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Uzbekistan: Women Adjust To New Economic, Health Realities

  • Adolat Najimova

Prague, 10 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- For women in Uzbekistan, as in neighboring Central Asian countries, the reality of living in a post-Soviet world takes on special burdens.

Uzbek women's health and economic status has suffered in the transition to a market economy, and women from the countryside are most susceptible to the changes. According to a recent survey conducted in Uzbekistan's Fergana valley region, 96 percent of private enterprises, many of which are run by women, stopped their activities due to a shortage of money or credit.

Uzbek businesswoman Dildora Alimbekova is one of the few new female entrepreneurs who's managed to succeed in business despite economic obstacles. In 1991, Alimbekova and several other women opened the Uzbekistan Business Women's Association. Alimbekova says the main goal of forming the association was to educate women.

"Many women just don't know how to run a business properly since nobody taught them, Alimbekova said.

The association provides training programs and legal assistance for female entrepreneurs in Britain, Germany, Italy and the United States, as well as Uzbekistan.

Alimbekova says the problems business people face in Uzbekistan are not sex related. At the same time, she says that as a female, she occasionally feels distrust from city authorities and local banks when she applies for credits and loans.

Alimbekova says the discrimination doesn't make sense since in most Uzbek families, the woman takes care of budgeting and management.

"If you consider a country as a big family, then it would be smart to trust women more," she said.

Alimbekova's association is only one of a growing number of Uzbek non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Groups like the Women's Resource Center, Mercy Society and Sabr Crisis Center provide legal assistance and educate women on their fundamental rights through seminars, lectures and meetings with local female leaders. Most NGOs have started their programs with grants from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The chairperson of the Women's Resource Center, Marfua Tokhtahojaeva, says the center helps women use their intellectual resources to work toward new political, economic and social positions in Uzbekistan. She says the center's main goal is to strengthen women's independence and make them more active and vocal members of society.

The center arranges roundtable discussions and meetings with women on topics like: "Women And Their Rights," "Women, Traditions and Laws," and "Women and Society." The center also produces surveys on the political, economic and social status of Uzbek women for international organizations like the United Nations (UN).

Tokhtahojaeva also uses the center's resources to analyze the current status of Uzbek and Central Asian women. Two books have resulted from her research -- "Between Slogans of Communism and Laws of Islam." and "Daughters of Amazons. Voices from Asia."

Like the Women's Resource Center, Mercy Society educates women on their rights but also tackles health and family education. Chairperson Naima Kholmuhamedova says legal seminars focus on documents like the "Universal Declaration on Human Rights " and UN declarations against discrimination. The society also arranges meetings with women on how to protect and improve their health status.

And in the ancient Silk Road city of Samarkand, the Women's Crisis Center "Sabr" (Patience) provides both legal and moral support for local women. The center's telephone hot lines and professional counseling services assist women who face personal and family problems. USAID representative to Uzbekistan David Mandel told RFE/RL that the center, which started its operations with a USAID grant, is designed to help women who become victims of domestic violence.

"Sometimes women, due to different reasons, become very unhappy and commit suicide. The center is an effort to help these women deal with their problems in a better way than killing themselves," Mandel said.

Sabr chairperson Mavluda Shirinova says that many young women call the center to get advice from psychologists and other experts on sex and family-related matters. She says women who are facing problems in their relationships with their husbands, children and mothers-in-law often visit the center to consult with experts.

"Our center guarantees privacy of our clients and visitors. Our main goal is just to help women who get into complicated situations," Shirinova said.

In May, the Sabr center along with 50 other organizations from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, received a grant from the United States and the European Union (EU) for its efforts in promoting democracy and a civil society.