For decades, women in Kyrgyzstan have suffered from domestic violence, child marriage and bride kidnappings — issues that have long been ignored in the Kyrgyz parliament.
Enter Aida Kasymalieva, the youngest female member of parliament (MP) in the Muslim-majority country in central Asia, who recently spoke on women’s issues at a session hoping to bring attention to them.
She was, however, bewildered at her male colleagues who walked out as she talked about issues such as the often brutal abduction of young women, and some children, who are then forced into marriage.
The 33-year-old MP, who previously reported on similar topics as a journalist for over 10 years, noted how shocking it was to witness the complete disregard for issues impacting women in her country.
“We were discussing assignments, grants, roads, and all men were sitting in the hall then the parliamentary hour (on gender issues) started … and all men in the hall just stood up and went,” Kasymalieva told Reuters an interview.
“Men will never think about domestic violence, kidnapping,” she added.
Kasymalieva understands that such indifference will not change overnight, but she stressed the need for more female representation in Kyrgyz politics to bring about the necessary changes. To have more impact in resolving these issues, Kasymalieva hopes that she and fellow female MPs can work together.
Kyrgyzstan currently has 23 women among its 120 MPs, a massive improvement from 2005 when the Kyrgyz parliament was composed entirely of male politicians. This was reportedly addressed after multiple campaigns resulted in a law that introduced a gender quota which requires party candidate lists to have at least a third composed of women.
Accoding to 2016 United Nations Development Programme report, women’s representation in parliament “remains open to all sorts of manipulations” with female MPs often forced to give up their seat after being elected via the quota system.
An amendment to the electoral law that was passed in June required any MPs stepping down to be replaced by a person of the same gender.
Such development resulted in the criminalization of domestic violence and bride kidnapping in 2013, although both illegal acts have remained rampant to this day.
“We have a law that tightens punishment for kidnapping … but its effect is very small,” Kasymalieva lamented. “Even if a girl found the courage to run away the night she was kidnapped … at the police station she might be told it was her fault.”
In 2015, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) reported that “bride kidnapping appears to be socially legitimized and surrounded by a culture of silence and impunity and that cases of bride kidnapping remain underreported”.
While the country does not have official numbers on bride kidnappings, studies have suggested that up to half of all marriages in Kyrgyzstan resulted from the practice, an additional third are reportedly non-consensual.
Based on Women Support Center’s data from 2013, at least 11,800 women and girls are forcibly abducted every year in Kyrgyzstan, and 2,000 of them have claimed to be raped. Despite the mind-boggling figures, however, there had been only one conviction for bride kidnapping since 2008.