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“I’ve been kicked out”. How Uzbekistan Protects Women’s Rights

Since last year, the authorities of Uzbekistan have been actively dealing with the problems of women who are the victims of violence and being in difficult situations. The once-concealed topic is now on agenda. More rehabilitation centres have opened across the country, assistance and employment programmes have been created.

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According to the Women’s Committee of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, in 2018 1,930 women in South Aral Sea region were in difficult situation, namely disabled, low-income and unemployed women. Among them, 344 were homeless.

The women’s committee was given additional powers and opportunities, new structures were added and the number of employees was increased.

Since April 1, 2018, new position of a specialist responsible for working with women and strengthening of moral and spiritual values in families was added to local governments. They work with every woman in mahallas, study their problems and needs.

Centres for rehabilitation and adaptation of persons surviving violence and prevention of suicides have emerged across the country, and the 1146 hotline was opened for women suffering from violence.

Last year, hotline received over 12 thousand calls, and 5,556 women and girls went to rehabilitation centres across the republic.

Raikhan, 42 years old:

—  I lived in my husband’s house with three children, mother-in-law, and his two divorced sisters. I sat at home and took care of children, but I used to have frequent quarrels with the husband’s family.

Once, during one of such quarrels, his sisters kicked me out of home and didn’t let me and my children in. My husband refused to leave his mother and live separately with me.

I had nowhere to go, and then I was told about the women’s resource centre who helped women in difficult situations, so I went there.

A psychologist from the centre spoke to my husband and his mother, and after that my mother-in-law agreed to let her son live separately [from her]. Now we live with him and children in a separate flat.

Such stories are not rare in Uzbekistan, including the South Aral Sea region. Family conflict is a prevailing problem of women who go to rehabilitation centres.

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Karakalpakstan has 8 rehabilitation centres in the town of Nukus, and also in Amudarya, Khojeili, Shumanai, Kungrad, Chimbai and Takhtakupir districts. This year, 8 more are going to be opened in other regions.

These centres have been opened to provide help to victims of violence. Here women can get medical, psychological and legal assistance from qualified specialists.

Centre for rehabilitation and adaptation of persons surviving violence and prevention of suicides in Nukus. Banner message: “No woman will be humiliated as long as I am president.” Photo: CABAR.asia

Queue for housing

Elmira, 31 years old:

— My first marriage failed. I married when I wasn’t even 16, and got divorced when my daughter was 6 months old. He used to beat me a lot, I didn’t understand everything clearly back then, and always complained to my parents and three brothers.

I also have a sister. She is divorced, too, and she has a daughter from her first marriage. At first, we lived with her at our father’s house together with the brother’s family, but used to have frequent quarrels. So we decided to rent a flat with my sister and live separately.

In 2010, I started working at the local public utilities office and then I met my second husband. He was also divorced and paid alimony.

We got married in 2013. After a year, I gave birth to a son, and then to second one a year after. My younger son was very quiet, hardly cried and wasn’t stubborn, he was sleeping all the time. When he was checked at the polyclinic, all tests were fine, and they said he was healthy. But when he was 9 months old, they found he couldn’t see and sit.

He was diagnosed with hydrocephaly and cerebral palsy. We needed much money for medicines then and all we had saved we spent on treatment. Now only my husband works and I am taking care of the child.

We lived in rented flats for 7 years, always tight on money, didn’t know where to seek help. And then we went to the women’s council and asked if the government could help us. We were put on the list of families needing housing.

Now we don’t have problems with housing. We live in a government-allocated flat, trying to save money and buy all required drugs to our son.

Opening ceremony of the new apartment building for women in difficult situations at Kungrad district. Photo credit to Women’s Council of the Republic of Karakalpakstan
By late 2018, 131 women in difficult situation received housing in Karakalpakstan. 100 houses were allocated across Uzbekistan without the right of resale and property right. People can live there until they have their own house.

Besides, women in difficult social situations, women with disabilities or low-income mothers who bring up children in single-parent families can be offered a subsidised home loan.

The down payment is paid by the public fund for support of women and families and Oila scientific practical research centre. In 2018, 1,464 women across the country received a total of 54.6 billion sums (6.49 million dollars) in loans.

According to the World Bank’s report, Women, Business and the Law 2018, which was compiled by results of 2017, Uzbekistan was listed as a country that didn’t have legislation protecting women from violence. This issue was also voiced by deputy prime minister of Uzbekistan and head of the Women’s Committee Tanzila Narbayeva on her Facebook page:

The violence issue has long been concealed in our country, now it’s time to speak about it openly. […] Women in our country usually fear or feel uncomfortable telling about it even to their close family members. This needs to be changed.
In late December last year, president Shavkat Mirziyoyev in his regular message to the parliament ordered to provide housing to 1,600 women and to employ 13 thousand, especially those who were in difficult situation.

Work places

Despite the fact that 45 per cent of employed population of Uzbekistan are women, many of them cannot find work for some reason.

Last year, the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Karakalpakstan approved the programme for employment and social security of women living in difficult conditions and women with disabilities. During the period, 87 sewing shops have been opened and 446 women have been employed.

Today the South Aral Sea region has over 400 thousand women employed in various spheres.

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If in early 2018 there were about 20 thousand unemployed women in Karakalpakstan, in early 2019 their number decreased to 2 thousand.

However, despite the positive trend, women’s committees work only with those who seek help.  In the meanwhile, many women fear talking about violence and the programme doesn’t cover migrant women, as Zukhra Ibragimova, deputy chairperson of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Karakalpakstan and head of local Women’s Committee, said during the recent briefing.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.

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