women’s rights in UzbekistanA former Soviet Union territory, Uzbekistan has a population of 30 million. In recent years, there have been governmental and societal changes along with a new president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Women, who play a pivotal role in the Uzbek family structure, have experienced different issues related to their rights in the country. There are several key facts to know about women’s rights in Uzbekistan.

Societal Views Oppress Women

Women faced new setbacks after Uzbekistan obtained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The Soviets, who colonized the region in the latter half of the 19th century, promised women that they would be emancipated from the patriarchal customs of society, viewing them as oppressive against women. This movement encouraged female education, and in the 1980s, an estimated 41% of university students were women. However, after the independence of Uzbekistan in 1991, in a push to reestablish the Uzbek tradition, the progress of women’s rights in Uzbekistan took a hit when conservative social customs were reintroduced. Only six years later, in 1997, the number of women in higher education institutions dropped to 37% and it is estimated to have fallen even more drastically in recent years.

The Prevalence of Child Marriage

Child marriage is still prevalent. Most Uzbek families believe that the role of women is to marry and run the household. This social concept encourages child marriage throughout the country, particularly in rural regions. With girls marrying at younger ages than boys, female education is directly impacted by child marriage, as women are generally confined to the home after marriage. Furthermore, it is expected that women are to give birth within their first year of marriage, despite a lack of education about reproduction and childbearing. With young brides, female bodies are often not prepared or mature enough to give birth healthily. This has led to health complications such as infertility and chronic conditions. Women’s rights in Uzbekistan are hindered by child marriage, as it limits female educational opportunities and leaves women with little chance to escape a life of housework and childrearing.

Domestic Violence is Not a Crime

Domestic violence is deemed a family issue and not an actual crime. Since independence from the Soviet Union, the push to reaffirm traditional values has meant that women have a subservient role within the household, and to a further extent, within society. Outside of their homes, women face restrictions on how to live their lives, with limits on educational and work opportunities in favor of marriages and children. With women in rural areas at particular risk for domestic violence, Uzbekistan has largely ignored women’s rights within the home. Violence against women has reportedly increased in recent years.

Women’s Rights Reform at Governmental Level

President Mirziyoyev has taken promising action to address the lack of women’s rights in Uzbekistan. Elected in 2016, Mirziyoyev spoke about the importance of women within Uzbek society, noting their problem-solving skills and administrative capabilities. He urged for their involvement in government and industrial factions and even appointed Uzbekistan’s first female Head of Senate, Tanyila Narbaeva. With men dominating government positions for years, a female in an authoritative government position was a progressive shift and a promising result of political changes.

Legislation to Protect Women

The fight for women’s rights in Uzbekistan is becoming more of a priority. In 2019, two new laws were introduced to protect women’s rights. The first is to ensure equal opportunities and freedoms for men and women and the second is to safeguard women from domestic violence and assault. Also, almost 200 shelters have been set up across the country to provide for women escaping violence. Unfortunately, there is very little funding for the subsistence of these shelters. While this is undoubtedly progress from the country’s more traditional views on the role of women in society, more significant action needs to be taken to defend these newfound rights and sustain protective services.

The Future of Women’s Rights in Uzbekistan

The push for women’s rights in Uzbekistan has been made more difficult by the country’s history as a Soviet Union colony and their subsequent counterreaction to reestablish their traditional cultural values. In recent years, women have been restricted by societal pressures to marry young and spend their lives taking care of the household. With limited opportunity to decide their own futures, women in Uzbekistan have not truly attained their human rights. Fortunately, however, President Mirziyoyev has expressed his desire to transform women’s rights in Uzbekistan. Hopefully, with a new female government official and progressive laws, women’s rights in Uzbekistan will continue to improve.

– Eliza Cochran
Photo: Flickr

Domestic Violence in TongaDomestic violence in Tonga, specifically against women, has become the leading type of law infringement. The most prevalent instance occurs in the home, which is especially alarming during a pandemic forcing everyone inside. However, Tonga is taking measures to fight this issue. One way is through the Women and Children Crisis Center (WCCC).

Domestic Violence in Tonga

The amount of reported cases of domestic violence in Tonga has risen over the past five years. Between January and June of 2020, there were about 537 domestic violence reports and 117 issued police safety orders. Out of those, only 99 assaulters faced prosecution.

Tongan women report experiencing physical coercion and control, sexual assault, emotional abuse and physical assault. Police officials state that the chief problem is related to a cultural belief. Tongan men believe they are in a position of power at home and can act however they please because of this entitlement. As a result, women are often scared to report their abuse cases. This is particularly true when husbands, brothers or sons are the perpetrators, as is typical.

Pacific Women reports that three out of four women in Tonga have experienced physical and sexual violence. Relationships can involve abuse as early as day one and continue on for decades, which women often endure. Furthermore, about 85% of women who have suffered from domestic violence are likely to return to the same environments as their attacks. To combat this, the WCCC in Tonga offers an escape for the abused to ensure women are given the protection they need from abusers.

The Women and Children Crisis Center in Tonga

The WCCC was established in 2009 by Director Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki with a group of women and male supporters. The aim was to help those who have suffered from violence. In turn, they gave free counseling and support to victims of domestic violence in Tonga. Further, the WCCC provides 24 hours of free housing to both women and children in the Mo’ui Fiefia Safe House.

