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Uzbekistan: On the Way to Equality

Uzbekistan is the only state in Central Asian region, which doesn’t have a law on equal rights and opportunities for men and women. However, in late April the country submitted a draft law for public discussion. It has caused mixed reaction of people.


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The opponents of the law “On the guarantees of equal rights and opportunities” claim the country has already created conditions for gender equality, which are set forth in article 18 of the Constitution:

All citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan shall have equal rights and freedoms and be equal before law, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, language, religion, social background, views, personal and social status.
De jure all are equal, but does equality really exist there? Uzbekistan ranks 127th in the global gender equality ranking and the last among CIS countries. Women in the country still are less paid, less educated, less equal.  A share of women among decision-making managerial staff is below 2 per cent.

According to Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov, “future executive staff is being prepared <…> at the Academy of Public Administration at the president, but the candidates are proposed by ministries. Only one woman or no woman at all gets on the list out of 10 candidates.”

In the survey held by UReport among young people, 66 per cent of respondents said girls could fulfil themselves as specialists to the full extent. According to respondents, the most relevant problem of employment among girls is gender stereotypes: subjective gender division of labour, and a lack of support from the community. 43 per cent of respondents said the problem was to have family support, and 21 per cent said it was the unwillingness of girls to find employment.

For many years Uzbekistan has proclaimed the value of family relations. The reverse side of such policy is making domestic violence a norm. According to the survey held by UReport, 83 per cent of respondents recognise domestic violence, but 54 per cent think assault, insults could be ignored for the sake of the family as everything depends on the situation.

Moreover, it’s the men who are more likely to think this way, 74 per cent. But 52 per cent of women who recognised this problem said the society prefers to keep silent about domestic violence.

Discrimination against men?

Back in 1995, Uzbekistan joined the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The fifth article of the Convention emphasises the need to eliminate gender stereotypes:

to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.
The fourth article of the Convention requires “adoption by States Parties of temporary special measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women.”

These special measures are positive discrimination (creation of special programmes designed to encourage women’s activities), grants and scholarships for girls, various quotas for women. These measures, according to the Convention, are not deemed discriminatory and must be cancelled once the equality of opportunities and equal attitudes are achieved.

However, some Uzbekistanis think the norms of the new draft law are discriminatory. Here are some comments to the document discussed,

A screenshot of regulation.gov.uz
“The law is totally anti-constitutional. It impairs the rights of men, sets quotas of opportunities for women in a range of spheres and social institutions.  According to the constitution of Uzbekistan, we all have equal rights. <…> I am strongly against the quotas of transitory rights, which are not substantiated by obligations and abilities to exercise them, which are exercisable only by means of other social groups. This is called parasitism in nature and life.”

Tanzila Narbaeva, vice prime minister and chair of the Women’s Committee of Uzbekistan, has noted that negative comments are indicative of gender stereotypes available in the society:

The law is not against men – its name speaks for itself. The law is designed to secure gender equality of men and women, to provide equal gender rights and opportunities. The constitution of Uzbekistan sets forth the equality of men and women, all codes and laws guarantee the equality of citizens, regardless of gender. This non-discrimination principle causes no negative feedback in anyone.
A meeting of the upper house of Oliy Majlis of Uzbekistan as of May 2, 2019. Photo: gov.uz
A meeting on advanced processing of raw material resources and expansion of production of export-oriented goods. Photo: president.uz
Now men prevail on the photos of governmental sessions in Uzbekistan. There are too few women in the government of the country. The similar situation is in economy, science, information technologies, etc.

Even photos show no women, which creates particular stereotypes of “men’s” and “women’s” spheres of activity.

The draft law specifies that “behaviour based on customs, traditions and culture that contradicts legislative requirements of the Republic of Uzbekistan and international rules is not allowed.” Specific measures mean to change traditional concepts of the role of women in the society. They create new role models, encourage girls and women to take an active part in socio-political life, and change gender stereotypes.

The implementation of this Law

According to vice prime minister Tanzila Narbaeva, the draft law should be elaborated within two months, i.e. by the middle of May. Thereafter, it will be agreed with all concerned ministries and agencies and introduced to the government, and then to the legislative house of Oliy Majlis. And then amendments and modifications will be made to a series of statutes and regulations.

