Dilfuza Kurolova, LLM in International Law from the Tashkent State University of Law and a Master Student in Politics and Security Program at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek.
Female Dilemma: Political Career vs. Family Harmony
There is a proverb that says that woman is a hearth of the house. It has been interpreted as if a woman is the only person who can keep the house in order, taking care of children and husband, and giving up her personal growth in order to keep the harmony and wellbeing of the family. This social perception of gender roles and the pattern of thinking is transmitted from generation to generation by women themselves. This is due to social pressure and men’s misperceptions of women’s roles, i.e. a man accepts a woman’s role only as a wife and a mother of his children but not as an independent individual capable of contributing to the household income. Women accept this perception as natural and choose not to develop skills and build their careers. As a result, women’s success in career and their recognition in politics have never been discussed in the public realm. Whenever a woman in Uzbekistan wants to continue her career in politics, her ambitions are suppressed by the traditional communities; as a result, there are few empowered women in politics in the country. Following inquiry into traditions, customs and perceptions of the Uzbek people aims to uncover the real reasons behind the silencing of public discussions on women’s rights and freedoms.
Political Rights of Women in Uzbekistan
Nominally, Uzbekistan has strong legislature providing order and security to its citizens. Based on its official reports to the international organizations, Uzbekistan is a country without violations on human security, with no political violence and with strong criminal justice system within the state[i]. With regards to gender equality, the Constitution of Uzbekistan stipulates equal rights of women and men as the fundamental right of citizens.[ii] This nondiscrimination law guarantees legal freedom to a woman to be involved in politics through active exercise of her political rights to elect and to be elected as a member of Parliament or as a President of Uzbekistan. However, real situation in Uzbekistan differs from its written laws, which will be demonstrated on specific case studies considered in this paper.
In preparation for the coming parliamentary elections, in 2004, the Uzbek Parliament adopted the amendment, which sets the obligatory gender quota of 30% for both chambers of the Parliament. The change in the law contributed to an ample shift of women`s participation in political life of Uzbekistan and their role in policy-making process. After Parliamentary elections in 2010, the number of women in Parliament significantly increased. Now, there are 33 female members of the lower chamber out of 150 members and 15 female senators of the upper chamber out of 100 senators.[iii] As a result, women comprised 22% of the parliamentarians in the Parliament of Uzbekistan as of December 2014. While 31.8% of the total number of candidates at the parliament elections of 2014 were women, the required 30% female quota has not been reached.[iv] However, this amendment gave a meaningful opportunity for women to have access to political decision-making processes in Uzbekistan.
The increasing number of female candidates at the parliamentary elections demonstrates that the state adheres to its guarantees on political rights to its citizens despite of their gender. Nevertheless, the number of women running for the Parliament or the Presidency is still low because 31.8% of the candidates stands for 0.001%[v] of the total female population of Uzbekistan. Therefore, the insignificant percentage of women in the Uzbek Parliament and small number of female candidates illustrates that women’s political participation in Uzbekistan is only nominal and does not empower female population of the country.
Feminine Customs and Traditions in Uzbekistan
Despite increasing number of women in the Parliament and provision of the basic political rights to women in Uzbekistan, these changes do not bring any meaningful opportunity and fair conditions for women to build their political careers. As in any traditional societies, the public opinion, upbringing and family play significant role in keeping women away from their rights in Uzbekistan.
Every discussion about women’s participation in politics or their empowerment ends with an unbeatable argument brought by families that politics is a man’s job. Public opinion and traditions are mostly being manipulated by a unique public institution of Uzbekistan ‘Mahalla’, which is a “self-governing community in every borough, town and village in Uzbekistan”.[vi] Mahalla is governed by a committee which consists of elderly people residing in a particular territorial division who know its inhabitants. Elders attempt to preserve family unity and build friendly atmosphere among family members. However, these committees also interfere into families` private life by promoting traditional values, where the role of women begins and ends at home. Furthermore, it is paradoxical that the society, especially males are being taught that a man belongs to outside and a woman to home. Women are taught to abide by the rule that female members of the family should stay at home and support their male counterparts. However, this limitations do not apply on education because Uzbekistan guarantees free secondary education which is also mandatory for every child.[vii] Parents let their daughters study at secondary school because education is free and literacy is important for future mothers. However, this small obligation of parents to educate their daughters in secondary schools does not undermine patriarchic structure of Uzbek society and continues to restrict women’s professional careers.
In this framework, women themselves become primary promoters of such underestimation of the women`s role in politics of Uzbekistan. Even if a woman wants to be successful in politics and to use the opportunity given by the government, under strong social pressure, she gives the priority to her family rather than fully devoting herself to the responsibilities brought by the position in political life of the state. It seems that there is a vicious cycle in the Uzbek society that does not allow a woman to be politically active. Women themselves reject this activity not because they do not know about such opportunities, but because of the fear to be condemned by the family and the society. The culture of shame and judging does not help emancipate women of Uzbekistan. There are not many success stories when a woman achieved a high position while having traditionally happy family. The most common story is that a successful and powerful woman has a sad personal story behind.
There is no hesitation that women have a special role in the society of Uzbekistan. A brief analysis of the Uzbek legislation showed that government provides basic constitutional rights, gives opportunity for political engagement of women into decision-making process and guarantees gender equal freedoms. However, strong traditional pressure and public opinion disables women from taking up political positions and developing their public careers. Thus, enabling legislation in Uzbekistan requires additional work on either changing the mindset of the traditional society or providing special terms of participation for female candidates. Since women are the first people in the Uzbek society who promote family values, their involvement into professional lives requires justification in front of men who are current heads of the households. Mutual understanding that a man can contribute to a family`s wellbeing not only financially but also psychologically will bring social changes, where a woman would like to run for the Parliament or the Presidency without a fear to lose the family and be condemned by public opinion.
[i] The World Justice Project. 2014. The Rule of Law Index 2014: 22. (accessed January 10, 2015) < http://worldjusticeproject.org/sites/default/files/files/wjp_rule_of_law_index_2014_report.pdf>.
[iii] 12uz Information Portal. 2013. Po kolichestvu jenshin v Parlamente Uzbekistan sredi stran SNG zanimayet chetvertoe mesto [Uzbekistan is the 4th among CIS countries in the rank on the number of women in Parliament]. (accessed January 9, 2015) < http://www.12uz.com/news/show/official/15008/>.
[v] Gender Statistics in Uzbekistan. (accessed January 27, 2015) <http://gender.stat.uz/index.php/osnovnye-pokazateli/demografiya/braki-i-razvody/134-chislennost-zhenshchin-i-muzhchin>
[vi] Diplomat. 2013. “Mahalla: an Uzbek Experience”. (accessed January 8, 2015) < http://www.diplomatmagazine.com/issues/2013/september-october/778-mahalla-an-uzbek-experience.html>.