Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan– The Women’s Democracy Network (WDN) today launched a new chapter in Kyrgyzstan to advance public participation and leadership by Kyrgyz women. Former president Rosa Otunbayeva addressed the conference where the new chapter was launched, advocating quotas to enhance women’s participation in political parties and elected office.
“We are grateful to Ms. Otunbayeva for her presence at the launch of this timely new initiative,” said Valerie Dowling, director of WDN. “The Kyrgyz chapter of WDN will provide a vital new force in the civic life of Kyrgyzstan by empowering and connecting women from across sectors and parties. We look forward to extending our cooperation with our Kyrgyz partners to increase women’s political and civic participation.”
The chapter was formed in partnership with the Zhenskaya Demokraticheskaya Set (ZDS), and was announced at a conference entitled “Expanding Leadership Opportunities for Women: The Next Step in Kyrgyzstan’s Development.”
Kyrgyz women leaders and Parliamentarians joined U.S. Congresswomen and U.S. Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic Sheila Gwaltney to discuss topics including gender perceptions and quotas and barriers to women’s economic access. The conference was co-hosted by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute, in cooperation with ZDS, with funding from the United States Agency for International Development.
The launch of the Kyrgyz chapter is timely. ZDS recently raised concerns about the deselection of several women as candidates in local elections. Such actions may reflect the persistence of more traditional attitudes about the place of Kyrgyz women in society: according to a recent IRI poll, only 15 percent of respondents felt that women should play an expanded role in politics, compared to 49 percent who said women should have more of a presence at home.
ZDS has worked with WDN since 2013 on activities including training sessions and public seminars focused on increasing women’s knowledge of and participation in the political space, and built a network of nearly 4,000 women activists in every region of Kyrgyzstan.