During the autumn of 2016, I was placed in Southern Kyrgyzstan working with a youth organization called Novi Ritm. Their focus was on creating a social platform where young people could learn about their rights, but also learn methods and experiment with their own initiatives. My main tasks were focused on organizational development, facilitating trainings relating to women’s rights and conflict management, and conducting research in order to produce contextually relevant material on the United Nation’s Security Council Resolution 1325.

While researching women’s situation in Kyrgyzstan and experiencing the surroundings, I got more interested in Kyrgyz women and the diversity I experienced amongst them. My preconceptions were that women in Kyrgyzstan have been suppressed, neglected and thus become rather passive and limited in terms of public life. While this in some instances and to some extent is true, it is far from what I have seen since coming here. During my first days in the capital Bishkek, I was already impressed since there were several statues and monuments dedicated to women – something which is not too common in the area of Sweden where I am from. Additionally, it is not possible, and perhaps not even desirable, to avoid the story of Kurmanjan Datka when learning about Kyrgyz history and nationality. Because of these encounters, I decided that Kyrgyz women in the past and present would be my topic for the additional project I was to carry out during my stay there.

This project – 40 Women of Kyrgyzstan – has been developed and conducted parallel to the other tasks noted above, and its duration has been approximately 4 months. The reason for creating 40 profiles is presented in the section on Kyrgyzstan, and the selection of women has been made through a combination of online research, exploration of museums and monuments, and, most importantly, discussions with young Kyrgyz women who have been kind enough to share their knowledge with me. Herstory begins in the early 19th century, which is mainly due to lack of older sources and written documentation in a cultural setting where oral presentation has been central much longer than written text.

In the selection, I have strived towards diversity, choosing women in different areas of public life and on different levels of fame and status. This in order to avoid promoting a homogeneous construction of success and notability, but also to represent the variations of the possibilities Kyrgyz women have and have had. Throughout the selective process I chose not to impose any value onto the work of these women, and I am aware that different Kyrgyz people feel differently about some of the acts and choices of them. However, I decided that it is not my place to judge whether the acts and accomplishments of these women were “good” or “bad”, instead I have tried to apply a political sensitivity in relation to events since Kyrgyz independence.

The purpose of this project began with personal interest, and has now has become threefold:

  1. To facilitate a process in which women enters Kyrgyz past and present, in the hope that continuously reporting on notable women will in the future decrease the risk of women being excluded from Kyrgyz history.
  2. To counteract stereotypical notions in Sweden about Kyrgyz women. These stereotypes tend to reduce these women into postcolonial ideas about “third world women”, who is through Western eyes often wrongly perceived as passive, uneducated, and backwards.
  3. To provide a source of inspiration for youth organizations in Kyrgyzstan, specifically Novi Ritm and its partners. Novi Ritm was the local organization in Kyrgyzstan in which I mainly worked, and they have several areas of foci - one being women’s rights. Thus, if they are to engage or facilitate projects for young women, I hope that this might be a source of inspiration and motivation, and at best that they are interested in continuing or expanding this project.

With this outlined, I welcome you to take part of 4 months’ work, and hope that you find it useful and enriching! If you want to know more about Kyrgyzstan you find it in the link to the left. And, if you haven’t yet, take a look at the collection of 40 notable Kyrgyz women, ranging from past to present, working in different areas and levels of Kyrgyz society.