A draft resolution that would ban women under the age of 23 from traveling abroad without a letter from a parent has enraged rights activists in Kyrgyzstan. The idea, they say, is sexist and – with the resolution’s lead author claiming she is trying to protect women from sexual abuse abroad – encourages entrenched notions that women who suffer sexual violence are themselves to blame.
IWPR interviewed journalist Aida Kasymalieva who has reported on sexual violence within the Kyrgyz migrant community in Russia for RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service. In a disturbing series of reports last year (here and here), Kasymalieva shared the stories of Kyrgyz women like Sapargul – abused and raped by Kyrgyz men who call themselves “patriots” and claim they are protecting Kyrgyz “honor” by attacking Kyrgyz women who see non-Kyrgyz men.
Irgal Kadyralieva, the parliamentarian who drafted the proposal, says she is trying to protect women like Sapargul. Kasymalieva, the journalist, says the deputy has missed the point, blaming the victims and failing to help society see “why you can’t go out and assault or rape someone just because she’s seeing a man from a different ethnic background.”
IWPR: Supporters say that it seeks to protect women, while those who are against it believe it’s a violation of women’s rights. What’s your view?
Kasymalieva: When I was researching this topic in Moscow, many members of the migrant community told me that parents shouldn’t let their daughters go abroad to work. Surprisingly few of them talked about tackling the root causes rather than imposing a ban. The way the issue was discussed showed that most of the blame was placed on the victims, the girls.
I’ve talked to Sapargul, and she’s against this scheme. I am totally against it myself. It doesn’t in any way address the problems facing female migrants. It doesn’t improve conditions for them there [abroad], nor does it help the public understand why this [pattern of assaults] happens – why you can’t go out and assault or rape someone just because she’s seeing a man from a different ethnic background.
This initiative has been designed not to eradicate the problem, but as a PR exercise to satisfy the pseudo-patriotic rhetoric that now exists in Kyrgyzstan.
IWPR: What are the negative implications?
Kasymalieva: This is a mirror reflection of social attitudes to women. The very fact it’s been possible to make such a proposal at the parliamentary level effectively legitimises these attitudes.
It will strengthen xenophobic feelings… it will effectively confirm that these “patriots” are right, that the girls are the guilty party and should “stay home”.
What’s more, if it’s approved it will create more opportunities for corruption, since it includes exemptions for young women going to study abroad… There’s tremendous room for manoeuvre, for bureaucratic paperwork, and hence for bribe-taking.
IWPR: Why was 23 chosen as the age-limit for the travel ban?
Kasymalieva: That’s absolutely unclear. Has any research been done? The figure has been plucked out of thin air.
MP Kadyralieva’s explanations only further enrage activists. “Such measures are needed to increase morality and preserve the gene pool," she told Vechernii Bishkek earlier this month, later describing the issue as one of “moral security,” to Kloop.kg.