One woman’s battle to turn the tide against patriarchal norms in Kyrgyzstan has produced a mixed victory.
In a ruling made public this week, the Constitutional Court decreed that citizens will be permitted to adopt their mother’s name to form a matronymic. The custom now is the one originally adopted from Russia, wherein children are given a patronymic – the name of their father – as a second name.
The only problem is that they will have to wait until they come of age to do so.
Altyn Kapalova’s legal battle on this matter began in December 2020, when she petitioned the authorities to reissue birth certificates for her three children so that their second names would be listed as either Altynovna or Altynovich, rather than that of their fathers.
The following summer, a court in Bishkek annulled the documents after they learned that those names were her own and not those of a co-habitant, as she had claimed to them. This ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court in April 2022. Kapalova took another tack this year by pressing the Constitutional Court to decide wether the insistence on enforcing patronymics was in line with the constitution.
Until now, the only alternative has been for citizens to adopt the names of a stepfather or grandfather for their patronymic at the age of 16.
In a ruling passed on June 30, the Constitutional Court said it agreed the current set-up violates the principle of gender equality, but it only agreed to go some of the way in offering a remedy. The panel of judges said citizens will be able to adopt a so-called matronymic only once they have reached the age of 18.
The court cited child safety in making its case.
“For a child to have a matronymic in a traditional society could incur various kinds of stigma and bullying,” the court wrote in its argument.
Kapalova nevertheless claimed victory in her campaign, which saw the president’s office, the Justice Ministry and the State Registration Service stacked against her.
“Despite everything, I consider this a victory. Women still cannot give their children their name at birth, but adult children can take their mother’s name. I congratulate everyone on this victory,” she wrote on Facebook.
The news has produced mixed reactions.
While some were supportive, Kyrgyzstan’s most senior Islamic cleric, Zamir Rakiyev, remarked that the idea of matronymics goes against religious and Kyrgyz traditions. He also advanced the case that preserving the patronymic would avoid the likelihood of incest, although his argument was complicated to follow and factually dubious.
“Every child is entitled to know their kin. It is clear who has given birth to a child. But the need to ascertain the father’s parentage is extremely important. It is for this reason that Islam establishes the descent of the child from the father. From Adam through to the present day, all generations in all countries have given the name of the father to both sons and daughters,” he said.
Kapalova has previously said that it was inappropriate for the fathers of her children to have their names bestowed on their offspring since they were not present in their lives.
“The biological fathers have not given the children a cent or a single minute of their time,” she said in early 2021.
Ayzirek Imanaliyeva is a journalist based in Bishkek.