Kyrgyzstan: Activists concerned violence against women not taken seriously
Officials have urged journalists to dwell more on positive stories.
A recent grisly case in Kyrgyzstan has once more highlighted the dangers experienced daily not only by women, but also children.
The reaction of officials and faith leaders is suggestive about why the problem is not getting better.
Earlier this month, RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service, Radio Azattyk, ran an article about the rape of a 13-year-old girl that horrified the country. In one particularly chilling detail, it emerged that two of the girl’s three attackers, who had raped her over a number of months between last August and this February, were police officers.
The victim felt especially vulnerable as she had been caught shoplifting and comes from an impoverished family. Her father is a migrant laborer in Russia.
Members of the government reacted to the outcry with what many perceived to be callousness, however. Deputy Prime Minister Edil Baisalov complained on social media that by dwelling on stories like these, journalists were only spreading negative news.
“Why write about this and thereby multiply the pain?” he wrote on Twitter.
The head of the Cabinet, Akylbek Japarov, echoed the sentiment shortly after that, telling a gathering of journalists that they should give positive news more prominence.
“If we look at this case of the rape of the little girl, everybody wrote about it. And now [tourists] will say that they are no longer going to come here with their children,” he said on July 5.
On that same day, a group of activists demanded an urgent meeting with the president, Sadyr Japarov (no relation to Akylbek Japarov), to discuss the issue of violence against women and children. They demanded in their public appeal to the president that he rapidly push through legal reforms and hire a dedicated advisor on gender issues.
“It is an obligation of the state not to discriminate against women and to ensure the protection of rights, freedom, honor and dignity, and the access to fair justice as enshrined in the constitution,” the activists said.
Residents of the country’s two largest cities, Bishkek and Osh, held rallies specifically about violence against children on July 8. In Bishkek, a crowd of around 200 people demanded the resignation of the head of the Interior Ministry, Ulan Niyazbekov.
Kanyshai Sarbasheva, 35, came to the Bishkek rally with her 7-year-old daughter.
“I am falling into despair at how the president is ignoring this. We get no answers, no reaction. How can we talk about tourism when our children are unsafe and we women cannot go out unaccompanied?” she told Eurasianet.
One day after those rallies, President Japarov’s office felt moved to issue a statement talking about how the government had developed a program for the protection of children and to advance the interests of gender equality.
Sadybakas Doolov, a popular imam in the capital, Bishkek, only broadened the outrage fueled through these sorts of indifferent and sluggish reactions by uploading a bizarre video sermon in which he drew a direct correlation between short skirts and the rise in the cost of living.
“Prices for meat at the bazaar are skyrocketing. Do you know when the price of meat goes up? When the flesh of a woman becomes cheaper in your area. And women’s meat becomes cheaper when she starts showing her body,” Doolov told the 200,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel.
Bishkek activists have pursued legal action against Doolov, arguing that his remarks constitute a form of discrimination on grounds of gender. The Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan, or DUMK, has already said it sees nothing unlawful about what Doolov said.
Ayzirek Imanaliyeva is a journalist based in Bishkek.
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