Inapparent Inequality

Kyrgyzstan isn’t an equal place for men and women, for citizens of different ethnicity, different religious leanings.  It may be a democracy, and the soviet era may have emphasized solidarity and equality, but there are definitely fissures and imbalances, some of which seem to have actually grown in the decades since independence.

We see this in Bishkek, and yet we don’t see this in Bishkek.  Bishkek is a more unequal place for women than many other places in the world.  And yet it’s also the seat of opportunities and of prosperity in the country.  People in Bishkek don’t stand on a completely level playing field – but they do [generally] have more opportunities than elsewhere in the country (especially in terms of access to education), so it is easy to overlook an issue or not perceive the seriousness of a situation.  Here we often see just the tip, ripples of great waves elsewhere in the ocean. Sometimes I forget too.  And then there’s a piece in the news, a report circulated by a colleague, that jolts us back to the rest of the country.

First, the article:

Strangled with Her Own Scarf: A Student’s Murder Haunts Kyrgyz Society

Almost exactly a year ago 19-year-old Kyrgyz student Camila Duishebaeva was found dead at a cemetery on the outskirts of Bishkek.

A case was opened but never solved. A middle-aged man close to the Central Asian country’s political elite was among the last people to see her alive. Duishebaeva’s Whatsapp account, which has been disabled and re-enabled in the period since her death, has been a focus for journalists in the country, who are suggesting agovernment cover-up. Critics of the country’s law enforcement say flourishing corruption and patronage relations have blocked the case.

When Duishebaeva was first found lying next to her white scarf on March 17, the news provoked a storm of reaction. Her relatives had used VKontakte and other Russian social networking services to bring attention to her disappearance on March 10. A month later, ex-Minister of Interior Affairs Abdula Suranchiev, enraged the girl’s family by denying Duishebaeva had been murdered and claiming she had “led a frivolous lifestyle.”

Forensics determined the death as suffocation.

The night before the morning of her disappearance, Duishebaeva was with a friend at a cafe in the center of Bishkek. Duishebaeva’s friend said that they did not have enough money to pay the bill, which is why Duishebaeva decided to call 52-year-old Kaly Salyanov, a male relative of Kyrgyzstan’s former General Prosecutor, Aida Salyanova, who came and paid, before dropping off her friend and taking Duishebaeva to a late night karaoke club.

According to a cousin, Duishebaeva returned home “in no mood” and spent the following morning sitting by a window lost in thought. She then left the house and was not seen again.

While no concrete evidence has emerged to connect Salyanov to the murder, the involvement in its preamble of an older man — who was not known to Duishebaeva’s family — has added an extra layer of murkiness in a country where married men often seek out younger girlfriends to sponsor. There is an excellent music video that touches on this phenomenon in neighbouring Uzbekistan featuring Uzbek rapper Radius 21. Duishebaeva had a boyfriend in neigbouring Kazakhstan who is not considered as a suspect.

Salyanov’s police testimony was as follows:

On the evening of March 9 I was with my friends at the sauna. At around 10 ‘o’ clock Camilla rang me and said: Kalybek baike (older brother) we owe the café some money, could you lend us [15 dollars]? I said I cannot, I am sitting with the guys, but she kept on ringing – 7 or 8 times. I could not refuse and went to the café with my friend, the ex-governor of Naryn province. After we paid up, the girls asked us to drop them off. We took [Camilla’s friend] home, after which Camilla asked us to drop her off close to [another café] 40×40. Leaving her there we went home. At home I met with a friend, and some heroes of [Kyrgyzstan’s second revolution] and on March 10 we went with Osunbek Jamansariev to Dzhumgal. On [the day of Camilla’s murder] we were not in Bishkek, and there are witnesses to prove this.

The court of public opinion

Amid condolences to the family, public opinion has been largely suspicious of Salyanov’s testimony. A minority fear a young girl’s death is being used as part of a political campaign to target Aida Salyanova, who recently left her prosecutor’s post to campaign in Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary elections.

On vb.kg, a Kyrgyz news website, articles about the murder are among the most popular published:

Probably it was rape and then in order to cover up what had happened, someone needed to get rid of the victim. I do not believe in a friendship between an elderly man and a young girl.

This story opens up for us the awful realities of modern Kyrgyzstan. Where girls are lonely and seek solace in night venues, where young people have no money, where there is an “untouchable elite”, where human life is worth [$15], where patronage networks overshadow justice.

Salyanova and a [former] Naryn police boss, good luck solving that one. Sorry for the girl, her life was just beginning.

