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

Ongoing Harm, Female Genital Mutilation in LiberiaLiberia is one of three West African countries that has not yet made female genital mutation (FGM) illegal. FGM refers to the partial or complete removal of external female genitalia or other harm to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Considered a violation of the human rights of girls and women by U.N. Women Liberia, FGM has no health benefits and is extremely harmful.

Legal Activism

In 2018, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia signed the Domestic Violence bill, an executive order that banned FGM performed on girls younger than 18 years old, but the criminalization of FGM was limited to one year and expired in February 2019. The executive order did little to address the part community leaders play in perpetrating this crime. It also failed to change the immense social pressure placed on girls to undergo these treatments. For these reasons, female genital mutilation in Libera continues to be an issue.

International Pressure

The United Nations has been active in its role of fighting to end FGM globally. Due to the lack of policy regarding female genital mutilation in Liberia, Marie Goreth Nizigama, of U.N. Women Liberia, said, “50% of women and girls aged between 15-49 years” have been mutilated. On the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, Chief Zanzan Karwo who is the leader of Liberia’s National Traditional Council expressed frustration, rebuking international groups that have sought to abolish female genital mutilation in Liberia. He believes that FGM prepares young women to become good wives. Despite pushback, the pressure to end female genital mutilation in Liberia continues. Williametta E. Saydee Tarr, the gender, children and social protection minister in Liberia, claims that plans are being pursued to make FGM permanently illegal.

Cultural Progress

One of the most important aspects in fighting female genital mutilation both in Liberia and globally is engaging cultural leaders and communities in ending the tradition. If cultural attitudes toward FGM fail to change, then progressing human rights for girls and women will significantly decline. As a result of seemingly insurmountable cultural and financial pressures, girls and women willingly subject themselves to mutilation; therefore, even criminalization of FGM cannot end the mutilation without traditions and perspectives changing as well.

Liberia’s fight to end FGM is not restricted to policymaking and criminalization. Yatta Fahnbulleh, owner of a large bush school in Tienii that performed FGM on more than 200 girls, decided to end her engagement in FGM despite its financial benefits. In 2019, Spotlight Initiative aided in the startup of the Alternate Economic Livelihood program. This program provides resources and education to former practitioners. This way they can generate a source of income after losing their livelihood. Providing access to education and financial alternatives is essential in garnering the support of communities who depend on the practice for survival.

Looking Ahead

It is vital that the United Nations continues to place pressure on Liberia despite leaders expressing attachment to the practice. female genital mutilation endangers women and often causes lifelong sustained harm so, the pressure is appropriate and necessary. Alongside the international attention to criminalize FGM, efforts to engage leaders in ending devastating practices are of the utmost importance. The willingness of people like Yatta Fahnbulleh to close her school gives hope that people are willing to end female genital mutilation with proper education, tools and resources to survive.

Hannah Brock
Photo: Flickr

Protecting African Women from a “Shadow Pandemic” During COVID-19By 2063, The African Union (AU) hopes to accomplish a “socio-economic transformation” across the continent where poverty is eradicated. This is impossible without achieving gender inequality. Although Africa has made significant progress toward this foreseeable future, progress is still painfully slow. Several countries’ progress is stagnant and only addresses the issue by “acknowledging” that girls’ and women’s empowerment is key to improving Africa’s economy. There are many factors prolonging the AU’s vision coming to fruition. Some of the significant factors are violence against women in Africa and the perpetuation of poverty in the continent. Now, with COVID-19, violence against women or the “shadow pandemic” in Africa is reported at a higher number than before, possibly undoing all the continent’s progress.

The Gender Gap and Violence against Women

Violence against women in Africa is primarily fueled by the “gender gap,” which is the difference in opportunities, status and attitudes between men and women. This gap fosters violence against women. Unfortunately, violence is so embedded within African culture that 51% of women’s reported beatings from their husbands are justified.

This attitude toward women promotes poverty because it denies basic human rights and support for mental and economic hardship. Women account for more than 50% of Africa’s population, yet only contribute approximately 33% of the continent’s domestic gross product (GDP). As a result, Africa loses approximately $95 billion each year due to the gender gap.

