The following article was contributed by Akmal Saidov, director of the National Centre of the Republic of Uzbekistan for Human Rights, to the Korea Post media for publication.—ED.
Policies for gender equality have become a priority branch of state policy in Uzbekistan. The President of the country has duly noted that guaranteeing the rights, freedoms, legitimate interests of women will constitute the core of such policies along with strengthening the women’s role in public life and government work.
Recently, information on Uzbekistan’s experience in ensuring women’s rights and freedoms in the framework of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was disseminated to UN Member States as an official document of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly A/75/773.
In this regard, the experts of the UN and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) emphasize that the trends observed in Uzbekistan in this area are in line with the global processes of increasing the representation of women at the highest levels of government, eliminating gender inequality, increasing the number of women in parliament, government, and the judiciary.
Historical turn in the fight for gender equality came in January of 2021 when UN Women (the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls) and IPU’s annual report “Women in Parliament” announced that the global share of women in national parliaments accounted for more than a quarter - 25.5% - members of parliaments around the word. As for Uzbekistan, the country achieved higher goals in the aftermath of elections at the end of 2019 where 32% of the deputies of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis and 25% in the Senate were of the female gender.
According to this indicator, Uzbekistan is among the top 50 countries in the world (out of 190), ahead of almost all post-Soviet countries, and this indicates fundamentally new approaches and trends in the organization of the activities of the Uzbek parliament.
Enhancing the role and status of women, protecting and implementing their rights and freedoms
Within the framework of the implementation of the Action Strategy, as well as in order to organize consistent work on the implementation and achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals for the period up to 2030, Uzbekistan has developed nine targets aimed at ensuring gender equality and empowering all women and girls.
In accordance with the targets of the fifth UN SDG, by 2030, it is necessary to end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere, to ensure gender equality, the full and effective participation of women and equal opportunities for them to lead at all levels of decision-making in political, legal, socio-economic, cultural and humanitarian life. Besides, the SDGs provide for the most complete implementation of the principles of gender equality in the decision-making process of government programs at different levels of government.
In the New Uzbekistan work in fundamental role of women in social, political and business life of the country are carried out in the following directions.
Improving the legal framework for gender equality
To this day, Uzbekistan has adopted all major international treaties protecting legal, social, and economic rights and freedoms of women as well as protecting them from all forms of discrimination and harassment. Gender-oriented laws “On guarantees of equal rights and opportunities for women and men”, “On protection of women from harassment and violence”, “On protection of reproductive health of citizens”, “On Amendments and addenda to art. 15 of the Family Code”, “On Amendments to the Labor Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan” - on the removal of restrictions related to women's choice of previously prohibited forms of labor activity and other gender-asymmetric provisions of labor legislation. Experts from such UN entities as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the International Organization for Migration and the International Labour Organization also participated in their development.
More than 20 decrees and resolutions of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan and Government resolutions have also been adopted. A number of changes and additions have been made to strengthen efforts to prevent violence against women and domestic violence, and to combat outdated customs and practices. Mandatory gender-legal expertise of legislative acts has been introduced in practice, aimed at eliminating the inconsistency of the provisions of normative legal acts with the principles of gender equality, identifying possible risks of a discriminatory nature in the process of their application.
In this regard, Natalia Gherman, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Central Asia, the Head of the UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia noted that the international community positively assesses Uzbekistan's efforts in the field of gender equality. The adoption and implementation of these laws contributes to an increase in the proportion of women to 33% in managerial positions and 45% in the total working-age population. This also shows a noticeable increase in the representation of women politicians and women leaders in all spheres, and the country's consistent progress towards achieving gender equality.
Strategy for achieving gender equality in the Republic of Uzbekistan until 2030 is being developed, aimed at ensuring equal rights and opportunities for women and men in all spheres, in public life, in the process of socio-economic reforms being implemented in the country. Alanna Armitage, Director of UNFPA’s Regional Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia stressed that as a result of the implementation of this Strategy, “more women leaders will appear in Uzbekistan, and urbanization will take place in a sustainable manner. Sustainable socio-economic development will be ensured, new opportunities will be created, especially for young girls who will become current and future great leaders, and their full potential will be realized, and a healthy lifestyle culture will be formed in society”.
