Women’s Rights in Kyrgyzstan Kyrgyzstan is often viewed as a country with vast gender inequality. Reports of “bride kidnapping,” such as in the famous 2011 Vice documentary, have painted a dispiriting picture of the place women have in Kyrgyz society. The state of women’s rights in Kyrgyzstan has seen a vast improvement over the last 15 years, however, and despite the continued prevalence of these and other instances of gender-based violations, the general picture is one of progress.

Legal Equality

As an independent nation, the Kyrgyz Republic holds a good record for promoting gender equality. The Central Asian country remains a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which it has committed to since 1996, and like most post-Soviet countries, it has enshrined gender equality in the constitution.

Gaps in legislation and inconsistent legal interpretation have precluded greater progress in the area of sex discrimination, however. For example, until recently, many divorced women could not access child support. In 2018, the country reported 40,000 cases of alimony evasion. But in 2020, partly due to the work of activists, the government helped improve women’s rights in Kyrgyzstan by passing an amendment that made alimony evaders more accountable under family law. Whereas previously fathers who failed to pay child support could get away with just a fine, since 2020, fathers must pay alimony in full.

Child Marriages

The marrying of persons under the age of 18 is illegal in Kyrgyzstan yet 13% of Kyrgyz girls are married before their 18th birthday. Failures in law enforcement in conjunction with unemployment and rural poverty have meant the persistence of traditional non-consensual child marriages. Particularly in larger families that lack the income to support numerous children, parents seek to marry their daughters off to wealthier families to alleviate economic hardship. The problem is worse in rural areas, where the poverty rate is higher than the national poverty rate.

Child marriages in Kyrgyzstan are usually the result of “bride kidnapping” or “ala kachuu,” which literally translates to “pick up and run away.” Every year, 7,000 to 9,000 Kyrgyz girls fall prey to this practice, according to government figures. The bride’s parents are often responsible, along with the other family providing the “bride money.” Both parties arrange the marriage for the daughter typically without her consent in an unofficial religious ceremony. These illegal child marriages put young brides at risk of rape and domestic violence.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has worked to reduce child marriages in Kyrgyzstan since 2016. A key example of its work is the 2018-19 Project Addressing Early Marriages, which the British Embassy funded. This project was successful at encouraging the Kyrgyz Ministry of Labour and Social Development to implement the law prohibiting underage religious marriages in a “systematic way.” It also assisted the training of religious leaders in their understanding of marital law and improved the hotline services available to affected women and girls.

Domestic Violence

As part of the global Spotlight Initiative, a multi-year program that the Kyrgyz government and the European Union supported, U.N. has been implementing sex equality training to improve women’s rights in Kyrgyzstan. Two of the main aims of this program are to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls and provide services to survivors.

Violence against women is a serious problem in Kyrgyzstan and cases have risen since the forced closures of crisis centers during the country’s COVID-19 lockdowns. The last decade has seen improvements though, both in legislation and the provision of survivor support services, such as Spotlight Initiative-funded safe spaces.

Yet despite these improvements, the majority of domestic violence survivors in Kyrgyzstan do not seek help. Family pressure, social stigma and a lack of economic opportunities compel up to 90% of women who have suffered violent treatment from their husbands to return to them, according to U.N. figures. Alternatively, many women escape to pursue unsafe employment opportunities, making them susceptible to trafficking.


The state education system in Kyrgyzstan nominally treats all pupils equally regardless of sex. Girls and boys enjoy near educational parity in Kyrgyzstan at the primary level in terms of enrollment and attendance rates. At the secondary level, however, the net attendance of girls is 3% lower than boys (59% for boys compared with 56% for girls). A U.N. Working Group has found that the principal reasons for girls dropping out of school early are “forced marriage and adolescent pregnancy.” Nevertheless, the 100% adult female literacy rate in Kyrgyzstan as of 2019 should provide a solid basis for women’s future economic participation.