The “Shadow Pandemic”

Africa has called the violence against women an epidemic long before COVID-19. However, violence against women in Africa has been on an alarming rise since the start of COVID-19 and the subsequential lockdowns. The United Nations calls it a “shadow pandemic,” or “in the shadow of the pandemic.”

During COVID-19, countries across the continent have reported much higher cases of violence. In Kenya, nearly 4,000 girls became pregnant during the lockdown from sexual assault. The main issue is that women and girls have such low status in Africa. Women are seen as easily disposable objects for men’s use and pleasure. With the loss of jobs, decreasing resources and being contained inside homes for lockdowns, women are at the mercy of husbands, fathers or other males living in their homes.

Organizations Fighting to End Violence Against Women in Africa

Several organizations have risen up to end the violence against women in Africa. These organizations are working hard to protect and empower women with economic opportunities. Spotlight Initiative and Alliances for Africa are a couple of organizations that are doing tremendous work to lead Africa into their 2063 vision amid COVID-19.

Spotlight Initiative is a partnership between the United Nations and European Union, whose goals are to eradicate violence against women by 2030. It is the largest global initiative working to eliminate violence against women and girls. Currently, the Spotlight Initiative advocates for interventions for African women, such as integrating prevention efforts for violence against women in COVID-19 response plans and addressing gender gaps in legislation and policy on COVID-19.

Alliances for Africa (AfA) is an international African-led organization advocating for human rights, peace and sustainable development. Its vision is to contribute to eliminating the causes of poverty in Africa. The organization’s six focus areas are poverty, hunger, health and well-being, quality education, gender inequality and clean water and sanitation. All of these focus areas are a part of the AU’s 2063 agenda mentioned earlier. AfA partnered with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa to support 120 rural women farmers during COVID-19. Each woman could revive and sustain their production, have access to markets and stay informed on COVID-19 preventive measures.

Countries worldwide are struggling to manage the socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, issues like violence against women have risen during the COVID-19 lockdowns, affecting millions of women around the world. In Africa, the “shadow pandemic” is a growing concern amid an unprecedented crisis. Organizations like Spotlight Initiative and Alliances for Africa are working to alleviate the “shadow pandemic” but there is still much to be done to end violence against women and achieve gender equality. African governments and humanitarian organizations must continue their efforts to save women from facing another epidemic amid COVID-19.

– LaCherish Thompson
Photo: Flickr

End Violence Against WomenOn December 17, 1999, the United Nations General Assembly officially acknowledged November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Since then, efforts to fight violence against women have risen at local, regional and global levels. Roughly a decade after the U.N. officially marked November 15 as the global day to fight violence against women, then-U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon launched the “UNiTE to End Violence Against Women” campaign. The main goal of this campaign is to eliminate all forms of violence — physical, emotional and sexual — against women.

Key Achievements and Milestones

Since its launch, the UNiTE campaign has sparked a revolutionary change across the globe in the following ways:

  • The campaign led to the creation of a new post of “Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict,” whose first occupant, Margöt Wallstrom, played a crucial role in fighting the culture of impunity by bringing to court perpetrators like Bernard Munyagishari, who was later convicted of various crimes against humanity, such as rape, which were perpetrated during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
  • The deployment of Gender Advisers to peacekeeping and political missions includes:
    • UNAMID in Sudan, which addressed the impact of conflict on Sudanese women and girls.
    • MINUSTAH in Haiti, which has worked to restore order and stability, promote the country’s political process and protect human rights.
    • MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose major goals were monitoring, collecting and reporting information related to human rights violations, which played a crucial role in the international criminal justice’s fight against impunity and supported the court’s prosecution of Germain Katanga and Bosco Ntaganda, both of whom were convicted of war crimes of rape and sexual slavery.
    • The campaign also devitalized impunity for sexual violence as an act of war: the most prominent example is the 2016 conviction of Congolese Jean-Pierre Bemba of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape.
    • The rise of other campaigns against the violation of women’s rights, such as the Stop Rape Now campaign and the Spotlight Initiative, which deploys substantial investments to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls across regions of Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific.