The field of gender equality has been the focus of continuous measures with the aim of improving the role of the Parliament to better the legislation and law enforcement:
Firstly, a Commission on Gender Equality has been established under the leadership of the Chairperson of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis (Parliament);
Secondly, the Upper House of Parliament has established a Committee on Women and Gender Equality, whose main task is to develop proposals for the implementation of State policies aimed at ensuring gender equality, improving legislation and exercising parliamentary control in this area. The Committee monitors the implementation of legislation in this area. Effective parliamentary control is exercised over increasing the role of women in society, ensuring gender equality, women's rights, freedoms and legitimate interests, solving their problems, preparing girls for adulthood, supporting women in difficult social situations, as well as promoting their employment, and developing the sphere of culture and art. It has become a practice to regularly hear reports from the heads of responsible departments on these issues;
Thirdly, a systematic work of the Parliamentary Commission on Monitoring the Implementation of the National Sustainable Development Goals and Targets for the period up to 2030 has been organized, where the fifth goal is dedicated to achieving gender equality. Its main tasks include monitoring the implementation of legislation, conducting a critical analysis of the development of those areas that are included in the National Sustainable Development Goals, carrying out parliamentary and public control over the implementation of the SDGs, preparing proposals for the development of draft laws and other normative legal acts;
Fourthly, the Republican Public Council of Women, headed by the Chairperson of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis, has been established, one of the main tasks of which, along with the full support of women and girls, is to coordinate issues related to the implementation of the provisions of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the National Action Plan.
The public council is made up of female leaders who boast rich life experience and impeccable socio-psychological record. The women are very well-aware of the recurring problems of the society and are equipped with tools to deal with such issues that have been plaguing their compatriots. Agenda of the council is carried out by a team of gender equality enthusiasts led by mayor advisers on issues related to gender equality. Activities of the council is funded by republican and regional funds for the support of women which are transferred to the council;
Fifthly, the Ministry for the Support of the Neighborhoodand the Family has been established, one of the priorities of which is the comprehensive support of women, as well as the Fund for the Support of Women and the Family, designed to provide all possible support to women, to facilitate their participation in the organization of family and private entrepreneurship, handicrafts, and to gain knowledge and skills in professions in demand on the labor market;
Sixthly, the Federation of Trade Unions of Uzbekistan and the Ministry for the Support of the Neighborhood and the Family have established a special Republican Working group that studies and identifies women's life problems in all regions, organizes work to reduce poverty and improve the well-being of the population. To address them, a completely new system has been introduced – the “women's notebook”.
This makes it possible to determine more precisely who really needs help, and on this basis to organize targeted work with vulnerable segments of the population, as well as to provide them with more than 30 types of social services in electronic form. Through this system, 527 thousand people were employed. Only in the last 3 months, the Republican Commission has managed to solve the problems of 80 thousand women, 32 thousand of those who find themselves in a difficult life situation and need social support are provided with work. Systematic approach to solving issues related to specific layers and groups of population has born new mechanisms whereby problems and challenges of each woman is studied and resolved within the context of each neighborhood and each family.
Currently, the responsible departments, banks and town council, the newly established women’s advisory councils in the neighborhoods under the leadership of the Federation of Trade Unions, are thoroughly studying the problems of more than 6 million women through household rounds. Judging from the outcome of the research, database of women in need of help is updated and the process of looking for existing and newly discovered continues.
Overcoming the pandemic
Despite the negative impact of the global pandemic on all spheres of society and the state, especially on the economy and social sphere, 2020 was a turning point on ensuring women’s rights and freedoms. At the same time, Uzbekistan pays special attention to the following areas.
First, to expand the access of the population, especially women and children, to modern high-quality medical services and medicines. The principle formed by the President of the country, which states that taking care of the health of the mother and child is taking care of the whole society, of our future, is being implemented.