Tanzila Narbaeva. Photo: xabar.uz
“However, these amendments and legal acts to be amended will be specified once the final draft law is ready. It’s clear that administrative and criminal liability will be specified [for violations]. This will be taken into account when amending and modifying other statutes and regulations,” Narbaeva said.

Amendments and modifications are essential for the implementation of the law. For example, the Administrative Responsibility Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan in force contains no article regulating the refusal to hire on the basis of an applicant’s gender.

Special attention must be paid to the introduction of article 28 “Promoting equal rights and opportunities for men and women in family relations,” particularly, household labour:

Household labour may not be a reason for gender-based discrimination, it is equally performed by men and women.
According to Tanzila Narbaeva, the task force responsible for the project drafting discussed actively the equal participation of both genders in household labour. It’s no surprise that according to the research held by the International Labour Organisation, “80 per cent of the people [of Uzbekistan] prefer a man to be a breadwinner, and a woman to do household chores and take care of children. 93 per cent of people share the opinion that a woman should do more household chores, even if their husband doesn’t work.”

Experience of Kazakhstan

The law on state guarantees of equal rights and equal opportunities for men and women was adopted in 2009 by Kazakhstan. Three years later, the president of the country, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in his address to the people said,

“We must restore the unconditional respect to women – mothers, wives, daughters. <…> I am concerned about the situation of increasing domestic violence against women and children in families. There must be no disrespect to women.”

Back then he instructed “not to allow gender discrimination in the country and ensure gender equality and equal opportunities to women along with men in practice.” However, the situation didn’t change afterwards.

In 2012, Kazakhstan recorded 108,752 cases of violence against women, and 1,905 women suffered from sexual crimes. In 2016, 124,298 crimes of violence and 2,672 sexual crimes were reported.

According to Dina Smailova, director of NeMolchikz non-governmental foundation, the level of violence against women has increased, also due to the adoption of the law on decriminalisation of domestic crimes,

“The law discriminates against women’s rights in personal crimes of average gravity, when the violator still has a right to come to agreement. 99 per cent of all rapes in Kazakhstan are committed by men, which means that the overwhelming majority have a right to rape and batter and then to compensate for the same. This is a clear discrimination that depreciates women’s rights and dignity.”

Moreover, decision-makers who shape the living environment in Kazakhstan are all men. There are too few women there:

  • Gulshara Abdykalikova became deputy prime minister in February 2019.
  • There’s only one female minister, Kuliash Shamshidinova, a minister of education and science.
  • The Majilis, according to the mid 2018 data, had 26 women out of 107 deputies, and the senate had 5 women out of 47 deputies.
  • There is no female executive in the region or in a town.

According to Smailova, the gender evaluation of the constitutional, labour, housing, social, criminal, criminal procedure codes and their enforcement demonstrate the prevalence of violations of the equality principle between genders both in laws and in their enforcement in Kazakhstan,

Public opinion is superior to the law. And this opinion is based on patriarchal attitudes, which have not disappeared after the law on equal rights and opportunities was adopted 10 years ago.

What to do next?

According to Dina Smailova, women should be more active, they should take part in law-making projects, participate in political groups, gender evaluation of laws and regulations and their amendments are needed in order to change public opinion.

Tanzila Narbaeva is sure the law will become an effective tool to reach gender equality if it is implemented in practice,

“That’s why it’s important, first of all, to specify the purposes and tasks of the law, to use precise wording that won’t be ambiguous. Second, the statutory provisions should have direct force. Third, outreach activities should be held among people in order to avoid any strained interpretation of the law and improper use of it in practice.”

According to Narbaeva, if women hold 10 per cent in the parliament, laws on protection of children, the elderly and other vulnerable population are being adopted easier. If they hold 20-30 per cent, projects and programmes designed to solve social issues, to promote health of the nation, to overcome poverty are being implemented faster.

According to her, the improved level of education of women and their possible participation in the government of the state will create necessary conditions for development of the society and economic health of the country.

Main photo: ca-portal.ru


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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