Condolences to the family. You cannot change the past. I fear for my children. Now is a difficult time, people have changed, they have lost empathy, respect for one another. Look out for your children, especially when they are teenagers. Girls have a sense of pride, do not allow yourselves to lead the wrong type of lives.

WhatsApp mystery

Public interest in the case might have died down, had Duishebaeva’s WhatsApp profile not reignited it. According to police, Duishebaeva’s WhatsApp messages weredeleted when an employee of the municipal refuse collection service found her phone last year, miles away from where her body was located. The account was active until May before reportedly disappearing completely and reappearing again — showing activity — in February this year.

Kyrgyz investigators invited counterparts from Malaysia to assist in uncovering the facts, but to no avail. Due to the large volume of messages exchanged every day, WhatsApp regularly deletes the message-load from its servers. Key evidence in Duishebaeva’s case has disappeared.

In the meantime, the case has shrunk already low levels of trust in the country’s government. While nobody is able to draw firm conclusions, people are sure it was more than an ordinary murder.

…which ties pack to a post I wrote last year, Why Women Should Pay.  Another article focusing on opportunities for female youth here.

And, second, the report – which provides a country-wide context for the incident in the article: poverty, gender inequality.  Opportunities are few; especially in Bishkek, there’s a thirst for wealth, luxury, respect; and yet women often don’t have the the avenues to attain these on their own.  I’m not saying I approve of those pursuits, but there is a great conflict: proximity of and desire to attain the trappings of relative prosperity; and stunted personal and professional prospects.  Going back to the project I’m currently doing SMM for: Kyrgyzstan is a young country.  It does have laws, but they aren’t complete and (as mentioned further on if you read the whole report, or the Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences) there isn’t a comprehensive system for instituting laws or monitoring their execution.

OHCHR Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2 June 2015):
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today concluded its consideration of the combined second and third periodic report of Kyrgyzstan on the implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Introducing the report, Baktybek Zhekshenov, Official Secretary of the Ministry of Social Development of Kyrgyzstan, said that the fundamental purpose of policy and legislation was developing a fair social situation in the country.  The National Strategy for Sustainable Development 2013-2017 and a programme for the transition to sustainable development contained a set of measures to comprehensively reduce poverty in the country, one of the most difficult social problems.  Poverty reduction would be coupled with measures for economic growth, conservation of the environment, reform of the health sector, and measures to address poverty among pensioners.  Labour legislation incorporated the principle of gender equality giving mothers and fathers the right to benefits and guarantees, and prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex, race, nationality, or political beliefs.  Kyrgyzstan was in the process of legal harmonization and the reform of the law enforcement and judicial system, guided by the newly established Coordinating Council on Human Rights.

Committee Experts recognized the efforts to create a framework and institutions for human rights protection and asked about the resources and guarantees of independence provided to the Institution of the Ombudsman.  Resources in the country were scarce and that was why the wide-spread corruption and its impact on the public budget were of concern; Experts asked about sectors most affected by corruption and the progress achieved in stamping it out.  Experts noted that the principle of non-discrimination was included in the Constitution and asked about plans to adopt a comprehensive umbrella law prohibiting discrimination.  Which targeted measures were undertaken in regions which were falling behind in terms of economic development and how were resources being used to address regional disparity?  Poverty was on the rise, and child poverty currently stood at 40 per cent; the monthly allowance covered only a small number of families and children were increasingly institutionalized because their parents were poor.  On equal rights of men and women, Experts inquired about measures to correct the low level of salaries in the important sectors of education and health, where women made up the majority of employees, and on guaranteeing women’s rights in the labour market, land ownership and housing.  Other concerns raised by Experts during the interactive discussion included the lack of access to justice for victims of domestic violence and the lack of prohibition of domestic violence, labour protection and social security for workers in the informal economy, the situation of persons with disabilities and of external migrants, homelessness, forced evictions, and maternal mortality.

In response to questions and comments raised by the Committee Experts, the delegation said that the current law on Ombudsmen was not in line with the Paris Principles and that the new draft law was now before the Parliament.  An Expert Working Group on legislative harmonization was considering the inclusion of the definition of discrimination in the law in order to implement the recommendation made by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  An increase in law enforcement measures had led to a decline in the incidence of corruption and bribe offering in State enterprises.  Appropriate legislation and policies had been adopted, including the Law on Combatting Corruption and the National Action Plan, while the whole section of the National Strategy for Sustainable Development had been dedicated to fighting corruption.  The National Strategy for Gender Parity 2020 and the National Action Plan aimed to ensure equality of rights for all without distinction, through appropriate education, eliminating gender discrimination, access of women to courts and promoting gender mainstreaming in decisions concerning political and public participation of women…

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