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Majlis Podcast: The Challenges Still Faced By Central Asia's Women


Young women carry a banner that reads, ''We Are Different -- We Are Equal'' as they participated in a rally to mark International Women's Day in Bishkek on March 8. The rally was later attacked by masked men.

March 8 is International Women’s Day.

In Central Asia, women are increasingly demanding gender equality and greater freedoms, greater protection from sexual harassment in the workplace, and from physical abuse at home. But at the same time, there are conservative segments of society that oppose such equality, usually claiming it is alien to religious or national values.

The scene on Victory Square in Bishkek on March 8, 2020, is an example.

Masked men attacked participants of a rally that was being held to show solidarity with victims of domestic violence. Police stood by and watched as the attackers, some wearing the traditional Kyrgyz ak-kalpak hat, pushed around participants of the rally and tore up their signs.

Police did finally move in and detained several dozen participants and three suspected attackers.

Kazakhstan, for its part, canceled scheduled International Women’s Day parades in the country, citing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. However, public protests in Kazakhstan on February 22 and again on March 1 led to hundreds of people being detained, so Kazakh authorities might not have been inclined to see a third straight weekend of public rallies.

At least 200 people in Almaty did march anyway in an unsanctioned but entirely peaceful rally on March 8 organized by Kazakh feminists.

On this week's Majlis podcast (recorded before the events of March 8), RFE/RL's media-relations manager for South and Central Asia, Muhammad Tahir, moderates a discussion about the current situation for women in Central Asia, the progress being made, and the challenges that remain.

From Finland (but originally from Uzbekistan), Kamilla Sultanova, a gender-equality activist and entrepreneur at ConnectUZ, joins the talk.

From Kazakhstan, Karlygash Kabatova, the editor of UyatEmes, a youth sexuality education project, joins in. And I made a comment or two.

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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