Although the 76th session of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was held online and face-to-face dialogue with the Kyrgyz authorities did not take place, the Committee’s experts nevertheless reviewed information provided by the representatives of the civil society, including the report on the situation of women during the Covid-19 pandemic, which had been prepared by the Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial”. The report mentioned increased levels of domestic violence against women, the risks faced by health workers, and the particularly vulnerable situation of migrants and their families.
Responding to the Committee’s questions, Kyrgyzstan authorities, too, emphasized the large-scale problem of domestic violence. The vast majority of victims of domestic violence (95%) are women; more than 8,000 cases of domestic violence were registered in 2019 (out of that more than 5,000 cases of physical violence); about 6,000 protection orders were issued, but only about 6.5% of cases of violence had been taken to court. In 2018, more than 8,000 victims of gender-based domestic violence turned for help to crisis centers. The Covid-19 pandemic has made it impossible for women to get such help or find temporary shelters from aggressors.
UN CEDAW noted the particular importance of solving the problem of harmful traditional practices, such as early and forced marriages and bride kidnappings. Kyrgyz authorities stated that in 2019 alone there were more than 200 cases of bride kidnappings, but the courts considered only 6% of these cases.
Unfortunately the position of the Committee’s experts, who recognize any gender-based professional prohibitions as discriminatory, was not shared by the Kyrgyz authorities. In their official response, the authorities indicated that the lists of professional occupations prohibited for women, which deprive them of their right to choose their occupation and prevent their self-realization and economic independence, were nothing more than a manifestation of the state’s special concern for women’s health. The authorities ignored questions about measures aimed at increasing the interest of girls and women for studies in areas, which were “atypical” for them.
The government’s statement that there were no cases of gender discrimination in labor sphere between 2013 to 2018 was flawed. Besides that, some Kyrgyz ministries support the abolition of occupational restrictions for women. Thus, the Ministry of Labor and Social Development, together with the International Labor Organization (ILO) are currently revising the list of professional occupations prohibited for women. Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial”, as part of its #Alljobs4allwomen campaign, called for the abolition of any occupational prohibitions for women, which created inequality and lead to their segregation in the labor market, while also widening wage gap between men and women.
Despite certain steps taken to raise women’s awareness about reproductive health issues, as well as improving their access to contraceptives, human rights defenders consider these to be insufficient and not reaching out to the most vulnerable women (i.e. women from rural areas, disadvantaged women, women from ethnic minorities and others).
The authorities continue to ignore the needs of vulnerable groups and have barely identified them in their response to the Committee, while migrant and LBT women are being systematically subjected to multiple discrimination. Alternative information provided by ADC “Memorial” and the Kyrgyz Alliance for Family Planning (KAPS) about the negative impact of migration on women, including on their health, was reflected in the questions posed by the Committee to Kyrgyz authorities.
Representatives of Kyrgyzstan refrained from answering the questions about the country’s plans to introduce comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that would protect women and girls from various forms of discrimination, including multiple and intersectional discrimination, as well as discrimination on grounds such as sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). However, such laws are to be adopted in accordance with the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
Human rights activists hope that during the ongoing dialogue with the UN CEDAW, Kyrgyz authorities will give comprehensive answers to the questions, which were posed, and will report on concrete steps aimed at combatting gender discrimination.