The 8th of March is a very popular celebration in post-Soviet countries. Giving women gifts and flowers is a must, while the connection with women’s rights seems to have moved to the background in many places. In Kyrgyzstan, about 100 people in Bishkek and 30 in Osh peacefully demonstrated for women’s and human rights.
Mostly puzzled looks were seen on the faces of passersby in Osh when they caught a sign of the odd procession going through the streets. Very young girls – sometimes as young as 16 – were joyfully shouting slogans like “Humans rights are women’s rights” or “My body – my business” to the sound of Katy Perry or Beyonce’s songs. “Today, people forgot the meaning of the 8th of March. We want to remind people from Osh that this is not a day of gifts, flowers and spring” commented Cholpon Kozhosheva, one of the organisers from the local NGO Novyi Ritm. About 30 people marched, including at least ten foreigners.
In Bishkek, several organisations, among them the Bishkek Feminist Initiatives, LGBT organisation Labrys and the Association of Girls with Disabilities “Nazik-Kyz“, had called on their supporters to mark International Women’s Day in this way. Participants, mostly women from 20 to 35, first gathered in front of cinema “Rossiya” on Bishkek’s central Chuy boulevard before walking in the direction of Ala-Too square. Several men holding banners accompanied the marches in both Osh and Bishkek.
“This march is marking the historic day of the fight for women’s rights. Many people have forgotten this and view the 8th of March as a celebration of spring, female beauty and femininity instead,” said Rada Galkina, an activist with Bishkek Feminist Initiatives
“We want 30% Women in the White House”
In front of the “White House”, the seat of Kyrgyz parliament in Bishkek, demonstrators demanded an increase in the number of female MP’s as well as action against violence and discrimination directed against women. Only 23 Members of Parliament out of 120 are women according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, approximately 19%.They also defended the rights to have equal access to education and health services for boys and girls and stood for reproductive rights.
“We don’t ask to be protected, we demand the rights we are entitled to by law,” Rada Galkina said. “Women in Kyrgyzstan experience very unequal access to justice.” According to her, women frequently experience domestic and other forms of violence but don’t report attacks to the police as they don’t expect to be treated fairly by policemen.
Rada Galkina is concerned about the rising Islamisation of the country, with many girls leaving school, not receiving further education and consequently being dependent on their husbands. According to the UNICEF, about 12% of girls are married before 18 even though child marriage is illegal in the country. More and more couples are wed by Islamic custom only, which leaves women without legal protection. Galkina says female MP’s have recently proposed a number of new laws concerning domestic violence, but progress is slow.
Intimidations in Bishkek, clapping in Osh
In Osh, the organisers had fought for weeks to get the support from the mayor of the city. In the end, the police mostly helped the participants to cross the intersections. The march started from the headquarters of Novyi Ritm and ended in the centre of the town, in front of the municipal library where a self-defence lesson had to take place. Participants where joyful, sometimes applauded and honked by men rushing to get flowers for their beloved ones. Most of the passerby seemed to be confused by the situation though.
No music in Bishkek where the march was closely followed by around 20 policemen, who constantly demanded demonstrators leave open part of the sidewalk for other pedestrians. The organisers had asked an activist with legal training to be present, who explained the constitutional right to demonstrate to police. She could be heard arguing with policemen: “Who exactly isn’t able to pass here right now?”. However, Rada Galkina, one of the organisers in Bishkek, said she was glad police was present. “Different groups came out today, including LGBT organisations. There could always be provocations. Last year the policemen were silent, this year they kept telling us, don’t do this, don’t do that.”
A group of about a dozen men wearing sunglasses and black leather jackets who filmed participants’ faces without otherwise talking to them. Several women had covered their faces to avoid their cameras. “This is for security reasons. We understand some people might not agree with us and there could also be violence,” one activist deplored.
Clara Marchaud – Osh
Folke Eikmeier – Bishkek