Hundreds of demonstrators marched through Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, on International Women’s Day, demanding police and courts stop closing their eyes to violence against women and girls.
The March 8 protest highlighted several cases that have stirred public outrage over gender-based violence in the country in recent years. Weak law enforcement means domestic abuse and other violence against women and girls remains normalized.
In April 2022, A.J., a 13-year-old girl, died by suicide in Bishkek, five months after district police investigators released the man who had kidnapped and held her for three days, sexually abusing her, before police found her. The sham investigation into his abuse was closed on the basis that a medical expert concluded “the girl at her age looked like she was 17-18 years old.”
A.J.’s family had to push for nearly a year after the case’s closure before authorities initiated a criminal investigation against the two investigating officers and the expert who dismissed the crime based on A.J.’s appearance.
In another case in northern Kyrgyzstan, community members are forcing a mother and her 9-year-old daughter out of their village after the mother filed a case against a neighbor for sexually assaulting the girl. The mother believes law enforcement officers violated confidentiality by divulging details of the case to neighbors, who have united behind the accused man. Investigating officers also insisted on mediating between the girl and her alleged abuser, trying to force her to meet him in person. Citing the girl’s terror at confronting her abuser, the mother was able to prevent the meeting. The case is currently under investigation by regional prosecutors.
Even awareness raising efforts can trigger controversy. In January, Altynai Botoyarova, Kyrgyzstan’s representative at the Miss Universe beauty pageant, wore a cape depicting a Kyrgyz woman in a traditional dress being smothered by multiple hands, against a red splash of paint. Her attempt to raise global awareness about the culture of silence and shame around gender-based violence in her home country during the pageant led to her own shaming. Commenters in Kyrgyzstan called Botoyarova’s choice disgraceful, saying it sullied the country’s reputation.
It is time for the Kyrgyz authorities to take decisive steps to prevent and increase accountability for gender-based violence. They should make police and court inaction criminally punishable by law, and provide adequate support to survivors, including mental health care. Women and girls cannot afford for them to turn a blind eye any longer.