Pop singer Zere is facing a backlash after writing a song about gender equality.
In recent years, Kyrgyzstan has made efforts to increase gender equality. According to UN Women, the country has signed more than 50 international agreements on women’s rights, and has many laws designed to ensure the equal status of men and women.
However, patriarchal attitudes are still pervasive in the deeply traditional Central Asian republic, which is bordered by China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Kyrgyz women are largely excluded from political decision-making, and gender-based violence – including domestic abuse and the disturbing practice of ‘bride kidnapping’, where women are abducted and forced into marriage – is widespread.
It is against this backdrop that 19-year-old Kyrgyz pop singer Zere released a music video for her song Kyz (“Girl”), a feminist anthem about women’s empowerment. The track has sparked outrage in Kyrgyzstan, thanks to the outfit Zere wears in the video – a short skirt and a lacy purple bra underneath a black blazer – and its lyrics, which denounce controlling men.
Since the video went viral on YouTube, Zere has reportedly received death threats from people in Kyrgyzstan.
Zere told website The World that she received “a lot of comments said that I was violating the Kyrgyz norms, let’s say, and they said that Kyrgyz girls shouldn’t be like this and it’s some kind of a Western propaganda and stuff like that.”
As a result of the threats, she added, she could no longer “go out from my house without having somebody with me… It makes me feel really bad because I am a person who is very used to freedom.
“I hope that this will stop very soon and I will not have to walk around with somebody always. But I understand that it’s important for me now because the death threats, they can be pretty serious.”
The video for Kyz sees Zere flanked by women in uniform black and white robes. However, the women then jump into a lake and emerge as individuals: one in hijab, one in a casual Nineties-style dress, one in a blue bikini, one in a traditional Kyrgyz embroidered dress and white headscarf, one in a black lacy cocktail frock and one in a white shirt and jeans.
According to Kyrgyz journalist Bermet Talant, who translated the lyrics of Kyz for Eurasianet, Zere’s lyrics express her desire for a less conservative and patriarchal society.
“I wish the time passed, I wish (a new) time came / When they wouldn’t preach to me how I should spend my life,” she sings. “When they wouldn’t tell me ‘Do like this,’ ‘Don’t do like that’.
“Why should I be like you want, or like the majority wants? / I am a person, and I have my freedom of speech.
“Where is your respect for me? / I’ll respect you. You respect me.
“You and I, together / Hey, dear, join me / We will create our freedom.”
In an interview with the Russian-language website She Is Nomad, Zere said she had been influenced by the murder of Burulai Turdaaly Kyzy, a 20-year-old medical student who was killed in May by a man who had kidnapped her and planned to force her into marriage.
After Kyzy was abducted in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishek, her father notified the police, who took her and her 29-year-old kidnapper into custody.
However, police officers then left Kyzy and the man alone together in a cell – at which point, he stabbed her to death.
“I wrote a song about what concerns me the most at the moment, and it is the freedom of women and people in general,” Zere said. “I’ve always protested and felt responsibility for everything that happens around me.”
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