I want to talk about the suicide of three Kyrgyz young women, Venera, age 20, Nurzat, 19, and Yrys, also 19.
After they were kidnapped (or “bridenapped” as it’s known when a young woman is kidnapped for marriage), Venera hanged herself in December 2010, Nurzat hanged herself in March 2011, and Yrys committed suicide in June 2012.
These three girls are just a few of the victims of this tradition in Kyrgyz society. Every day approximately 32 girls are kidnapped and six are raped.
That’s more than 11,000 young women who are kidnapped each year, and 2,000 rapes. Only one out of 700 are investigated as crimes, and only one in 1,500 is prosecuted.
Since 2008, women’s organizations have been advocating for “bridenapping” to be treated as a crime in the criminal code – the same as kidnapping. The existing punishment for bridenapping in article 155 of the Criminal Code is incarceration for three years. Stealing cattle will get you ten years.
Women’s organizations have been fighting for changes in the legislation, and made some progress: the National Parliament had already approved amendments at parliamentary committee meetings. But after political events in April 2010, with the ousting of former President Bakiev and the introduction of a new political system, a new parliamentary election was held. Women’s representation in Parliament decreased – from 30 to 19 percent and many Members of Parliament came with patriarchal and negative views about gender equality.
Women’s groups continued to push forward, and worked with the new MPs. Ainuru Altybaeva, a long time advocate for women’s rights, became a Member of Parliament in 2010, and she continues advocacy work among her colleagues in Parliament.
The majority of male MPs criticized the amendments and some have made discriminatory and stereotypical statements – publicly – about bridenapping. One MP joked about the punishment, saying those who steal cattle eat the animals, whereas bridenappers at least marry the kidnapped girls. Another MP defended the practice as a tradition and suggested that many women want to be kidnapped.
So women’s groups – with the support of many young men – decided to take action! “Committees on the struggle against gender based violence” were created. Bishkek Feminist Groups SQ, which unites young creative women and men for promoting feminist ideas, organized a broad campaign against bridenapping through social media – Facebook and Twitter – and engaged young people, especially young men to speak out against gender based violence.
Before the second hearing of the draft law in Parliament, gender activists, human rights and youth organizations organized ”Group 155” named after the article on bridenapping in the Criminal Code.
On the morning of 18 October, voting day for the second hearing of the draft law, Group 155 organized a flash mob in front of Parliament. Gender activists entered the Parliament and distributed gifts to parliamentarians – bridal flowers with the suicide letter from a victim of bridenapping. The media covered the protest widely.
As a result of the campaign, 66 MPs voted for the amendment and 12 MPs – against.
I want to congratulate the young activists – both women and men – for helping to change public opinion. The campaign will continue since it’s not yet a done deal – the next step is a third hearing of the draft law, which, if passed, needs to be signed by the President.
Stay tuned – I’ll let you know how it turns out.