As elsewhere in the Caucasus, flower-giving for International Women's Day in Armenia contrasts starkly with the widespread problem of domestic violence. (http://www.medialab.am/gallery/cartoon_lab/id/5108)
In the South Caucasus, International Women’s Day is still largely about men offering flowers, candies and compliments to their mothers, wives and significant female others. But many women in the region are now saying that they want “rights, not flowers.”
Throughout the post-Soviet part of the world, March 8 has long ranked as a bit of a Soviet Valentine’s Day. In keeping with that tradition, Russia’s Vladimir Putin this year panegyrized women’s beauty and grace, and threw in a poem for good measure. “Woman is with us when we are born; woman is with us in our final hour; woman is the flag we fight for,” the Kremlin boss rhapsodized, borrowing lines by the 19th-century Russian symbolist poet Konstantin Balmont.
Caucasus leaders avoided poetry, but their governments did have other offerings.
In Armenia, female arrivals at the Yerevan airport received flowers, courtesy of the Armenian capital’s authorities. Meanwhile, in Yerevan’s central square, Armenian Sports Minister Hrachya Rostomian whirled about with a group of cyclists, doling out both flowers and greetings to women.
A group of activists marching in the center of Bishkek on March 8 to mark International Women's Day (Photo: Courtesy of Bishkek Feminist Initiatives)
Dozens of people in Kyrgyzstan’s two main cities used the occasion of International Woman’s Day on March 8 to gather in solidarity with victims of domestic violence.
The holiday is typically a light-hearted affair in Kyrgyzstan and the rest of the region — an occasion for men to lavish flowers or other gifts on their female colleagues, spouses or other women in their life.
But feminist groups seized on the opportunity to remind the public about the problem of violence and discrimination that they see perpetrated against women in the country.
“For some reason, most of the population sees this as the holiday of spring and flowers. In reality it has lost its true meaning. We wanted to draw the attention of the public and the government to the problems that women face every day,” said feminist activist Reina Arturova.
Arturova and around 100 other people took part in a march in Bishkek that took them past monuments to two well-known female figures in Kyrgyzstan history.
Kurmanjan Datka was an important political figure in Kyrgyzstan who united Kyrgyz tribes in the face of Russian aggression in the 19th century before succumbing to Moscow. Before doing that, however, she is said to have fled a man who had kidnapped her for marriage, making her an appealing role model for many Kyrgyz women. Urkuya Saliyeva, meanwhile, was a reforming activist in the early Soviet period.
Arturova said that although women in Kyrgyzstan are often subjected to violent crimes, many of them often refrain from going to the police or pursuing legal action.
Almost 24 hours after the vote, and after a widespread public outcry in Bishkek, parliament has published the text of the controversial resolution it passed last night. It turns out, though MP Irgal Kadyralieva is still insisting to the press that she wishes to protect the Kyrgyz "gene pool,” the final resolution does not limit travel for women based on their age.
In the confusion -- fueled by multiple press appearances where Kadyralieva insisted women under age 22 or 23 must be forbidden from traveling abroad without a parent's consent -- early on June 13 activists in Bishkek lashed out at the resolution.
“This legal act is absurd,” Vechernii Bishkek quoted Aikanysh Jeenbaeva, co-founder of the Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ as saying. “It's not going to protect anyone. It will only increase corruption. Now girls will have to pay bribes at the border.”
“Deputies acted ignorantly by passing the resolution,” human rights Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun was quoted as saying. “Don't they know that they're violating the Constitution, civil rights, and freedom of movement?”
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?
Seeing as its International Women's Day today, Hurriyet Daily News economics columnist Emre Deliveli uses the occasion to remind readers that the labor force participation (LFP) rate for women in Turkey is a woeful 29.5 percent (the average among countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which Turkey is a member of, is 61 percent).
Improving the visibility and participation of women in the workplace has certainly been one of the areas where the current Turkish government has failed to take any strong action. The most recent World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index, for example, finds Turkey ranked 124 out of 135 countries. Beyond the low LFP rate for women, Turkey also has extremely low numbers of women in senior and managerial positions in government and academia.
Still, despite the discouraging numbers, things may be changing. From a recent article by Guven Sak, executive director of the Ankara-based Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey:
International Women’s Day on March 8 is seen in much of the world as an opportunity to raise awareness about gender equality – but, as in most other former Soviet states, in Kazakhstan the holiday is more about giving flowers and chocolates and making saccharine speeches extolling the virtues of the fairer sex.
