Staunton, March 7 — One of the most positive aspects of the enormous number of holidays post-Soviet states have is that in advance of them journalists often focus on important issues that they otherwise neglect. March 8 is international women’s day, and in the region, many are writing about the status of women.
Two articles this past week, very much part of this pattern, deserve attention. One notes that discrimination against women remains very high in Uzbekistan as it does in many other countries. And another, still more disturbing, new studies show that violence against women along with such violence accepted as legitimate is a major problem in the South Caucasus.
The article on Fergananews.com points out that March 8, International Women’s Day, has been transformed in Uzbekistan from its original purpose of promoting women’s rights into an occasion for the state to pay attention to women at least one day a year and celebrate what it has supposedly done for them.
Tashkent’s record is not good. Although the Uzbekistan constitution asserts that men and women have equal rights, that is not the case, it points out. Since 1991, there has been only one woman minister, and there is not a single woman heading an oblast, city or district at the present time.
As a result, and despite the existence of female deputy heads at many levels who are supposedly responsible for promoting women’s equality, the Uzbekistan government now does little to challenge and often actively helps the prevailing patriarchal male-dominated culture of that Central Asian country.
For example, women under 35 who wish to travel abroad must get the notarized approval of a husband or other relatives before they are allowed to do so. Tashkent says this is to prevent human trafficking, but the implication of this is that all young women are viewed as potential prostitutes and their male relatives are viewed as the only ones who can stop them.
Much of the government’s discriminatory treatment of women is superficially gender neutral, Fergananews.com reports. That is, categories of jobs traditionally held largely or even exclusively by men are given special benefits, while those traditionally held largely or even exclusively by women are not.
But there are quite obvious ways in which the Uzbekistan authorities mistreat women: Most of those forced to harvest cotton are women, given the pictures of the happy workers Tashkent television always shows. And more disturbingly, only women are subject to forced sterilization, sometimes without even being told they are “being subjected to this procedure.”
The situation in the three countries of the South Caucasus is also discouraging, according to the Social Science in the South Caucasus website. Domestic violence is widespread: with one in 11 married women in Georgia now a victim of physical domestic violence, something 78 percent of Georgian women say should be handed privately, and at least 25 killed by their husbands or partners last year.
In Armenia, the situation is also bad. That country still does not have any laws against domestic violence – Azerbaijan and Georgia both do — and Amnesty International reported in 2008 that as many as 25 percent of Armenian women have been victims of physical violence from their husbands, partners, or other family members.
Meanwhile, in Azerbaijan, as the Council of Europe reported a year ago, 83 women were killed as a result of domestic violence and another 98 committed suicide after being subjected to it. As a result, CRRC-Azerbaijan, in a project funded by Sweden, conducted a survey on attitudes of various groups there about violence toward women.
Those surveyed were asked whether and to what extent they agreed with two statements: “’There are times when women deserve to be beaten’” and “’Women should tolerate violence in order to keep their families together.’” The results have now been tabulated, and they are frightening.
Twenty-two percent of Azerbaijanis say that they agree with the notion that there are times when women should be beaten, with a total of 40 percent indicating that they believe women should tolerate violence to keep their families together. Not surprisingly, men are more inclined than women to make such declarations, by 13 percent regarding the first and by nine percent in the second.
But what should be of particular concern because of the larger problems it reflects, the CRRC-Azerbaijan report says 16 percent of Azerbaijani women believe there are times when women should be beaten and –more worrisome still– 36 percent of women believe they should tolerate such abuse in order to keep families together.
Again, as one might expect, the study found that such attitudes were more common in rural areas than in urban ones, more widespread among the poor than among those better off, and more often found among those with relatively little education than among those with university degrees.