©InfoAs a young woman Nazira was kidnapped and forced to marry a man she didn’t know. Although ‘bride kidnapping’ is not a widespread practice in Kyrgyzstan, it is a tradition that still goes on in some rural areas in the south of the country.
Nazira, 38, says: “I was born in Suzak region, but currently live in Jalal-Abad. My father died when I was two years old and my mother raised me and my siblings alone. Despite the challenges, she managed to send me to school.
“After school I entered art college, but that was when I was kidnapped. There is this tradition – if you are kidnapped you stay there with your new husband even though it’s not consensual. And so I stayed and I had five children. But our marriage was not registered officially, as my husband’s documents were not in order.”
The British Red Cross is supporting the Kyrgyzstan Red Crescent to improve the social and economic position of almost 50,000 of the most vulnerable women living in the Kyrgyz cities of Bishkek, Jalal-Abad, Osh, Tokmak, Naryn and Karakol. Nazira is one of those women.
Born to survive
Unregistered marriages, which are not legally recognised, are a big issue for women in Kyrgyzstan. The danger is that if they ever try to leave the relationship they will not be able to access social services and benefits, such as alimony.
“My life has been hard but I am a survivor,” Nazira says. “My husband was jealous and didn’t allow me to work at good jobs, so I could only be a washerwoman. My husband drank a lot of alcohol and he used to beat me. It was difficult to leave as I didn’t know how I’d support myself and my children.
“I was ashamed to ask for help and divorce was a shameful thing for me. My neighbors saw everything but at that time I thought I had no way out. But one day my mother came and saw everything. She said to me: ‘Daughter, you shouldn’t live in this way. Let people talk all they want, please leave him.’ That was six years ago and I did leave and at that time I started going to the Red Crescent.”
Red Crescent support
“I was lonely when I came to the Red Crescent,” Nazira says. “But the trainers gave me so much support and the programme opened my eyes to many things, especially about women’s rights.
“Now I am a Red Crescent volunteer. There are a lot of women like me and so I tell everyone – my neighbours, relatives and friends – about their rights.
“Not long ago we carried out an advocacy campaign and as part of this I did a performance reflecting on my life. Before coming to the Red Crescent I used to be frightened to tell people my experiences, but this performance really helped me. I liked that I could show all the things I keep in my soul and I hope it will help other women too.”
Stronger and independent
“I think this program is necessary for many women in our country,” Nazira says. “As well as finding out my rights, I learned there are a lot of ways of earning money and through the course I learned to sew and make clothes.
“I’ve faced a lot of difficulties in my life but now I have a house, which I built independently. It is a very small house, but it is my own house! I have also gone back to university.”
“The Red Crescent programme made all the difference to me, because when someone believes in you it makes you stronger.”
Read Jamilya's story: a goal worth reaching
Read more about how we are supporting women in Kyrgyzstan