While women’s rights activists in other parts of the former Soviet Union – including neighboring Kyrgyzstan – have stepped forward to try to reclaim Women’s Day, in Kazakhstan the image of the female as either beauty idol or perfect wife remains central to the festivities.
To celebrate the rising role of women in the military – and there are over 8,500 of them, including 750 officers, according to the Defense Ministry – why not vote for Miss Military Kazakhstan? Vox Populi, a magazine, is running an online contest featuring uniformed women striking sexy poses, with readers voting for their favorite military sex bomb.
Not to be outdone, Kazakhstan’s rail industry has its own beauty queen: This year's proud Miss Railways is HR specialist Minuar Sarkynshakova, who won the beauty pageant after a stiff competition in the pages of trade magazine Kazakhstan Railroader.
A lawmaker in Kyrgyzstan is pushing a resolution that would ban young women from leaving the country without their parents’ written consent.
Irgal Kadyralieva from the Social Democratic Party says the resolution, which would apply to girls under 23 years of age, is intended to "protect their honor and dignity” from trafficking or sex work. “Such measures are needed to increase morality and preserve the gene pool," Vechernii Bishkek quoted her as saying on March 4.
The ban would not prevent girls from studying abroad, Kadyralieva says, but is specifically designed to stop them from traveling abroad for work. Hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz women work abroad, mostly in Russia, often in unskilled jobs for low wages and sometimes in dangerous conditions.
Kadyralieva says she was specifically motivated by a series of reports last year about Kyrgyz women in Russia being beaten and raped by Kyrgyz men calling themselves “patriots.” The men were angry at the sight of Kyrgyz women socializing with non-Kyrgyz men.
"This proposal of mine protects national security, social security, moral security and [is an] economic issue," Kadyralieva said in an interview with Kloop.kg.
In addition to being Valentine's Day, February 14 this year was also V-Day, which thousands of people worldwide marked by participating in One Billion Rising, a global day of action – and dancing – to protest violence against women and girls. Bishkek was no exception.
Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ organized a ‘dance strike’ in front of the statue of Urkiya Salieva, a heroine of female emancipation who was killed by conservative basmachi in 1934. The event, which was organized via social media, drew about one hundred people, who danced to a Russian cover of the One Billion Rising anthem, Break the Chain, performed by local singer Saltanat Ashirova.
According to organizers, the aim of the protest was to increase local awareness about violence and injustice against women, as well as to show support for local organizations that work with women and girls who have survived violence. Co-organizer Galina Sokolova explained: “Crisis centers are constantly underfunded, understaffed and overcrowded. In 2009 and 2011 our V-Day benefit productions of the Vagina Monologues raised a total of around $4000 to support crisis centers in Bishkek and Osh. This year our team is fundraising for Crisis Center “Shans” in Bishkek, which has been working without funding for two years and still provides vital support to survivors of sexual violence. We want to make safe spaces and crisis centers visible.”
A new school has opened in Almaty to prepare perfect brides for discerning Kazakh husbands-to-be.
Bride School is teaching women all the skills they need to keep their men happy, reports Tengri News. Diligent students can go on to enter a competition for Kazakhstan’s best bride.
The skills deemed necessary to be the perfect kelin – Kazakh for bride – range from cooking to applying makeup to parading like a model.
“At the lessons the students will be able to learn to cook, parade, grasp the basics of makeup; there will be classes in family psychology – in how to understand your husband, for example,” Bella Satmyrza, the woman who runs the school, said. “We want to create our ideal of a real kelin – a modern girl who looks after herself, looks good, is educated and well-read, but at the same times pays attention to national traditions, habits, culture and cooking.”
The culinary classes will naturally involve cooking beshbarmak (“five fingers”), Kazakhstan’s signature dish of flat noodles with mounds of meat heaped on top. The cut of choice is horsemeat, currently the subject of controversy in Europe but beloved in Kazakhstan.
Satmyrza is bringing in experts to advise the girls on how to please their husbands, from a choreographer who worked on the recent Kazakh dance film Forbidden Dances to “experienced mothers” offering training in how to raise children.
Talk about changing the subject. For the last few weeks, Turkey had been consumed by a heated debate over last December's Uludere incident, in which 34 Kurdish smugglers were killed near the Iraqi border after the Turkish military mistakenly thought them to be Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants. Questions about the slow pace of the investigation into the incident, new allegations about the role that intelligence provided by American drones played in the attack, and some truly unfortunate remarks by Turkey's Interior Minister all threatened to turn the months-old incident into a major headache for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).