Article published on the website of The Calvert Journal, on 10/09/2019
In a country where women are seen first and foremost as wives and mothers, Kyrgyzstan’s all-female space agency defies expectations. Aged between 18 and 24, the eight-woman team are building a one-kilo satellite that will be the country’s first foray into the cosmos as an independent state. Based in Bishkek, they told The Calvert Journal what this project means for them— and thousands of girls like them.
Kyrgyzstan’s space dreams collapsed alongside the Soviet Union. After pouring years of effort into various Soviet initiatives — including the scheme that saw Kyrgyz-born Salizhan Sharipov take on astronaut training in 1990 — the country’s scientific minds found themselves in flux, building a new, independent Kyrgyzstan with far more pressing priorities than reaching the stars. Sharipov made it into orbit in 1998 and again in 2004. He remains the only Kyrgyz ever to have visited space. Poverty, a lack of resources, and a deficit of infrastructure have all made it hard for Kyrgyzstan to rebuild a space agency of its own. A new programme seeks to change all that— but the country’s new generation of pioneers have one more obstacle to overcome: gender inequality.
If Kyrgyzstan’s scientific ambitions declined with the fall of the Soviet Union, then gender stereotypes strengthened. According to the UNICEF, 12 per cent of girls in Kyrgyzstan today get married before the age of 18. Some 12,000 Kyrgyz women are also abducted into marriage each year in a practice known as “bride kidnapping”. For its founders, the Kyrgyz Space Programme isn’t just about reaching orbit but “proving to the whole world that girls can create anything they want”.
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