FAMILIES, WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN UZBEKISTAN

FAMILIES IN UZBEKISTAN

Society has traditionally been organized along patrilineal lines, with status kin relationships distinguished by gender and by birth order age among siblings. Kinship terminology is very complex. They are different terms for older and younger brothers and sisters and for patrilineal and matrilineal uncles and aunts.

Most Uzbek families are nuclear families with parents and grown children living separate residences, and brothers living apart from one another. There are also families in which three generations live together. Extended families living together are more common in rural areas, where such families have traditionally lived together in a large compound.

Nuclear family units within the extended family tend be large. As of the early 1990s, 40 percent of all Uzbek families had seven or more children. After marriage women have traditionally gone to live with their husband’s family. This means that extended families with several married sons are particularly large. Even sons that move out of the compound tend to live nearby.

Typical Uzbek Family

In the 1990s, a typical family of eight in rural Uzbekistan (with a per capita income close to the national average of $978) lived in a compound with a 1,000-square-foot four-room summer house, a 600-square-foot two room winter house and a separate kitchen building with a bread oven and stove. A typical bathroom in rural Uzbekistan is an outhouse in the back of the house with cinder blocks walls and a metal roof. The toilet is sometimes a Western-style toilet but usually it is a hole in the ground surrounded by concrete. People squat instead of sit. Most guesthouses and hotels used by foreigners have Western style toilets.

The mother and father in a family interviewed in the 1990s by Peter Menzel for his book "Material World” said they don't have most prized possessions. The children's most treasured possession were their bicycles. In the future, the family said it hoped to have enough money to afford a new TV, radio, VCR and car. [Source: Peter Menzel, "Material World," Sierra Club Books, 1994]

The family spent 70 percent of its income on food. They had one broken TV but owned no telephone, radio, motorbike, VCR or car. The family's possessions include three dogs, three cows, a broken mirror, an Arnold Swarzenegger poster, four chests for quilts and rugs, 33 quilts and rugs, a china cabinet, an armoire, a dining room table, dining room chairs, four other chairs, a butter churn, a barn, a cow, a bicycle, bed, pillow, built-in wood burning stove, and eight stools.

Families sleep on carpets with quilts over their bodies for warmth. In the morning the quilts are folded up and stored in chests. The possessions of many Uzbeks consist primarily of carpets.

Gender Roles in Uzbekistan

Men like to gather at local teahouses called chaykhana. The are regarded as important social institutions. Old men like to hang out on carpeted platforms, called tahtas, and drink tea and play backgammon or card games. There has been some segregation between women and men in Uzbekistan.

Uzbek women have traditionally fit into the Muslim concept of a woman as wife, mother and hostess. They have traditionally been bound by strong religious convictions and a strong sense of propriety. Women dancers, for example, generally did not perform in public until the early Soviet era, and even then they received death threats from Muslim extremists. One famous dancer named Nurkhom was murdered by her own brother for dishonoring here family by dancing in public.

Uzbek woman also work hard to keep their families going. The mother of one family, photographer Scott Thode wrote, "is incredibly hard working. I didn't see one minute of down time. No, there was one—she just put her head in her hands and sat for a moment, then she was stirring, cooking, picking something up, ordering one kid or another to do something."

Under the Soviets, women in Uzbekistan went from wearing veils and rarely leaving the home to being doctors and tractor drivers. Uzbek women became lawyers, scientists and professors. Nazminiso Dekhan-Khodjaeva, a scholar at the Russian Academy of Natural Science, was nominated for a Nobel Prize,

Uzbek Women and Islam

Nadira Artyk wrote in the International Herald Tribune, “My relationship with Islam has never been straightforward. I grew up in Soviet Uzbekistan, hearing my grandfather recite the Koran on a daily basis. Sometimes he would translate a few verses for us. I was drawn to the beauty of the prose. I sensed a strong connection and especially admired the values of social justice, equality and generosity of human spirit. [Source: Nadira Artyk, International Herald Tribune, October 28, 2008 |=|]

“My return to Islam began four years ago when I started a blog for women in Uzbekistan. Together with a couple of girlfriends, we raised some highly contentious and even taboo issues - domestic violence, family vs. career, child abuse, divorce, virginity, sexuality. At one point, the blog was taken hostage by some Islamist men who left highly restrictive and extremely conservative views on every topic. |=|

“I then decided to educate myself on the original sources - the Koran and the Hadith (the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad). That's how I discovered progressive Islam and Islamic feminism. I came to understand that my faith had strong egalitarian messages within it; that the Koran and the Hadith, having been interpreted for 14 centuries by men, had layers of patriarchal bias stuck on them like layers of dust. |=|

