”Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – once Margaret Mead said. Such a meaningful statement, isn’t it? We believe that changes come through people; open discussions about challenging issues, exchanging ideas on making the world a better place for each and every one of us.  Central Asia Solidarity Groups, (Sweden) together with its partner organizations Novi Ritm (Kyrgyzstan) and KobieTY (Poland) organized mobility of youth workers that involved more than 20 participants in Kyrgyzstan in January this year.

The purpose of the mobility of youth workers was to encourage dialogue and foster cooperation between duty-bearers and youth (youth centers, civil society organizations, initiative groups). During the event, participants enhanced practical knowledge on how to work with structural problems in society through exchanging the best practices on organizing and undertaking activities in civil society organizations and initiative groups, as well as shared experiences, challenges, approaches, and tools to address issues in three countries. 

During the first part of the mobility participants from Poland and Sweden had a chance to meet organizations, initiative groups, and local activists working in the fields of youth, women and girls’ rights, LGBT+ rights, environment and climate in the capital city of Kyrgyzstan – Bishkek. We have met with:

Reproductive Health Alliance of Kyrgyzstan. Staff members of RHAK conducted a workshop that consisted of a presentation of their work on the reproductive and sexual rights of women and men in Kyrgyzstan (contraception, maternal mortality, abortion, and maternal death). Participants asked questions and at the same time shared practices of their countries regarding reproductive and sexual health.

The Institute for youth development  is one of the leading organizations in Kyrgyzstan that works with young people and promotes the development of youth policy.  During the visit, our participants learned about the organization’s current projects related to strengthening the role of youth in the country, especially youth from remote areas.  

Kyrgyz Indigo is LGBT+ community organization that provided a brief contextual analysis of the situation of LGBT+ people in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia.  They also described in details on how the work with the LGBT+ community, sex workers and HIV positive people. 

“ We want the LGBT+ community to be equal members of society.  We want to prove to people who don’t accept us that we can contribute to positive changes in the country too. We don’t want to leave the country as many people ask us to do. We are here, we fight and we will be fighting” – a comment from the visit  

Бишкек Феминисттик Демилгелери – Бишкекские Феминистские Инициативы in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan that promotes feminist values and works to end all forms of oppression (sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, ableism, nationalism, xenophobia, islamophobia, class and socio-economic oppression, etc.) in Bishkek welcomed us in their new office that has a library with feminist books, magazines, and brochures. The whole atmosphere was informal; there were no presentations but discussions that included sharing personal stories and how their lives have changed after they became part of the organization. Representatives also told us the story behind the feminist group in Bishkek and how it was founded. The current status of women and girls, as well as challenges they face was another point of discussion: bride/girl-kidnapping, high rate of domestic violence towards women, early and arranged marriages.   One of the hot topics of the meeting was the 1st Feminnale of Contemporary Art in Kyrgyzstan that was criticized by the local population including the Ministry of Culture of the country.

Brave and strong girls from Nazik Kyz Общественное объединение девушек с ограниченными физическими возможностями “Назик-Кыз”, an activist group of women with disabilities in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, whose work is based on protecting the rights of girls and women and empowering them in their daily struggle with inaccessibility and discrimination, discussed their work that includes raising awareness about human rights among girls and women, as well as provision of opportunities to take sewing and cooking classes. 

“Every year we organize summer camps for girls with disabilities where they learn about gender equality, reproductive and sexual rights. It is during these kinds of activities, where we work on the self-esteem of girls. Summer camps are pretty challenging for some girls because they are encouraged to be self-sufficient, which has not been always the case in the past for girls” – one of the founders of the organization said.

After completing the courses, Nazik Kyz supports girls with finding jobs and/or staying in the working groups of the organization where they produce eco-bags, for example. They also talked about the situation of people with disabilities after Kyrgyzstan ratified the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities in 2019, about the inclusion of women with disabilities in politics, the cooperation of Nazik Kyz with other women’s rights organizations in the country. 

