Archive for the ‘Anastasia Kocher’ Category

I had a truly amazing experience as a 2012 University Honors Scholar. With the assistance and guidance of a talented faculty mentor, I was able to conduct meaningful research in my area of interest. I learned how to extract information from various scholarly sources, analyze and organize my information into a formal Honors Capstone paper, and present my major findings to a small group of students and a large, public audience. This experience helped me to develop a unique set of skills. On the one hand, I learned how to condense my information into a five-minute presentation, conveying only the most critical points of my research. On the other hand, I learned how to stay enthusiastic, motivated, and intellectually attentive during my formal University Honors Scholar research presentation that lasted for 30 minutes.

Additionally, I had an opportunity to present my project at NIU’s fourth annual Undergraduate Research & Artistry Day. My participation in this highly competitive event helped me prepare for the subsequent University Honors Scholars presentation, which occurred a few days later. This event also gave me a chance to meet other bright and motivated students from all disciplines, who were eager to enhance their learning experience through different academic opportunities offered by the University Honors Program.

Kolsai mountain lakeI felt highly privileged to hold the title “University Honors Summer Scholar” and the prestigious title “University Honors Scholar” during my senior year. The project was a challenge, but it was a challenge worth taking! The time dedicated to my summer research and my effort in writing the Honors Capstone during the spring semester has helped me develop time management skills and define my substantive ideas and professional interests.  This project also helped me discover and develop abilities that will allow me to make future contributions to a global society.

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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.

 

My faculty mentor for the University Honors Summer Scholars Program is Dr. Kikue Hamayotsu. Dr.  Hamayotsu is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northern Illinois University (NIU). She is a native of Japan and a specialist in comparative politics. Her specific research and teaching interests are extensive. They include religion and politics, political Islam, Southeast Asian politics, democratization, state formation and bureaucracy, identity politics, politics and development in the Muslim World, political violence, and Ethnic Conflict.  In 2011, she was appointed a Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute (ARI). ARI is located at the National University of Singapore. Dr. Hamayotsu’s research in Singapore has focused on religious intolerance and the quality of democracy in Muslim Southeast Asia. She has also published a number of scholarly journal articles and book chapters. I chose Dr. Hamayotsu as my mentor, because I enjoyed her Political Violence course. In her classes, she amazed me with her inexhaustible energy and her shining personality. She possesses great knowledge and experience in areas that pertain to my current study. Dr.  Hamayotsu has offered me valuable guidance in my research project and demonstrated a sincere desire to assist me with any challenges along the way.

I have also asked Dr. Michael Clarke to assist me given the value that these mentoring relationships provide me. Like Dr. Hamayotsu, Professor Clark is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and a specialist in comparative politics. He has worked with several students in the NIU’s University Honors Program, most notably the University’s 2011-2012 Student Lincoln Laureate, Nora Lindvall, who wrote her Honors Capstone under his direction. Impressively, Nora has received a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Amsterdam with the goal of earning a Master’s degree in Conflict Resolution.  Dr. Clark has been teaching at NIU since 2008. He offers undergraduate courses in Western European politics, British politics, research methods, and comparative politics. He has published his research in the American Journal of Political Science, the British Journal of Political Science, Electoral Studies, Party Politics, and Comparative Political Studies. Professor Michael Clark is honest, knowledgeable, patient, and enthusiastic. He is a great listener, and someone who guides you in the right direction by posing a number of challenging questions. Dr. Clark provides insightful feedback and has a good sense of humor.  He is personable and immediately made me feel very comfortable. He is inspired by Winston Churchill for keeping Britain together during World War II and standing up to Nazi aggression.  I admire Churchill’s speeches as well.

Both of my faculty mentors are smart, experienced, and always have my best interest at heart. I am grateful to NIU for providing me such an excellent selection of scholars to assist me with my challenging research project.

As a Political Science major with an emphasis in International Politics, my primary focus rests with the countries of Central Asia. For the first 22 years of my life, I lived in Russia where I came to encounter people of many different nationalities, including Central Asians, who were compelled to assimilate to a Russian-centric society under Soviet rule. My former home-city of Omsk is near Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which allowed me to travel to those places and admire their cultures. I also went to school with children of Kazakh, Tajik, Uzbek, and Kirgiz families; and many of my neighbors and my friends were Central Asians. Their generosity, enduring spirit, and cultural uniqueness won my heart.

My project seeks to understand the changes that have taken place since the political independence of the Central Asian region in the early 1990’s, including national leaders’ encouragement of traditional roles for women and the resulting gender gaps in almost all spheres of life. I understand that I cannot solve the world’s problems, but I feel morally obligated to relieve the suffering of women wherever it exists.   I feel true compassion and personal responsibility to those who do not have a voice.  I believe that all women have certain inalienable rights that cannot be legitimately withheld under the façade of religious or cultural “laws” or “traditions.” It has long been recognized that ensuring women’s human rights is essential to a society’s overall growth and development. The United States is founded on democratic principles. However, I have witnessed that the United States often chooses to assist particular countries based on its national security interests rather than concern for the individual rights and liberties of people living in those countries. In my opinion, the lack of adequate American support and tangible actions on behalf of women in Central Asia constitute a human rights violation.

Living in a democracy for the last 10 years has made me appreciate liberties that I did not enjoy in my homeland. It also afforded me the capacity to care about others, and the strength to make a difference. I would like to dedicate the rest of my life to seeking universal equality and to fight women oppression, starting with an improvement of conditions for women in Central Asia.

In the words of one of the greatest cellists of all-time, Pablo Casals:Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts on it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most. It is not complicated, but it takes courage. It takes courage for a person to listen to his own goodness and act on it.” My study on the status of women in contemporary Central Asia is motivated by this inspiring perspective.

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.