By Kamola Sobirova, head of the press service and adviser on information policy in Artel
The notion of gender equality is something new on the public agenda in Uzbekistan. The country has been going through changes in different spheres and the attitude toward women has been changing as well. Media and PR play a key role in creating a new image of women that meets the expectations of the modern world.
Professionalism does matter
For years gender issues were considered inessential in Uzbekistan, which is why almost all official statements on the topic were rhetorical. Women were forced to stay on the sideline of the Uzbek economy and public life.
Today everything has changed. Uzbekistan, once a closed country and inaccessible tourist destination, now seeks the status of a key player in international and regional relations. Thanks to economic achievements, the public agenda now includes issues such as human rights and the rights of women. Gender equality is no longer something initiated by the authorities for show; it’s now a new reality in the public sector, business and social areas.
The policy of the Uzbek state, which has changed dramatically, is a key factor in promoting this new reality in Uzbek society. However, business is a crucial part of this process. It’s a powerful driver of many changes in the country.
I used to work in the Women’s Committee of Uzbekistan when I received an offer to join Artel as head of the press service. The company took into account my work experience in the biggest women’s organization in the country. It was a nice surprise for me. Currently, the company’s top management wants me to organize informational support for gender equality programs and make Artel part of different social initiatives.
There are 9,000 employees in the company, about 30% of whom are women. Every department of Artel has been implementing programs aimed at supporting women in their careers with the company. Moreover, Artel adheres to compliance policy and does not judge employees by gender. The only criteria they all should meet is expertise.
Move beyond stereotypes
The strategy that Uzbek businesses have chosen is the best way to promote gender equality in Uzbek society. Unfortunately, gender stereotypes are extremely strong in Uzbekistan. Many still believe that women must cook and stay quiet. Some people even consider women as second-class citizens. That’s why there are so many cases of gender-based violence and discrimination in the country. During the pandemic, the situation even worsened.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan, over the period from January to October 2020, law enforcement officials gave protection orders to 8,430 people who suffered from gender-based violence, including 4,330 victims of physical abuse and 3,200 victims of psychological abuse. More than 7,600 cases are linked to abuse of women and girls in families. In 5,920 incidents, abusers were women’s husbands. And this is just official statistics. It’s not complete data because many women are reluctant to speak as they fear public shame or punishment from society and families.
In 2019 Uzbekistan adopted a law on the protection of women from harassment and abuse. However, because of the stereotypes, victims of domestic violence often have been persuaded to make an arrangement and not to call the police or appeal to a court. Sometimes women have no choice but to commit suicide.
To make this law a real basis to fight gender discrimination, we have to raise awareness; we have to talk to both women and mahalla committees, which are always in contact with families. To facilitate this process, Artel has decided to create a legal clinic based on the company’s legal department. The main idea of the clinic is to help female employees and all other women in need of legal assistance.
Over the last five years, the government has adopted more than 20 different laws in the area of gender equality. But to make them all work properly, people have to understand every aspect of the legislation. The legal clinic by Artel is going to fill this gap.
Example to follow
Education is the basis to promote gender equality ideas. Many girls in the country still avoid higher education after graduating from secondary school because they have been told by their families that their destiny is to be married.
However, our Uzbek women have always been full of initiative and energy. Today there are many bright success stories by our women who have shown that women can pursue careers and still adhere to Uzbek traditional family values, which are respect for men, respect for parents and raising children.
Recently in conjunction with the UNDP, the Ministry of People’s Education, IT Park and Kazakhstan’s project Wonder Woman Artel co-organized and sponsored the conference dubbed Women’s Capabilities in Modern Uzbekistan in Amity University, Tashkent.
Women who have succeeded in business, management and IT technologies along with men who are heads of big companies talked to students who attended the event about gender equality. They told youth how it’s possible to combine career and family as they have done personally. I think these examples might be good role models for girls to move forward in pursuing their life goals. It’s very important to talk to girls about all that stuff when they are young. It might be helpful for them to build these values and get to know how to bring harmony between profession and family in their lives. Artel is going to support such initiatives in the future.
Women at work
The company is engaged in different projects to support those women who are going through tough times. Our main efforts in these initiatives are focused on the new generation, which must promote gender equality in the future.
This summer we helped women in a remote village in the Jizzakh region and fixed their water supply problem. For many years, women had tried to find a solution but failed. We’ve done it in just several days. Curiously, one of the activists who participated in those endeavors was Khusnora Elmurodova, a schoolgirl who wants to be a journalist. She helped women with writing written requests and letters to local officials. Moreover, she wrote about the case on social media. Now the company is going to support the girl by organizing her visit to Tashkent and making a publication in the leading Uzbek edition.
In spring this year, we held a chess tournament dubbed Nulifar. The event was aimed at supporting eleven smart and talented girls from orphanages. We’ve paid for one year of studying at the Sky Chess school. For Artel, supporting orphan houses and boarding schools is another focus area in social policy. It is very important to help children from such facilities, especially girls because they need to know they are not alone.
The main idea of these initiatives by Artel is to show the role of a woman in the present and future Uzbekistan. We are going to do so via education, legal support and social protection of our female employees and fellow countrywomen. We want to show that any woman is a key participant in the economic and public life of our country. People should listen to her. Showing the gender policy adopted in Artel, we’ve proven that female leaders are normal in any company. They can make it both in day-to-day business activities and on a strategic level as well.
I believe that through this concept we will see in the future how Uzbek women can successfully combine respect for the best of our ethnic values with deep professional knowledge and the ability to think outside the box.