Portrait of a genderist in Kyrgyzstan: Jarkyn Shadymanova

Salome Tsopurashvili presents a narrative from her co-fellow Jarkyn Shadymanova, a sociologist who teaches young girls about Kyrgyz society and the consequences of early marriage

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Part 1: Failure: the focus is somewhere else

So I have to interview Jarkyn. I have never interviewed anyone before but I do not feel too stressed. Maybe just a bit. It’s not because I am confident in my social skills in general, but rather because it’s Jarkyn, my co-fellow on the WEF programme. We haven’t known each other long but we have been in a very intense relationship since we both arrived in Oxford and have become friends. We have practically spent more than a month together, have discussed lots of things and know each other well. And moreover, we have already talked to some extent about the issues that I have to ask her, even if not in a structured and coherent way. This means I am more confident than stressed. We try to combine pleasure with duty, and decide to go out to an open market, look around and taste some food. I imagine we will then find a nice bench somewhere and just talk. It’s sunny and warm, and the weather plays a role in motivating us. I am taking my camera with me. I don’t know how the project will turn out in the end or what shape it will take, but I do want to illustrate it with photographs. And this is another motivational drive too, because since my arrival in Oxford I have not taken any pictures, and I have really missed that a lot.

Going out and then finding a quiet bench is my idea, to which Jarkyn agrees. Jarkyn is a sociologist, experienced in these kinds of things, and neither of us sees any problems with it. It’s unusually warm and sunny weather and we enjoy going around an open market, looking through the old things that people sell – jewellery, records and vintage clothes.

I manage to take some photos of Jarkyn; I mean photos that I think will look nice. Then we look at the food section and, dizzy with the various smells, we choose our meals: Jarkyn goes for a paella and I choose something Cambodian, and we eat our lunch here. We decide to go somewhere quiet to find a perfect bench to record the interview. Then the task begins.

Finding a perfect bench is not as easy on this sunny Saturday afternoon as it seems during chilly weekdays. There are lots of people out and about, and we spend quite a long time walking around and looking for a quiet spot. Finally, we see a couple leaving a bench by the river and Jarkyn takes a shortcut to get it before anybody else does. Victory! Now we can finally start. I adjust my recorder and take some photos of her. Now, that we are sitting, Jarkyn feels a little bit uncomfortable with my camera, so I put it in the bag and concentrate on recording only.

I had imagined that this interview would flow smoothly because, as I have said, we have talked about these things before, and moreover are quite familiar with each other. So I just hold the recorder in my hands and ask her first about who she is, her family and how she defines herself as a feminist. (I’m using the camera for the first time, and have very vague ideas about its capability, so I hold it close to Jarkyn so as not to lose the sound of her voice.)

Jarkyn begins to answer the questions, although she does not talk much, which is uncharacteristic of her, as she is generally very talkative and communicating.  She is also a flamboyant person and completely justifies her name: I recall that she once mentioned that her name means a shining light in Kyrgyz language, but now she also avoids eye contact with me while talking, sometimes staring into space or looking around uneasily. Finally, at my third question, Jarkyn says that she cannot go on anymore, as she feels uncomfortable talking about private things in the open air, where strangers are passing us and might overhear her words. She also admits that my holding of the recorder as if I am a journalist doing an interview, as well as people looking at us curiously (perhaps thinking she is some kind of a celebrity), makes her uneasy. Hence the day’s project has failed: no interview it seems. On the way back, we talk about this failure and explore its reasons.

