We managed to conduct 11 trainings on assistance in eliminating discriminatory stereotypes against rural women with the participation of more than 300 people - rural women and representatives of local self-governance bodies. At these trainings, I was very impressed by the openness and responsiveness of our participants. All discussions were held in a natural, lively format, and the participants, it seemed to me, had a positive disposition for the discussion and open dialogue. They were sincerely surprised, agreed, and even opposed when they heard certain findings of the study of gender stereotypes in relation to rural women.
So, for example, the participants reacted vigorously when they were discussing the question if “a woman should claim her land when she leaves her parents’ house?” or “Does a rural woman need to get higher education?” In the first case, it was possible to notice that the participants were divided into several groups and zealously defended their position: some argued that a woman should never claim land when she leaves her father's house and that everything should remain with the male half of the family. Others argued that a woman should not take anything away, but have the land as a guarantee for pension provision, or in case a family breaks up and one day a woman has to return to her father's house. The third group expressed the opinion that the parents, while they are alive, should determine and divide the land and give a woman her share of the land or either provide property equivalent to her share, or pay her in monetary terms.
Social roles of men and women are clearly distinguished in the rural way of life. More often these roles can be sharply seen in gender, age, professional aspects. Territorial belonging also imposes its own characteristics on the role distribution between the genders. It seemed to me that it is these social roles and attitudes towards women that give rise to the majority of stereotypes and discriminatory practices against rural women, which ultimately contribute to the emergence of psychological barriers among rural women.
I noticed that a huge potential and capacity for work lies in the monotonous life of a rural woman, with additional conditions they could be more economically active, improve the life quality of their children, parents and even influence the life of their village ... I liked the statements of the participants who were able to defend their professional and work interests. Initially, even a conversation about the intention to start or continue work activity provoked opposition of the husband or his parents. Today, a very small part of rural women use their work and economic capacity outside of domestic employment. Access to additional / vocational education, cheap loans and concessional financing, and the availability of local social infrastructure: preschool and leisure facilities for children and the elderly.
It is worth recognizing that the topic itself, which we touched upon at the trainings, is very sensitive and requires a careful approach in the formation of assumptions, since it can hurt very deep emotions and painful feelings and experiences. Any statement could be misunderstood or misperceived by rural women.
The stories of the participants about how very young, not well-established married couples broke up, who entered adult family life unconsciously and without understanding responsibility (of their own will or of the will of their parents) aroused empathy. In the event of a divorce, the established negative stereotypical framework and a kind of “public censure” make parents not to accept a divorced daughter back into the family.
If thinking about it in general, our identity is that already at birth we, parents and the surroundings have a different attitude towards boys and girls - when boys are born we are happy and proud more than when girls are born ... We even have such names as “Burul”, “Janyl”, “Uuljan”, which we give to girls if several girls in a row are born in a family so that the next child born is a boy. And I do not know and have never heard of any male names that would be given so that a girl is born.
I believe that the main topics and material of the trainings turned out to be in demand and needed by our rural women, who sincerely thanked the trainers for providing understanding of discriminatory stereotypes and the possibility of overcoming them. Now we are planning to conduct 11 more trainings in the south of the country in Osh region, where we intend to invite more than 300 participants, of whom one third will be decision makers and two thirds will be rural women.
The Rural Women Initiative is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland and UNDP under the project “Towards a Sustainable Access to Justice for Legal Empowerment in the Kyrgyz Republic”.