Kyrgyzstan: Women’s contribution to stabilizing and observing democratic principles and gender equality in Kyrgyzstan

Nurgul Djanaeva
In April 2005, a 2-day forum took place in Bishkek to perform an expert social assessment of the problems of, and possibilities for, the participation of women-activists and women’s organizations in the process of stabilization in Kyrgyzstan.
At the forum, women founded their United Platform of Action, directed at consolidating the efforts of women’s organizations to assist with stability, the observance of democratic principles, and gender equality in the country.
On the 24th of March 2005 in Kyrgyzstan the “white house” was taken by the opposition. During several weeks all over the country actions of protest to the Akaev’s regime and to the last Parliamentary elections were organized. The political events the recent weeks have resulted from many years of violations of human rights, the foundations of democracy, and of corruption. Instability in the country at the transitional political period demands the active involvement of the broader public and NGOs. “Revolution” of 24th March was accompanied by terrible nightmare looting in Bishkek, capital of the country. Following weeks were full of political turbulence. Destabilization of social and political life put at risk all previous gains and at the same time gave new opportunities for new political players. Women were washed out from the main political body in the result of the last elections fro the Parliament. Previous political setting didn’t let women to the highest state decision-making bodies. The new one may also be gender discriminatory, if women themselves won’t make proactive steps to prevent this. Women realized that it is time to act as political partners and called to a national women’s meeting. The decision of women’s activists to create a national forum emerged from demands for urgent inclusion into the process of stabilization.

The alarming events of March, having posed the question of the responsibility of citizens to the future of the country, resulted in the effective consolidation of women’s organizations and “women’s” structure in government. Spontaneously, the efforts of several networks of organizations united at the call of their members to analyze the situation in Kyrgyzstan. During the first ten days of April, many women’s organizations convened in Bishkek. An organization committee formed, with representatives of such women’s organizations as Sezim, the Center for Help for Women, the Forum of Women’s Organizations of Kyrgyzstan, the Agency for Social Technologies, and also the Secretariat of the National Council for the Affairs of Women, Families, and Youth.

This informal organizational committee accomplished a tremendous amount of work in mobilizing women and resources, and worked closely with the Secretariat of the National Council for the Affairs of Women, Families, and Youth. From 17 – 18 April 2005, the national women’s forum welcomed around 100 women-activists, directors of women’s organizations from all regions of Kyrgyzstan.

Opening the Forum, the head of the Forum of Women’s NGOs of Kyrgyzstan conveyed the general opinion that women and women’s organization have the right to participate in the forming, realizing, control, and monitoring of all governmental and civic programs directed toward stability. Women of Kyrgyzstan have accumulated a significant organizational experience and leadership capacity, with the ability to contribute to the stabilization of the immediate situation in the country, to strengthen democracy, and to amend the present social-political situation. She noted that the cooperation with organizations of civil society for the stabilization of the situation in the country and for building a real democracy with the full and effective participation of women should be one of the strategic government directions – particularly at this period of political and social instability. Expanding the social role of women’s organizations is a necessity aspect for stability at this transitional period.

At the Forum, before the participants stood the goal to consolidate programs and activities of the women’s movement for the establishment of a fair, democratic, and safe environment in Kyrgyzstan. It should be noted that, in the immediate crisis situation – of the swift political transition after the people’s capturing of power – achieving this goal presented two levels of tasks.

The first level is communicative: To position ourselves as equal partners in the founding of a new political regime; to discuss, agree upon, and express our positions and demands in the position of the general civic forum (organized immediately after the women’s forum); to guarantee the introduction of gender issues into the agenda of the general civic forum; to use the current historical events to improve the status of women, particularly in politics; to present women’s views on the current situation in the country and to discuss and re-work our requests regarding stability in the country; to agree upon and express to the government, Parliament, and other bodies of power our wishes, demands, general positions, and our corresponding declarations.

The second level is programmatic: To consolidate the programs and activities of women’s organizations and the national level; to make an attempt to create a united women’s approach to resolve social problems, and to establish a united lobbying strategy to combat inequality between men and women in society.

Concretely, the fundamental tasks addressed over two days included the following: Reviewing the National gender policy in the Kyrgyz Republic, and the problems and perspectives for realizing this policy, reviewing the development of the women’s movement in the Kyrgyz Republic; developing a united platform of action of women’s organizations toward stabilizing the situation in the country, emerging from the political crisis; defining the problems, standing before women in the current, concrete political transitional period; discussing the consolidation of approaches to resolve these problems; and developing demands for the development and strengthening of gender policies in the country.