It turns out that an interview is never an easy thing, even with a very familiar person and that sometimes this familiarity can even complicate things more. One cannot expect an interview to go smoothly just because interviewer knows the interviewee, or even knows them quite well. Moreover, the form of the interview – or rather with the location in this case – can be an obstacle. Even if we have had intimate talks while walking through the park (and this past experience was one of the reasons why the bench idea has been so appealing to me), that very same space now functions differently – because of the warm weather, there are more people, which does not favour an intimate conversation. Also, the very official gesture of holding a recorder close to Jarkyn accentuates the interview process and draws attention from passers-by. Although it is a frustrating experience, I think we have both learned our lessons: an interview is never the same experience as a good talk. Even if Jarkyn is very experienced in these things, she did not expect such an outcome either, otherwise she would not have agreed to my proposition in the first place. We both talk over these circumstances on the way back home and agree that we should try interviewing each other in a closed, quiet space, where there will be no one but the two of us. The ideal would be our classroom before the session starts. This will now be the first step.

Part II: Setting the scene

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Jarkyn is from Kyrgyzstan. She is 36 years old, a sociologist and describes herself as ‘a genderist’ and ‘in some sense, a feminist’. When asked about the ways in which she is a feminist, she answers ‘Being educated, being an activist’.

Jarkyn organises workshops for secondary school girls to raise awareness about their rights and futures, because of the child marriage problem in Kyrgyzstan, which disrupts their education. But it is not just about education, she says. It’s about being a woman in Kyrgyzstan:

‘These women get divorced very easily, because they don’t register their marriages, and they end up in a miserable situation with their children, because they don’t have any education and cannot find a job. It’s always about life, or being a woman in Kirgiz society. So I think I am an activist and a feminist in this sense, because I teach young girls, secondary school girls, what it is like being a woman in Kyrgyz society and what their future might be if they get married at a young age.’

However, this is not the only educational activity that Jarkyn is involved in:

‘I teach gender studies. I am trying to give my students a gender perspective, a gender analysis of society, because everyone takes the current structure of society for granted, which it is not. And I think I am a genderist and a feminist in the sense that, because someone has to, I am trying to do this work.’

And what does it mean to be a woman in this social structure, which everyone takes for granted? Jarkyn says it’s difficult, depending on the various situations in which women are living. For example, if they are from a rural area and have three or four children, which is normal, they have to take care of the household, which is not easy. Kyrgyzstan is a patriarchal society, where kinship bonds are very strong and, as well as household care, women are also required to do informal kinship networking. Women not only have to take care of their own households, but are also expected, on occasion (for celebrations for example), to go to their relatives’ places and help them with food preparation, which is an additional burden. In the cities, it is a little bit easier because there they do not have to take care of cattle or contribute to informal kinship events on regular base.

Of course, women in the cities have to go to work. For example, they have to do this and take care of their children and husband at the same time, but kinship system requirements are not as strong in the cities, as in rural areas. This obviously varies, but there are excuses available, because one can always say, ‘I am working, and I do not have time,’ whereas for rural women kinship requirements are obligatory, whereas rural women cannot escape kinship obligations.

As Jarkyn elaborates further, the condition of women is also complicated by the rise of religiosity too:

‘After the collapse of the Soviet Union there was a big gap in ideology, and people need ideology, ideology in [the] Althusserian sense. It is an important part of life, it is about values, and now religion has taken this place. The main religion in Kyrgyzstan is Islam, which has different variations and streams, and this is where dangerous things are happening, due to the re-emergence of traditional islamic lifestyles, which denies all modern and secular values.

‘There’s no education for women or children. It’s always about men’s position in society and the family, and this presents a very difficult situation for women particularly. Although these small groups of people do not represent the majority of Muslim population in Kyrgyzstan, but there is another tendency too: educated people are turning to religion and trying to keep this patriarchal religious tradition in their families, with women covering up with headscarves and so on …  So being a woman in Kyrgyz society is difficult. And it is always a class issue: if you are rich and you have financial resources, or your children can support you, you will be comfortable, but if you are poor, then you have additional burdens. And if you are part of a religious community, I don’t know how many restrictions there are for women.’

