Gul – A Newspaper for Female Migrants in Saint Petersburg. Ayym Baky and Safina Khidzhobova, Editorial Board Members

The word гул/gul/gül translates from the Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Tajik, Azerbaijani, and Kazakh languages as “flower.” For us, the flower is the symbol of wisdom, strength, and spiritual beauty. A flower grows in spite of everything. It overcomes barriers and makes the world more beautiful.

This newspaper first appeared in December 2016 under the auspices of the “Children of Saint Petersburg” project and is intended for female migrants from Central Asia and their family members. We publish in four languages: Tajik, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Russian. The paper is meant to be educational and informative, and includes legal advice on how to find a job, how to get the necessary documents, how to enroll a child at school, and how to obtain a registration. On the last page, we print a list of organizations where women can seek free advice if their children are rejected from a school, if there is violence in the home, if their labor rights are being violated, or if they need an appointment with specialists.

The paper is published by us—young women with experience as migrants. We do all the writing, translating, illustrations, pagination. Then we distribute it by the Full-Service Migration Center and at markets. We regularly get together at meetings and have become like family. We even do the translations ourselves: Safina and her sister – into Tajik; Ayym – into Kyrgyz; Nargiz – into Uzbek. The founder and publisher of the Russian version is Yulya Alimova, the coordinator of the “Children of Saint Petersburg” project. There are other special aspects: before allowing Nargis to come to the meetings, her parents invited Yulya over to see if they could trust her.

We teach Russian for migrant children in the “Children of Saint Petersburg” project. We get them ready for school and help with their school subjects. Mothers and children who learned about the chance to improve their Russian specifically from Gul come to us. But the newspaper itself owes everything to the Russian language classes—mothers, aunts, and sisters brought their children to our courses and said that they lacked a community specifically for women. Female migrants live closed lives and they’re not used to voicing their opinions. Our hope is that these women understand that their opinions are important, that they are a part of society. We write about important women in the history of Asia, like Toktogon from Kyrgyzstan, who raised 150 children brought out of blockaded Leningrad; a female lawyer from Uzbekistan, who helped migrants; and Mavzun Chorieva, an athlete from Tajikistan who won a bronze medal in boxing at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. To show that girls need to be given freedom of choice, that their goals and aspirations must be respected, we came up with a comic strip about Farangis, who is a boxer and dreams of going to the championship, but whose father is opposed to her hobby. To celebrate March 8 last year, we published an issue about the history of this date and explained how this day is important for women. Our readers are thrilled that they can read this paper in their native languages, since it is very difficult for them to read in Russian. We try to include lots of illustrations and infographics.

We’re preparing a coloring book that tells the story of a girl who wants to go to school, but her parents can’t send her there because she has to watch her younger brother and help her mother. It’s based on the true story of a family that came to us at “Children of Saint Petersburg.” We want to explain that all children—both boys and girls—must receive an education. We inserted a leaflet into this coloring book with an infographic explaining the step-by-step process of enrolling a child in school. Everything worked out well for the real girl from this story—Yulya Alimova convinced her family that it was important for her daughter to get an education and helped them get together the documents they needed. At “Children of Saint Petersburg,” we frequently see girls up to the age of eight or nine who have not started school because they help their families at home, while 14- to 15-year-old girls don’t go to school because they have to get jobs and help their families financially.

In Central Asia, it’s traditional to believe that girls must stay home, then get married, and then have children. Pressure is stronger on women in some places than in others. In Tajikistan, the situation with women’s freedoms is worse than in Kyrgyzstan, but there is also a major difference between cities and rural areas. There is domestic violence in many families, but women don’t even realize this because they believe it is the norm. We frequently raise the topic of violence in our articles and try to change the silent acceptance of this “custom.” A psychologist at our newspaper’s crisis center talked about different types of violence in the family, how to recognize them, and where to go for help.

The adolescent social center Ostrovok, where “Children of Saint Petersburg” prepares migrant adolescents for university entry exams, has twice offered master cooking classes for local mothers and migrant mothers. By sharing the habitual process of preparing food, these mothers were able to come out of their shells and speak freely. We would like to create a space like this that is always available where women could come to sew, since not all of them have enough money to buy clothes and it is cheaper to sew them from scratch or alter them. This would also be a space for women to talk. Migrant mothers generally feel embarrassed about their appearance, are not well-educated, don’t speak Russian well, and have a low position in society. This space could help them gain confidence in themselves and make friends. It’s important to us that people living in Russia think about the problems that migrant women face and the we—migrants ourselves—are indifferent to them.

Safrina Khidzhobova, 22, fifth-year architecture student, writes texts, translates, illustrates
Ayym Baky, 24, three years in Russia, educated as a journalist