At the opening of the national forum of women’s organization, introductory speeches were made by the State Secretary of the Kyrgyz Republic, Dastan Sarygulov, and Vice Premier Minister of the Kyrgyz Republic, Ishengul’ Bolzhurova.

Representatives of the new power spoke about plans to stabilize the situation in the country, and that the new government policy should reflect the interests of women. They promised to acknowledge and respect women (with a bias toward women as mothers and sisters), and noted paths for cooperation and interdependence. However, it remained unclear as to how, concretely, women-activists from around the country would be able to contribute to the process of building real democracy. The State Secretary (also the Chair of the National Council on the Affairs of Women, Families, and Youth) and the Vice Prime Minister answered that, into the budget of the country, the introduction of a clause on expenditures to address the problems of women and for the achievement of gender equality has been not planned. Thus, promises will not be realized, although there should be allocation of state resources for resolving these problems.

There were practical suggestions. Responding to questions about creating effective means of communication through interaction with government institutes, government representatives proposed regular half-hour television programs and column in government newspapers. Creating a united platform of action, women’s organizations took this promise seriously, and participants of the national forum included it in their plans. In the background of promises about highlighting women’s initiatives in state channels of mass media, short national television programs were very likely symbolic, revealing the basic position of the State Secretary and Vice Prime Minister of the Kyrgyz Republic.

Skepticism about the promises of government representatives and the possibility of fulfilling these promises in the frameworks of existing legal mechanisms, organs of power, and of institutional mechanisms hung in the air; this doubt was quite well founded. Nonetheless, women at the forum were positive, and skeptical feelings were overcome. The basic interests joining the participants toward transformation repelled the common disappointment of the people in state policies. The new administration and elected Parliament should protect women’s human rights in our country and urgently take all necessary measures, such that women in actuality participate in the formulating and realizing of state policies, occupy government posts, and perform government functions at all levels of state administration in this transitional political period. Without corresponding activities with the involvement of women, society will again fall into the trap of gender inequality – of minimized honor and achievement not only of women and men, but also of the emerging order. The appeal of the women’s forum notes, that in our new Parliament there are essentially no women, and to this time, while the interests of women at all levels of power are represented by men, declarative and inadequate decisions will continue. This means first of all that problems of women and their practical demands will be ignored; ultimately, the situation of women and, correspondingly, of indicators of human development, will worsen to catastrophic levels.

And thus, women-activisms developed a united platform of action. We attempted to plan for the short-term perspective, the transitional political period. In Kyrgyzstan, Presidential elections are expected in July, investigations into the election results in several districts are on-going, changes in the leadership in all government structures across the country are occurring, and all these processes give rise to conflicts of interests. We believe, that without women, no one will worry about the gender aspect of affairs. Even if the short-term plan is not oriented toward radical change, then the long-term plan will include such actions through altering the political landscape in Kyrgyzstan. The United Platform for Action (UPA), developed by women, includes documentation of growing instances and forms of violence in relation to women during the present transitional political period, protection of economic interests, measures to increase the ranks of women in decision-making organs, and measures to strengthening national institutional mechanisms. Women are concerns about the manipulation of women as political resources – how women have been used as political resources by all sides during the events of the spring of 2005. Women’s organizations encourage all efforts – and most of all, by political parties and deputies of Parliament – to demand a return to the proportional system and the increasing of the number of places in Parliament, selected for this system. Among the demands of women is to continue all legislative and national development projects by way of gender expertise, with the active involvement of representatives of the women’s movement, and by establishing standards for gender analysis of the state budgets.

To achieve these tasks, the forum created a committee for the transitional political period. One of the first steps in realizing the UPA is to submit a list of 50 women who will participate in government structures. It involves the introduction of women’s organizations (not less than 30%) into the ranks of the State Coordinating Committee and other bodies, established for revised, realizing, and controlling stability.

To prevent the further negligence of the strategic demands of women, participations in the women’s forum prepared representatives for the general civic forum. Director of the Crisis Center Sezim, Bubusara Ryskulova, contributed a tremendous amount in the process of preparing for the general civic forum to introduce gender issues into the agenda.

The united sending of our delegates to the general forum served to garner the support of participants in the general civic forum for the demands of the women’s forum – demands to take detailed measures toward the elimination of gender-based violence against all citizens, and also toward the full and effective fulfillment of the government’s and society’s responsibilities to women in our country.

As a result of the national forum, demands for the development and strengthening of gender policies in the country by Parliament, the government, and the Presidential administration were development, thus creating a basis for an appeal. On 19 April 2005, Zhanna Saralaeva of Osh, the representative of women’s organizations, presented this appeal to the general forum of civil society of Kyrgyzstan.