But there is also another side. Many active women try to change things. They work in NGOs but, according to Jarkyn, they do not call themselves feminists, because Kyrgyzstan is a patriarchal country and the term “feminist” has negative connotations in this patriarchal society, so they call themselves “genderists”. The organisations focused on gender issues are quite well developed; the State even supports them. All state institutions have a department working on gender related issues. The government has a women and children’s department too. The State needs gender equality, whereas difficulties arise in local communities, which want to keep their religious and cultural traditions. For example, the southern regions, especially among Uzbek ethnic minorities, have a tradition of getting girls married at an early age, according to their cultural and religious practices. There is also inequality in the workplace. Among men and women who occupy the same position, salaries are officially equal, but then men are promoted faster and more often than women. Moreover, there are the local communities, which that try to retain their patriarchal rules that restrict women’s empowerment in society. This is a reason why there are so many NGOs working on these issues, including Jarkyn’s own: The Center for Sociocultural Education, ‘Bilim Bakcha’.

This is what being a feminist in Kyrgyzstan is like: educating girls, raising consciousness and challenging patriarchal norms.

Part III: Jarkyn in focus

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Jarkyn has a mother, father, brother and sister, along with a brother in-law and sister in-law. Her sister has moved out and lives with her husband’s family, whereas her sister-in-law lives with her parents. This is because, in patriarchal societies, it is boys who are supposed to take care of their parents and not girls, says Jarkyn.

While transcribing the interview, I realise that I have failed here; I have taken the answer for granted. It doesn’t seem unusual to me, as I am from Georgia, but I have not asked Jarkyn a crucial question regarding property rights. Yes, boys are supposed to take care of the family, because they inherit the property, and not girls – right? So if parents prefer to educate their girls, rather than their boys, it is because in this way they safeguard a girl’s future, so that she has a job of her own, less dependent on her husband and able to support herself and children in the case of a failed marriage. Because the parent’s property belongs to her brother, she cannot just go home and live on his income forever. So it turns out that if girls’ higher education is prioritised, this has nothing to do with women’s empowerment, but rather their lack of rights to family property – right?

When I ask Jarkyn to describe her relationship with her family, her eyes start to shine and she responds eagerly, smiling that it’s good and that they are very close. I get the clear idea that she has a deep bond with her family members and, instead of exploring this in depth, I ask her what has made her become what she is now: an educated, independent woman, who teaches young girls not to marry early and about the consequences. What made her not get married when she was young? To become strong and independent? Why did she want to become independent in a patriarchal society? Jarkyn says that educating a girl is common sense in Kyrgyz society and, moreover, that parents usually prefer to give education to daughters rather than to sons, simply because it is a patrilineal society. Daughters move away when they get married and parents want to safeguard their future and therefore really try to ensure this. But this does not answer my question.

Gaining higher education is a must in Georgia as well. I guess it’s a legacy of Soviet Union inertia, but not everyone who obtains a BA ends up with a PhD degree. Very often, young women get married before they complete their studies. Here, Jarkyn answers that her childhood coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union and this was a really hard and difficult time. She was watching all those soap operas running on Russian TV channels, depicting miserable girls. This is a memory that I share with her, during the same political time but from different geographical locations. Jarkyn laughingly says that she really did not want to end up like those heroines, even if they ended up really very well. She did not want to go through the experience of an uneducated girl, who just arrives in a big city, all miserable and asks for help:

‘…And I did not really want to be like that, you know. I was saying, “I’m going to be educated. When I finish school I will not ask for anyone’s help…” So yes, everyone has higher education, which is five years of undergraduate studies, but the reason why I chose to do a PhD is because that I felt that my PhD would give me some independence from the circumstances of society. Not from my family, because I never felt that my father or my mother were strict and were telling me what to do… No, it was not like that. I chose my profession. Nobody imposed it on me. It was my choice and my parents supported me. They gave me some direction, some advice, some suggestions, but the ones who actually decided what to do were ourselves – me, my brother and my sister, so I never felt any pressure from my family. It’s more society, because I saw all this oppression of women…

