Women and Radicalisation in Kyrgyzstan

If Kyrgyzstan does not tackle the social and economic causes of popular discontent, many more women will join radical Islamist groups.

Women and Radicalisation in Kyrgyzstan, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, focuses on the increasingly important role that women are playing in the Islamist movement, as the government of Kyrgyzstan ignores their problems. Religious women feel unrepresented by a political system that is largely secular, often deeply suspicious of practising Muslims, and constantly ignores their basic economic needs. This risks pushing them into the arms of radical Islamist groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), which offer them a sense of identity and belonging, solutions to the day-to-day failings of the society they live in, and an alternative to what they widely view as the Western-style social model that prevails in Kyrgyzstan. HT may have up to 8,000 members, perhaps 800 to 2,000 of them women.

“Kyrgyz politicians have to realise that people will look elsewhere if they can no longer rely on the state to provide justice and well-being”, says Paul Quinn-Judge, Crisis Group’s Central Asia Project Director. “The need for the state to act is all the more important given the abrupt revival of armed Islamic groups in several Central Asia states”.

Kyrgyzstan claims to adhere to liberal values, but religious women in particular feel that women in government do not represent their views. Along with international organisations and civil society, the government should engage religious women in joint projects on practical issues like water quality, childcare and labour immigration.

If the Kyrgyz government does not address issues of religious women as a separate component of a gender-focused policy agenda and remains unresponsive to their needs, groups such as HT are likely to grow larger and more influential. The political struggle against radical Islamism must not be confused with the genuine desire of large segments of society to improve their living conditions. Despite their restrictive views of women’s roles, HT is offering them compelling incentives, such as after-school programs for children. This is the kind of practical response that Kyrgyz women need and for which they are embracing Islamism.

The major byproduct of female radicalisation may be a generation of children, nieces and nephews who grow up immersed in HT discourse and committed to the idea of an Islamic state. Kyrgyzstan needs to address the political roots of its failings towards its female population.

“The government must lessen systemic corruption and economic mistakes as of course should its neighbours in Central Asia, who are all facing similar problems”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “The challenge is enormous, but the solution is in the hands of the Kyrgyz state”.

Read the full Crisis Group report on our website: http://www.crisisgroup.org


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