The international community recognizes Uzbekistan's experience in deep reform, creation and development of a high-quality healthcare system and pharmaceutical industry in the country, public health protection, and the formation of a healthy lifestyle culture in society, which makes it possible to ensure a successful fight against the pandemic.
In 2020, 14.8 trillion soums were allocated from the State Budget for the reform of the sphere — 1.2 times more than in 2019. Also, within the framework of the Investment Program, 1.15 trillion soums were allocated to the sphere, which allowed, despite the existing difficulties, to perform a great job. For the purpose of fighting against COVID-19 pandemic, all regions of the republic have been allocated medical and preventive institutions, quarantine zones and distribution centers equipped with the latest and the most effective technology on offer. Unprecedented measures have been implemented to mobilize the entire healthcare system, put it into emergency mode, provide it with the necessary medicines, modern protective equipment and diagnostic equipment, and train medical personnel.
Suraya Dalil, Director of the WHO Global Coordination Mechanism on the Prevention and Control of NCDs, said that WHO welcomes the efforts of the Government of Uzbekistan for its timely response to the pandemic, as well as its commitment to comprehensive health reform aimed at transforming the health system of Uzbekistan into a modern and highly effective system, implementing the principles of fairness and human orientation.
She highlighted the Government’s efforts to rapidly increase its investment in public health, disease surveillance, improving the capacity of laboratories to test and analyze data, information systems, risk awareness, and working with the public to empower individuals and families to better manage their health, as well as regulating product quality and healthy behaviors. Despite global shortage of medical personnel, Uzbekistan has been able to provide all citizens with professional medical service by training some of the best medical workers globally. The fact that majority of medical workers are females has meant that the country has been investing more heavily into the education of females than previously thought. As such the country has invested into improving employability of females.
Second, to ensure the employment of women, the allocation of loans for women entrepreneurs. In this area, a number of state programs are being implemented, in particular, “Every family is an entrepreneur”, “A Prosperous Village” and “A Prosperous Mahalla”, “Five Essential Initiatives”.
Commercial banks of the republic have opened special credit lines for women entrepreneurs. In recent years, concessional loans worth 7.4 trillion soums have been allocated to more than 327 thousand women for the development of women's entrepreneurship. In 2021, it is planned to allocate about 1.4 trillion soums to women entrepreneurs from the Fund for Reconstruction and Development of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
As a result, over the past four years, more than 620,200 women have been employed, and 106 thousand have been assisted in establishing private entrepreneurship. For example, in 2020, only within the framework of the “Every Family is an Entrepreneur” program, about 126 thousand people were granted preferential loans. Almost 215 thousand families have been allocated loans for the development of family entrepreneurship for a total of more than 6 trillion soums. Aspart of the implementation of Five important initiatives, sewing workshops were organized in remote areas, and ten thousand women were employed.
Third, systematic training in entrepreneurship and concessional lending to women entrepreneurs. In order to assist, women's entrepreneurship centers have been established in the regions, where in 2020 alone, more than 61,500 women were trained in short-term professional courses. As a result, despite the pandemic, the number of women entrepreneurs reached 172,700.
In 2021, more than one trillion soums will be allocated to support women's business projects and to solve their problems identified on the ground. To this end, the People’s Bank is introducing a new system of teaching women entrepreneurship, developing standard business plans for them and providing practical assistance in obtaining loans.
Fourth, the expansion of educational opportunities in need of social assistance. In particular, in 2020, 950 girls from low-income families were admitted to daytime departments of higher educational institutions of Uzbekistan on the basis of a state grant. In 2021, the number of quotas will exceed two thousand.
Fifth, the provision of housing for women in difficult circumstances and girls who are dependent on single mothers. In 2020 alone, 1,250 women who found themselves in a difficult life situation were paid initial contributions for the purchase of housing in the amount of almost 22 billion soums. In 2021, 210 billion soums will be allocated from the State Budget, as well as an additional 211 billion soums to provide women with social housing on a rental basis. Provided statistics is working proof the principle coined by the President of Uzbekistan that no female shall remain without the attention or care of the state and society.
