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Statements and speeches Special Procedures
15 April 2022
BISHKEK (15 April 2022) - Following a 12-day mission to Kyrgyzstan, the delegation of Experts, comprised of Melissa Upreti and Elizabeth Broderick, held meetings in Bishkek city, Issyk Kul, and Osh regions. These are their preliminary findings.
We would like to extend our sincere appreciation to the Government of Kyrgyzstan for the invitation to undertake this official visit and for its cooperation during the visit. We would also like to thank all the interlocutors for the fruitful exchanges: public officials, representatives of civil society, girls and women from different communities and UN entities.
Context: A time of opportunity and challenge
The Kyrgyz Republic has made major strides towards gender equality since its independence in 1991, particularly through the introduction of laws and policies and the establishment of key institutions. The republic takes pride in being a leader in its commitment to democracy and women’s right in the Central Asia region. It ranks 82nd out of 162 countries on the Gender Inequality Index. Significant gender gaps in economic participation remain, along with persistent and deep-rooted patriarchal attitudes, stereotypes and practices around gender roles and high levels of gender-based violence. Like the rest of the world, COVID-19 has not only resulted in a devastating public health crisis but also exacerbated structural gender inequalities and led to an increase in violence against women and girls.
Rising religious extremism is having a damaging impact on the country’s efforts to advance gender equality by reinforcing discriminatory norms and practices that hold women and girls back from full participation in economic, social and public life. The shrinking space for women’s civil society organisations and their increased reporting requirements are a major concern.
Despite these challenges, there is an incredible opportunity for change. Focussing on the proper implementation and resourcing of laws and policies will make a significant difference to the lives of women and girls, as well as lifting the participation of women in economic and public life and their health status. We believe Kyrgyzstan now has a unique opportunity to simultaneously drive progress on gender equality and women’s human rights and to strengthen its economy. The full and equal participation of women in all aspects of life must be a priority. This will require strengthening its institutions, laws, and governance to accelerate the achievement of gender equality and the realization of women and girls’ human rights.
Legal, policy and institutional framework
The Kyrgyz Republic has a good record of ratification of international human rights instruments1 and collaboration with human rights mechanisms and is committed to the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030. However, it has yet to ratify the ILO Convention no. 190 concerning the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work. We recommend the Government consider the ratification of this important convention.
The Constitution, adopted last year, states that “men and women have equal rights and freedoms and equal opportunities for their realization” (art. 24.3), and that “no one may be subjected to discrimination on the basis of sex” (art. 24.1). The implementation of this constitutional norm is ensured by the Law on State Guarantees of Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities for Men and Women. This law could be strengthen by an amendment to include direct and indirect discrimination and a non-exhaustive list of protected characteristics.
We are pleased to note the establishment of different human rights bodies: the Office of the Kyrgyz Ombudsperson, the National Preventive Mechanism against Torture, and the Commissioner for Children's Rights. They play important roles in the promotion and protection of the human rights of women and girls. We call on the Government to ensure adequate financial and material resources to these institutions, to strengthen their independence and to support their community awareness-raising strategies.
We note initiatives and action plans to ensure gender equality including the National Strategy for Achieving Gender Equality in the Kyrgyz Republic until 2030 (currently being updated), the National Action Plan for 2022-2024 and the National Development Strategy of the Kyrgyz Republic until 2040. To accelerate change, two Councils have also been established, namely the National Council on Gender Development under the Government and the Council on the Rights of Women, Children and Gender Equality under the Speaker of the Jogorku Kenesh. We also welcome the establishment of the Working group focusing on the SDGs within the Parliament and invite close collaboration between these entities and other relevant stakeholders including civil society.
Finally, we call for the collection of gender-disaggregated data and gender responsive budgeting for all programmes and implementation of laws and decrees. Adequate data collection and its analysis would positively influence the development of tailored policies to achieve gender equality.
Public and political life
Women are active in public and political life but are significantly under-represented in decision-making positions at national and local levels. While we welcome the various initiatives that have been implemented to increase women’s representation, we note that some initiatives are not delivering results. We are concerned by this loss of female human potential.
