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“I Am Scared to Live in This Country”: Crowd Attacks Women's Rights Activists in Kyrgyzstan

On March 5, an angry crowd attacked feminist activists in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. According to online reports, several activists from the Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ, a small women's rights NGO, were holding an information event dedicated to the International Women's Day (IWD) near a big bazaar. Standing under a big stand with number “8″ and feminist symbols, the activists talked to passers-by about the history of the IWD and women's rights. 

When the activists were wrapping up the event, a group of about 20-30 men surrounded them. Apparently, these individuals mistook [ru] the Venus symbol displayed on the activists’ stand for a Christian symbol and assumed that the activists were promoting Christianity. Shouting “nationalist and xenophobic accusations” as well as homophobic insults, the men destroyed the stand. They also directed their anger at the activists, “grabbing them by the collar, spitting at them and breathing out cigarette smoke into their faces”. As they tried to leave, the men beat up a male activist and hit another activist in the head. 

This stand got feminist activists in trouble in Bishkek. The big “8″ refers to March 8, the International Women's Day. Image by the Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ, used with permission.

According to a statement released by the Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ, a police officer who witnessed the attack refused to help the activists. They had to run to a nearby court district. However, even inside the building, they did not feel welcome: a guard tried to force them out of the doors, while several court employees suggested that the activists “did not believe in God and had to be punished”. The activists were finally rescued by police officers who took them to a local station, just at time when an angry crowd demanded that the activists be handed over to them for a “trial by people”.

In its statement, the group whose activists were attacked announced that the event was emblematic of the situation of women on the country as a whole:

This case of violence is not a single event or a turn of events: violence and hate are repeated systematically  and everywhere; currently such occurrences are perceived by the society as something normal. What we experienced yesterday is an everyday and usual personal experience of the majority of women and girls in the country. This action showed that the society does not want to see women in public places as active participants of public and civil life, and as the opponents of the event stated “women do not need rights, because they will always be in second place”. Often the home is called an appropriate place for women.

“Farce” and “provocation”?

Kyrgyzstani netizens were split in their reaction to the incident. While the reaction of many social media users was one of sympathy with the activists, some have doubted the motives of the organization behind them. Commenting under a report about the incident, Chel wrote [ru], for example:

Зная о делах данной организации и ее участников, предполагаю, что все это постанова. Помню, как они еще выходи в поддержку Пусси Райот

Being aware of what this organization and its members do, I assume that this farce. I remember that they came out in support of Pussy Riot [controversial Russian protest group].

Another user doubted [ru] the motives of the organization because of funding they receive from foreign donors:

Кыргызстанцы, поГУГЛите узнаете про них много “интересного”. Скью – одна из НПОшек финансируемых западом. Про истинные цели всех НПО Вы и так знаете.

Kyrgyzstanis, you can learn many “interesting” facts about [the Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ] by googling it. SQ is one of those NGOs that get funding from the West. I am sure you are all aware about the real objectives of all NGOs.

Serzh went even further by suggesting [ru] that provoking the crowd into attacking the activists was a deliberate tactic of the organization that dispatched them:

они специально пошли на ошский рынок чтобы спровоцировать скандал и чтобы о них услышали..разве не понятно..цель достигнута…

They went to the Osh bazaar [area where the incident took place] with an intention to become embroiled in controversy so that everyone talks about them… isn't it obvious?.. they have accomplished the goal…

Men destroy, women build

Yet, other netizens disagreed with such claims. One user, ‘Gusindr Matisius', responded [ru] to the above comment:

imenno v takih mestah i nado provodit meropri9ti9, potomu chto imenno tam problemy. gde kak ne tam? togda smysl inofrmirovat lyudey, kotorye uje informirovany??

That place is exactly where such events need to take place because this is where the problems are [acute]. Where else if not there? What is the purpose of raising awareness among people are already aware [of the problem]?

Reflecting on the comments that blamed the incident on the victims, another user wrote [ru]

Жесть люди, вы что совсем с ума сошли?? ВЫ СЧИТАЕТЕ ЧТО ИЗБИВАТЬ АКТИВИСТОВ ЗА ПРАВА ЖЕНЩИН ЭТО НОРМАЛЬНО???! Мне страшно жить в этой стране, я рада, что никого из вас не знаю лично…

What's wrong with you people? Have you all gone crazy?? Do you think it is alright to beat activists advocating for women's rights???! I am scared to live in this country, and I am glad that I have not men any of you in person.

Commenting under a different news report about the incident, one person praised [ru] the work that female activists do:

Эти активистки храбры! Молодцы! Наш Кыргызстан будет держаться на таких людях как они. Пока мужчина плюется, бьет женщину и ломает, женщина строит, создает и работает.

These activists have courage! Well done for them! People like them make Kyrgyzstan [a better place]. While men spit, beat women, and destroy, women build, create and work.

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