Peace Corps Volunteer Allyson Doby says getting used to women’s role in Kyrgyzstan culture proved challenging
In Naryn, there’s a tradition of bridal kidnapping - “a man, especially from a remote area, can see a woman on the street … and say, ‘Oh I’m gonna take her,’” Doby said. And because there are so many rules about respect and shame, it’s virtually impossible for the woman to escape. “They can fight to a certain extent,” Doby said, but if the man succeeds in getting the girl back to his house and keeps her there for the night, then they’re married.
To keep the girls there - and they are girls; one of Doby’s 17-year-old students was threatened with a kidnapping shortly before she left Kyrgyzstan for good - the men will have their mothers stand in doorways because it’s disrespectful to harm an elder. Doby said she’d tell her students to put up a fight and call the police, but in reality, most of the policemen in Naryn had procured wives the same way. “There’s such a brotherhood of men there,” she said. Seeing all this helped Doby choose what her next step will be. Since she got back from Kyrgyzstan, she’s been applying to graduate schools with Human Rights programs and eventually wants to enter that field.
Journalist Petr Lom traveled to the mountains of Kyrgyzstan to examine the practice of bride kidnapping
There is growing awareness in Kyrgyzstan that bride kidnapping is a significant problem. This is part of a growing concern about women's issues more generally. Kyrgyzstan signed the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in 1995, and there are numerous NGOs working on women's issues today. Nonetheless, my impression is that bride kidnapping is still a taboo subject in Kyrgyzstan, for many people will not recognize the extent of the practice, how common it is. Bride kidnapping was illegal under the Soviet Union, but apparently still did occur then. I spoke to villagers who were involved in kidnappings during these times.
And I also heard stories about those who were imprisoned for taking part in kidnappings. The frequency of the custom has increased since Kyrgyzstan became independent in 1991. Some people think this is linked to a reassertion of Kyrgyz national identity and tradition. I'm not so sure about this theory -- I think "identity discourse" is a bit of a Western scholarly invention, or flavor of the day. What is certain, though, is that bride kidnapping is still very often perceived as a legitimate custom, and so though it is officially illegal now, it is hardly ever prosecuted.
Caption: Norkuz -- a kidnapped Kyrgyz woman -- resists entering her future in-laws' home in the Kyrgyz village of Soviet.