23 January 2023
We cannot turn a blind eye to violence
For 16 days every year, starting on November 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, until December 10, Human Rights Day, the UN comes together with international partners, civil society organizations and communities around the world to join the ‘16 Days’ campaign to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls. To mark this year’s campaign and raise awareness of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in Uzbekistan, our UN country team interviewed a local activist and University Professor Kamola Alieva, who, after teaching law for over 10 years, established a grassroots student volunteering group to help tackle GBV in her community. The hallways of the Tashkent State University of Law (TSUL) are noisy as usual. But as soon as the university radio announces that the classes are about to begin, the scene changes – the noise quiets down and the crowd hurries toward the lecture hall where Associate Professor Kamola Alieva is about to start her morning lecture on Constitutional Law. Kamola has been teaching at TSUL already for over a decade. Teaching for her is not just about creating future Uzbek lawyers, it also gives her the opportunity to meet and interact with different people and to conduct her research. "Besides teaching, I have been researching subjects like violence against women, domestic violence, and harassment in the workplace. I have been doing this for several years now,” Kamola says. “I also regularly share my thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The point is It is important to me to openly talk about the problem of violence and the gender stereotypes which reinforce this very culture of violence. Yes, gender-based violence, unfortunately, does exist, and we cannot just turn a blind eye to it." 'Together we become stronger' A little over a year ago, Kamola founded a student volunteering group. To help advocate against gender-based violence and to spread the word about harmful gender stereotypes, the students created a series of short videos, which they later posted over social media. One of their videos, which staged a scene of a women being harassed on a busy Tashkent street and filmed the reactions from onlookers, received a particularly strong response from viewers. The clip got over 800,000 views and spiked a heated discussion in the comments section. Encouraged by the result, the team is now actively working on new content. "We can't completely eradicate violence and inequality, but we can – and should – change people's attitude towards it. For example, the more people see domestic violence as a social problem, the more likely they and the society as a whole will be willing to get to the root of the problem. It is important to carry out educational and advocacy work, and it is crucial to engage young people in it. I founded the volunteer group with this thought in mind, and now I see that more and more students are willing to join us,” – shares Kamola. “After all, together we become stronger". According to the Uzbek Interior Ministry, as of October 2022, 32,783 women and girls who had been subjected to harassment and violence received protection orders. “I often get messages from women and girls from different parts of Uzbekistan. They ask me for help and share photo- and video-proofs of them being abused. If I can't assist them, I redirect their appeals to the authorities. It is heartbreaking to read these messages and see women and girls suffering,” Kamola continues. “You know, it's as if I'm sharing the pain with them. Here we have a saying – ‘There is no such thing as someone else’s pain’. And I believe so too.” 'Someone’s ray of hope', or 'Do I really need to be doing this?' In 2021, Kamola gave an interview to one of Uzbekistan’s most popular media outlets, in which she argued that society still sees violence against women as a private family matter. She explained why this attitude must change. "After the interview came out, I was barraged with criticism, insults, and threats. This was very unpleasant and psychologically difficult for me. I even asked myself, "Do I really need to be doing this?" After all, my both mental and physical well-being was at stake. Many of Kamola’s friends and colleagues, showed their support with her advocacy efforts and encouraged her to carry on. But there were also those who tried to convince her to give it all up. "Until about 2016, I never thought we had a problem with domestic violence. But only because things like “gender equality” or “domestic violence” were never mentioned anywhere or spoken about. We grew up in a society where domestic violence was seen as a private family matter. Social pressure dictated that we have to stay meek and humble. And eventually, we just stopped resisting." Despite many hurdles, Kamola managed to stay motivated and carry on the fight. "My motivation came back when I realized, how many more people I could educate and help reduce gender-based violence. But the most moving moment was when I received a message from a woman who wrote: ‘You may be someone’s only ray of hope in the darkness. Please, don't give up’." 16 days and counting Each year on November 25, the "16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence" campaign kicks off all over the world. For Kamola Alieva, these 16 days are an important opportunity to shine a light on GBV issues in her own community, and mobilize action and support to end all forms of GBV in Uzbekistan. This year the UN Team in Uzbekistan together with its national partners, international organizations, and NGOs are planning several dozens of events and activities in support of “The 16 Days”. The key events include discussions on the promotion of gender equality (UNDP), the launch of the "Gender Equality in the Workplace" report (UNFPA), a ceremony to mark the completion of the educational program aiming to equip girls (including girls with disabilities) with digital skills (UNICEF). Among other planned events are a series of meetings with students of the Academy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan (UNODC) and discussions on the gender strategy to be adopted by the State Committee of Forestry of Uzbekistan (FAO).