Rape and Domestic Violence in Uzbekistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “ The law prohibits rape, including rape of a “close relative,” but the criminal code does not specifically prohibit spousal rape, and the courts did not try any known cases. Cultural norms discouraged women and their families from speaking openly about rape, and the press rarely reported it. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

“The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, which remained common. While the law punishes physical assault, police often discouraged women from making complaints against abusive partners, and officials rarely removed abusers from their homes or took them into custody. Human rights contacts, however, reported greater willingness by local police and officials to address reports of domestic violence, including in Jizzakh Province and in the traditionally conservative Fergana Valley. Society considered the physical abuse of women to be a personal rather than criminal matter. Family members or elders usually handled such cases, and they rarely came to court. Local authorities emphasized reconciling husband and wife, rather than addressing the abuse. \*\

“There were no reported cases in which women attempted or committed suicide as a result of domestic violence, although those active in women’s issues suggested that there could be unreported cases. According to observers, the usual reason for suicide was conflict with a husband or mother-in-law, who by tradition exercised complete control over a wife. There were no government-run shelters or hotlines for victims of domestic abuse, and very few NGOs focused on domestic violence. \*\

Rape and Domestic Violence in Uzbekistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “ The law prohibits rape, including rape of a “close relative,” but the criminal code does not specifically prohibit spousal rape, and the courts did not try any known cases. Cultural norms discouraged women and their families from speaking openly about rape, and the press rarely reported it. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

“The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, which remained common. While the law punishes physical assault, police often discouraged women from making complaints against abusive partners, and officials rarely removed abusers from their homes or took them into custody. Human rights contacts, however, reported greater willingness by local police and officials to address reports of domestic violence, including in Jizzakh Province and in the traditionally conservative Fergana Valley. Society considered the physical abuse of women to be a personal rather than criminal matter. Family members or elders usually handled such cases, and they rarely came to court. Local authorities emphasized reconciling husband and wife, rather than addressing the abuse. \*\

“There were no reported cases in which women attempted or committed suicide as a result of domestic violence, although those active in women’s issues suggested that there could be unreported cases. According to observers, the usual reason for suicide was conflict with a husband or mother-in-law, who by tradition exercised complete control over a wife. There were no government-run shelters or hotlines for victims of domestic abuse, and very few NGOs focused on domestic violence. \*\

Discrimination and Sexual Harassment in Uzbekistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “The law does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment, but it is illegal for a man to coerce a woman who has a business or financial dependency into a sexual relationship. Social norms and the lack of legal recourse made it difficult to assess the scope of the problem. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, and the National Women’s Committee promoted the legal rights of women. Women historically have held leadership positions across all sectors of society, although they were not as prevalent as men, and cultural and religious practices limited their effectiveness. The government provided little data that could be used to determine whether women experienced discrimination in access to employment or credit or were paid less for substantially similar work. The labor code prohibits women from working in many industries open to men. \*\

Children in Uzbekistan

Children have traditionally been raised by their mothers and grandmothers, who have been traditionally responsible for passing on cultural and religious traditions.

According to the U.S. Department of State: “Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory or from one’s parents. The government generally registered all births immediately. Medical Care: While the government provided equal subsidized health care for boys and girls, those without an officially registered address, such as street children and children of migrant workers, did not have access to government health facilities. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

Child Abuse: Society generally considered child abuse to be an internal family matter; little official information was available on the subject. Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law seeks to protect children from “all forms of exploitation.” Involving a child in prostitution is punishable by a fine of 25 to 50 times the minimum monthly salary and imprisonment for an unspecified length of time. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The punishment for statutory rape is 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The production, exhibition, and/or distribution of child pornography (involving persons younger than 21) is punishable by fine or by imprisonment for up to three years. International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. \*\

See Education, School

Celebrations for Children in Uzbekistan

Beshik-Tui is an important and festive occasion celebrated on the fortieth day after the birth of a child. Relatives of the mother bring a “beshik”, a beautifully decorated cradle, clothes, and everything necessary for a newborn. Also it is a custom to bring bread, sweets and toys, wrapped in clothes. Traditionally, while guests enjoy themselves around the festival table elder women in the nursery carry out the rite of first swaddling and placing the child into the “beshik”. The ceremony finishes with a presentation of a child, during which time invited guests present the child with gifts. Beshik-Tui is an old tradition and remains one of the most popular festive occasions in Uzbekistan. Relatives, neighbors and family friends are all involved in the preparation to the beshik-tui. [Source: orexca.com |::|]

Khatna-kilish and Sunnat Tui are the terms used to describe a traditional Muslim circumcision. The rite is performed when the boy reaches three, five, seven or nine years old and very seldom when he is 11-12 years old. Preparations for the rite begin when the boy is born, with members of his family sewing quilts, covers and garments for the big day. |::|

