A Bishkek student is dividing Kyrgyzstan with a her viral feminist pop anthem.
Singer Zere Asylbek, who performs under the name Zere, released Kyz (Girl in English) in July, but the song went viral after the launch of its video two months later.
The uptempo anthem calls on Kyrgyz society to respect women and their choices. The video includes scenes of women in long black and white robes jumping into a pool of water before emerging as individuals with their own distinct style and self-image.
The 19-year-old’s empowering message sparked waves of support, as well as a backlash from those who took offence at the singer’s outfit, who described her as a national disgrace and even threatened to “cut off her head” for appearing in a bra, blazer and skirt.
Zere, a Bishkek student who also runs a YouTube channel with English lessons for kids, has stood by the song, writing on Instagram that she faces constant sexism as a Kyrgyz business woman.
“If you want to start a business, get ready to face all sorts of trials and problems,” she wrote. “And if you’re a young woman who wants to start a business, then your first and constant problem is going to be your gender. You have to prove to people who see you as a second-class citizen — good for washing dishes, sex, and at the most, motherhood — that you can have success that’s comparable to a man’s achievements, while still not losing your own femininity,” she said. “Men who think that ‘everything is fine, because women have the same rights as men’ — please, just shut up. Shut up, listen, and try and understand what’s really going on here: the constant psychological pressure on women at every turn.”
In a report released this month, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women condemned the “grave and systematic violations” of women’s human rights in Kyrgyzstan and highlighted a culture of “abduction, rape and forced marriage.”