What needs to be done to raise the status of women in Uzbekistan? Elier Karimov, Doctor of Historical Sciences, professor at Hofstra University (New York, USA) considers it useful to legally strengthen the measures which provide privileges for women.
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– CABAR.asia: There are many reports in the media about the violation of women’s rights, including by their husbands. And often we are talking about physical beatings of wives by husbands. Usually, the victim and her parents refuse to prosecute the culprit because of fear of public disapproval. What needs to be done so that there are fewer such cases?
– First of all, I would like to link the problem you are raising with gender. Currently, the solution of gender problems has a very important place in the world community. Gender equality is a global priority for world organizations such as the UN, UNESCO, UNICEF and many others. After all, achieving gender equality is important to ensure sustainable social development.
One of the priority areas for achieving gender equality is ensuring and expanding the access of girls and women to education. It is unlikely that a well-educated woman with a broad outlook can bring the situation with her own rights to such a deplorable state.
The problem is that very often, especially in the context of the traditional society of developing countries, the issue of gender is not adequately addressed. So, in particular, the concepts of gender and sex are often confused, denying the possibility of equality between men and women at the biological level, while gender implies social and cultural equality. In other words, gender equality is, above all, the equal legal status of women and men.
In particular, the cases you mentioned concern the protection of women’s rights. They indicate a clear lack of legal knowledge, and, as a consequence of this, the woman’s inability to protect herself. Very often in such situations, referring to the mythical “public opinion” (such as what will people say) or “traditions” (not to take dirty linen out of the house), the elementary rights of women are violated by close people, relatives, the public, and sometimes even representatives of government bodies.
It is clear that in such cases we are talking about solving gender problems, in particular family violence, in a secular state, which Uzbekistan is, in accordance with the Constitution. At the same time, in such cases of violations of women’s rights, Islam is often referred to as the main value of Uzbek society.
– Recently, it has become especially popular to propose to solve family-domestic and social issues related to the status of women in society, in the prism of how these problems were solved in Islam. Why do you think this is happening?
– Yes, indeed, such attempts have been made for a long time. Not always competently and, as a result, in a part of society, views are rooted that have little relevance to the real state of affairs in Islam. For example, based on supposedly traditional Islamic attitudes, it is often said that a man and a woman will never be equal. Moreover, again, equality is understood not as legal equality, but as biological.
Here in this misunderstanding of the rights of women, in society there are excesses, for example, in education, when boys are essentially taught not to respect women. Respect for a woman in society is often perceived as a man’s weakness – supposedly, if a man “bends in front of a woman” he loses his manhood.
In this regard, it should be noted that there is a lack of secular ethical and legal education, as well as a misunderstanding, and a clear lack of Islamic education. Islam for the period of national independence has occupied a special place in the Uzbek society. Many citizens of the country very often turn to Islam as a source of legal relations and law.
At the same time, most of the ordinary people have little idea of the essence and nature of Islamic law, most often refer only to the external manifestations of Islamic culture. For example, the fact that a woman should wear a hijab and respect her husband. Forgetting that in this case, the man must fulfill and follow the whole range of legal rights that exist in Islam.
If someone is not convinced by traditional Islamic law in relations between women, then he or she can turn to the contemporary legal procedures. I have lived in the UAE for many years, visited other Gulf countries, observed local life, compared and studied.
This is a region of the world where the way of life of citizens and the entire state is subordinated to the main Muslim source of laws – Sharia, and Sharia rules are applied as a formal (legal) source of law.
So what I noticed there is a rather high level of gender relations in society. For example, a husband and wife are very respectful to each other, they speak with each other with respect. You will not see the picture that can sometimes be observed in Central Asia, when a man with his hands clasped walks in front and a woman walks behind carrying two heavy bags.
A woman enjoys rights and respect, and the state does everything to provide women with work and education. These countries have a women’s holiday similar to what we call as the March 8 International Women’s Day, when society does not just honor women, but is especially proud that women work tirelessly to make the country great. Women are judges, pilots, businessmen, members of the government. By the way, the UAE current ambassador to the UN is a woman.
Pay attention to the slogan of this holiday – Emirate’s Women’s Day is celebrated in recognition of the contribution of women of the nation and their role in the development and progress of the country. Here is an example of how a Muslim woman can contribute to the development of society, nation, country. I think an example worthy of imitation. Especially for those who want to understand what the status of a woman in modern Islamic society can be.
– This is a modern example. But how were these issues resolved in the past?