Current State of Affairs: Violence Against Women During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Over the years, efforts to fight violence against women have generated remarkable results, but in 2020, reports show that the rate of violence against women has skyrocketed at a shocking rate due to the stay-at-home measures that most governments implemented to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

In the report “Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity: Responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19,” the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres says, “Accompanying the crisis has been a spike in domestic violence reporting, at exactly the time that services, including rule of law, health and shelters, are being diverted to address the pandemic.”

Another early 2020 U.N. report reveals that in the last 12 months, a total of 243 women and girls aged 15-49 have experienced sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner.

UNiTE Campaign: “Fund, Prevent, Respond, Collect!”

In response to the intensifying rates of violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, UNiTE has increased its efforts and is kickstarting this year’s campaign in partnership with the theme, “Orange the World: Fund, Prevent, Respond, Collect!

The main goal of this theme is to fund essential services that include gender-based violence (GBV) prevention in COVID-19 fiscal stimulus packages, the implementation of a zero-tolerance policy for GBV, putting in place measures to strengthen services that support GBV victims and collecting the necessary data to ensure the effectiveness of GBV services and programs.

The Battle Continues

Over the years, transformative action, such as the creation of the Spotlight Initiative, the conviction of major war criminals, a majority of whom had violated women’s rights, and the deployment of Gender Advisers across areas in dire need, has taken place.

There is no doubt that there is still much work to do to diminish the high rates of violence plaguing the world, but the past success that the UNiTE campaign has achieved is not only worth celebrating but is also a guarantee of an even higher leap in the coming years.

– Divine Mbabazi
Photo: Flickr

End Violence Against WomenThe United Nations has partnered with the European Union to create a program called Spotlight Initiative to end violence against women. Spotlight Initiative has received €500 million from the EU, an amount that U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres referred to as “unprecedented in scale.” The program is part of the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which pursues 17 facets of global development, including the elimination of global poverty and hunger.

The Spotlight Initiative’s main focus is on ending domestic violence, sexual violence, femicide, female circumcision, child and forced marriage, human trafficking and the exploitation of women. These problems are widespread throughout the world. 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced domestic and/or sexual abuse. 700 million women have undergone child marriage and 200 million have experienced genital mutilation. These acts come at a tremendous cost to the physical and mental well-being of women.

Violence against women also comes at a great cost to society at large. When societies suppress women with acts of violence and both institutional and de jure inequalities, they are deprived of the many contributions women bring to the world. Women’s contributions are so valuable that McKinsey Global Institute found that the world economy would be $12 trillion richer if every nation moved towards gender equality at a rate equal to its fastest-improving neighbor. Ending violence against women is not just in the best interest of humanity, it is also crucial for advancing global development.

Ending violence against women is a highly ambitious goal, but this is not the first time that the EU and the U.N. have made efforts to end forms of gender violence. The U.N. manages the Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, which has granted $116 million to 426 initiatives across the globe. The EU has been working with UNICEF and UNFPA to end female circumcision and child marriage in 16 African countries. Their efforts have put Senegal on track to become the first nation to completely abandon female genital mutilation, and Egypt and Sudan are seeing significant improvements as well.

The U.N. has touched on a few core areas of action for the Spotlight Initiative to end violence against women. In order to create long-term, sustainable developments in equality for women, social and political mobilization is essential, according to the U.N. When women are more politically active, nations are more likely to pass laws protecting the rights of women. Educational programs, community-organized events and awareness campaigns are also needed to shift cultural norms surrounding violence against women. Policies directed at empowering the financial independence of women will be significant in enabling women to leave physically and sexually abusive relationships as well.

Though the issue of ending violence against women is a daunting one, the amount of funding the Spotlight Initiative has drawn in and the wide scope of the initiative brings hope that the world will see major advancements in the global rights of women by 2030.

Carson Hughes

Photo: Flickr