By Salkynai Emilbekova ‘19 (Naryn, Kyrgyzstan/ Onalaska, WI)
Violations of women’s and girls’ rights in Kyrgyzstan are one of the most pressing issues that society needs to address. In an attempt to do so, I, together with several alumni from Kyrgyzstan, decided to contribute to the promotion and protection of women’s rights through an education-based project called “Girls for Girls.”
During my exchange year, I was inspired by examples of a healthy environment in America, where women could feel safe and assert their rights in society. This prompted me to start a project to teach girls from the regions of Kyrgyzstan how to protect their rights and to educate them on topics important to their development during adolescence.
The “Girls for Girls” project calls on women who are college students or young professionals with life experience to teach and share advice with girls in the 15-19 years old age group.
I first assembled a team of three alumnae, which included Aikanysh Sydykova ’13 (Osh, Kyrgyzstan/ Chambersburg, PA); Nuraiym Nurgazieva ’19 (Naryn, Kyrgyzstan/ Stuart, IA); Aisezim Arymbaeva ’20 (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan/ Fort Collins, CO), who helped with organizing this project to address the problem of domestic and school violence against women and to educate teenage girls about their rights, responsibilities, and opportunities for further education and career development.
The first training was conducted on November 6-8, 2021, for 50 girls in Osh and Jalal-Abad cities. The training lasted one day in each city and included more than five sessions on the importance of mental and reproductive health, career readiness, women’s rights, personal growth, and preventing school violence.
Three professional lecturers and four alumni led the sessions and discussions. The speakers included Akylai Karimova, who works at the Center for Support of International Protection in Osh; Zhainagul Abdirasulova ’11 (Osh, Kyrgyzstan/ Sugar Hill, GA), an obstetrician-gynecologist at a local hospital in Osh; and Sabina Abbasova ’16 (Kara-Balta, Kyrgyzstan/ Havelock, NC), executive director of the club of professionals “ProKG.”
Participants of the training voiced their concerns and fears, discussed the role of women in society, and set goals for personal and professional development. All participants gained valuable knowledge, support, and motivation to achieve greater goals in the future, as was evident in their anonymous feedback after the training.
This project positively impacted many girls who doubted themselves, felt insecure, could not decide on a choice of profession, were victims of bullying in school or society, or were victims of gender inequality. Through the project, they learned their rights and the importance of development, setting big goals, and achieving those goals. Many participants of the training shared what they learned with their friends and acquaintances, which means that the project was able to reach even more people.
The next goal for the “Girls for Girls” project organizers is to make this knowledge available to as many girls as possible, especially in remote regions, so that most girls in Kyrgyzstan know about their rights and opportunities and can have confidence in their future.