Since May 2010, Restless Beings has been working on a women's rights issue which is commonplace across Central Asia, but more specifically, in Kyrgyzstan. From history, human rights violations tend to prey on the most weak within society; the poor, those who are different to the 'norm' be it because of colour, religion or creed and, sadly, against women.
Today, five of us from the team, set off for Kyrgyzstan to continue work on our Ala Kachuu project and I thought I would use the time on board the first leg flight to Moscow to write a little something about why we are making the trek across to Kyrgyzstan.
Firstly, the project itself - back in May 2010, we launched this project, named Ala Kachuu. Ala Kachuu is a Kyrgyz term literally meaning 'to take and run' and it refers to an old tradition where young couples who were courting, would elope in private where the groom would 'steal' his bride from her parents. It was always a romantic tradition. But, unfortunately, there are obviously opportunities for some with twisted intentions to take this tradition and turn it into something far more sinister - from violence to being held in captivity, from cruel degrading sexual acts to rape and sterelistaion, this beautiful tradition unfortunately is used for abuse.
In a nutshell, what we hope to achieve from going out to Kyrgyzstan this time round is two fold :
To establish lasting links with universities, colleges, community organisations and social clubs
The purpose for this is to have a great network of community based organisations that we can begin an education programme with. One of the most unfortunate things that we have found from our research is that the vast majority of the population in Kyrgyzstan feel that there is not much that can be done in cases of non consenting Ala Kachuu.
Last December, the Government launched an initiative to highlight the distress caused by victims of Ala Kachuu. These are huge strides considering that even now, carrying out Ala Kachuu, whilst outlawed, escapes any punishment. We hope to meet with as many students, lecturers, youth workers and social club directors as possible so that we can begin a detailed, engaging and effective educational and awareness raising programme across the length and breadth of Kyrgyzstan. The hope is that this will lead to a decrease in Ala Kachuu in the future by ensuring that the upcoming young adult generation is aware of the dangers and consequences that Ala Kachuu can have on victims. To do this we will be travelling south to the second city Osh as well as Issyk Kul region which is often the location for many Ala Kachuu captivities because of its obscure and quiet location.
To begin offering a service to victims of Ala Kachuu across Kyrgyzstan but specifically Bishkek
We will be meeting with a number of organisations within Bishkek to discuss local knowledge and expertise. We plan to set in place by the time we leave in 2 weeks, a working plan to provide a service which will act as a help line for those in distress from Ala Kachuu or who are in duress after they have been subjects to bride kidnapping. Alongside we want to provide a front facing service which will give victims an opportunity to physically come in to a safe haven and simply be able to confide or seek counsel from someone.
To a add a complete holistic approach we will also be looking to set up a base where victims of Ala Kachuu can also seek legal counsel. We will be holding meetings with many organisations and individuals to facilitate our plans.
The idea of this visit is to set into place a long term plan whereby we are holistically tackling the issue. In short, we will be launching an educational and awareness raising initiative which is both sensitive to the culture as well as being engaging and effective in the reduction on non consenting Ala Kachuu. Alongside this we will be setting into place the long term foundation of providing counselling both physically and also immediately at time of distress via telephone and also a legal service to further the case for women's rights in Kyrgyzstan. And to make sure we keep the project as grassroots and effective as possible we will be working with local people and local organisations as well as past victims of Ala Kachuu to provide all the options mentioned above.
We'll be updating you as regularly as possible from Central Asia. I hope that you can keep up with our notes :)
Mabrur in Moscow :)