©InfoJamilya knows her community inside out. She has seen the situation for women collapse with the fall of the Soviet Union and is working hard as a volunteer for the Red Crescent to fix this situation in Gulbaar village.
“Women in every village have the same problems of unregistered marriages, bride kidnappings and domestic violence,” she explains. “All Soviet values have been destroyed, but no other values have been created in their place.
“We have lost this generation – parents struggle to survive and they have no time to devote to the development of their children. There is a gap in education and morality of people of a certain age and this is the gap that the Red Crescent has to fill through awareness-raising and educational training.”
©InfoJamilya has started a sewing workshop to help vulnerable women learn how to sew, a skill much in demand that provides vital income for their families and saves money on clothing that they can produce themselves.
Such savings make a huge difference to mothers with many children and also means children are less likely to be absent from schools due to lack of money to purchase appropriate clothing.
Jamilya’s group of women called ‘maksat’ – meaning ‘goal’ – has taken over an abandoned building and turned it into a bright and cheerful work space. They are not able work in the winter, however, with temperatures dropping well below freezing and no means of heating the room.
Inspiration and confidence
Toktokan is one of the members – a victim of an unregistered marriage, she recently separated from her abusive husband. Because she was only married through a religious ‘nike’ ceremony, when they separated she was left with nothing.
She now lives with her two children at her family home. She says: “There is no other employment in our village, so this work is so helpful to my family. Jamilya has also taught us about our rights and inspired us to work for ourselves. This training has given me more confidence because now I can make a living for myself and I know my rights.”
The reach of Jamilya’s knowledge spreads far beyond the walls of her sewing group, as she also arranges regular community meetings and explains to women why registering their marriage is so important.
Recently, the group went to another village with 60 skirts they had made and gave them out to local women, telling them about the courses and encouraging those from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply.
Jamilya’s ambitions are high, both for the sewing group and for the situation of women in Kyrgyzstan: “Our goal with the group is to grow the business so that we can eventually sell our items in Bishkek and maybe even abroad. At the same time, we are fighting to get the law changed, so that registered marriages are obligatory before any religious ceremony is practiced. This will protect our women and therefore our whole community.
“We have a saying in Kyrgyzstan: ‘If a woman is good, her husband is good.’ So if women are involved in making decisions as well as men, then things will improve.”
Read Kalia's story about escaping an abusive marriage