IN FACE OF WIDESPREAD VIOLENCE AGAINST KYRGYZ WOMEN, KYRGYZSTAN URGED TO RE-EVALUATE ITS PROGRAMMES AND POLICIES19990122
In the face of widespread violence against Kyrgyz women -- including domestic violence, gang rape and systematic assault and battery -- expert members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon urged Kyrgyzstan to re-evaluate its programmes and policies; somewhere along the way, the chain of law and order had broken down.
As the 23-member expert body continued its consideration of Kyrgyzstan's first-ever report on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, another expert said that rape itself was bad enough, but gang rape had a long-lasting impact on a woman's life. Experts acknowledged the Government's frank admission that rape victims remained essentially alone, owing to their reluctance to come forward, as well as the absence of any programmes to assist them.
The recent growth in trafficking and prostitution was further evidence of faulty or inadequate legislation. Astonished at the rise in the number of vicious crimes against women, they pressed the Government to identify the root causes of that grave phenomenon and devise ways to suppress it. One expert suggested that violent gender-based crimes were intrinsically linked to poverty, lack of job opportunity, and the absence of appropriate national machinery to suppress or arrest its growth.
Another expert suggested that the increase in trafficking and prostitution had assumed particular significance in the context of the country's transition to a market economy. The absence of programmes targeted to more vulnerable, out-of-work women further compounded the problem. The increased incidence of rape was indisputably born out of women's sociological status and the re-emergence of the country's patriarchal structure.
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The return of Kyrgyz women to traditional jobs, such as tailoring and silk- twisting, another expert suggested, was further evidence of a resurgence of patriarchal practices. On the subject of women in political and public life, another expert noted that along with the alarmingly high level of unemployment among Kyrgyz women, very few were employed in decision-making posts. If they could not contribute to decisions that directly affected them, then Kyrgyzstan "will always stand in place".
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Monday, 25 January, to begin its consideration of Liechtenstein's initial report.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this afternoon to continue posing questions to the Government of Kyrgyzstan, on its initial report to the Committee, under article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. That article provides for States parties to submit reports on legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures adopted to give effect to the provisions of the Convention.
Kyrgyzstan's report (document CEDAW/C/KGZ/1) outlines the situation of citizens, aliens and stateless persons in the country, since its accession to the Convention on 10 February 1997. It also provides information, article by article, on measures undertaken by the Government to fulfil its obligations under the Convention. The comments of ministries, administrative departments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were taken into account in the report's final version. (For further background on the report, see Press Release WOM/1081 issued this morning.)
Comments on Specific Articles by Experts
Regarding article 1, the definition of "discrimination against women", an expert asked whether Kyrgyzstan's Constitution included a definition of discrimination that included both intentional and unintentional forms. That was important because, as was true in many other parts of the world, there was little understanding of what was meant by unintentional forms of discrimination.
Turning to article 2, legal and administrative measures to eliminate discrimination, many experts expressed confusion over the State committee on women, family and youth and the Ministry of the same name. One expert asked what the relationship was between the two bodies, since the job of the committee was not to duplicate the work of the Ministry.
Another expert, also speaking on article 2, noted that the report outlined measures to be taken on the issue of gender-based violence. She was concerned about the commitment of the country towards that end, when much- needed work was done on a voluntary, unpaid basis. Much greater commitment needed to be exhibited.
The report spoke of a number of programmes to cope with the implementation of a national plan, one expert noted. She wanted to know what specific actions had been carried out in that regard. Also, were there built-in mechanisms to monitor implementation, and who was responsible for ensuring they were carried out?
On the issue of violence against women, some experts noted that the report focused primarily on sexual violence. Was there any information
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available on other forms of violence? Also, did the Penal Code outline punishment for spousal or domestic violence, and, if not, were there any plans to create such laws? Another expert asked about the concealment of crimes mentioned in the report. She asked whether that pertained to gender-based violence on the whole, or sexual violence in particular. In connection with sexual violations, some experts expressed concern that lesbianism was considered a sexual violation punishable under the Penal Code.
In view of the fact that Kyrgyzstan was a patriarchal society, one expert asked whether there was any sensitized training available for law enforcement officials and agencies. While there were two rape-crisis centres in the Republic, there was concern over that fact that the report was silent about the existence of any other types of services available to women, for example, shelters to assist women and children.
Turning to article 3, measures for the advancement of women, one expert wanted to know what the relationship was between the ministries that were coordinating measures for advancement and the women's NGOs in the country.
One expert noted that since the country was undergoing a transition to a market economy, it naturally faced new problems in the economic, political, and cultural aspects of life. That would, of course, have positive and negative effects on women. She asked how that transitional period had positively and negatively impacted women's lives and in what specific areas. For example, how had poverty and unemployment specifically affected women's lives, and what legislative measures had been taken or planned to address that?