– As a researcher of Islamic legal documents from the Middle Ages to our time, I can note that women have always been quite active participants in the life of a Muslim society. They were engaged in business, bought and sold movable and immovable property, demanded the observance of their financial rights, filed for divorce, got married, and the financial guarantees of a woman were always an important factor in marriage. The latter was extremely important.
I have documents proving that they could marry the young couple, and then the girl was taken to her father’s house, as the groom did not have the means to pay for the “mahr” (dowry), which was a prerequisite for the marriage.
The girl went to her husband’s house only after the groom or the husband had already fulfilled his financial obligations. At the same time, mahr was the exclusive property of the woman and was always kept with her, even in the event of a divorce. In any case, under Islamic law, a wife never remained financially unprotected.
– Nevertheless, in the medieval Islamic world, unlike the Christian world, there were practically no precedents when women headed the state …
– To begin with, it makes no sense to draw a parallel between the Christian and Muslim medieval world, since the states were completely different and differed in the level of cultural and economic development. In the most colossal cultural empires of the past, ancient Greece and Rome, whose influence on world civilization we still feel today, women were completely excluded from public life and the power sphere of society, had few rights and did not participate in government.
The Christian world was no exception either – a woman was extended a much lower position than a man. As for the precedents you mentioned when women headed the state, they were more in the category of exceptions. Similar exceptions were there in the Muslim world too.
Here it must be understood that each historical period has its own social and political specificity, and you should not try to look for analogues of the past in every modern phenomenon. Unfortunately, the latter approach is now extremely popular.
Today everyone is trying to look for a confirmation of some current situation in a society, in politics, even in the economy – from the similar example from the past. There is just some kind of fashion for using the past – for supposedly its higher culture, morality and achievements, which should lead the current society out of the contemporary crisis.
Why did you decide that such an example will always be found? If there is no such example, does this mean that some modern phenomenon does not have a right to exist? Unfortunately, I have heard reasoning of this kind. Therefore, I do not agree with the constant attempts to appeal to the past, as to something that will help us solve the problems of our time.
What measures, in your opinion, should be taken to raise the status of women in the society of Uzbekistan? Will female quotas of representation in government be useful, for example?
The solution of gender problems, in other words – how to raise the status of women in society, is quite simple. To provide real access to education, to financial resources and the possibility of disposing of them, to participate in political life. This is a mechanism developed by international organizations such as the UN, UNESCO, UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA and successfully implemented in many countries.
Being in Uzbekistan this summer, traveling around the country, participating, as an UNESCO expert, in gender trainings organized in a number of areas, meeting and talking with people of different social and age levels, I was convinced that serious changes have begun in Uzbekistan to change things for good in terms of addressing gender issues.
By the way, in this regard, and here your question is more than appropriate, it will probably be useful to pursue an affirmative action policy. In other words, legislatively consolidate measures to provide preferential rights or privileges for women. For example, the introduction of mandatory quotas for women when hiring, studying, and promoting women in the professional sphere.
Of course, in the formation of executive and legislative bodies, these measures will correct the existing gender imbalance in the country. As I understand it, some work in this direction is already underway in Uzbekistan.
– Which way will the situation develop? Can we raise the status of women in Uzbek society? What is your forecast as a specialist?
– I do not want to make predictions. The main thing is that work in this direction should continue to be carried out, despite the fact that there are more than enough opponents of these processes. Nevertheless, based on existing international experience, I can say that if the process is not stopped, the situation in society will change steadily.
– And in your opinion, can men benefit from raising the status of women? Well, for example, now there is a stereotype that it is a man who should support his family, and not all men are able to do so…
– Women are statistically half of our society. You are right, today the main burden of supporting the family lies on the shoulders of men. They must provide for family, wife, children. This is a very strong stereotype. Our men have always been raised with the idea that they should be the breadwinners and earners. This is a mutual stereotype – many girls grow up with the idea of getting married, sitting at home, giving birth and raising children, and the man will have to do the rest – provide for food, drinks, dresses, maintenance of the family, etc.
But times are changing. Society does not stand still, the economy is developing, the level of consumption is increasing, and financial requirements are growing every day. In this regard, the possibility of full participation of women in society could play an extremely positive role.
In conclusion, I would like to say that achieving gender equality is an ethical and economic problem. Regardless of through what methods it is solved – modern or traditional ones, the main thing is that this problem should be solved for the benefit of people, society and the state.
This publication was produced under IWPR project «Forging links and raising voices to combat radicalization in Central Asia».