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Central Asian Women Fight For Their Rights Through Social Media

Kyrgyz police arrest a woman protesting against gender-based violence to mark International Women's Day in Bishkek in March 2020.
Kyrgyz police arrest a woman protesting against gender-based violence to mark International Women's Day in Bishkek in March 2020.

Domestic violence, sexual harassment, and gender inequality are pervasive in conservative Central Asian societies. In recent years, social media have helped draw more attention to the ill-treatment of women to and have become a platform for victims to share their experiences.

Videos of abuse regularly go viral followed by public outcry and calls for justice. A man in Kyrgyzstan beat and tortured his wife on camera. A groom hit his bride at a wedding in Uzbekistan. A Kazakh celebrity posted photos of injuries after being battered by her husband. Sexist remarks by public figures (predominantly, men) often draw strong backlash. It seems that not a week goes by without yet another appalling case that sets social media feeds on fire.

A generation of young women across the region are using TikTok and Instagram to change the status quo and educate other women about their rights. Some independent creators and activists challenge gender stereotypes and traditional roles in fun and creative ways. Others teach girls about a wide range of topics -- from IT and science to menstruation and virginity, filling the gap in the absence of formal sex education in schools.

In a live discussion on July 28, I spoke with Aisana Ashim, a Kazakh journalist and the founder of Batyr Jamal, a social-only publication about women’s rights in Kazakh and Russian languages, and Meerim Nurlanbekova, founder of the Village Girl project to empower girls in rural areas of Kyrgyzstan. We discussed their projects, which rely heavily on social media, how to involve men in the conversation, and whether they feel the change.

Key Takeaways:

Aisana Ashim (Kazakhstan): “In our country, where lawmakers, police, and judicial system are not supportive of women, public outcry and publicity help to force the authorities to take action. There have been many cases when police would start acting only after we and other media outlets and bloggers covered those cases. I think the influence of such publications is also in creating a culture of zero tolerance for violence, sexism, and so on. I see that more women are speaking up about, for example, harassment in taxis, the workplace, or on the street. And, of course, cancel culture sometimes works.”

Meerim Nurlanbekova (Kyrgyzstan): “Let’s take a recent case of a 13-year-girl who was raped by three men. Two of them were police officers. It created a huge outcry. A lot of people, mostly women, spoke out. They mobilized people to protest. Now it’s been a few weeks. So what’s happened with this case? Almost nothing. Did anyone resign? No. We -- women and girls in Kyrgyzstan -- try to utilize social media, create movements, go to protests. But nothing is changing. The system isn’t changing. So that’s why we need more women in positions of power.”

Listen to the full conversation here:

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Read more on the subject from RFE/RL:

Majlis Podcast: Gender Discrimination And Violence Against Women Plague Central Asia

Kyrgyz Imam In Hot Water After Blaming Soar Meat Prices On Women's Skimpy Clothes

A Young Woman Fights Back Against Uzbekistan's Strong Patriarchal Culture

Death Of Kazakh Beauty Queen Sparks Debate On Domestic Violence

Prominent Tajik Man Jailed For Brutal Beating In Notorious Polygamy Case; Victim Dies The Next Day

Follow @RFERL on Twitter so as not to miss our regular conversations on life and social change in Central Asia every Thursday at 3 p.m. in Prague/ 9 a.m. in Washington (7 p.m. local time in Bishkek/Almaty/Astana, and 6 p.m local time in Tashkent/Dushanbe/Ashgabat).

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    Bermet Talant

    Bermet Talant is a journalist from Kyrgyzstan who is currently based in Sydney. She previously worked as a political reporter for the Kyiv Post and completed a Reuters Institute fellowship at Oxford University. She has also written for The Guardian, the Lowy Institute, Eurasianet, openDemocracy, and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.