The XX Factor

Where are All the Kyrgyz Women?

In all of the coverage of the recent uprising in Kyrgyzstan, I have not seen a single woman among the throngs of protesters. In other Muslim countries, like Iran, empowered and engaged female protesters are a fairly common sight. The world watched in horror last summer as Neda Agha-Soltan bled to death on the streets of Tehran and became a symbol of Iran’s reformist opposition. So what gives? Where are all the women of Kyrgyzstan?

Being kidnapped, probably. According to sociologist Russ Kleinbach , bride kidnapping-or ala kachuu in Kyrgyz-accounts for approximately half of the country’s marriages. And two-thirds of these are completely nonconsensual. Surveying the population for first- and secondhand accounts of the phenomenon, Kleinbach and his team found a familiar narrative :

women, without their consent, are seized by men (often accompanied by male friends) who have decided to marry them, thrown across a horse (or in modern accounts, into a car), taken to an undisclosed location, sometimes raped or otherwise violated, and held until families of both the “bride” and “groom” negotiate an agreement (often financial) for the marriage to become official.

Even when the kidnapper leaves his conquest physically intact, her presence at the man’s home overnight sullies her reputation and forces her to assent to the union. Researchers have also debunked the popular myth that this heinous practice is some kind of ancient, intractable tradition. In fact, such kidnappings were rare before the Soviets seized control of the region in the 20 th century.

The shameful dearth of female activists demonstrates that the domestic subjugation of women echoes far beyond the private sphere of marriage. It’s little wonder that women who are so commonly and callously commodified lack the authority and energy to come out in protest against government corruption.

Photograph of protesters by AFP/Getty Images.