The government is also advancing women’s rights in Kyrgyzstan through efforts to remove negative stereotypes surrounding women in schools. In April 2022, the Kyrgyz government launched a review of all textbooks and teaching materials with the aim of removing any discriminatory content and pictures. Additionally, initiatives such as “Girls in Science,” which has already helped 3,000 girls, aim to increase the proportion of women in underrepresented sectors.

The Future

The Kyrgyz Republic has made impressive strides toward gender equality since earning its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It ranks 82nd out of 162 countries on the Gender Inequality Index in 2021. Today, the main impediments to women’s rights in Kyrgyzstan are intolerant patriarchal attitudes that perpetuate violence against women, notably the ancient practice of “bride kidnapping”, failures in law enforcement and a lack of economic opportunities for women. “Kyrgyzstan stands at a crossroads with an immense opportunity to harness the potential of women,” wrote a group of U.N. human rights experts in April 2022.

– Samuel Chambers
Photo: Flickr

child marriage in iraq
Child marriage consists of a formal or an informal union between two participants where at least one participant is younger than 18, according to UNICEF. Forced child marriage mostly occurs in countries where poverty is prevalent such as India, Africa and the Middle East, including Iraq.

Child Marriage Statistics in Iraq

According to The World, a public radio program, Iraq’s gross domestic product (GDP) decreased by $38 million from 2013 to 2017 due to decreasing oil prices and economic collapse in its struggle against ISIS. Many associated the decrease in GDP with an increase in the percentage of child marriages, which rose to 24% in 2016, surpassing the percentage of child marriages in 1997 by 9%. The trends in these percentages indicate that there is a correlation between the percentage of child marriage in Iraq and the country’s economic state.

According to the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), the percentage of women aged 20-24 who married before the age of 18 was 27% in 2018, indicating that the current female population of those married before the age of 18 in Iraq consists of 5.6 million out of 20.7 million women. FIGO also reports that child marriage is more common among impoverished families who reside in rural areas, rather than among wealthy families who live in urban areas. The percentage of child marriages in rural versus urban areas differs by 1%, signifying that approximately 207,000 more young girls enter into early marriage in rural areas than urban areas.

Iraq’s Personal Status Law

Iraq’s Personal Status Law forbids child marriage and increases women’s marriage and custody rights. Despite the sound solidarity of this law, article 8 of Iraq’s Personal Status Law allows for a judge to authorize an underage marriage if the judge concludes that the action is urgently necessary or if the father of the bride gives his approval of the marriage.

Child marriage supporters in Iraq continuously push for proposed amendments to the Personal Status Law to abolish legal difficulties when forcing children into marriage. The parliament in Iraq has rejected these proposals, including an amendment that would allow for families to have their own laws in religious communities, thereby authorizing the families to offer their 8-year-old daughters for marriage.

Article 8 of the Personal Status Law allows a loophole for judges to authorize underage marriages with or without permission from a father, even though the article is noncompliant with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which works to gain equality for women and eliminate patriarchal norms that discriminate against women.

Risks Associated with Child Marriage

Young girls who enter child marriage are not only susceptible to physical health risks including rape, early pregnancy and early delivery, but they are also vulnerable to psychological risks, including experiencing social shielding from their families and domestic violence. Due to substandard responses by officials, violence and rape continue to present themselves as consistent issues in child marriages.

Although Iraq has criminalized rape, the government can drop charges as long as the victim and perpetrator get married. Since Iraq has not criminalized rape between spouses, the government receives few reports of domestic violence issues and families of the two spouses usually discuss resolutions.

Reasons for Child Marriage in Iraq

Oftentimes, families force young female family members into marriage for financial benefit or to settle feuds and make amends with another family. Additionally, the monetary benefits that follow a marriage may reduce an economic burden or provide more income to a family living in poverty. In communities where schools are available for women, families may marry off their daughters earlier to avoid payments for schooling. On the contrary, some parents believe that marrying their daughters early will protect them and ensure that their futures are stable.

