Patriarchy abets the malaise of bride kidnapping

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)
Aizhamal Bakashova, SHAZET, Kyrgyzstan
(CNS image archives, 2015)
Bride kidnapping (marriage by abduction or capture) is still rampant in many Caucasian countries, including Kyrgyzstan. In fact, the 2015 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) committee report expressed its alarm at the high prevalence of marriages in Kyrgyzstan that result from bride kidnapping, which appears to be socially legitimized!

CEDAW report has urged Kyrgyzstan to 'strengthen the efficiency of law enforcement agencies to ensure that they protect women and girls from violence and bride kidnapping.'

Aizhamal Bakashova of SHAZET, a rural women organization in Kyrgyzstan, shared in an exclusive interview with CNS (Citizen News Service) the ramifications of non-consensual bride-kidnapping, which violates women's and girls' rights to bodily integrity and to choice of partner, freedom of movement and freedom from violence. Aizhamal Bakashova is also among the key participants at the 3rd Asia Pacific Feminist Forum (APFF 2017), which opens later this week in Chiang Mai, Thailand (7-9 September 2017).

Bride kidnapping is an assault on women’s dignity

For the uninitiated, bride kidnapping is a practice in which a man abducts the woman he wishes to marry. The term bride kidnapping, is called 'ala kachuu' (meaning grab and run) in Kyrgyz language. At times, the unsuspecting woman could be literally dragged off the streets, bundled into the car driven by the would-be groom and taken straight to his house, where his family have already started making preparations for the wedding.

During the course of her research on this subject, Aizhamal investigated the various causes behind this malaise: "It could often be for economic reasons, as a traditional marriage is very expensive for some families, and so it is cheaper to kidnap a bride and have a modest celebration. Some young men shared that they are too shy to communicate and propose marriage to a girl for fear of rejection. But the most awkward excuse advanced was that as some women are too shy to be married, they should be happy to be married this way. But in my opinion the main reason is patriarchy and misbalanced power."

In Kyrgyzstan, the problems of rural women are aggravated by the increasing gender inequality, which is deeply entrenched in the country’s social milieu. Discrimination and violence against women is widespread. Women are generally ill-informed about their rights and the traditional patriarchal system perpetuates gender-based stereotypes. Bride kidnapping adds to their woes, in so much as it results in unregistered or religious marriages, that threaten their basic rights. These marriages or nikeh (marriage made by the imam or the priest according to Moslem traditions) are without any official registration, which makes the women ineligible even for the existing social benefits. For example, in case of divorce by Moslem traditions, these women cannot apply to the State for any financial support and are left without any means of survival. They cannot even get a birth certificate of their child. These days an increasing number of divorces are conducted just via short message services (SMS) through mobile telephones, especially in cases where the husband migrates to other places in search of job opportunities, leaving the wife behind to stay with his family. Later he simply seeks a divorce via an SMS, after which the wife along with the kids is driven out of his home, shared Aizhamal.

Patriarchal setup fuels violation of women's rights

Such a patriarchal setup creates a scary and no-win situation for the married women, as they are under constant threat of being thrown out of their husband’s house. It impedes their right to land and other resources, as well as their right to democratic choices. Decreasing women’s economic opportunities and participation - by denying them access to land, property ownership, financial services and other resources - deprives young women’s rights to development, and increases inequality and poverty.

Another important factor which Aizhamal brought out was the girls' poor access to education. The growing commercialization and rising costs of education, force the parents to make a choice between children for schooling, and they often decide in favour of the sons, thinking that as daughters will leave the family after marriage there is no economic sense in spending money on their education. As adults, women often face legal and institutional barriers to economic activity outside the home, including laws or customs that deny them the right to own land, inherit property, establish credit or move up in their field of work. Bride kidnapping is just one more way of subjugating women by a patriarchal set up, said Aizhamal. But then, these gender inequity issues, related to women’s human rights violations, are rampant not only in Kyrgyzstan, but other countries as well.

Unified action is vital to change structural patriarchy

Joint and consistent action by like-minded organizations, like the one Aizhamal works for, and other women’s groups can bring about a positive change. SHAZET working together with women-deputies of the National Parliament and others, managed to get amendments to articles 155 and 156 of the Criminal Code on bride kidnapping and forced marriages, making sanctions for bride kidnapping more severe (imprisonment for bride kidnapping up to 5-7 years and imprisonment for marriages with underage girls up to 5-10 years). Also as a result of their campaigns, recently there has been a government decree that prohibits religious marriages without state registration of the marriages. The next important step is the political will to make all laws and decrees get implemented. We need joint action and solidarity to change structural patriarchy, believes Aizhamal.

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)
5 September 2017
(Shobha Shukla is the Managing Editor at CNS (Citizen News Service) and the above article is based upon her interview series of key women leaders in Asia Pacific region who have played a key role in striving for development justice. Follow her on Twitter @Shobha1Shukla)
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