How a Female Scientist Became a Symbol of Resistance to Sexism in Kyrgyzstan
Akhal-Tech Collective, 15 Nov 17

Screenshot from YouTube video “Asel Sartbaeva Discusses Thermally Stable Vaccines” uploaded by X, the moonshot factory on Jan 8, 2015.

When a prominent businessman set Kyrgyzstan's social media space alight by calling female leadership “nonsense” and equating feminism with “terrorism”, it was a woman scientist from the Central Asian country who provided the perfect response.

Biochemist Asel Sartbaeva and the British University of Bath triumphed in the Biotechnology Award category at the IChemE Global Awards ceremony held in Birmingham on November 2, delighting compatriots in her homeland.

According to IChemE, Bath’s Biotechnology project spearheaded by Sartbaeva “uses silica to protect vaccines from spoiling, and reduces the need for cold-storage equipment.”

In the video below, Sartbaeva describes how she first became interested in developing a technology that IChemE says “could go on to save millions of lives” by keeping vaccines secure in unconnected locations.

After the birth of my daughter I took her to the doctor to be vaccinated. The doctor took the vaccine out of the fridge and was going to administer it. And I naively thought he was going to warm it up. But he said, “No, no, no, because if we warm it up it would denature.”

And I thought, OK, I know nothing about vaccines, so I started searching and found out that vaccines need to be stored in refrigerators all the time. That is when I thought I can maybe use silicon to cage them so they don't unfold.

“Feminism is like terrorism”

The news of the award came just days after Babur Tolbayev, the founder of one the country's most successful micro-credit institutions made waves by comparing feminism to “terrorism” and calling the idea of female leadership “nonsense.”

In an interview with a local talk show, Tolbayev, whose Mol Bulak company lends money in Russia as well as Kyrgyzstan, said:

Many women want to be superbusiness-women, leaders. Sorry, but this is all nonsense. Feminism — is terrorism. A form of radicalism.

Original Quote

Многие женщины хотят быть супербизнесвумэн, лидерами — это все хрень, извиняюсь. Феминизм — это терроризм, это та же форма радикализма

Screenshot from YouTube video “Asel Sartbaeva Discusses Thermally Stable Vaccines” uploaded by X, the moonshot factory on Jan 8, 2015. Here Sartbaeva is filmed with her daughter.

A big hypocrite?

As journalist Bermet Talant kyzy noted in a blog, these were strange words coming from a man whose business includes several female top managers and has provided countless loans to a mostly female client base, including for start-ups.

Talant kyzy concluded that Tolbayev, who styles himself as a philanthropist, was “a big hypocrite”:


Seemingly, women for Tolbayev can be divided into two categories: those that serve him, like his wife, and those who help him increase his wealth, like his company's staff and clients.

 Original Quote

Все женщины, очевидно, делятся для Тольбаева на две категории: те, кто его обслуживает, как его жена, и те, за счет которых он наращивает свое богатство, как сотрудницы его компании и клиентки.

On social media, links to Tolbayev's interview circulated for days.

In a Facebook post, children's author Altyn Kapalova accused Tolbayev of misunderstanding feminism and came up with a name for a character based on him that may yet feature in one of her books:


For the 100,000th time I repeat:

Feminism is not an adherence to some kind of views. Feminism is simple and normal practical actions that neither restrict nor privelige women. #TheKingofDiscardedSocks

 Original Quote

В стотысячный раз повторяю:
Феминизм – это не поклонение каким-то взглядам, феминизм – это простые адекватные действия в реальности, которые не ограничивают женщину, но и не привилегируют ее. #корольразбросанныхносков

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