BICHKEK, Dec 7 — An official school textbook that encourages students to disparage women who smoke and wear revealing clothes sparked criticism in parliament in ex-Soviet Kyrgyzstan yesterday.
While Kyrgyzstan is majority-Muslim, the Central Asian country is secular and some lawmakers and civil society leaders regularly speak out against gender discrimination.
But in recent years social conservatives have grown more vocal and powerful.
The textbook, approved by the education ministry for compulsory ethics class for children aged nine to 10, features an exercise about a young woman, Gulayim. She is depicted smoking a cigarette and displaying a pierced bellybutton.
A poem in the textbook says she walks around “provocatively” in front of men with a “half-naked body” like a “half-gnawed bone.”
The textbook, which was introduced this year, includes questions intended for students to answer: “Can we be proud of girls like Gulayim?” and “How should a decent girl behave?”
Speaking in parliament yesterday, Kyrgyz lawmaker Aisuluu Mamashova slammed the textbook for teaching children “hate and criticism.”
The poem and the unflattering illustration of the woman “trigger aggression and intolerance in children,” the 30-year-old told AFP after the parliamentary session.
“Since I am a mother, this affects me to the bottom of my soul.”
The textbook first came to public attention when angry parents posted it on Facebook.
“Hell, maybe we should invite this Gulayim out for a drink and a smoke so we can discuss this textbook,” Altyn Kapalova, a prominent Kyrgyz feminist and author of children's books, wrote on Facebook.
Yet there are also many people in Kyrgyzstan who want women to dress and behave in a conservative fashion and openly criticise those who do not.
Earlier this year, 19-year-old Kyrgyz singer Zere Asylbek received death threats from social media users after she released a viral music clip targeting gender discrimination.
Conservatives argued the video insulted national values and criticised the fact that the singer's bra was clearly visible.
Kyrgyzstan is known internationally for its custom of bride kidnapping that sees thousands of girls abducted for forced marriage every year.
In June, women's groups protested in the capital Bishkek after a kidnapping victim was murdered by her abductor in a police station as she was waiting to make a statement against him.
The practice of bride kidnapping has its roots in the country's nomadic past, but has grown considerably since Kyrgyzstan's independence from the Soviet Union. — AFP