Reaching everybody: Pounding the pavement for women’s rights in Kyrgyzstan

Oct 20, 2015

Comics proved effective in getting the message out in some of the more remote communities

This month, the UN marks 15th anniversary of adopting 1325 Resolution on peace, women and security. The resolution calls for women to be equally involved in decision-making at every level of conflict prevention and peace-building.

Post-conflict situations present windows of opportunities to strengthen women’s leadership and empowerment, build inclusive political frameworks and peaceful societies. Increased women’s participation and leadership can help to ensure that the governments are equally responsive to women’s and men’s needs and priorities, which in the long run can help to improve well-being of all members of societies.

Easier said than done

Europe and Central Asia is not only a relatively peaceful region, but also a part of the world where, in many countries, legally women have the same political rights as men: Eight countries in region have introduced quotas on women representation on candidate lists in elections. This, however, doesn’t guarantee the equal participation of women in decision-making, especially in post-conflict situations.

Consider Kyrgyzstan

“The country has experienced episodes of political instability in 2005 and 2010 and although women’s socio-economic status was especially affected, they have been marginalized from the peacebuilding and decision-making processes,” explains Olga Djanaeva, Director of Kyrgyz NGO, Alga Association. “This has been happening mainly because of existing harmful social norms, beliefs and practices.”  

Taking advantage of 2015 parliamentary and 2016 local council elections, Alga Association has been, in partnership with UNDP and UNICEF, implementing a new project focusing on women as peaceful voters and candidates.

The goal of the project is to increase women’s political participation in both conflict-affected and prone areas in Kyrgyzstan. The ultimate aim is to curtail old practices, such as “family vote” which gives a right to vote to men as the designated head of the family. The project looks at transforming individual practices and informal values resulting in ensuring the equal participation of women and men in decision-making.

Olga shared her experience during a side event at the 15-Year Anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in New York:

“To reach out to every single member of the community, the project has employed different advocacy and campaign strategies to make sure that those who rarely participate in social life can learn about and exercise their political rights." 

Social + Media

The campaign has taken a particular focus on reconfiguring social practices. As many rural inhabitants could be reached only through informal gatherings, the campaign includes door-to-door visits and engaging with women during informal gathering such as parties or morning talks with young mothers near kindergartens. Since the change cannot happen without changing the relationships between men and women, men were also targeted through similar channels.

The media have proved effective as well. Popular soap operas on national television have carried storylines promoting a positive image of women political candidates. Radio broadcasts and the popular talk shows were used to discuss the importance of women’s participation in governance.

Young people have been approached through existing youth centres and networks to help them understand and exercise their electoral rights. A paper doll game has been used to promote different careers path available for girls, such as members of parliament, an engineer or astronaut. In addition comics book telling about elections to young voters and online quest game based on different situation options for women voters and candidates were developed.  

“The parliamentary election in Kyrgyzstan took place on October 4,” said UNDP’s Magdalena Randall-Schab in the Istanbul Regional Hub, “We’re really excited to hear about the results and see how this project has made a difference in the lives of men and women.”

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