Uzbek state television has launched an attack on feminism and homosexuality, saying they don't belong in the predominantly Muslim Central Asian country.
In the 90-minute live program known as Munosabat (Attitude), the station -- which serves as a mouthpiece for the government -- targeted a social-media flash mob held by young Uzbek women who were protesting violence against women and domestic abuse.
The flash mob was organized in July after a 17-year-old girl was physically assaulted by a man as she walked her dog in a Ferghana city park. Police are investigating the incident.
The program's presenter, Quddus Azamov, and six guests -- three of them from the Defense Ministry -- failed to condemn the attack on the girl. Instead, they criticized the slogans used by the flash mob and the Western-style clothes worn by the women in it, unanimously describing them as a "shameful" display.
The women in the flash mob posted photos on social media of themselves holding banners with slogans such as "A Woman isn't an incubator"; "My body, my own business"; "A daughter-in-law is not a maid"; and "My shorts aren't an invitation to catcall."
The guests on the TV program were infuriated by the slogans, calling them a dangerous trend that leads to women not wanting to have children or respect their in-laws.
In traditional Uzbek families, new daughters-in-law are expected to do most of the family's housework and to bear children.
"The women should see it as being a maid of their own future...because they set an example for their own children," said Omonbek Botayorov, the head of the Defense Ministry's Department for Spirituality and Enlightenment and a guest on the program.
Fellow guest Jamila Shermuhammedova from the Marifat (Enlightenment) society said feminism was being taken to a new level that will ultimately undermine the man's traditional role in the family.
Some Uzbek women "no longer want to breastfeed their babies" and "even hire babysitters" instead of raising their children themselves, she said.
Shermuhammedova and others criticized the women for holding banners written in Russian as yet another sign of young Uzbeks' disrespect for their own mother tongue and culture in general.
They also agreed that one banner -- "My body, my own business" -- literally meant "selling one's body" and therefore promoted prostitution.
How To Spot Homosexuals
While the main focus of the program was to attack the flash mob, the guests also warned against the dangers of same-sex marriages and gender-reassignment surgery, with some transgender people "having already come to Russia."
They urged young Uzbeks not to fall under the influence of homosexuals and to not copy -- intentionally or inadvertently – "gay people's fashion."
According to the TV guests, gay men display styles that signal their sexual orientation. For example, they wear very short or no socks and shave the hair on their temples. "This is how gay people in Europe recognize each other," said Mansur Musaev, an official from the Department of Spirituality and Enlightenment.
Shermuhammedova boasted that she had once shamed two young Uzbek twins who had such a hairstyle. She said she stopped them -- complete strangers -- on the street and asked if they knew "what their hairstyles meant."
Program host Azamov, meanwhile, said he found it difficult to “"even pronounce the dirty word 'lesbian.'"
'Fight Before It's Too Late'
The TV guests suggested taking certain measures to fight the threats of the cultural and spiritual "virus" that they claimed were more dangerous to Uzbekistan than the COVID-19 pandemic.
The flash mob and feminist campaigns were organized by certain forces from abroad, the guests insisted. "There are invisible, powerful forces behind it," they warned, without naming any person, group, or country.
Shermuhammedova and Botayorov repeatedly spoke about the need to adopt an unspecified "law" to fight these threats to Uzbek society, mentality, and moral values. Shermuhammedova also called for the "monitoring of families" to ensure parents are meeting their responsibilities in raising their children.
They all said that it was a "historic moment" to fight these threats before they ultimately destroy society. "If we don't stop it, our future will be ruined. Our children will no longer listen to us, they will tell us, 'I'm a grown-up person now,'" veteran actor Yodgor Sadiev said.
"We still have time," he said. "We must preserve our Uzbek traditions, our nation's wisdom."
While the Munosabat program resulted in some angry criticism on social media sites, it appears that the majority of Uzbeks remain wary of the "cultural influence" of the West.
Uzbek society remains very strictly family-oriented, with traditional, well-defined roles for men and women.
Uzbek women enjoy equal rights to work and study, but at home are expected to adhere to their traditional role of obeying their husbands and in-laws, doing housework, and taking care of the children.
In Uzbekistan, homosexuality among men is still defined in the legal code as a criminal offense punishable by up to three years in prison.
Same-sex relations among women are not mentioned in the law.