Elected and appointed positions
Kyrgyzstan applies legislatively defined special measures which provide that when determining the list of candidates, a political party is obliged to ensure representation of not more than 70% of candidates of the same sex in the country’s Parliament and that every third person on a political party’s list should be of a different sex. Whilst we welcome this special measure, we are concerned that it only relates to the 54 elected seats according to the preferential system and does not relate to the 36 elected seats using a majority-based system in single mandate constituencies. This new mixed electoral system may result in a lower number of seats for women. For example, in the current Jogorku Kenesh only 21% of parliamentarians are women (19 out of 90). We are also concerned about the lack of women in the Cabinet with only 1 out of 19 Ministers being female. Further action, including reviewing the effectiveness of the quota system in the context of the current electoral system is recommended together with a pathway to 50%. Additional measures should be adopted to encourage and support women to run for public office and support women candidates to have a better chance of success.
Encouragingly, the application of the special measure in the 2021 elections to local self-government bodies (Aiyl Kenesh) resulted in the number of women parliamentarians at the local level increasing fourfold from 9% in 2012 to 37.8% in 2021.
Public Service and Judiciary
The representation of women in the national public service is decreasing with 39.9% in 2010 compared to 39.2% in 2019. There are notable differences in different regions and amongst different sectors.
Women's representation in the judiciary is higher than in the executive branch. Women account for 35% (163) of the country's 465 judges. All judges are required to undertake professional development education. Workshops on human rights have been incorporated into the judicial curriculum and we recommend that they should be delivered regularly as part of judges’ professional development.
Women and girl human rights defenders
Women’s rights organisations in Kyrgyzstan play a key role in advancing efforts to end discrimination against women and girls. Their activities include awareness raising, education and training on gender equality and gender-based violence, providing shelter, support, rehabilitation and reintegration services for victims/survivors of gender-based violence, migrant and refugee women, women with disabilities and LBTI women. These organisations welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively with and be supported by the Government.
However, it was brought to our attention that, due to the increasingly hostile environment, a number of civil society organisations, activists and human rights defenders, declined to meet with us for fear of reprisals. We also heard that those who advocate for gender equality are leaving the sector due to exhaustion and fear of victimisation. As one interlocutor said “I only have one life. I am tired and I will leave soon too.”
The Working Group is deeply concerned about the shrinking of civic space and the increasing hostility towards independent media and human rights activists. Independent and vibrant women’s and girls’ organizations and networks play a central role in ensuring a healthy democracy and the fulfilment of human rights. As a result, they should be included in policy-making decisions, granted adequate resources, and be able to operate in a safe and an enabling environment work without fear of reprisals. Any act of intimidation and harassment of activists must be thoroughly investigated, perpetrators brought to justice, and victims duly compensated. National and local authorities should publicly recognize the important and legitimate work of women’s and girls’ organizations in advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Economic, social and cultural rights
Women’s economic participation
We are concerned about the gender gap in women’s economic participation which is 46% for women and 76% for men and the concentration of women workers in lower-paid sectors and in middle and junior positions with less wages and limited opportunities for decision making.
This difference is more pronounced when comparing rural and urban residents. The influx of internal migration due to the lack of labour opportunities mainly in rural areas is impacting disproportionately the enjoyment of women’s and children’s rights. Additionally, women are migrating in large numbers to access employment opportunities outside Kyrgyzstan.
Amongst the economically inactive population, the proportion of women is high at 70%. Unemployment amongst women (13.6%) is higher than amongst men (8.3%), except in the Issyk-Kul region. The largest gender gap in the employment rate is registered for men and women aged 20-29 years, coinciding with the birth of children when women often leave work.
The fact that women have lower employment rates and a lower wage and pension share over the lifecycle means they depend more on social assistance and have less savings. Women are at greater risk of poverty, and are particularly vulnerable in an economic crisis including any potential effects of the economic sanctions. We welcome the considerable efforts to reduce poverty prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, rural women spoke to us about the rising cost of living and inflation, particularly those women who have family members who rely on remittances.
