon them.
Fresh news from the Parliament. Maternal leaves have been extended to three years and the male initiator of the bill also is hoping that if the husbands will earn a lot of money than the wives would be able to stay at home with the child for life.
From the point of view of child’s interest this is a nice gesture. From the woman’s point of view, it can turn into an employment issue. The employers are not generally happy about hiring young women because of the pregnancy risk. It is also unusual that the employers pay the women on maternity leaves as they are required by law. Therefore, it is unlikely that women’s situation is going to improve with the longer maternal leaves. The usual story is that the mother either stays at home until the family is able to afford taking their child to kindergarten or her extended family (usually a younger sister or distant female relative) takes care of the child while she is at work.
The statement of the MP Rahatbek Irsaliev who initiated the bill about staying at home ‘for life’ is particularly scary to hear because it implies that the Soviet idea of women being an important part of the work force is vanishing and the more traditional view is taking over.
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.
This is the question in my mind today. I have two and a half university diplomas (the other half will be added when I finish my thesis), eight years of NGO experience, good language skills, research and journalism experience, publications, travel, living abroad . Yet I do not see purchasing a Jeep as ever something realistic unless I start a successful business in Kyrgyzstan.
This thought crossed my mind after a quarrel with my apartment owner over water and electricity bills which he promised to pay but then declined. He owns a Jeep and a car plus works for Kumtor which means that he has a high salary. He is about 35-40 years old. The apartment rent was 200 dollars per month which is reasonable these days for Bishkek (with an average income of 180-200$ per month). I pay about half of my income for renting an apartment. Labrys shelter is full of migrants coming from Naryn and Talas looking for safer places for LGBT. They cannot afford to rent an apartment for 200$, they cannot afford renting it for 50$. There are migrants in Bishkek who earn 100$ for 12-hour working days. The cheapest lunch costs about 1,5 dollars even if you cook yourself especially in meat-eating culture. Speaking about poverty.
So when will I be able to purchase a Jeep? An average woman in Bishkek earns about 100-200$ at a regular job. An average man earns more and usually has an ‘irregular’ [read: illegal] job. Men somehow manage to buy cars which cost 4000$ and up. Men manage to rent 200-400$ apartments. The more I live in Bishkek, the more I question the system of how society is organized. Apartment owners would not rent for anything less than 180$. Who rents these apartments?
Sometimes I think its cheaper to live in Europe. When I lived in Sweden, my friend and I rented one room apartment in suburbs for 400$ and this was considered to be expensive. You need at least 200$ to rent a one-room apartment in Bishkek. Isn’t this scary?
Where do migrants live? What’s waiting for an average migrant in the future? One option is to rent with four-five friends, then you only pay some 40-50$ and hardly have breathing space. This is a reality for many young women and men who came to Bishkek looking for better fortunes. Will the state ever consider people who live in horrible conditions and sometimes do not eat meat or butter or even a warm meal for weeks?
I earn more than an average woman in Bishkek but I am very worried about apartment rent prices in this city and I will not have a man with a Jeep to support me. I doubt that I will have a legal job that would help me invest in purchasing an apartment (at least 30000$) or a Jeep (sometimes costs the same).