Anara Nyazova is proud of the changes that her job has introduced in the country. As Special Representative of the President of Kyrgyz Republic on gender issues in the Parliament from 2005 to 2007, she helped usher in changes such as gender quotas in the Election Code and the inclusion of an article on equal rights and opportunities for men and women in the Constitution of 2007.
She also contributed towards making sure that gender equality is considered by experts before the passing of any new law, and she promoted a new, more progressive version of the country's law on gender equality.
"We need to use a ‘sandwich' strategy for achieving our goals," says Ms. Nyazova. "All changes in human rights and gender equality at the system level are possible if we are able to organize national advocacy campaigns with support of women's activists at the grassroots level. This link between women politicians, gender experts and women's community based organizations is crucial and we need to continuously invest in such networks."
The support for women's political participation has been gaining momentum in the country in recent years, and advocates for gender equality have been making great strides: Before 2005, there was no female representation in the Parliament, and women were also poorly represented in the Government – there was only one female member in the Cabinet of Ministers, no women deputy ministers, and the number of women in higher administrative positions was falling at an alarming rate. The Secretariat of the National Council for Women, Family and Gender Development was also eliminated.
Zero representation of women in the Parliament resulted in poor legislation on social issues, especially those related to the needs of the most vulnerable groups, equality of rights and opportunities of men and women, and increasing maternal and child mortality.
With the support of UNDP, gender equality advocates have been working to promote women in Parliament. A country wide discussion began on the need of women's representation in the national Parliament – and by 2007, a 30 percent gender quota was introduced into the Elections Code and 24 women became women became representatives of Parliament, comprising 26.6 percent out of the total number of deputies.
This made Kyrgyzstan a leader in women's representation in Parliament among Central Asian countries.
And it hasn't stopped there. As Kyrgyzstan is busy drafting its new constitution, and preparing for both a constitutional referendum and Parliamentary elections, advocates for gender equality are working hard to make sure that women are part of the country's future.
"Women have to take a chance of the current historic moment and strengthen their positions in politics to build a strong democratic society and prosperous state," said Omurbek Tekebaeva member of the Provisional Government and the Chairperson of the Constitutional Assembly of the Kyrgyz Republic.
The Alliance of Women's Legislative Initiatives, established with UNDP support, recently organized a meeting that brought together more than 130 women's activists, leaders of political parties, human rights organizations, representatives of the provisional Central Elections Committee, non governmental organizations (NGOs), mass media, youth organizations as well as representatives from the Provisional Government including President of the Kyrgyz Republic of the Transition Period Roza Otunbaeva – to discuss how to increase women's political participation in constitutional reform and parliamentary elections.
They agreed on a strategy to increase women's participation in politics – ensuring that women from a variety of backgrounds, groups and regions are involved in gender equality issues such as gender analysis of legislation and quotas for women running in parliamentary elections. Gender equality advocates want to make sure that achievements and successes to date are consolidated, and that plans for the future are in place.
UNDP is providing support and expertise during the drafting of the country's new Constitution, and is working closely with national partners to ensure women's participation in the upcoming referendum and parliamentary election.
"If you give a woman power and respect, she will [make] decisions that benefit her family, and society as a whole," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during his visit to Kyrgyzstan in early April.