Gender pay gaps are observed in all sectors of the economy. On average, women’s pay is significantly less than men’s. As one interlocutor stated “My husband told that it’s not worthwhile me working for such a low salary.” Women are more likely to be in contractual employment while the share of self-employed women and women employers/business owners is lower than compared to men. Women are significantly under-represented in senior positions, with only 27.4% women in management positions in business compared to 72.6% men.
Increased economic participation of women provides a significant opportunity to enhance their economic independence, lift GDP and prevent domestic violence. Firstly, leadership from Government is required to increase women’s workforce participation and economic security. In this regard, we note the review of the list of 400 prohibited professions to women in the Decree to the Labour Code and call upon the Government to remove discriminatory provisions in the national law. Secondly, gender stereotypes about women’s and men’s role in paid work and family life must be addressed. A number of civil society organisations have excellent educational programs to shift gender stereotypes which should be supported and scaled up. Thirdly, the issue of sexual harassment in the world of work must be acknowledged and addressed with appropriate prevention and response mechanisms. Fourthly, the Labour code must be modernised to take into account employees’ need to both work and care. Finally, there should be provision for a maternity leave payment as replacement income rather than a one off payment and a guarantee of return to work in both the public and private sector.
Women’s role in unpaid work
We are concerned that the unequal distribution of unpaid care and domestic work between women and men is a significant barrier to women’s equal economic participation. Due to existing stereotypes relating to women’s role in the family and society, women spend 3.6 times more time than men on unpaid domestic work and two times more on childcare. According to survey data, 80% of people believe that in the family, the woman should take care of the home and children, and the man should earn money for the family. Many older women carry an additional burden of care responsibilities. We recommend investments in care services and specific measures to alleviate the burden on older women and normalize care amongst men.
The informal sector, which is feminized, appears to be understudied, hence requiring further attention by the Government. We welcome the strong push for women’s entrepreneurship as evidenced by the announcement to develop and adopt an appropriate targeted state program which was approved in November 2019, given the strong demand and interest from women.
We are encouraged by the high levels of literacy for women and men in the country which provides a strong basis for economic participation. We note that patriarchal attitudes and stereotypical images of women and girls have been evident in educational materials in the primary and secondary schools. We welcome the Government’s recent review of all text books and teaching materials to remove discriminatory content and pictures. We also welcome the development of a new initiative called “Girls in Science” which has reached 3,000 girls and is designed to lift the extremely low proportion of women in the National Academy of Sciences of the Kyrgyz Republic currently at only 8%.
While the net enrolment and net attendance rates are high for primary education, net attendance is lower for upper secondary education (59% for boys and 56% for girls). Out of school children, those at risk of dropout, (working children, children with disabilities, children of migrant families), come from socially disadvantaged families. We were made aware of school children who combine study and work in a manner that jeopardises their health, development and educational opportunities. We heard that overcrowding is an issue in many schools.
We are concerned about school dropout amongst girls due to child early and forced marriage and adolescent pregnancy, with lifelong impacts. As one of our interlocutors said: “the disruption to young women’s education happens because of the husband’s decision”.
We note the campaigns targeting parents, religious and community leaders explaining the importance of education for girls at all levels as a basis for their empowerment and the empowerment of the family together with financial support to low-income families to cover indirect costs of education. Such efforts should include sustained strategies to ensure genuinely transformative outcomes for girls education.
We are concerned that concepts of gender equality and human rights are not fully incorporated into the national school curriculum. We recommend strengthening the “Human being and society” course to include these topics and comprehensive sexuality education. We recommend adopting interactive teaching methods such as role play and a Train the Teachers component.
Access to quality health-care services
We note that Kyrgyzstan has introduced law reforms focusing on restructuring hospital care and developing primary health care, and increased financing of the health system to reduce the financial burden for patients. Kyrgyzstan has introduced the State Guaranteed Benefits Package (SGBP), which ensures basic health care entitlements for pregnant women, women during delivery, women with pregnancy-related and/or delivery complications and children under 6 years as beneficiaries who are entitled to receive hospital care entirely free of charge, without co-payments. We commend the implementation of the E- health data system to collate all the health data across the country and to ensure a comprehensive evidence base for policy development.