Organizations Fighting Child Marriage

In 2016, the United Nations announced an initiative called the Global Programme to End Child Marriage, which has assisted 7.9 million girls from 2016 to 2019. The program increases education and healthcare access for young girls, educates families about the risks of child marriage and supports governments in developing strategies to end child marriage.

Additionally, Girls Not Brides is a program that has committed itself to put an end to child marriage. Girls Not Brides ensures that girls in more than 100 different countries, including countries in the Middle East, are able to achieve their life goals. Girls Not Brides consists of approximately 1,500 member organizations that raise awareness about child marriage, hold governments accountable to create national strategies to end child marriage and share solutions with communities and families. UNICEF reports that the combined efforts of organizations that combat child marriage, including Girls Not Brides, have prevented 25 million arranged child marriages.

The Road Ahead

Child marriage in Iraq is a controversial, ongoing practice despite Iraq’s Personal Status Law that emerged to prevent the occurrence of underage marriage. Young girls in Iraq who enter into marriage provide monetary gain for their families, especially those living in poverty, but experience physical and psychological damage that lasts a lifetime. Organizations such as the United Nations and Girls Not Brides continue to aid victims of child marriage in Iraq by providing healthcare, education and support. Hopefully, with the continued efforts of various NGOs, incidents of child marriage in Iraq will significantly reduce.

– Lauren Spiers
Photo: Flickr

women's rights in Brazil
Brazil is the largest country in South America with a population of more than 200 million. Though the country has taken many legal steps forward towards improving women’s rights in Brazil — a number of hurdles remain in the way of equal representation and gender equality within the country. Below is a list of 10 facts about women’s rights in Brazil.

10 Facts About Women’s Rights in Brazil

  1. The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was ratified in Brazil in 1979. The United Nations General Assembly adopted the treaty in the same year. The treaty aimed to act as a bill of rights, an international baseline of privileges that should be afforded to all women — focusing on protection against discrimination. Despite this positive first step four decades ago, rights violations against women continue in Brazil.
  2. Only men were considered official heads of households until 1988. Despite ratification of CEDAW in 1979, solely men were able to be legally recognized as head of household for an additional nine years. Under this provision of the Civil Code, only men were able to manage the home and joint assets.
  3. Brazil had a female president. From 2011 to 2016, Dilma Rousseff held the position of President of Brazil. Though Brazil does not hold one of the highest rates of female political representation, female participation rates in government have been steadily increasing. Elections in 2018 saw a record number of women run for office, in all sectors of government.
  4. As female political representation increases, child mortality decreases. As more women are elected into office, they bring with them increased awareness regarding issues that disproportionately impact women and children. This has created a negative correlation (but a positive outcome) between increased female political representation and decreased mortality in children under 5-years-old from 2000 to 2015.
  5. In 2015, Brazil committed to upholding gender equality at the United Nations Global Leaders meeting. The president at the time, Dilma Rousseff, affirmed her commitment to protecting women from violence as well as further including female voices in policy-making decisions. On a practical level, Rousseff promised to improve available education to women, in addition to maternal healthcare. Previous commitments to improve women’s rights in Brazil have included establishing care for victims of gender violence as well as increased penalties known as “femicide laws” for those who perpetrate these crimes against women. These commitments suggest a hopeful, forward movement for women’s rights in Brazil.
  6. Brazil instituted equal pay laws in 2017. Under Brazilian labor laws prior to 2017, gender discrimination was prohibited during the hiring process. That said, there were no laws mandating equal pay. However, in 2017, Brazilian labor laws consolidated additional regulations requiring equal pay and creating penalties for non-compliance.
  7. Funding for projects protecting women has decreased since January 2019. When President Jair Bolsonaro took office in January 2019, the budget for the Secretariat of Policies for Women was cut by 27%. Much of the funds available to the department went to maintaining a hotline for women to report violence and receive guidance on support-resources. This service has not received adequate support from the federal government in terms of funding, despite its importance to improving women’s rights in Brazil.
  8. Femicide rates continue to rise in Brazil. Despite increasing female representation in government and strides toward female-centered legislation in the country — Brazil continues to have one of the highest rates of femicide in the world. Even as murder rates fall, femicide, a phenomenon defined as violence against women resulting in death — continued to rise as much as 7% from 2018 to 2019.
  9. Brazil has the highest instances of child marriage in South America. Though the legal age of marriage in Brazil is 18, there is an exception for pregnant females 16 and older. In 2016, 36% of girls were married before they turned 18. Child marriage remains a barrier to the full realization of women’s rights in Brazil.
  10. COVID-19 has caused an increase in violence toward females. Most cases of femicide and domestic violence occur within the home. Due to increased time in isolation as a result of lockdowns, rates of femicide across South America and in Brazil have seen a dramatic rise since March 2020. Six states in Brazil experienced a 56% increase in femicide during March alone.