Another expert asked about the relationship between the regional centres for women's initiatives and the more than 70 women's NGOs in the Republic. Referring to the seminars conducted on women and trade unions, she asked what the outcome of holding those seminars over the past two years had been, and what had been its achievements vis-à-vis the national plan of action. Also, did women have leadership positions in trade unions? she asked.
Turning to article 4, temporary measures to accelerate de facto equality, one expert noted it was a very important provision of the Convention, especially where there was a wide gap in gender equality between men and women. That article's implementation was meant to close that gap, and create de facto equality. Article 4 meant that every measure that was taken must be temporal. The quota system, a dilemma in most countries of the former Soviet Union, was only one form of a special measure. Just because a State had some misgivings with the quota system did not mean that article 4 should not be implemented. She asked the Government to look into its implementation once again, especially considering the wide inequality, particularly for women at decision-making levels.
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If article 4 was not reconsidered, she added, it would take far too long to arrive at de facto equality in Kyrgyzstan, especially since it was undergoing transition. She was also concerned about what the report classified as hard physical labour, and why women were exempt from it. Such exemptions would only impede women from making free choices about employment. Caution had to be taken since certain policies meant to protect women were sometimes actually counterproductive.
Turning to article 5, dealing with sex roles and stereotypes, an expert said she was astonished to learn about the widespread phenomenon of violence against Kyrgyz women. According to the report, the number of vicious crimes, including gang rapes, was rising, resulting in severe physical injury or death of the victims. It had also stated that women were systematically subjected to assault and battery, humiliation and domestic violence. Yet, the representative had affirmed the Government's efforts in eradicating all forms of violence against women, which was based on vestiges of the country's patriarchal structure.
That very grave phenomenon was at the core of the perception of women in Kyrgyz society, she said. What measures were being undertaken to educate the population that women could not continue to be objects of violent crimes? The statement in the report that the rape of women was indisputably born out of their sociological status had made her wonder at the admitted inability of the Government to provide effective assistance to rape victims. The report drew attention to just two programmes, but the present situation urgently required more.
A number of other experts expressed their concern about that phenomenon, and asked why the incidence of particularly cruel violence against women was increasing. Another expert sought clarification on why lesbianism was criminalized by the Criminal Code and seen as a violent sexual act. Others asked why the report had stated that the elimination of traditional gender distinctions was beginning to work against women, and not for them, and why the Government was promoting the role of the husband as the family's breadwinner. Moreover, why had the Parliament rejected an article of the Penal Code on sexual harassment in the workplace, educational institutions, and elsewhere?
With regard to article 6 on the suppression of trafficking and prostitution of women, another expert said that crime was intrinsically linked to poverty, lack of job opportunity, and the absence of appropriate national machinery to suppress or arrest its growth. In Kyrgyzstan, there were a range of laws on that matter, but the recent growth in trafficking and prostitution would indicate that those laws had been inadequate or ineffective. She also asked whether there was any kind of regional programme of cooperation with other countries to arrest the perpetrators of trafficking and prostitution. The report had made no mention of any programmes particularly targeted to the
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more vulnerable women who had lost their jobs due to structural adjustment programmes, and who had no skills.
It also seemed that the legislation had proved ineffective in dealing with international gangs who lured women into the sex trade, she went on. Was there any system in place to monitor the involvement of immigrants or migrants in those crimes? She was deeply concerned about the issue of gang rape; rape itself was bad enough, but gang rape had a long-lasting impact on a woman's life, she said. Did the increase in incidence of gang rape have anything to do with the deterioration of law and order in Kyrgyzstan? Somewhere along the way, the chain of law enforcement had not been very effective. Finally, were there any facilities for counselling victims of violence?
Turning to the increase in alcoholism and drug use, she asked whether that was linked to domestic violence and the sex trade. She also wondered about the availability of sensitization workshops to rural women, or whether those were just concentrated in urban centres. She also asked whether the practice of polygamy had appeared after the country had gained its independence, or whether it had also prevailed during the Soviet regime. If that practice was new, why was society allowing it? Another expert asked how tourism regulations were expected to control prostitution, and whether those did not, in fact, infringe on the right to free movement.
Also on the subject of prostitution and trafficking of women, another expert said that the increase in that problem had assumed particular significance in the context of the country's transition to a market economy. Indeed, the experts had heard repeatedly that economic hardship was a root cause of prostitution and trafficking. Was violence and sexual violence against women linked to sex tourism and trafficking, and did one reinforce the other and create new scenarios of exploitation? she asked. And, although polygamy was illegal, the Kyrgyz people seemed to be resorting to it more frequently.
Concerning article 7, on discrimination against women in political and public life, another expert said that while women were employed in all spheres of the economy, very few were employed in decision-making posts. If women were not in a position to contribute to decisions, particularly ones that affected the advancement of women overall, then Kyrgyzstan "will always stand in place". She urged the representative to consider that problem on a priority basis. Another expert, also concerned by the decline of women's political participation, asked about the debate allegedly under way on the question of quotas. Where was that debate taking place and who was engaged in it -- government officials or the women's movement only? she asked.