In rural areas access to health care services is limited. There are staff shortages and competency issues and the impact has been described as “catastrophic.” Anaemia is disproportionately higher amongst women and girls and is widespread and largely attributable to malnutrition and poverty. There is an immense demand for psychological support brought on by difficult situation and social conditions.
Sexual and reproductive health
We recognize the existence of the dedicated law on reproductive health care known as the Law on Reproductive Rights of Citizens. During the past decade, Kyrgyzstan has made progress in reducing maternal mortality, but the rate is one of the highest in the Central Asia region and it has increased as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis. In 2021, the maternal mortality rate, was 37.1 per 100,000 live births, or 57 women died in childbirth or the post-partum period. For the same period in 2020, the rate was 43.5 per 100,000 live births or 67 women who died.
We are pleased to hear that the Government was able to procure an increased number of contraceptives to support women in marginalized situations. We urge the Government to allocate dedicated funding for a full range of contraceptive methods, information and services, including emergency contraception.
Stereotypical attitudes that emphasize women’s role as procreators and child-bearers and limit their autonomy impede important conversations, both within the family and in the policy realm, about the many risks to their sexual and reproductive health. Consequently, they are neither able to protect themselves against such risks, including those associated with unplanned and closely spaced pregnancies nor make full use of the limited information that is available through health clinics and non-governmental entities. For many women and girls cost is a barrier. This was noted by interlocutors and is evident from the relatively low contraceptive prevalence rate for married women and adolescent girls.
The situation of women and girls who experience sexual violence and those constantly exposed to domestic violence is especially precarious.
We are pleased to see that women’s and girls’ ability to control their fertility is supported by the access to legal abortion. However, the frequent use of abortion as a method of family planning signals that barriers to access to contraceptive methods remain. We are concerned at the absence of programmes targeting the sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescents and young people. This was explained as a result of the perceived “sensitivity” of the issues based on cultural and religious consideration.
Additionally, while adolescents can receive health services without the consent of their parents from the age of 16 years, the Child Protection Law states that no services can be offered to a child under the age of 18 years without parental consent. This legal contradiction should be addressed.
Family and culture
According to many studies and as confirmed by interlocutors, patriarchal views on gender roles are widely shared by men and women. Traditional norms of marriage and family behaviour affect women’s enjoyment of rights and freedoms. Despite the fact that Kyrgyzstan is a secular state, increasing religious fundamentalism is putting more pressure on women to be more obedient and submissive. We note that the Government is aware of growing religious influence, but has not yet adopted a comprehensive strategy to counter harmful gender stereotypes.
Women married through a religious ceremony (nikah) without civil marriage registration do not benefit from the protection of the Family Code and are denied any rights and protections upon dissolution of the union. They cannot prove guardianship of their children without their husband’s confirmation and therefore have no formal right to claim custody. They have unequal access to property and inheritance.
We are also concerned about reports of son preference. This is a leading cause of discrimination of women and girls in the family and exacerbates systemic discrimination.
While we welcome the decrease in the frequency of bride kidnapping and forced marriage, we are deeply concerned that the practice continues despite its prohibition and that there is little accountability. We urge the Government to enforce the law, bring the perpetrators to court and provide appropriate legal remedies to victims.
Gender-based violence against women and girls
Gender-based violence continues to take many forms, including domestic violence, economic violence, bride kidnapping, early marriage, physical and psychological abuse, despite the legal framework on the Protection from Family Violence and the 2019 Decree on “the order of protection; and protection from family violence”.
We note a number of initiatives and campaigns funded by the Government, including one crisis centre but very often, private entities or donors are the ones funding awareness raising, prevention campaigns and services for survivors of gender-based violence. These efforts should be scaled up and additional resources provided to ensure that every woman and girl in Kyrgyzstan can live free from violence. In addition, men and boys should be part of the solution.
