Kyrgyzstan's devochki-activistki (girl-activists) are girls aged between 13 and 17-years-old fighting for equality, justice and diversity in a challenging environment for girls’ rights.
One of the key elements of their project is a blog in which the group publishes letters from girls living in Kyrgyzstan's regions, where a culture of patriarchy tends to prevail.
In addition to the blog, devochki-activistki also express their will to participate on an equal basis in Kyrgyz society through art, poetry, music. They encourage youth to get involved in the HeForShe movement for gender equality and make education, sport, health rights and other opportunities equally open for girls and boys.
This week Global Voices sat down with Aishoola Aisaeva (17) and found out about the issues that motivate the devochki-aktivistki to carry out their work in the country.
“People think that feminism is about hating men,” says Aisaeva. “But it is about opposing violence.”
Issue 1: Education
Aishoola Aisaeva: Education is an important issue in Kyrgyzstan, especially for girls. Having held youth camps in 2013, we began raising this question at forums, and we came to understand that parents prefer to support sons rather than daughters, when it comes to education.
Schools use out-dated, patriarchal textbooks, mostly authored by men, that only teach about men’s role in Kyrgyz history and society and ignore women and their bodies.
The following is an excerpt from a letter written to us by a girl living in the Chui province that surrounds the capital, Bishkek:
I never leave my house after school. And I see nothing new, every day is the same: a mountain of unwashed dishes, cleaning, washing, looking after children. I become exhausted, and then I do not have energy to do my schoolwork – J., 16 years old.
Unfortunately not every girl in Kyrgyzstan is getting the knowledge they need. Somebody goes to school, somebody does not.
We use art and graffiti and organize movie screenings to share experience with other teenagers. On our blog we publish information about famous women scientists, explorers and politicians.
We want to inspire other girls by showing them that women can study science and become involved in politics. Women can play a role in the future of our country, we just need to encourage more girls to become educated and get involved.
Issue 2: Diversity
AA: We are all different. We are from different schools, villages, and age groups.
When we started collecting stories ourselves, we understood how different we are and how different our stories and lives are, but we all need a place where we can be understood and where we can be supported:
I studied in the village (I cannot say where exactly I lived). My aunt is very good and kind, and her daughter is the same. But the most terrible thing is that I constantly experienced sexual harassment, physical and psychological violence, from her sons and my uncle. They said it was because I was a girl that they did that to me.I cried every day, because I couldn’t do anything about it, nobody would believe me. That was my childhood. In those days, I wanted to commit suicide – А., 16 years old.
Issue 3: Health
AA: We also promoting Reproductive Health, because it is really important for us to know about our health rights. This issue is always touched on in our camps, conferences and meetings, we want girls to know more about it and make decisions that concern their own bodies by themselves.
I am already enough of an adult to decide what to do with my body. That is to say – it is my property. But the why does everyone decide for me, how to dress and what to do and what not to do with my body?! I want to shape my eyebrows and cut my hair. But my elder brothers don't let me have that opportunity – J., 15 years old.
Issue 4: Tokenization
AA: Once we attended a forum on violence against women, but we were sitting in the back of the room, despite the fact the topic was connected with girls’ problems. All the other participants were adult, but they were discussing questions that concerned teenage girls. When we got the chance to speak we asked them to look around the circle and answer why we are not the ones discussing our problems? They included us on the list but didn't take what we said seriously.
It is a problem. In society we think that we can't talk for ourselves, but that is because nobody thinks to ask us about things first.
Issue 5: Equality
AA: One of the main goals of the Girl-Activists of Kyrgyzstan is equality. Gender equality concerns everyone and we want girls and boys to make a contribution to it and promote it together.
We are getting stories from girls, who are faced with inequality and discrimination. Girls are telling us that they cannot do the things they want to do because they are not boys and society has built these stereotypes on top of them from childhood. The following excerpt is from a letter sent to us by a girl who wanted to sing the Epic of Manas, a traditional Kyrgyz epic that tells the life story of a mythical warrior king:
I have been a girl Manaschi (storyteller of the Epic of Manas) since I was 3 years old. When I was a child, everyone thought it was great – they considered all children equal. But I grew up, and found that being an older girl is much harder. Beginning when I was 9 years old, everybody started telling me the stereotypes I should follow. And so my favorite pursuit – storytelling – stopped for a while. I had already resigned myself to the fact that I was a girl – К., 13 years old.