‘I have some relatives in rural areas, and I saw how they lived, how they got married, how they graduated from secondary school and, in some cases, did not pursue their higher education, because they got married and so on. I saw all these things, and I did not really want to end up there. I had my classmates, I could get married, but I did not want to; I do not mean only the husband-wife relationship, where the husband is the breadwinner and the wife takes care of the household. We have a saying that when a woman is getting married, she gets married not only to her husband, but to all his family. It brings more responsibilities, more thinking, more effort and more emotional labour, and I did not want to be like that. I wanted to be on my own, to be independent. To decide myself what to eat, where to go, with whom to speak, even what to think… In my case it’s always learning from others…’

This kind of observation and learning from others through it is definitely the ultimate sign of a good sociologist.

Part IV: Close up

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In order to fill the gaps in the first interview, Jarkyn and I decide to meet up for a second round. First, we go to a pub to have lunch together, exchange news about what we have been doing recently – how we are dealing with this or that – and share impressions of newly read books and ideas. We then find a quiet isolated place in the basement building of Commonwealth House where we both live. We sit comfortably and actually do not really start the interview, but just continue the flow of our conversation, which also includes the missing gaps. Interestingly, the second interview is quite different from the previous one. The first time, our questions and answers were more organised, and the pattern was more or less preserved (much more, than less); now it’s more unstructured and more flowing. Without any prior intention, we find ourselves just talking about and sharing our experiences, frequently interrupting each other’s observations with our own; so, in the end, we both record the whole conversation, because it is becoming difficult to separate our narratives. Jarkyn is even more relaxed than last time. Her answers are deep. She replies passionately to the questions in a rather louder voice than she usually talks with and uses gestures.

The first thing I explore in conversation with Jarkyn is the question of girls’ privilege with regard to education. I want to hear how she evaluates this: whether parents take this decision making a clear stand for women’s empowerment, or whether they are trying to safeguard their future because they are not actually providing girls with an inheritance in property at the expense of boys. Jarkyn says that it’s more a question of safeguarding daughters’ futures rather than their empowerment, because Kyrgyzstan is patrilocal, which means that when a daughter gets married, she moves to her husband’s place, sometimes to her father-in-law’s house, if the couple is too young and they don’t have their own. Jarkyn later explains to me that this actually empowers women by making them less dependent on their husbands and giving them more autonomy. They do not have to ask a money from their partners all the time, and consequently do not need to obtain “permission” regarding what to spend that money on. When they have their own income, they are more independent.

Parents try to safeguard the future of their daughters by enabling her to study for a profession, but actually it depends on how wealthy the family is. If they are wealthy then of course they would prefer to send their daughters to a higher educational institution, but if they are not, they at least try to send them to nursing training or sewing courses, so that they have some kind of profession. This means it is about safeguarding their daughters in the future so they can then earn their own money without being really dependent on their husbands. As Jarkyn remarks, it is empowerment in a way, but not in terms of giving them more independence. Still it depends: financially, a woman has independence, but because she has an education, she’s not supposed to have a have higher position than her husband, who does not have education.

Regarding the inheritance of property, Jarkyn says that she has not studied this issue particularly, and that she cannot say ‘100%’, but can talk from the perspective of her relatives and her family. She thinks it’s possible to generalise, because they are ordinary Kyrgyz families. The daughters get part of the dowry when they get married, but usually daughters do not claim an inheritance from their parents. Generally, children do not expect to get any inheritance from their parents; it’s even considered to be shameful because people want their parents to live as long as possible and because the status of parents is still high. Mostly, if parents live into their 70s and 80s, the children already have their own homes. Therefore, they genuinely do not rely on inheritance and property from their parents. ‘But I think…’ she remarks, ‘the one who actually lives with the parents, to take care of them – it’s usually the youngest son – he would inherit their property.’ At this point, I am really surprised that it is the youngest, and not the oldest, who traditionally inherits parents’ belongings. But Jarkyn says that it’s usually the youngest one. Although this is actually not an unbreakable rule; it sometimes it depends on who really wants to stay.