We welcome the recent opening of the shelter for victims of domestic violence in Bishkek. However, we note that it is the only shelter which is fully funded by the Government. We were told that only 11% of women feel safe at home, which is most troubling.
We recognise the recent capacity-building programs on the law, gender sensitivity, investigation of gender-based violence for police officers, lawyers and judges. We welcome the development of practical guidance for police on effective investigation of gender crimes against women and minors.
We note that statistics on domestic violence are collected by different entities - health authorities, internal affairs, and courts which all provide different data. We encourage the Government to establish a consolidated system for disaggregated data collection on cases of domestic violence.
The 2021 Criminal Code established a process for preliminary investigation whereby the victim will have the rights to legal representation, petition, claim damages only after the preliminary investigation check and an order on recognition of a victim. We regret that the Code allows for conciliation of parties in cases of violence. The Code of Criminal Offenses contains three provisions on gender-based violence. We were informed that lack of legal literacy amongst victims may prevent them from seeking legal remedies. We recommend that the Government review with urgency the preliminary investigation process with the objective of increasing women’s access to justice.
According to the information received, in 2021, there were 10,151 cases of domestic violence. 9008 protection orders were issued, 110 of them were extended due to the severity of the cases. 90% of the victims of domestic violence end up returning to their aggressors, due to the lack of economic independence and social pressure to preserve the unity of the family.
We are alarmed by reports of a significant increase in domestic violence, nearly 65% during the pandemic. There is a strong belief in Kyrgyzstan that it is acceptable for men to use violence against women if they fail to fulfil their supposed responsibilities or when their behaviour transgresses social norms. For example, women are generally expected to obey their husbands and are not allowed to have their say in decision-making.
We are deeply concerned about impunity for perpetrators, the limited enforcement of protection orders, the lack of victim support and the barriers to women’s and girls’ access to justice in cases of domestic violence, including the re-victimization during long criminal proceedings. We urge the Government to enforce and monitor the implementation of the Domestic Violence Law. When neglected by the authorities, cases of domestic violence may result in premature deaths, killings and disabilities.
Child early and forced marriage
Under the Family Code 2005 the minimum legal age of marriage is 18 years. There are exceptions as individuals can marry at 17 years with permission of local public authority. Although, forced marriage is a crime in the Criminal Code, 13% of girls under the age of 18 are married. Women and girls living in rural areas are almost twice as likely to be victims of child early and forced marriage. This can be explained by poverty, parental control, harmful stereotypes, increasing religious fundamentalism. There is a need for comprehensive data recording the number of child early and forced marriages and for stronger prevention measures.
Rape accounts for a significant proportion of sexual violence. The current laws do not include the consent as part of the definition of rape. Also, sexual violence within marriage (marital rape) is not recognised as a crime and is normalized by gender stereotypes. We recommend that the Government urgently review this provision in the Criminal Law.
We note the low reporting rate of sexual violence by women to law enforcement agencies. According to the testimonies, the low turnout is often due to many law enforcement agents being unsympathetic to victims of violence because of multiple factors, including gender stereotyping, victim blaming, the low number of women police officers, the risk of re- traumatisation, and the lack of skilled female investigators and trained judges. We recommend firstly, a significant increase in female police officers, and secondly, the establishment of dedicated police unit with specially trained police officers and investigators which would focus on investigation of gender crimes and they would refer these cases to a Court where the judges have been trained on gender-based violence. This unit would have a direct reporting line to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. This would ensure prioritisation of investigation of these crimes.
Access to justice
We note the existence of a legal framework for addressing human rights violations through the adoption of the National Action Plan for 2022-2024 with a focus on the elimination of discrimination and increasing access to justice. We are surprised however, by the lack of awareness amongst women regarding their rights and enforcement mechanisms.
While we note a positive practice regarding training for prosecutors on domestic violence, we are concerned about the lack of effective measures to enable to take legal action and the failure to remove institutional and social barriers. According to information received, only 2.5% of reported cases of domestic violence have been prosecuted.