Brazil has made good and meaningful progress in the past, regarding women’s rights. However, issues such as the increasing rate of femicide, coupled with the country’s already high rates of child marriage must be remedied in order to bring about true gender equality. The outlook should prove promising if previous positive trends continue.

Jazmin Johnson
Photo: Google Images

Women's Empowerment in the PhilippinesThe Philippines has maintained its place among the top 10 countries in the world in terms of gender equality. To achieve women’s empowerment in the Philippines, the government adopted the Magna Carta of Women (MCW) was adopted in 2009. It seeks to end all discrimination and to promote the rights of women, as well as to establish the Philippines’ commitment to the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women’s Committee and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The MCW’s agenda includes:

  1. Achieve fifty-fifty gender balance in government positions.
  2. Leave benefits and nondiscrimination in employment, especially in the military and police.
  3. Equal access in education and equal status.
  4. Nondiscriminatory and nonderogatory portrayal of women in media and films.
  5. Mandates review, amendment and repeal of existing discriminatory laws.

The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) is the oversight body on women’s concerns and acts as the catalyst for gender mainstreaming and the lead advocate of women’s empowerment in the Philippines. It works around focus areas such as Women’s Priority Legislative Agenda, gender-responsive governance, leadership and political participation, violence against women and women’s economic empowerment.

However, challenges still exist for the Philippines. Poverty and vulnerability of rural and indigenous women remain a pressing issue. Each day, 11 women die due to complications from pregnancy and childbirth, and many women still lack access to productive employment.

The Philippines is the only country in the world which does not allow for a divorce.  Other than the death of one’s partner, getting an annulment is the only option for dissolving a marriage. According to the Philippine Commission on Women, this can be done on grounds of “lack of parental consent; insanity/psychological incapacity; fraud, force, intimidation or undue influence; impotence; and sexually transmissible diseases.” The burden of a failed marriage often falls on the woman due to cultural stereotypes. Adopting divorce in the Philippines’ Family Code is essential to uplift the plight of women trapped in a marriage ridden with violence, abuse, oppression and deprivation, and to achieve women’s empowerment in the Philippines.

The Philippines also considers adultery and concubinage as criminal offenses against chastity and are drafted as well as implemented in a manner prejudicial to women. Many provisions of the Family Code give men more decision-making powers than women. Another blatant violation of human rights, Article 247 of the Revised Penal Code, exempts a husband or a parent who causes serious physical harm or death upon his wife or minor daughter if she has been caught portraying “unacceptable sexual behavior.”

Structural sexism remains the biggest obstacle to women’s empowerment in the Philippines. Even though there are many laws in place that score well on international measures, the implementation of these policies is slow and has not translated into gender parity in the largely patriarchal society.

-Tripti Sinha

Photo: Flickr