Most young people don’t want to stay in rural areas. When the youngest one claims that he does not want to stay [in the countryside] and wants to live in the city, then it is an older sibling who will live with the parents, because someone must live with them and care for them. So, generally, the inheritance goes to the one who lives with the parents and takes care of them. Parents usually try their best to support their children when they have any troubles or needs. In rural areas, the main source of finance is cattle and farming, so if any of the children needs financial help, the parents will sell some of these cattle and help their children; these moves are therefore more about life’s circumstances than dividing the property of the parents. But it is also a custom. The one who lives with the parents will be given property, land and most of the cattle, but the others will nonetheless get a small part of the herd.

In general, it relying on inheritance is not well-perceived. Moreover, it is never huge. Jarkyn again emphasises that she has not studied this issue, but there is a common view in Kyrgyzstan according to which children should not expect any inheritance from their parents, because they are already provided for. So, to return to our point, parents really try their best to provide their children with as much as they can; this is why they give education to the girls. Jarkyn also says it’s not usual for a son-in-law to expect any inheritance from his wife’s parents; this is not accepted as good behaviour in Kyrgyzstan. But when a girl gets divorced, this is another matter, says Jarkyn. One of the reasons why parents try to safeguard their daughters and provide them with education, is so that when they get divorced, they have their own profession, which means they can make money to live on and with which they can support themselves and their children.

Jarkyn’s project about underage unregistered marriages, which she is completing during the WEF programme, is very closely connected to this issue, because when these underage young girls get married, they haven’t even finished their secondary education. This means they cannot get a proper job. Young girls’ security also depends on what kind of marriage it is. When a daughter is divorced, she goes to her parents’ house, but she cannot live there forever. Actually, how this goes depends on the kind of family she has. For example, daughters sometimes have a problem with their sister-in-laws because they cannot get on well. This leads the parents to try to safeguard their daughters when they are in this kind of situation. On my asking, Jarkyn clarifies the situation where these girls cannot stay forever at their parents’ houses. Jarkyn says that the first option is getting married for a second time. The second, depending on how wealthy the family is, is for the family to buy separate accommodation for her. Jarkyn tells me a story of her classmate as an example, who got married very early and then soon divorced. Her parents bought her an apartment where she was living with her son. Then when she got married and divorced for the second time, she did not have a big problem because she already owned her property. ‘And she has a really good job’ adds Jarkyn. ‘She is the head of some department in a bank, so it’s OK for her.’

If parents are not wealthy, things can become really complicated. But, in general, parents are trying their best to provide their daughters with accommodation, because it’s not easy to get along with sisters-in-law, who are supposed to take care of the parents. In this situation, the parents are trying their best to give their daughters security, but whether they succeed or not depends on so many circumstances; probably first of all on their wealth, starting from paying studying expenses for them, to acquire a profession, paying university fees, and – at maximum – buying them apartments.

At this point, Jarkyn shares her mother’s story: she got an apartment in the small town where Jarkyn grew up and obtained this from her place of work as a doctor, from the state, which was distributing apartments among young professionals following the soviet schema of housing. [1] This took lots of queuing and waiting time. But she did not have money to buy furniture for her flat, so Jarkyn’s grandmother provided her daughter with this money, feeling that she was obliged to so in order to make her daughter secure. Meanwhile, Jarkyn’s father had a house in the capital city, which is more expensive. But the grandparents still provided for their daughter as much as they could. Now Jarkyn has her own apartment in the city, and her mother has proposed to sell the flat she had acquired when she was young, with the help of Jarkyn’s grandmother, in order to make Jarkyn’s payment on the mortgage easier. However, Jarkyn cannot accept this. This small apartment is dear to her because it is where she spent her childhood, by a lake.