We have heard repeatedly about the low prevalence of enforcement of protection orders and we call on the Government to review as a matter of urgency the procedures relating to temporary protection. We also urge the State to recognise the additional barriers faced by women with disabilities and women living in rural areas and to adopt targeted measures.
Disadvantaged and marginalized groups of women
We heard from several groups of marginalised women including older women, women with disabilities, women belonging to ethnic minority groups, migrant women, women living with HIV/AIDS, women using drugs and lesbian, bisexual and transgender women. They face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, and a wide range of human rights violations. We call on the Government to recognise the additional barriers that these women face and to develop tailored responses.
Women deprived of liberty
During our visit to the only female prison in the country, we observed that many women were serving sentences for non-violent economic crimes and are survivors of domestic violence. We witnessed fair conditions of living and access to medical facilities at the prison. We commend the availability of vocational training on a voluntary basis such as baking and sewing as this provides a potential source of income for women on release. However, we would encourage the diversification of training opportunities to increase women’s economic options. Money earned in prison is often used to buy sanitary products and food to cover their primary needs. We urge compliance with rule number 5 of the Bangkok rules for the treatment of women prisoners to provide sanitary products for free.2
A number of women are living with their children in the prison, sometimes until the age of 3 years. We highly recommend implementing of alternatives to detention for these mothers who have dependent children, in accordance with the Bangkok Rules.
In recent decades, Kyrgyzstan has made progress in introducing new laws and institutional measures focusing on gender equality. The conceptual framing of key legal concepts such as “discrimination,” “gender-based violence” and “structural-inequality” should be expended to respond to the realities of women’s lives.
We encourage the collection of gender disaggregated data to support evidence-based policy. The current legal, policy, and institutional framework needs to shift and be more centred on women and girls who are systematically disadvantaged due to a range of factors including persistent gender stereotyping, increasing poverty, pervasive violence and extremist religious views on women’s role in society.
We encourage the Government to urgently prioritize the operationalization of all relevant laws, institutions, and mechanisms created for the advancement of gender equality by strengthening the capacity of public officials in all branches of government and law enforcement, from national to local, by improving transparency and coordination and by providing adequate state financing. In order to accelerate progress towards achieving gender equality, we urge the adoption of additional temporary special measures with a strong focus on achieving economic equality for women and establishing a system of education that promotes respect for human rights, gender equality and civic responsibility.
While formal commitments have been made to advance gender equality, the leading root causes and drivers of gender-based discrimination and violence, which in the Kyrgyz context include harmful gender stereotyping, and lack of economic opportunity and security for women and girls, are not being systematically addressed by duty-bearers. A noticeable increase in religious fundamentalism and the number of women who subscribe to oppressive religious and social norms that envision a subservient role for women in the family and in society. This increase has been mainly due to family pressure and the absence of opportunities for women’s personal and professional development which would enable them to exercise their capabilities and enhance their productivity.
We have witnessed the crucial role played by many civil society and women’s rights organizations as well as female community leaders in fulfilling the immediate needs of many women and girls, ranging from managing crisis shelters and supporting the reintegration of women released from prison into society to organizing quality childcare services.
Regrettably, many are forced to solicit and depend entirely on foreign funding for their activities. Due to a proposed new law, they run the risk of being inappropriately branded as “foreign agents” and having their activities restricted and reporting requirements increased. Kyrgyzstan has historically had a very vibrant civil society and many of those focused on women’s rights issues carry an immense burden as they strive to meet the incalculable demands of women and girls for life saving interventions. They are essentially fulfilling the responsibilities of the State and ought to be supported by multisectoral initiatives aimed at tackling the systemic root causes and drivers of discrimination and violence, combined with adequate financial resources. We recall the State obligation to protect all our interlocutors in the context of this visit from any act of reprisal because of their interaction with us.
We encourage the Government and all concerned stakeholders to continue their efforts toward achieving gender equality and eliminating discrimination and securing human rights in Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan stands at a crossroads with an immense opportunity to harness the potential of women. We look forward to observing progress and stand ready to support Kyrgyzstan’s efforts.