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Kyrgyzstan considers tighter firearm regulations
Kyrgyz discuss women's involvement in terrorism
Problem acquires serious dimensions, authorities and analysts say
By Asker Sultanov
BISHKEK – Although women account for only a small percentage of terrorists and extremists in Kyrgyzstan, authorities and analysts agree on the need to focus more attention on the issue.
“The male-female ratio is 92.2% to 7.8%, according to law enforcement records,” Taalai Akbayev, chief of the Interior Ministry's Tenth Main Directorate, said. “At the same time, it should be noted women actively participate in extremist activities along with men, as members of special female groups.”
Now authorities are beginning to realise that the state and the non-governmental sector need more than ever today to improve Kyrgyz women's education, said Saltanat Musuraliyeva, a member of the Public Oversight Council at the Kyrgyz State Commission for Religion.
Researching women and extremism
Oleg Sernetsky, a spokesman for the Religious Studies Centre, has proposed comprehensive research into the role of female extremists in Kyrgyzstan.
“A comprehensive survey of the religious situation nationwide needs to be carried out, since this is directly related to Kyrgyz women's involvement in extremist organisations,” Sernetsky said. “We've started this work already, and if the government provides support, we'll be ready to explore the situation with women's recruitment by outlawed religious groups separately.”
“It should be noted, though, that women's involvement with extremist organisations in Kyrgyzstan has been limited to propagandistic work only,” he said. “No terrorist acts carried out by women have been registered here.”
But extremism as such isn’t confined to participation in terrorist acts, Musuraliyeva said.
“I've seen woman fanatics who won’t let their children watch TV, listen to the radio, read newspapers, use the computer, and so on,” she said. “Such women told me they live and raise their children ‘in accordance with Islamic canons.’ Many of them were surprised to hear traditional Islam does not impose any such bans.”
Women have been protesting actively
Awareness of the need to adopt new methods to discourage women from joining extremist groups has been growing, she said, partly because women have been playing more of a role in social issues.
“During the two revolutions (in 2005 and 2010) and innumerable rallies and other protests that swept the country recently, women were in the first ranks of protesters,” Musuraliyeva said. “Kyrgyz women have now turned into the major driver of revolutions and public unrest – they fearlessly rush in. ... Playing on this, extremist groups may move to involve our women in their activities and incite them to different actions.”
“In recruiting female followers, extremists use the same old leverage – widespread poverty and public discontent with the low quality of life,” she said.
Improving the quality of religious education for women, therefore, needs to be made a priority, she said.
“Quite often, it's because of elementary ignorance and inability to differentiate traditional Islam from its extremist versions that women come to support outlawed Islamic movements,” Musuraliyeva said. “We need to meet with women, talk to them and educate them – there's a lot of work ahead. The only thing we need to start working in that direction is financial support.”
Currently, however, lack of money is preventing a full-fledged effort in this regard, she said.
Culture makes women targets for recruitment
The level of threat posed by female extremists is heightened by Kyrgyz cultural conventions that enable women to more easily avoid suspicion and make them ideal candidates for recruitment by extremists.
“Religious extremist groups play very subtly on the socially accepted moral ban on women's harassment by men,” Osh Oblast Interior Department chief Zhumabek Maralov said.
This concept of treating women differently from how men are treated extends, especially, to police investigators, he said.
“Police officers are not always ready to use force (against women) during unauthorised rallies or gatherings, or during the detention of (female) propagandists conducting subversive work among people,” Maralov said.
Women, especially those with young children, are good targets for extremist recruiters, Maralov said, because “Quite often, women with small children can be spared legal liability for so-called 'non-material' offences.”
Police have taken steps to change their approach, though, Maralov said, citing police reform that includes adding more women to the force. The police have also been working more actively with makhallas, or community committees, to try to keep women from extremist pursuits.
Society’s traditions are such that Kyrgyzstan must contend with the prospect of a generation of children who will be prime fodder for extremist recruitment.
“Many of them, thrown upon their own devices outside the influence of school and public opinion, will get a religious chauvinistic upbringing in their families and become fanatical supporters of extremist ideology in the near future,” Maralov said.
Against such a backdrop, Maralov called for a concerted effort – through better education and social reforms – to curtail extremist recruitment.
“It requires all government agencies and the public to take a responsible approach to manifestations of religious extremism among women,” Maralov said.