Another expert pointed to the note in the report that women were increasingly being contracted in more stereotyped employment areas such as tailoring and silk-twisting. She asked about the report's finding that women
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were writing all of their male employer's reports and speeches. Was that the result of a resurgence of patriarchal values or traditional religious customs, or were women simply more burdened by child care and family chores?
On article 11, which covered employment, another expert asked how many men actually took parental leave, and whether a woman was discriminated against for doing so. Another expressed her curiosity about why women who felt discriminated against tended to take their complaints to the trade unions rather than to the courts. Was that a remnant of the old system, or were women afraid to go to court at times when they were already losing their jobs? she asked. Following her series of questions regarding the labour legislation, she suggested that the Kyrgyz Government acquaint itself with the labour legislation of countries of the European Union.
Another expert said that protective labour laws for women might no longer be necessary, since too much protection of women in a free market economy tended to dissuade men from hiring them. The remaining protective legislation, which she suspected was a remnant of the old system, should also be extended to men.
Despite having much information on article 12 -- equality in access to health care -- an expert asked whether the Government had a gender sensitive national health-care policy. The report mentioned the existence of compulsory measures for the prevention of AIDS, and she wanted to know what those measures were. Also noted by the expert was a clear discrimination in access to health care against rural women, in comparison with urban women, which needed to be redressed. Rural women did not have access to marriage counselling, which was available to urban women -- and that also constituted discrimination against the rural population.
It was noted that although the report mentioned free immunizations, due to the cost factor only the rich could take advantage of the hepatitis and meningitis vaccinations. While it was true that poverty often accompanied a society in transition, the health of the population could not wait. People could not wait until they were rich to be healthy; therefore, the Government might want to consider including those vaccinations in the free immunization programme. While appreciating the costs involved, it was clearly a question of priorities.
Several experts raised questions relating to the Republic's liberal abortion laws. For example, if there were such liberal abortion laws, what explained the existence of illegal abortion measures? one expert asked. Also, in a country where abortion was legal and easily accessible, what accounted for the large number of deaths resulting from post-abortion complications? Referring to Sweden, where abortion laws had resulted in a decrease in the rate of abortion, another expert asked whether there was any way to monitor whether the liberal abortion law in Kyrgyzstan contributed to more women seeking the procedure, or whether the number of abortions had decreased. In
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addition, the report did not mention whether abortions were free, and if they were available to rural women.
Substance abuse was a serious problem for which the Government had many programmes, noted one expert. When people were poor, they tended to seek something else to satisfy themselves and forget about their poverty. Convinced that poverty was a major cause of substance abuse, she said that, along with addressing the social and medical aspects of the problem, it was also necessary to put in place special measures to combat poverty.
Concerned about the relationship between environmental degradation and women's health, one expert asked whether there were any environmental impact assessments conducted when new investors came into the country.
Turning to article 13, elimination of discrimination of women in areas of economic and social life, an expert expressed concern about the phenomena of a "women's shuttle economy" and a "women's suitcase economy" mentioned in the report. Women who were trying to set up businesses in markets and bazaars were not doing well, and she wanted to know what kind of women were involved. Also, were there regulations conducive to women involved in small businesses? Did women need to get permission to set up those businesses, or pay tax on them? she asked.
Regarding article 14, problems faced by rural women, the report noted that the bulk of the population, especially women, were in rural areas, where poverty was highest. That large numbers of women were migrating to urban areas for work, and a better standard of living was a natural phenomenon. An expert asked whether internal migration was allowed, because, according to independent reports received, those migrants were not regarded as legal residents. As a result, they did not have access to social services or schooling that legal residents were entitled to. If that was the case, it would be considered an infringement on the right to freedom of movement, she noted. Also, while there were various programmes in rural areas to address issues such as income generation and job training, it was not clear exactly how many women benefited from those programmes.
Another expert was concerned about a disastrous accident with a cyanide spill, involving the largest foreign company with investments in Kyrgyzstan, which had taken place on 20 May 1998. It had not only been an environmental disaster, but had also resulted in a large number of deaths. The Government's assessment of the accident, which was that there had been no threat to human health and the environment, was contrary to those made by NGOs. It had been strange that the local population had not been given the scientific data on which the Government had based its conclusion. They were entitled to receive that data, as well as medical and legal information. She asked to what extent that information was available to the victims, and if it was not, then why not? Regarding compensation, the victims needed substantial help to obtain
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their rightful compensation from the foreign investment company. In reality, the victims had been blocked from rehabilitation programmes and compensation, and individual claims had been declared invalid. She asked what the reasons were for blocking the victims from their judicial rights.
Another expert said that relevant information to better grasp the real situation of rural women was missing from the report. Specific statistical data was needed, and information on literacy rates, distribution of drinking water, housing policies, electrical problems -- areas important to women -- had to be included. Also important were the dangers pregnant women working in the tobacco industry were exposed to. Why, when so many committees and grass- roots movements existed, was information not being channelled to those women about the dangers they faced?
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