“Women here always feel they must do things; they must clean the house, they must cook, they must forgive their husbands.” And so I dove straight into the world of women’s rights, gender roles and healthy relationships here in Kyrgyzstan.
One thing I want to make very clear is that the problems women face here are not unlike things we experience in the United States. Some things, bride kidnapping for instance, are a bit different but the overall themes of domestic violence, sexual assault and discrimination are the same, if maybe just on a slightly different scale.
This was the topic of our most recent Mom’s Club session and while encouraging in some respects, it has also left me feeling numb, confused and unfortunately, a little hopeless.
While it doesn’t upset me as much as it used to, I am still taken aback, frustrated and angry every time I experience the gender inequality first hand here. I have been blatantly ignored by men, especially when I am with a male PCV, and I experience some form of verbal harassment at least every other week. Many people are confused when I tell them I am a business volunteer and not a teacher, calling me “businessman” which is humorous but annoying at the same time.
All of this, however, if nothing compared to what locals experience here. I was quickly brought back to my days of working at DVSAS (Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services) during our session. Our discussion of healthy relationships quickly took off into a debate over what to do in an abusive relationship. Should the woman leave? What would she do if she did? What would her family think? And worst of all: maybe she did something to deserve getting hit.
Domestic violence and sexual assault are topics that are hardly discussed in the United States. Here it is almost unheard of, sexual assault in particular. I have heard of some of the worst cases, which only makes me wonder how much is going on under the surface. The enormity of this situation all over the world feels like an unbearable weight I have no idea how to move.
The only thing I feel I can do at this point is encourage women to talk about it. This is not something to keep quiet, hidden within the household. It needs to be brought out and discussed, so that hopefully, someday things will begin to improve.
The one point of hope at the end of the session was the oldest woman in the group pointing out that “We only feel this way because of how we were raised. If we raise our children to think this is wrong and that they should expect more from their spouses, then things will begin to change.”
In September 2006, I left my home of Tucson, Arizona for what would be the most important two years of my life. After 3 days in Philadelphia, I was on a plane to Banjul, The Gambia, a country I had never heard of 10 weeks ago.