Women Step Up to Bring Security to Teetering Kyrgyzstan

Published on World Pulse, by Nurgul Djanaeva, August 30, 2010.

In the aftermath of violence in Kyrgyzstan, women are jump starting peace talks across ethnic lines—and taking the security of their country in their own hands.

Often called the Switzerland of Central Asia, mountainous and ethnically diverse Kyrgyzstan was once touted as a success case for peaceful coexistence. Now, following violent clashes in June between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, ethnic tension is threatening to topple the stability of the entire region. But, a well-organized and thriving women’s movement could pull Kyrgyzstan back from the brink. Nurgul Djanaeva reports. 

It was July, just weeks after violence had erupted in our country, killing hundreds of people and displacing hundreds of thousands. We were gathered in a room, looking out at buildings that had been burned to the ground: Kyrgyz and Uzbek women, meeting face to face for the first time since the conflict erupted and pitted us against each other.

Some of us had lost our houses; others had lost family members. We had witnessed violence; we had been the victims of violence. We were angry. Before June, we had been neighbors. Now, many of us were shouting at each other.

When the violence happened, I felt how deeply women had been affected. As the president of the Forum of Women’s NGOs of Kyrgyzstan, I also knew that women could take on a critical peacebuilding role after conflict. As women leaders from different ethnic groups, I knew we needed to meet each other to begin peace talks. But I was nervous. Our country had never before been through a conflict on this scale, and I had no experience in organizing peace and mediation talks.

Growing up, I lived amongst Kyrgyz, Germans, Russians, Roma, Uyghur, Uzbeks, Ukrainians, and many other ethnic groups. In Kyrgyzstan, there are over 100 ethnic groups who have lived together, mostly peacefully, for centuries. But we’re not strangers to ethnic violence—we had ethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan ten years ago. Still, I never imagined that violence on the scale of what we saw in June would take place in my country … //

… The state and other actors have not been able to maintain peace in our country; as women, it is time for us to step in. In Kyrgyzstan, women’s groups are very active. Due to our campaigning, we have seen political leadership rise. Women’s representation in parliament has grown from 0% to 25%.

I know from what I have experienced during these first meetings between Kyrgyz and Uzbek women community leaders that the women of Kyrgyzstan are ready. We are ready to talk even when the country as a whole may not be ready. Most of us are mothers, sisters, and wives. We are deeply affected by the violence and we feel responsible for the security of our families. I myself am a mother of two children and I simply am not willing to see my children go to war.

It is time that we, as women, step forward and take charge to maintain peace and security in Kyrgyzstan. If we don’t take responsibility, there is no one who will do it for us. (full text).

(About Nurgul Djanaeva: Dr. Nurgul Djanaeva is the founder and president of the Forum of Women’s NGOs of Kyrgyzstan. The Forum of Women’s NGOs’ goals are to unite and support women’s NGOs in Kyrgyzstan, achieve political and social equality and fight widespread discrimination and violence against women).

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