When a woman reports her case to WCCC, the volunteers at the organization help guide the victim through the legal process. They explain the amount of time it will take for the victim’s case to reach court and provide information about how and when the police will contact the victim for testimonies. They also educate the victim on the importance of having a medical record when reporting cases like rape. If the woman is willing, the WCCC offers her a platform to voice her experience. The organization focuses on sharing the stories of victims who have used WCCC’s services and how they have benefitted from those services.

Male Advocacy Training

Violence prevention was another main reason for WCCC’s founding. In 2017, the WCCC launched male advocacy training to end violence against women and children and encourage gender equality. The purpose of the training is to educate men on three key ideas: men have control over how they behave in a sexual manner, all sexual activity can only be performed after there is consent on both sides and men are equally responsible for the transmission of sexually active diseases.

The men receive many lessons from knowledgeable speakers to help end the domestic violence in Tonga. Director Guttenbeil-Likiliki said, “In a situation where a woman does not want to have sex but you continue to persist and persuade her to have sex, this is a high-risk situation, as it is considered to be sexual assault or rape.” Melkie Anton, a lead trainer, explains proper relationship roles to male participants. Anton states, “Women are often used as sexual objects,” and when a woman is in a relationship, she must follow all of her partner’s orders. As a result, the man ends up controlling the relationship and may treat the woman’s feelings with disregard. Another learning directive is toxic masculinity. WCCC members detail how issues, such as proving masculinity and competing with other men encourage domestic violence.

Looking to the Future

WCCC members are working toward expanding their organization’s influence throughout Tonga,  particularly through collaboration. The WCCC has partnered with other organizations, such as the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and the Vanuatu Women’s Crisis Centre. The organization even reaches out to Tongan government agencies, including the Ministry of Education. The work of the WCCC, from aiding victims to education to advocacy, is a step in the right direction. With continued efforts, there can be an end to domestic violence in Tonga.

Sudiksha Kochi
Photo: Flickr

Pandemic’s Effects On Women
As COVID-19 forces the world into lockdown, people are scrambling to provide medical services and save toppling economies. The pandemic affects schools and workplaces, and everyone is struggling to adjust to this new way of life. In the midst of all the chaos, some problems are forgotten. The pandemic’s effects on women, which are especially bad, are buried underneath the plethora of other challenges. Two of the greatest issues they are facing are period poverty and domestic violence, both of which the pandemic has exacerbated.

Period Poverty

Period poverty manifests in a lack of access to restrooms, sanitary products, education on menstrual hygiene and improper waste management. Now, with disrupted supply chains of period products, increased financial strain and lockdowns making it difficult to go out and purchase basic amenities, women are having a harder time than ever accessing these necessities. Forced to make do with what they have, they put themselves at risk of infections and diseases, including cervical cancer.

High costs and taxation are also major contributors to period poverty. In the U.S., menstrual products are subject to tax in many states. Though every bit as important, they are eligible to be taxed while other essentials, like food and medicine, are not. Only nine out of 50 states in the U.S. have policies against taxing menstrual products. Even without tax, the cost is too much for those living in poverty to afford. Approximately 12 million women between the ages of 12 and 52 in the U.S. are living below the poverty line and unable to purchase the products they need.

Fortunately, there are people and organizations dedicated to making period products more affordable. Under the CARES Act, menstrual products are covered under health savings and flexible spending accounts, which set aside pre-tax income that can be spent on important health services. However, where legislation and policies fall short, nonprofit organizations and charities are stepping in. Groups distributing products to women in need include I Support the Girls and PERIOD. They are also helping to raise awareness about the pandemic’s effects on women.

Domestic Violence

Increased domestic violence is another appalling result of the pandemic. Due to stay-at-home orders, many women and children are stuck with their abusers. An estimation by the United Nations Population Fund predicts that six months of lockdowns will cause 31 million more cases of gender-based violence. According to the National Hotline on Combating Domestic Violence, calls increased by 25% during the first two weeks of quarantine. Lockdowns also make it difficult for survivors and victims of domestic abuse to receive the treatment and consolation they need.

Luckily, people have begun to take note of these issues. Actress Charlize Theron’s campaign, Together For Her, is working to address the additional cases of gender-based violence resulting from the lockdowns around the globe. In an interview with Vogue, Charlize stated that she is distributing funds from the Together For Her campaign to “shelters, psychosocial support and counseling, helplines, crisis intervention, sexual and reproductive health services, community-based prevention, and advocacy work to address gender-based violence.”

More than 50 prominent female celebrities in the fields of film, sports, music and more have shown support to Charlize’s campaign. Fellow actress Mariska Hargitay has contributed to Together for Her and says about the movement, “As someone who has worked on gender-based violence issues for two decades, I am proud to join such a powerful group of women to shine a light on the challenges facing survivors of domestic violence–not just during this pandemic but every day.” Together for Her is giving women a voice and uniting them in the face of difficulty.

Moving Forward

COVID-19 has affected lives around the world but has hit some groups harder than others, especially women. Global lockdowns have greatly amplified the issues of period poverty and domestic violence, and women and children are more vulnerable than ever. Fortunately, organizations are working to address the pandemic’s effects on women, supplying menstrual products and giving support to those who need it. Moving forward, it is essential that these efforts continue. Though times are hard, the persistence and dedication of the people behind these movements can prevail.

Alison Ding
Photo: Flickr