Fashion Show In Bishkek Reveals The Horrors Of Bride Kidnapping

A fashion show in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek on January 10, 2019 exclusively featured women who had been abused or kidnapped in order to raise awareness on the sustained practice of bride kidnapping in the country. Fashion designer Zamira Moldosheva organized the event wanting to be part of the intensifying public campaign, having been one of the women kidnapped off the streets by a suitor wanting to marry her. Creating a collection of traditional Kyrgyz costumes, Moldosheva wanted to remind men that women are beautiful and should be treated accordingly, “…we should be valued and idolized.”

Bride kidnapping—also known as “bridenapping”—is a practice in which a man violently abducts the woman he wishes to marry. It is a centuries old tradition practiced around the world, but particularly prevalent in Central Asia and the Caucasus region, as well as Southeast Asia, Mexico, and amongst the Roma in Europe. While many cultures associated today maintain a type of light-hearted, symbolic bride kidnapping ritual as part of wedding traditions, several communities around the world still practice it in its entirety. These kidnapped women are coerced into submission; often, a prelude to a marriage founded and maintained on physical and emotional abuse.

The anti-bride kidnapping campaign in Kyrgyzstan escalated in 2018 when one kidnapped bride, Burulai Turdaaly Kyzy, was put in the same police cell as the man who abducted her and consequently stabbed to death. Infuriated with her murder and the sheer incompetency of local police, campaigners began to spearhead a number of cross-country events such as charity bike rides and installations. Moldosheva’s popular fashion show was in the lineup for this January. More events are planned for 2019.

Many communities particularly in rural areas still see bride kidnapping as a pre-Soviet tradition tying into their mythical, prestigious past. But Philadelphia University professor Russ Kleinbach’s research concludes that the practice originated in the 1950s, “for reasons that are hazy but might be part of a backlash against the Soviet Union.”

In fact, bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan was outlawed in 2013 given the severity of rapes, domestic violence, and mental trauma it has historically caused. It carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison—but women still do not want to report, and if they do, they often retract their statements under pressure from female family members, fearing public shaming for disobedience. Importantly, this phenomenon of “women suppressing other women” reveals an extreme case of internalized misogyny in which women unconsciously perpetuate disadvantageous social customs in order to survive within a patriarchal society. Additionally, Kyrgyz women face the insurmountable barrier of having their laws put into practice given the negligence of local police unwilling or unable to protect the kidnapped women.

With the proliferation of the #MeToo movement women in Kyrgyzstan and beyond are indeed speaking out more, not just on bride kidnapping but also domestic violence and harassment. Unfortunately, the UN is currently unable to pinpoint an exact number of women abducted each year but estimates are nearing 14 percent aged under 24 years old are coerced into married in captivity. In Kyrgyzstan, a girl is said to be kidnapped every 40 minutes in kyz ala kachuu. That being said, it will take more than a few events and a hashtag to gain allies in Kyrgyzstan against bride kidnapping, which continues to be rooted in its most toxic form amongst ‘traditions’ considered inherently Kyrgyz. But it is a fight worth fighting, say the campaigners: “women are strong.”

Mridvika Sahajpal