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Kyrgyz Parliament Hot Under The Collar Over Dress Code

The proposed dress code would apply not only to deputies but also to visitors to parliament, such as this Kyrgyz journalist.
BISHKEK -- As the summer heat rises in Bishkek, the clothes come off. It makes sense, with average temperatures in the Kyrgyz capital hovering at about 33 degrees Celsius in July.

But while miniskirts, sandals, and plunging necklines might be a common sight on the streets, there is no place for them in the house of government.

Tursunbai Bakir-uulu, who represents the Ar-Namys (Dignity) faction in parliament, has taken it upon himself to address the state of undress in the halls of power.

"During the break a moment ago, there was a girl walking in front of me in the hallway wearing a miniskirt," Bakir-uulu said during a recent parliamentary session. "I would have looked the other way, but without looking ahead of me I might have stumbled and fallen down."

Bakir-uulu, a practicing Muslim, went on to propose that the wearing of miniskirts and tracksuits in the parliament building be banned. And he has taken to Twitter to spread his message.

"Prior to the Soviet Union, Kyrgyz woman dressed in Muslim style: a long dress, headscarf, or elechek (traditional Kyrgyz headgear)," Bakir-uulu lamented in one recent tweet.

Dress-Code Controversy

Now, following Bakir-uulu's initiative, the Parliamentary Committee on Ethics and Procedural Rules has proposed a new dress code for any person entering the parliament building.
"I think most of my colleagues would not see the need to impose a dress code on journalists or other visitors to our building," says Shirin Aitmatova, who represents the ruling Ata Meken party.
"I think most of my colleagues would not see the need to impose a dress code on journalists or other visitors to our building," says Shirin Aitmatova, who represents the ruling Ata Meken party.
The text, agreed upon on June 26 and set for a vote in the fall, says parliament deputies, staff members, journalists, and other visitors should not wear short or low-neckline dresses, sportswear, T-shirts, jeans, sandals, or heavy perfume. Bright colors are also ruled out, with the committee recommending that only black, gray, blue, brown, and white be worn.

Predictably, the proposed dress code has sparked controversy.

Parliamentarian Dastan Djumabekov of the opposition Ata-Jurt party believes the proposed dress code goes too far.

"The banning of perfumes is totally unnecessary," Djumabekov says. "Everyone has the right to different kinds of aromas. I'm personally against the wearing of very short miniskirts. I would prefer our women to wear medium skirts. But in terms of perfumes and colors -- everyone should decide for him- or herself."

Shirin Aitmatova, who represents the ruling Ata Meken party, notes that dress codes are fairly standard for civil servants around the world. However, she argues that the dress code should not apply to parliamentary visitors.

"If this impinges on the rights of journalists to wear what they want to wear at work or other members of civil society who want to have access to the parliamentary building, then that's a different question," Aitmatova says. "I think most of my colleagues would not see the need to impose a dress code on journalists or other visitors to our building."

Differences In Mind-Set

Kyrgyz social-networking sites were also abuzz with comments on the issue.

Bolot, a journalist, argued that the media serves the public by covering the government. "We have to run from the parliament building to other places to cover the next story," wrote Bolot. "Jeans are journalists' professional clothes."

Others singled out the initiator of the dress code, Bakir-uulu, for criticism.

The former ombudsman and 2011 presidential candidate often triggers heated debate in Kyrgyzstan, where there are stark differences in mind-set between the bustling capital and the more conservative rural areas.

His past initiatives, which are generally conservative in nature and mindful of Islamic norms, include a ban on advertisements for international marriage agencies and for the installation of a lie-detector machine at the parliamentary roster. He has also spoken out against Valentine's Day celebrations, claiming they cause mental disorders and suicide among young people.

Aika, a student, questioned in a post on social media whether the parliamentarian had nothing better to do.

"Tursunbay Bakir-uulu is an MP and he has his office," Aika wrote. "He seems like he stands in the corridor the whole day instead of working. Where does he see such girls? He should sit in his office room and do his job, then he will not see anyone."

At any rate, it is unclear if the dress code will ever be instituted or in what form. The vote is expected after parliament reconvenes after its summer break, when autumn wardrobes will presumably help cool down the debate.

But deputy speaker of parliament Asiya Sasykbaeva, who says it is too early to say how offenders would be punished if the code were to pass, already sees its benefits.

"I cannot say that some punishments would apply," Sasykbaeva says. "But after introducing this [dress code], we will think: 'Am I dressed properly or not?' And that will instill discipline for all of us."

With additional reporting by Janar Akaev and Kubat Kasymbekov