WLP Partner Spotlight: Marfua Tokhtakhodzhaeva's New Book

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November 11, 2007

The Re-Islamization of Society and the Position of Women in Post-Soviet Uzbekistan

Marfua Tokhtakhodzhaeva BookMarfua Tokhtakhodzhaeva is the co-Founder of the Women's Resource Centre (WRC) of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, a WLP partner organization, before authorities closed it down in 2005 as a result of a government crackdown on civil society organizations. Ms. Tokhtakhodzhaeva remains actively involved in coordinating women's empowerment and leadership trainings with various organizations in the region. She has written a new book entitled The Re-Islamization of Society and the Position of Women in Post-Soviet Uzbekistan, examining the socio-political and religious shifts the country has undergone in the last twenty years. Ms. Tokhtakhodzhaeva focuses on the position of women in the Soviet era prior to the country's independence in 1991 compared to post-independence when the country began to re-introduce the customs and norms of Islam. Ms. Tokhtakhodzhaeva emphasizes that life in Uzbekistan has always seen a balance of good and bad in each era. Ms. Tokhtakhodzhaeva met with Program Associate, Christina Halstead, at the Women's Learning Partnership to talk about her book.

WLP: How has the book contributed to the discourse on women’s position in post-Soviet Uzbekistan?

Marfua TokhtakhodzhaevaTokhtakhodzhaeva: "When my book was published, there were many people that were surprised that it is possible to talk about the problems of the country. I only have a few Russian copies left because of the unexpected demand for this book ... People read this book and it helps them analyze the problems of Uzbekistan within a historical context. But, for the most part, women do not have the opportunity to talk about these problems ... Women said, ‘yes, we understand that you write about the situation in Uzbekistan, but we still live in a situation where women should be submissive to the Uzbek rituals and traditions because if we do not maintain our tradition, it will be bad for our children, their history will become foreign to them’ ... This is understandable, but we cannot be passive in our attempts to create change. For many people the book was an opportunity to see the lives of Uzbek women through our own eyes. And in response, some women’s organizations have tried to generate change; they began talking about the traditions which discriminate against women. For example, women’s groups began monitoring the divorce process where women have experienced discrimination. Other women’s organizations distribute information about polygamy and early marriage. The book has been useful in giving women an opportunity to be active in discussing problems of religion, tradition and rights within the context of Uzbek society."

WLP: Has there been any criticism of the book?

Tokhtakhodzhaeva: "Yes, the government of my country criticizes the book. They say that I write about Islam and I do not have education in Islam. But I used all the material that was published, information from the newspaper, and so on. Some people say that I write about the Soviet time as being a good time. I don’t say that Soviet times were good times. I talk about Soviet time as part of our history because after independence Soviet history and the access to it and knowledge of it became closed. In Soviet time there was a struggle with religion on one side and with the emancipation of women on the other side. In Soviet time, emancipation of women was progressive but after independence, the emancipation of women regressed because it was seen as destroying our tradition and promoting violence. But the policy of emancipation gave many women access to education and self dignity. It is impossible to say that all of Soviet time was bad or all was good. After independence, it was said that all was bad. It was life. There was a balance. Some things were good and some things were bad..."

To order a copy of the book, click here.

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