Jarkyn makes it clear that this concern of parents and their effort to provide for their daughters relies on the wish to literally keep them secure. It is not motivated by a desire to empower them with more independence (although most likely one leads to the other). ‘It is more like a parental responsibility,’ says Jarkyn, ‘because they want to keep their daughters safe’.

Jarkyn is very close to her sister. She has frequently stated before that she has been missing her a lot since she got married because, due to their different daily routines and obligations, they do not see each other much now. Jarkyn has a very deep bond with her mother too. I ask her the first thing that comes to her mind when she thinks of her mother. After a pause of several seconds, Jarkyn says that it’s home and security:

‘I started to notice it more and more when I was growing up. When I started moving to other places and seeing other people. I don’t know, maybe the fact that I have become a sociologist also helped. Now I am really so close to my mother. I talk to her every day…’

When Jarkyn was little and the country was not going through its best days after the collapse of the Soviet Union, her mother would refrain from buying things for herself; first of all, she would provide for the children. Jarkyn reflects on her relationship and says that one of the reasons why she is so close with her mother is because she is not married herself. If she were married, then she would have her own children: ‘And, you know, with your own children, it’s a little bit different.’

Now that I have a complete picture of the setting, I want to enlarge the close up of Jarkyn’s portrait. To do this, I ask Jarkyn how she positions herself in this site of Kyrgyz culture. She says that she sees herself as an educator and as an activist, empowering women through education. This is why they (she and her colleagues) opened this NGO. They wanted to spread knowledge and educate these young girls and empower them. Jarkyn believes that education has always been an empowering mechanism in every society and religion. In Kyrgyzstan nowadays, with the increase in traditional perceptions of religion, some parents do not allow their children to go to school. (Here, Jarkyn makes it clear that this concerns both girls and boys.) There are few religious groups today in Kyrgyzstan, and its members not only keep children away from school, but do not allow them to listen to music, watch TV, read the news or to go to the doctor. Jarkyn says that this creates a bubble for easily manipulated people. This means that, as an activist, she really wants to tell young girls that education is really important: that they have a right to it and that even if they do not want to go to higher education later, this has to be their own choice. It should not be forced upon them by someone else, such as their parents, limiting their rights after becoming members of an  strict traditional religious group, or because they were forced to get married or were kidnapped. ‘So I am working in this way,’ she says. ’It’s not only me. We are working together.’ When I enquire who these ‘we’ are, Jarkyn instantly replies ‘women’ with raised eyebrows. I guess she is surprised at me asking the obvious and explains, ‘I have my students standing beside me, my MA students and colleagues: those who share my philosophy, my world view.’

When I remark that Jarkyn is still talking about her setting and environment when I had asked her about herself, she smiles and looks away from me for a second, then says that this is how it is; one does not exist in isolation and we are all connected to the spaces where we live:

‘When you are doing something – I mean your career, research or whatever – you are doing it because you feel that there is a need to do it in your environment. As an educated person I feel this way.’

Jarkyn says she is trying to do whatever is possible for her. For example, if she were an MP, she would be able to do more, but then you never know; politics is always dirty and there would have to be lots of compromises to make, so she prefers being in civil society and maybe doing less but doing it in the right way.

I try to reveal another layer, a more intimate one, like how Jarkyn imagines her life; what does she, as an educator and genderist, want and how does she wish her life to be, ideally? Jarkyn pauses, and then asks if my question is about gender equality or where she sees herself in future. When I say that I want to hear her answer on a more personal level, she responds with a smile: ‘Oh, that’s tough.’ Then she says decisively that at this point she is not happy with her own life and wants to change it. She wants to have more publications in English:

‘When you are publishing in Russian, only a small circle is interested [and] it does not go into citation indexes… Russian academics and scholars are not interested in Kyrgyzstan at all. They have their own problems. So I have to change my language in order to become more widely known.’