Before the beginning of the ceremony elder men, imam and relatives read the Koran and say their blessings and wishes. After the circumcision the boy is dressed in new clothes, brought by relatives and neighbors. This is followed by a small ritual called “takhurar”, in which women put pillows and blankets on the boy’s chest. The ceremony is finished with plov and other traditional Uzbek dishes and music and dances. It is a custom to give money and gifts such as expensive clothes and weapons to the boy. Some gifts have symbolic meaning. Money represents wealth and sweets, prosperity. |::|

Child Labor and the Cotton Harvest in Uzbekistan

According to Human Rights Watch: “State-organized forced labor of children and adults in the cotton sector remains widespread. Authorities force over two million adults and schoolchildren, mainly ages 15-17 but some even younger, to harvest cotton for up to two months each autumn.” [Source: “World Report 2015: Uzbekistan” Human Rights Watch]

According to the U.S. Department of State: “In 2014, despite a central government-decree banning all participation of those under age 18 in the cotton harvest, local officials mobilized children in some districts. In addition, across much of the country, third-year college and lyceum students continued to be mobilized, an unknown number of whom were not yet 18 years old. Some independent observers alleged that the decreased use of child labor was counterbalanced by an increase in the government’s mobilization of adult forced labor to harvest cotton in 2014. There were limited reports that students, at certain institutions, faced the threat of suspension, expulsion, or other forms of harassment by school administrators and teachers if they refused to pick cotton. [Source: “2015 Trafficking in Persons Report: Uzbekistan”, Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. Department of State ^^^]

“Children worked in the cultivation and picking of cotton. In contrast with past years, however, the presence of 15- to 18-year-old children was the result of localized occurrences rather than nationwide mobilization. During the fall harvest, some administrators closed colleges and universities. Officials at some universities sent students to pick cotton for as long as up to eight weeks, during which time they stayed in tented work camps or schools near the fields a long distance away from the university. ^^^

“There were some students as young as age 10 working in the fields, although these cases appeared to be uncommon and largely did not appear to be cases of government labor mobilizations. Authorities generally took steps to address these reports, but there were isolated unconfirmed reports of several mobilizations of entire classrooms of children under age 15. The government continued to mobilize third-course college and lyceum students, who were generally 18 years old or older. There were reports, however, that this practice resulted in the incidental mobilization of 17-year-old students in the same class. In the last weeks of the cotton harvest, some local authorities in the provinces of Jizzakh and Syrdaryo, as well as in the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan, mobilized 16- to 17-year-old students for up to two weeks in contravention of the national decree. As in past years, there were individual reports that educational institutions threatened to expel students who did not participate in the harvest or that required students to sign statements indicating their “voluntary” participation in the harvest.” ^^^

Child Labor Used to Produce Silk in Uzbekistan

Reporting from Kokand, Uzbekistan, Mansur Mirovalev of Associated Press wrote: “For one month a year, from morning to night, Dilorom Nishanova grows silkworms, a painstaking and exhausting job. She has been doing it since she was 8. Uzbekistan's authoritarian government insists child labor is banned, but Nishanova, now 15, hasn't heard about it. She and her siblings, aged 9 to 17, think it's perfectly natural to be helping their father grow silkworms, as well as cotton and wheat. "We just help our parents," she said, her braided dark hair covered with a traditional Muslim scarf. "That's what children have to do, right?" Not so, say Uzbek rights groups. They say kids shouldn't be laborers, especially in May, the breeding season, which happens to fall during school exams. [Source: Mansur Mirovalev, Associated Press, August 29, 2010 /*\]

“The use of child labor in Uzbek cotton-picking has been widely documented, and Walmart and several other U.S. chain stores won't stock it. But the silk industry has largely escaped international scrutiny. Kakhhor Yavkashtiyev, head of the silk growing department, said "Children are not involved, only adults are." Umurzak Kayumov, a 51-year-old farmer from the village of Naiman near the eastern city of Namangan, says his children as well as grandchildren help during cocoon season, when "We suffer for 25 days, from 4 a.m. until midnight."/*\

“For the farmers and their children, "silk farming opens an annual cycle of forced labor and abuse by authorities," said Ganikhon Mamatkhonov, a rights activist who investigated numerous cases of abuse of Uzbek farmers. The risks these advocates run are considerable. Months after Mamatkhonov spoke to the AP in May, 2009, he was jailed for five years on bribery charges --one of dozens of government critics imprisoned in recent years. (Mamatkhonov's colleagues say he was framed.) Underage labor is not limited to Uzbekistan's silk industry; it has been exposed in India's silk industry too. But this former Soviet republic seems unique in the lengths to which it goes to keep the silk spinning.” /*\

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016


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