“I used to fear everything and everyone. I felt so uncomfortable in public. My mom was always convincing me to go outside, make friends but she didn’t realize how difficult it was for me. After some time, I got in touch with Nazik Kyz. Now this place seems like my second home, and people here are like my sisters. We have our community, a group of girls who are always supportive.” – says one of the members of Nazik Kyz 

An inspiring group of girls who are building the 1st satellite in Kyrgyzstan – Kyrgyz Satellite. During the  meeting, girls  talked about an idea behind the project, challenges they face, as well as criticism from the society, financial difficulties that prevent them from traveling all together to present their work, as well as slows down the process of launching the satellite. Girls also mentioned other activities they conduct to empower girls and women in the cities and remote areas as programming courses.  

To learn more about the girls further plans and follow the link below: the Kyrgyz Space Program is creating the first Kyrgyz satellite, built by girls

Moreover, participants of the mobility had multiple meetings with well-known local feminist activist, such as Aizat Shakieva, who has recently released her first feminist fairytale book. Participants have also met with activists from Labrys Kyrgyzstana grassroots platform for advancement and protection of the human rights of LGBT+ people in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia, Move Green – a youth environmental movement in the Kyrgyz Republic, Women Support Center WSC – women’s rights organization that promotes gender equality through empowerment of women, and Boktukorgon (Боктукөргөн) – a teenage magazine that is a part of Teenagers and Youth for Justice and Equality project.  

We also managed to arrange a visit to Issyk-lake. The trip included a visit to Cholpon – Ata beach,  photoshoots, short hiking sessions and visiting pre-historic places.

I enjoyed our trip to Issyk-Kyl, and I think it was an excellent idea to visit it as a team. It gave us a change to get to know each other better” – says a project participant 

After intensive time in Bishkek, we flew to Osh, where our partner organization, Novi Ritm, hosted us for one week. Participants visited municipalities and schools in the Uzbek community. Participants met and talked to local teachers and students and learned about the challenges of working with young people. 

Furthermore, participants talked to different organizations operating at local, regional and international levels. For instance, a visit to Youth of Osh which is one of the leading youth organizations in Kyrgyzstan, and a session from Saferworld which is an international organization which works with conflict prevention through building partnerships with local organizations working with youth, initiative groups and decision-makers. 

Apart from having activities in Osh, participants had a study trip to Alay – a region in Osh district. Participants visited Active Alay – local youth organisation. Youth activists presented  their work: activities, and challenges of arranging activism in a small town.  

Since one of the main objectives of the mobility was to create a space for local and international youth workers to discuss the challenges of working with gender equaility, a peace table was arranged to provide a platform for youth and  local authorities to talk about challenges that youth faces, discuss issues related to gender inequality, and exchange thoughts about discriminatory laws in Kyrgyzstan, Poland and Sweden. Participants also had a chance to visit a youth committee of the local government where they learned about their work.

Novi Ritm also organized thematic days dedicated to discussions about women’s rights in the country. As a result, participants took part in a session on gender equality and  entrepreneurship based on examples from Poland together with Girl’s Group. Girls’ Group is one of several initiatives at Novi Ritm that encourages local girls to be socially active and learn about human rights, gender equality and feminism. Girls’ Group also arranged  Feminism talks, an informal event organized regularly to exchange knowledge and experience about feminism.  And lastly, the Swedish team prepared a session about gender stereotypes, how stereotypes  affect men and women and how to analyze gender from different perspectives. 

To make activities even more interactive, Novi Ritm organized a tour to Ololo House, Next Osh and Smart Academy which are networking and coworking spaces that encourage youth to realize their ideas using existing platforms. In addition, Rainbow, a local youth organization that works of HIV/AIDS organized an art therapy for participants, where the latter had a chance to express themself through painting. 

The last day of the mobility of youth workers was turned into a diversity day, where participants shared respective customs and traditions.  We ended with having a dinner together, taking pictures and exchanging goodbye hugs. 

This activity was organized within the “Youth Agents for Change – Combating Discrimination Based on Gender Age and Ethnicity” project funded by Erasmus+ which aims to eliminate discrimination based on age, gender and ethnicity in Sweden, Poland, and Kyrgyzstan. The project is supported by the European Commission.

Read about the first part of the mobility of youth workers in Sweden here: Youth workers from Kyrgyzstan and Poland visit Malmö  

Written by: Ainagul Amatbekova