Welcome to post soviet neoliberal academia. There is a similar trend in Georgia, too. Because university regulations require professors to have publications in international journals as a must, academics would rather save their energy and resources to publish papers in international English language journals, rather than in local languages, because it is foreign publications that count and this trend creates an obstacle to the production of knowledge at the local level. Trying to continue to reflect on her setting, I ask Jarkyn where she fits in here, in her culture. How does she see herself, what is happiness for her and does this setting represents an obstacle to her personal happiness? Jarkyn says she does not fit into it so well; she is 36 and not married, and of course she does not fit:

‘Because when you are a 25-year-old Kyrgyz girl, you must be married, so I don’t fit in well there. But because I am living in the city and I am working and traveling a lot, I do not feel this pressure from friends, relatives and parents … But lately, my mother has started worrying about my future in 10, 20 years.’

Jarkyn explains what usually happens when one gets married in Kyrgyzstan:

‘You marry not only the guy, but the whole extended family’, she explains seriously. ‘So it’s always about this burden – this triple burden – [of] being a wife, a mother [and] daughter-in –law, and working…’

She adds another metaphor with shiny eyes and a smile:

‘Happiness, it’s like a drawing, a picture in the brain, but I have haven’t finished drawing, so it’s still there…’

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Part V: Reflection

So these are the two interviews that I conducted with Jarkyn, or rather that we both conducted with each other. I have already noted the difference in the process before going into the second interview, compared to the first one. Earlier in this piece, I have also mentioned the obstacle caused by our familiarity with each other – my naïve expectation (as now I realise) that, because of our friendship, interviewing and opening up to each other will be really easy, particularly considering the fact that we had talked about our own and our countries’ experiences with each other and during seminars.

But observing the differences between our first and second interviews themselves is just striking. In the beginning, we are more restrained, with an interview pattern that is more organised and follows a regular question-answer pattern. However, the second interview, conducted about a month later, is unstructured and more flowing. It involves so much sharing of our experiences that we do not actually undertake the recording separately, unlike the first time. We have both opened up to each other emotionally. From this perspective, I think that even the very first interview has drawn us closer together, even if it is dry in terms of both personal experiences and emotion. It has also influenced our relationship with each other and strengthened our friendship. I think this paper represents, not only a portrait of a feminist activist and a genderist (as Jarkyn calls herself) from Kyrgyzstan, but also an underlying strengthening of the bonds between two academic activists from the Eurasian region.

I have chosen the photo above for the opening of this section which I took while waiting to meet Jarkyn for the second interview, to illustrate this section, not only because it plays on the double meaning of the word “reflection”, but because I think that, in many ways, it also illustrates both of us taking a turning point in our communication with each other, as well as our life goals and aspirations. Dare I say it (though I’m loathe to spoil this with too much emotion), I also think it represents a turning point in feminism in the Eurasian region as well, where various feminisms are just taking steps to make changes – whether on a bigger or smaller scale – every day.

[1] In the Soviet Union, the state provided housing once in a lifetime.


Salome - bio edit for Jarkyn interviewSalome Tsopurashvili holds a doctorate in Gender Studies from Tbilisi State University, Georgia, and a Master’s degree in Gender Studies from Central European University, Hungary. She was a returning scholar fellow of AFP (Academic Fellowship Program of Open Society Foundations in 2010-2015) and has been teaching graduate students at Institute for Gender Studies at Tbilisi State University since 2009. Her PhD thesis – Women’s representations in 1920s Georgian soviet silent cinema: Modifications, agency and social class (supervisor: Dr Denise J. Youngblood, University of Vermont) – examines themes of orientalization, class, and women’s emancipation in 1920s Georgian Soviet silent films. She is an author of several publications in Georgia and a contributor to the edited volume Gender in Georgia: Feminist Perspectives on Culture, Nation and History in the South Caucasus (eds. Maia Barkaia & Alisse Waterston, Berghahn Books, 2017).

This text has been adapted from the WEF Fellows page.

The six images in this piece have been supplied by Salome Tsopurashvili. Alt-text descriptions will be added to the individual pictures as soon as possible.
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