Uzbekistan: Women Driven to Despair

Uzbek women increasingly see suicide as the only way to end their suffering.

Uzbekistan: Women Driven to Despair

Uzbek women increasingly see suicide as the only way to end their suffering.

Suicides among Uzbek women have risen sharply this year, as they despair of escaping domestic violence and plummeting living standards.

Official statistics show that 322 have committed suicide during the first four months of 2002. Samarkand province alone has seen 20 women take their lives compared to 12 over the same period last year.

There have also been reports of desperate mothers killing their children before killing themselves.

Last February, Suraye Kholikova, 21, of Khishrau, Samarkand province, hanged her two daughters, aged one and two, and then killed herself. According to her father, she could no longer endure the frightful living conditions and the hardships she and her daughters faced in her husband's home.

Government officials say the spiralling suicide rate among Uzbek women is caused by mental, psychological and physical violence on the part of husbands and their parents. They deny that the economic crisis has had any impact on the figures.

Dilbar Guliamova, deputy premier of Uzbekistan, told a meeting on social security, maternity and childhood last month that "99 per cent of women who kill themselves are driven to it by domestic violence. Economic hardship has nothing to do with it. "

But the deputy premier was at pains to prevent public discussion of the issues raised at the meeting, ejecting an invited reporter who refused to turn off his recorder. "These are our internal matters," said Guliamova. "They are not for publication."

Human rights groups maintain that the widespread domestic violence experienced by women in Uzbekistan has its roots in the pressure they face from the government and its agencies.

A Human Rights Watch report, Uzbekistan: Family vs. Women, said, "In the name of 'family values', bureaucrats force women to stay in hostile, violent domestic environments. They ignore and, in effect, institutionalise domestic violence against women."

"Caught between a hostile and violent husband, his parents and an indifferent or conniving government, women have no other means of ending their suffering," the leader of an Uzbek gender issue group said.

In Uzbek culture, marriage provides essential status for a woman. Divorce is viewed as utter disgrace. The fear of being cast out by the community drives women into early wedlock and compels them to tolerate humiliation and physical violence from their husbands.

If a woman so much as complains about her husband, let alone asks for a divorce, the authorities will usually blame the woman. Husbands rarely, if ever, get punished for domestic violence.

According to government statistics, only 12 of the 322 cases of female suicides this year have given rise to court cases, and only two of those are likely to end in convictions.

The Uzbek government is trying to improve public education to address the problem. But this is normally confined to declaring every new year "The Year of Women," "The Year of Mother and Child," or "The Year of Family," and the programmes have had little effect.

Bobomurod Abdullaev is an independent journalist in Tashkent and Kamiljon Ashurov is a human rights activist in Samarkand

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