Польза's blog | MIT Center for Civic Media

Project on women's activism in Uzbekistan. Where to start?

As I was thinking about an introduction to my project on women’s activism in Uzbekistan, I figured that placing it in a historical perspective would be an appropriate first step. For this research I have used the materials from the following books: “The New Woman of Uzbekistan” Islam, Modernity, and Unveiling Communism by Marianne Kamp, “Post-Soviet Women Encountering Transition” Nation Building, Economic Survival, and Civic Activism” by Kathleen Kuehnast and Carol Nechemias, and “Gender and Identity Construction” Women in Central Asia, the Caucasus and Turkey edited by Feride Acar and Gunes-Ayata.

While doing this research I saw that Uzbek history describes numerous instances of women’s activism and efforts to promote it. I see the value of these examples in that they reveal the potential on the part of women to take on active citizen roles in the social sphere despite coming from the society with long-standing patriarchal values.

Project proposal: Women's activism in Uzbekistan


Members of an unveiled club at the Bukhara district Women's Division (Soviet Uzbekistan, 1928).

The social role of an Uzbek woman is frequently defined within the context of patriarchal values and is considered secondary and inferior to that of men. Major media outlets censored and produced under the government authority, propagate a traditional female ideal – a good mother and wife contained within the private domestic sphere and guided primarily by family values, rather than career ambitions in the professional sphere. While such view of women does widely reflect reality in Uzbekistan, it becomes too easy to be blinded by it and overlook some important localized activist efforts on the part of women. Women’s activism in Uzbekistan does take place and it has been driven by individual female activists’ work, as well as collective women’s protests organized for different reasons at different points in history of independent Uzbekistan.

Delivering inspiring narratives from all over the world: theory of change

My original idea was to write a paper analyzing what makes civic movements that employ media and originate from repressed communities possible and successful. The intended goal of the project would be to give me and others a clue about what kind of conditions help enthusiasm to bring about change within a community be actualized through collective effort. The discovered conditions could then be related to other communities to see if this particular experience or some parts of it can be applied in a different context. The ultimate goal was inspiration for action. Yet, the more I thought about this, the more I doubted that I could come up with specific enough “how to” conclusion that could be universally applied to other environments. An academic paper or case study would not be relatable to audience from different places and communities, it would not inspire them.

The use of media and culture in the face of oppression

A possible idea for my project in this class is a case study of how media and culture can be successfully employed by people in the face of some form of oppression and, more importantly, what factors make this victory possible. As I was trying to recall examples that could possibly fit such scenario, I thought of the documentary “Favela Rising” that shows how in the slum areas of Rio de Janeiro, under oppression of criminal gangs, amidst drug-trafficking and corruption, there emerged an Afro-Reggae group that managed to create a community and divert many young people from the very common and profitable path of a drug dealer. The movement started “as a non-profit newspaper for black culture and the communities of the favelas”.

Digital divide and inequality in Uzbekistan

Some parts of the world have already moved on from solving the problems of digital divide of ‘have’ and ‘have-nots’ to solving problems of digital inequality. Uzbekistan, however, is a place where both digital divide and inequality are still evident, with purposefully constructed limitations like censorship and surveillance on top of that. Any politically sensitive material about human rights and the government including news-websites outside of government control are blocked. Reporters Without Borders have listed Uzbekistan as one of the world’s internet black holes along with Burma and North Korea.

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