For the last six months, 17 year-old Zarina Barinova has worn a Muslim-style headscarf whenever she goes out in northern Kyrgyzstan’s Chui province.
A confident and outspoken student from the town of Karabalta, Barinova defies the common stereotype in Kyrgyzstan that women wearing “hijab” or Islamic are shy and retiring, mostly from rural backgrounds, and raised only to be obedient housewives.
“As a rule, they’re seen as quiet, dull, obedient and submissive people who can’t speak Russian,” she said. “In reality, that’s far from being the case. I went to a Russian-language school, I’ve done well at my studies and I’m involved in various activities at college.”
Women in urban areas are more likely to know Russian, the lingua franca, in addition to Kyrgyz or a minority language.
Barinova knows that when people see her head-covering, they may jump to conclusions. But that does not matter to her.
“I am answerable only to Allah,” she said.
“When I’m wearing hijab, I feel protected. Young men don’t harass me, and I feel I get treated with more respect within my group.”
Since adopting hijab, Barinova has not altered her plans – she still intends to complete her studies, find a job and get married.