Women’s Rights in Central Asia

Posted: July 23, 2012 in Anastasia Kocher

The existence of the Central Asian region dates back to the days of Genghis Khan and Khan Tamerlane. Their conquests and triumphs from the 13th to the 15th centuries provided them power and influence over a large territory, yet very little is known about this part of the world.  Presently, Central Asia is comprised of five countries: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kirgizstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, which encompasses a vast area from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east and from Afghanistan in the south to Russia in the north.  My research project examines the status of women’s rights in Central Asian countries.  There is considerable academic research on women rights, equality, and representation in post-communist Eastern and Central Europe, but little scholarly work on the subject as it relates to Central Asia.

The five Central Asian states have all had difficult economic and societal transitions following their political independence in 1991 and face uncertain futures. This is especially true with regards to the significant issue of women’s rights. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, women began losing ground as traditional gender stereotypes returned to the newly independent countries of Central Asia. Without Soviet rule, women have found themselves increasingly unable to advocate for education, equitable working conditions, and political representation. Despite these setbacks, hope remains, as women continue to make progress in places such as Afghanistan, where an unprecedented number of women hold seats in the new parliament.

My study asks:  What role does the government play in shaping, defining, and legitimizing of women rights in Central Asia? I also examine the leaders of these countries and the political atmosphere of each independent republic. My primary concern is twofold.  I wish to evaluate the institutional, social, and cultural factors that have led to the regression of women’s rights.  In addition, I seek to identify particular cases and practices in which the presence or absence of governmental involvement suggests the deterioration of equal opportunities and the legitimate status of women. My study will examine the years, 1991 to 2012.

The countries of Central Asia have adopted numerous laws to protect women’s rights. In reality, however, such legislation has been enacted to please the international community.  No meaningful, practical measures have been taken to improve women’s rights. Women still disproportionately suffer lack of access to health care; they are subjected to considerable domestic violence; they are denied opportunities to work outside the home, or they endure unequal pay; and women often suffer unfair treatment before the law. Women’s empowerment, their leadership, education, engagement in economics, and equal representation are the keys to success for building equitable, sustainable growth; just, modern societies; and legitimate, well-functioning democracies. Such a transition will also improve the quality of life around the globe given women represent roughly half of the world’s population.

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