“Women should achieve 10 times more” - Elvira Surabaldieva

Posted July 1, 2022

I still remember my first election campaign in 2015. About 200 men had gathered in front of the mosque where I had gone to speak about my plans as a candidate. I went up to the assembled religious leaders, extending my hand. My hand hung in the air for about five minutes before they greeted me with a handshake. 

Since then, I have had to position myself in many similar situations and have been heavily criticized. Because of the persisting norms in our society, women are expected to “behave” and “stay still” on a pedestal. If you have your own opinion, you risk reputational loss as a politician. Men’s misbehaviour or mistakes are often forgiven, while expectations of women are stricter. 

I am sure this is one of the reasons why women are outnumbered in politics. In Kyrgyzstan, the legislation stipulates that each gender should have no less than 30 percent in representation in parliament. But it is not enforced. For instance, the current (seventh) convocation of the Jogorku Kenesh has only 19 women among 87 deputies (21 percent). This is also true of the executive: there are no women city mayors. Even the position of Vice Prime Minister, usually occupied by a woman, is taken by men today. 

But we do have some important achievements. We have elected a woman as Ombudsperson for the first time in our history, and we are the only country in the CIS to have had a woman as President, Roza Otunbayeva. These women are pioneers who open opportunities for other women by breaking through the wall of traditional stereotypes that work against women in our society.

During my first election campaign in 2015, I canvassed voters by convincing them of what I wanted to do and how I would do it. Although I felt a sense of distrust because of being a woman, I managed to win thanks to the 30 percent gender quota, as a candidate with the Social Democratic Party.

I believe that the gender quota promotes and supports women in politics especially when we are beginners. Although I was guaranteed the seat in Parliament, I worked with my constituency and voters and won by more than 12,000 votes. 

For my second term in 2022, I was re-elected from the Pervomaiskiy electoral district with high visibility because I had been Vice Prime Minister for Social Affairs and MP in the last convocation. 

As women in public life, we are responsible for managing our professional careers and our families – a challenge that women have faced through generations. Maybe this is the reason why it is women who address social issues in parliament, and are more empathetic and caring, while also learning to perform at many levels. 

There is a saying, “Where men can put 25 percent of their best into what they do, a woman should give 250 percent.”

And although we try to find our niche by initiating laws and regulations, we still have a mostly negative image in public. For example, if two women parliamentarians have had a heated exchange, the news headline will be “Women parliamentarians got into a fight” and multiple sarcastic comments will appear in response, but if two men argue it is framed as a case of power and strength. 

In parliament’s previous convocation, I initiated a bill on countering harassment and hate speech. I was inspired to see how Georgia was implementing similar legislation, when I visited the country. We conducted a study that revealed that of the hate speech documented during the 2020 parliamentary election campaign, 13 percent was directed against women; it was 10.5 percent during the campaign for the 2021 presidential election. 

In surveys on gender-based violence in politics, 15 percent of women have said that they faced insults and sexist statements, and 32 percent said they received threats to themselves and their families. 

But nearly four years later, the draft bill is not endorsed, just because the word “harassment” scares men deputies, as it is seen to break traditions of flirting between a woman and a man, and women too like this type of socializing. A big step forward would be the ratification of the ILO Convention No.190 (2019), on eliminating violence and harassment in the world of work, and I will do everything I can to make this happen. 

Delivering quality public goods and services to all is at the top of my agenda. I plan to engage regularly with my voters and social media followers, focus on the needs of my constituency and improve communications with local self-governance bodies. Empowering young people is also one of my key priorities.

Once women have the possibility to claim their rights, they have a pathway to empowerment. When governments support women, they resolve social challenges and develop their economies.