Sixth, strengthening measures to prevent various forms of violence against women. In accordance with the Presidential decree “On measures to improve the system of social rehabilitation and adaptation, as well as the prevention of family and domestic violence” of July 2, 2018, rehabilitation and adaptation centers were established in 190 cities and districts. Their main tasks are to provide emergency medical, psychological, social, pedagogical, legal and other assistance to persons who find themselves in a difficult social situation, faced with family problems and domestic violence.
With the aim of financially supporting these centers, the Fund for Women and Family Support allocated 981.6 million soums in 2020 alone. In addition, the Public Fund under the Parliament allocated state grants of 461 million soums to 15 organizations for the implementation of projects to combat violence and harassment against women and girls.
So as to protect victims of domestic violence, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted a resolution “On measures to improve the system of protection of women from harassment and violence” dated January 4, 2020. The regulations “On the procedure for issuing protective orders to women who have been subjected to harassment and violence, ensuring their execution, monitoring” and “On the procedure for persons who have committed or have a tendency to exert pressure and violence, programs to correct their behavior” were approved. Among the main tasks of the correctional program:
• prevention of violence against women;
• addressing the causes and conditions that contribute to this;
• identification and correction of latent (hidden) forms of violence;
• conducting individual (or in the form of groups) awareness-raising activities with perpetrators of violence, and others.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs has created 360 positions of female inspectors to work with women who need legal and social assistance. To provide prompt and high-quality support to women affected by harassment and violence, standard operating procedures for joint response to gender-based violence have been developed and implemented for law enforcement agencies, health workers, and social and psychological workers.
Seventh, to raise public awareness of gender equality and women’s rights, and to train responsible persons on the basis of relevant legal norms to ensure their implementation in the practice of the application of the law.
Development of international cooperation
Uzbekistan is developing cooperation with the UN treaty bodies in the field of the advancement of women and their empowerment in accordance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, as well as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Our country periodically submits information to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the implementation of its obligations in this area. In particular, in 2019, the Sixth periodic report of Uzbekistan on the implementation of the provisions of the convention was considered. As a result of their consideration, a “roadmap” has been prepared and is being applied to implement the relevant comments and proposals of UN international experts, who also noted many positive changes, progress made in changing the role and status of women in the political, socio-economic and cultural spheres of society.
Uzbekistan has resumed the practice of inviting UN Special Rapporteurs in various areas of human rights to the country. Thus, Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers gave a generally positive assessment of the reforms implemented in Uzbekistan in the judicial sphere, ensuring the independence of judges and making fair judicial decisions, and put forward recommendations:
First, greater attention in judicial acts to gender issues, the situation of women and children, recognizing the urgency of appeals to the court for the provision of protective measures received from representatives of these groups;
Second, increasing the representation of women in the justice system, integrating a gender perspective in the selection and appointment of judges, and taking concrete measures to achieve gender equality in the judiciary.
On February 24, 2020, UN Secretary-General António Guterres launched initiative Call for Action for Human Rights. Overriding message in Secretary-General’s address included strengthening civil society, guaranteeing gender equality, equal participation rights for both genders in political, social, and economic life of the society and enjoying the right of freedom of information.
In his address at the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council, the head of our state elaborated on the priorities of deepening democratic transformations in the country, the main directions of Uzbekistan's work within the framework of the HRC, and outlined new ways to deepen cooperation between Uzbekistan and the UN in the field of achieving gender equality. In particular, the President initiated the organization of a meeting of the Dialogue of Women Leaders of Central Asian countries, as well as a Business Forum. Their implementation:
• will allow the exchange of best experience and practice in the field of empowering women, creating conditions for ensuring their decent employment and business development, preventing any form of violence against women, and also contributes to strengthening interaction in this area at the international and regional levels;
• will increase the level of development of women's entrepreneurship on a regional and global scale.
To summarize, all measures taken by the government of Uzbekistan is focused on providing the best conditions to live and prosper to 17 million females living in the country.