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Kyrgyzstan: Politician Slams Mini-Skirts and Tracksuits

Last month, during a parliamentary session, Kyrgyz member of parliament (MP) Tursunbai Bakir uulu proposed [ru] to ban the wearing of short skirts and tracksuits in the Parliament building.

Member of the Ar-Namys (Dignity) party, former ombudsman of the Kyrgyz Republic, and a presidential candidate at the 2011 elections, Bakir uulu has become a regular talking point among netizens due to his ceaseless legislative initiatives, the majority of which are conservative in nature and mindful of Islamic norms.

Within the space of less than a year, he has initiated a law banning [ru] the advertisement of international marriage agencies on television and in newspapers, called [ru] for ceasing the celebration of Valentine's Day (claiming that it causes mental disorders and suicide among young people), and wrote a bewildering letter to the newly elected president, Almas Atambayev, referencing knights, dragons, and allegedly rigged elections. In 2009, he also insisted [ru] on the installation of a lie detector in the parliament.

The building of Zhogorku Kenesh, the Parliament of Kyrgyzstan, in Bishkek. Image by Flickr user Ben Paarmann (CC BY 2.0).

His latest concern, it seems, is clothing – or rather lack of it. As he announced [ru] during the session on May 17, 2012:

Сейчас в перерыве в коридоре передо мной шла девушка в мини-юбке. Я бы не смотрел на это, но если бы я не смотрел вперед, то мог споткнуться и упасть.

During the break a moment ago, there was a girl walking in front of me in the hallway and wearing a mini-skirt. I would have looked the other way, but without looking ahead of me, I could have stumbled and fallen down.

Girls and women frequently wear short skirts in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek. In rural areas, and particularly in the more conservative and religious communities of the country's south, short skirts are a very rare occurrence. Tracksuits, on the contrary, are popular all over the country as everyday casual wear.

Bakir uulu's comment triggered a string of sarcastic responses from netizens. In a comment under a Kloop.kg news report on Bakir uulu's statement, journalist Ulukbek Akishev wrote [ru]:

Пожизненные отмазки депов насчет того, что им мешает работать и запреты на это…

[These are all] perpetual excuses of MPs about things that distract them from work – and bans on these things…

Also commenting on the news report, Gulmira added [ru]:

Задумались бы, ПОЧЕМУ в здании парламента могут ходить девушки в коротких юбках и парни в спортивных костюмах! Не думаю, что серьезные специалисты могут позволить себе надеть на работу подобное.

They'd better think for a moment about WHY women can wear short skirts and men can wear tracksuits in the parliament building! I don't think that serious specialists would wear anything of the sort to work.

Quoted in another article, Azimbek Beknazarov, a former parlimentarian who was no stranger to controversy during his own time in the legislature, said [ru]:

Турсунбаю Бакир уулу нечем заняться? Да пусть все ходят в чем хотят, это личное дело каждого человека.

Tursunbai Bakir uulu has nothing else to do? Let everyone wear whatever they wish; this is a personal choice of each individual.

Another respondent quoted in the article, Azis Abakirov, lamented [ru]:

В стране полно проблем, которые необходимо решать. Но депутатов волнует стиль одежды.

There are so many problems in the country which need to be solved. But the deputies are worried about the dress code.

Without really describing how short skirts affect parliamentary work, Bakir uulu was able to table a motion banning both short skirts and tracksuits in the parliament. The reaction of female MPs has been ambiguous. Some female MPs, such as Shirin Aitmatova, confessed [ru] that they prefer wearing short skirts and that Bakir uulu's strict dress-code suggestions would mean them having to change their dressing style. Others supported Bakir uulu’s proposal, stating that a formal dress-code should be strictly followed in governmental agencies.

However, a representative of a Bishkek-based feminist group, Selbi Jumaeva, criticized this initiative by claiming that it violates freedom of expression and demonstrates that “a man thinks that he can control the woman’s body”. She suggested [ru]:

Депутатам лучше вкладывать свое время и ресурсы на разработку норм, которые бы предотвращали и защищали женщин от сексуальный домогательств и гендерной дискриминации на рабочем вместе, в том числе в парламенте.

Deputies would better spend their time and resources making legislation to protect women from sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace, including the parliament.

Nevertheless, under the same article on Kloop.kg many netizens spoke in support of the initiative, but were generally more concerned by sports tracksuits than short skirts. BahaiO said [ru]:

…если в Парламенте ходят в спортивках, это показывает насколько им пофиг на имидж Парламента!

…if people wear tracksuits in the parliament, it shows how indifferent they are to the image of the parliament.

Others expressed hope that such a measure will help improve the professionalism of the MPs, whose sport-suit wearing aids have been involved in brawls in the country's main assembly in the recent past. Valeriya Melnichuk suggested:

Personally, I am for such a prohibition. I think parliamentarians need to look professional, so that Kyrgyz society as well as international community take them seriously. But there is a counterargument – if they want to promote an image of democracy and freedom of choice – their style may indicate how far the democracy went in Kyrgyzstan, so that deputies can wear whatever they want to the parliament hearings… However, it undermines their image and few people may take their style as freedom of choice and not simple carelessness and absence of professionalism. So, the conclusion, they should not wear sports clothes and miniskirts…

Bakir uulu’s insistence on a harsher dress-code control in the parliament building has already achieved some results. A week after his remarks on the issue, on May 23, journalists accredited in the parliament were banned from attending parliamentary sessions in T-shirts and jeans.

The press service of the parliament has clarified [ru]:

Убедительная просьба соблюдать вид одежды, соответствующий установленным требованиям в здании Жогорку Кенеша (запрещается входить в здание Жогорку Кенеша в футболках, джинсах, шортах, спортивных костюмах и т.п.

We urge you to follow the dress-code established in the Zhogorku Kenesh [Parliament] building (you are not allowed to enter the building in T-shirts, jeans, shorts, tracksuits, etc.

With sportswear already being actively discouraged, it may only be a matter of time before short skirts follow suit, so to speak. And, despite the criticism leveled at Bakir uulu and his legislative initiatives by feminists and liberals, it seems certain that the colourful lawmaker will continue to provide plenty of fodder for debates on social issues outside the parliament, on online forums and social networks.

This post is part of the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

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