National Kurultai of Women Leaders in Kyrgyzstan

Speech by UNDP Resident Representative Ms. Louise Chamberlain

July 7, 2023


Dear Dzhamilia Kybanychbekovna , Vice speaker of Jogorku Kenesh of Kyrgyz Republic 

Dear Ombudsperson,  Dzhamilia Akmatbekovna, 

Dear Janyl Ishenbekovna, Deputy Minister of Labour, Social Provision and Migration 

Dear Honorable Members of Parliament, 

Dear Antje Grawe, United Nations Resident Coordinator to the Kyrgyz Republic, 

Dear Ladies! And Dear Gentlemen!

I am honoured to greet you at the National Kurultai of Women Leaders in Kyrgyzstan. This unique gathering brings together women leaders from regional Kurultai platforms held across the country in Batken, Jalalabad, Chui, Issyk-Kol, Naryn, Osh, and Talas over the past two years. I would like to express gratitude to the Council for the Rights of Women, Children, and Gender Equality under the Toraga of the Jogorku Kenesh of the Kyrgyz Republic for its significant support to the platforms, and to the Bishkek Feminist initiative for their great job in organising these forums with the support of UNDP. Our appreciation also goes to the Ombudsman, who has provided support throughout, and a number of individual women leaders – the list is too long to mention all by name.

The platforms have provided a safe space for over 700 women leaders to discuss and address challenges related to women's participation in political, social, and economic development; and have uncovered joint initiatives and empowerment strategies for women all across Kyrgyzstan.

Ladies and gentlemen, women make up half of the population in the Kyrgyz Republic. They contribute significantly to all areas of life the country, and they are the bedrock of family and strong leaders in many professions. Yet, when it comes to political participation, women's representation lags far behind. 

The 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action imagined a world where each woman and girl can exercise her freedoms and choices, and realize all her rights, such as to live free from violence, to go to school, to participate in decisions and to earn equal pay for equal work. Twenty years later, in 2015, the world agreed on Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality and the importance of women occupying half of the seats in public and leadership positions. 

Today, Kyrgyzstan ranks 84th (out of 146) on the Global Gender Gap Index for 2023, and in the labour market, Kyrgyzstani women face a gender pay gap, earning approximately 63% of what men earn for the same work, but as most women of course have the main responsibility for family and home care duties, women of course have double work. Women are disadvantaged in higher levels of education, and rural women in Kyrgyzstan face additional barriers with limited access to resources and opportunities which limits their potential.

A recent publication by UNDP on the experimental Gender Social Norms Index has shown that, without tackling gender biased social norms, we will not achieve gender equality or any of the Sustainable Development Goals, let alone Goal 5 on Gender Equality.  Biased gender social norms—meaning the undervaluation of women’s capabilities and rights in society—constrain women’s choices and opportunities by setting unnecessary boundaries for what women are expected to do and to be

The UNDP Gender Social Norms Index captures people’s attitudes on women’s roles along four key dimensions: political, educational, economic and physical integrity. In a sample covering 85 percent of the global population, close to 9 out of 10 people hold fundamental biases against women. Incredibly, nearly half the world’s people believe that men make better political leaders than women do, and two of five people believe that men make better business executives than women do. Gender biases are pronounced in both low and high Human Development Index (HDI) countries. These biases unfortunately hold across regions, income, level of development and cultures.

On international Women’s Day this year, the UN Secretary General Guterres pointed out that on the current track that the world is on, it will take another 300 years to reach full gender equality. He also added that “Women's rights are not a luxury that can wait until we solve the climate crisis, end poverty and create a better world”. So, it is clear that the world needs to take another track from here on!

Today's National Kurultai of Women Leaders in the Kyrgyz Republic is a collective effort to support safe spaces for women and girls and empower leaders from diverse backgrounds to promote collaboration among formal and informal groups and strengthen their networks. Despite all the hinders to women's political participation, the Kurultai platforms held across the seven regions of Kyrgyzstan have demonstrated the increasing weight and presence of women leaders who are making a difference in their families and communities.

UNDP supported this initiative with the following aim. Women have diverse interests and needs, they come from different backgrounds and diverse linguistic and ethnic groups, and they have different aspirations and interests. We wanted to stimulate a nationwide conversation among Kyrgyzstani women, on women’s own terms,  and to plant a seed for Kyrgyzstani women to find more space for self expression without the obstacles they often face in the regular political process. Our hope was, that this process would unveil the spirit and voices of women in Kyrgyzstan that may not otherwise be heard, and that this would generate an indigenous and agenda that can unite women and drive this country forward.

Today, therefore, we are here to listen and to learn jointly with Ministry of Labour, Social Provision and Migration of KR initiatives on advancing GEWE. Especially in the view of recent positive progress of Kyrgyz Government’s efforts jointly with donors support to develop State program to promote women leaders in public services as per National Action Plan 2022-2024 of Gender Strategy. 

We look forward to hearing the voices of representatives from the seven regions. It is my hope that the dialogue will continue and sustain, and engage even more women, across political camps, across ethnic groups, and across all corners of the country.

UNDP remains committed to support the promotion of women as well as policies and initiatives that leverage women's participation in politics. We will work to advance policies that reduce barriers to the participation of rural women, women with disabilities, and women from ethnic minorities in politics. The Kurultai platforms, which encourage women's engagement, learning, and experience exchange, are vital to the country's development process. Women and men in Kyrgyzstan will achieve lasting and positive change in the country through the promotion of gender equality, and by enabling both women and men to free themselves from stereotypes. 

In conclusion, let us embrace the spirit of empowerment and collaboration that the National Kurultai of Women Leaders embodies. By working together, supporting one another, and advocating for women's rights and leadership, we can create a more inclusive and equal society for all.

Thank you.