Posted: October 11, 2012 in Anastasia Kocher

In the course of my research this summer, I had the opportunity to speak with a professor from Kazakhstan, who had just obtained her Ph.D. from Rutgers University. She serves as an Assistant Professor in the Department of International Relations at KIMEP University (Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics, and Strategic Research). From our telephone conversation, I deduced that Western views on women’s issues do not always reflect the perspectives in other cultures. This reality is particularly true when it comes to the views of Kazakh women.  According to the professor, women in the Kazakhstan region are relatively content with their present situation and, in some cases, would prefer to remain in their traditional roles.

I also became aware that even though the countries of Central Asia attained their independence in December of 1991, it is impossible to neglect the continued influence of the Soviet legacy in this region. At the same time, I uncovered one obvious exception to the Soviet way of doing things. The ruling elites in these countries treat women differently relative to their Soviet counterparts.  This discovery shocked my “Westernized mentality.” 

During the Soviet era, women benefitted from quotas that endorsed gender equality in the workforce. They also enjoyed protection from religious practices such as polygamy in Uzbekistan, or being forced to wear traditional Muslim attire covering the entire body; family-based discriminatory practices, such as newlywed women becoming the sole providers for their own family and their in-laws’ families; and servitude-like conditions within the home as a result of family customs and traditions. 

All this information made me realize that the challenge I face in my research is beyond the mere understanding of the deterioration of women’s rights in Central Asia. It is a journey to make women aware that under the veil of returning to the former practices, which countries were deprived of by the Soviet Empire, stands a simple desire of men, once again to control, dominate, and veil their women. Almost everything that was prohibited during the Soviet era has been renewed and encouraged by the region’s government on the grounds of returning their countries to their longstanding traditions, of which they were forcefully deprived.  Furthermore, I recognized through my preliminary research that analyses of international treaties or legal records related to women’s empowerment would not be enough to understand the real situation inside these states. The ultimate test lays is gaining an accurate and more contextualized understanding of women’s perspectives on their rights in Central Asia.

 

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