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Post-socialist transformation of Uzbekistan and its impact on the status of women within the family
Author: Ida Pětioká
Page Range: 45-66
No. of Pages: 22
Keywords: Uzbekistan; women; family; socialism; post-socialism; transformation
This paper explores how the position of women in Uzbek families has developed from Soviet times until the present day and identifies changes that have occurred in connection with the post-socialist transformation. After a short historical introduction, details are provided regarding the legislative and religious context surrounding the position of women during this period. The crucial part of the paper focuses on the position of women in the family, where attention is also paid to the closely related topics of marriages, divorce, and polygyny.
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The Central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan is a post-Soviet republic that became an independent state in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union and was forced to cope not only with the transition to an independent economy, but also underwent transformation in many other ways, from politics to culture. This study examines in more detail the changes in women’s private lives and their position within the family. It does so by comparing the position of women when Uzbekistan was part of the Soviet Union and now that it is an independent republic. The study looks at the extent to which Soviet aspirations for women’s emancipation have come to fruition and how developments in this area have changed with the end of the Soviet regime and the emergence of an independent state. A brief historical introduction is followed by an outline of the general legislative and religious framework for the status of women. Detailed attention is then given to a practical description of the status of women in the family, focusing on three thematic areas – women’s entry into marriage, the issue of divorce and the issue of polygamy.
The aim of this study is to answer the question of what changes in the status of women in the family can be identified in Uzbekistan after the collapse of the USSR and the emergence of an independent state. To answer this question, information obtained by studying available secondary sources and literature and quantitative and qualitative primary sources is used. By combining quantitative and qualitative data, it was possible to achieve maximum comprehensiveness of information. The quantitative data, which were taken from the statistical yearbooks of the Uzbek Statistical Office and the World Bank, provided information applicable to the broader society. This information was general and did not always allow for a sufficiently specific picture of an individual’s life. For this reason, qualitative research was carried out, which took place in Uzbekistan in the summer of 2012. The main data collection technique was semi-structured interviews with residents in five regions of Uzbekistan – Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent, Karakalpakstan and Fergana oblast. The interviews were mostly conducted in Russian, with younger people also interviewed in English. Non-participant observation in several Uzbek families also became an additional source of information.
Brief historical introduction
Uzbekistan as a state formation has existed for a relatively short period of time. At that time, although it was still formally part of the higher entity of the USSR, it was only from this point onwards that it was possible to speak of Uzbekistan as a state or autonomous republic. In earlier times there were only smaller formations in the form of khanates or emirates in the territory of present-day Uzbekistan, which even later retained a certain degree of autonomy under the rule of Tsarist Russia. Within these smaller formations, there were a number of clans, on the basis of which the group identity of the local population was formed. There was no national affiliation and the emergence of the Uzbek nation was thus only a consequence of Soviet nationalisation policies in Central Asia.
At the time when the territory of today’s Uzbekistan came under the domination of the Soviet Union, it was very poor and economically and socially backward compared to Russia. The aim of the Moscow leadership, therefore, was to raise its socio-economic level to the Union average and to integrate it politically, economically and culturally into the Soviet Union.
The Soviet leadership sought to fulfill its intention of cultural integration of Uzbekistan into the Soviet Union by pressing for changes in a number of areas of the local population’s life, from the way they lived, dressed, worked, and spent their leisure time to the structure of their families and religion. Many of the existing cultural expressions were identified as backward or outdated and were to be changed as part of the transition to a progressive and egalitarian socialist society.
As part of the modernization of society, the Soviet leadership placed special emphasis on changing the position of women in the family and in public. However, the amount of change achieved in the family and public spheres of women’s lives varied considerably. While women’s involvement in public life was relatively easy to enforce, influencing family life was much more complicated.
Legislative and religious framework for the status of women in Uzbekistan
The status of women in the family may be enshrined in legislation in different countries, or it may be based on culture or religion, often with unwritten rules. In the case of Uzbekistan, it is a combination of both. Women’s rights are and were already regulated by a number of laws under the Soviet Union, but at the same time, there was and is a norm for the status of women in society based primarily on Islam and local traditions. However, the degree to which law and religion are mutually consistent on this issue is very limited.
The Status of Women in Law in Soviet Uzbekistan
In the period before the annexation of Central Asia to the Soviet Union, Muslim Sharia law was practiced in the region. At the same time, customary law was also present to a greater extent in some parts and less in others. However, in the area of present-day Uzbekistan, where there was a predominantly settled population, customary law played a less important role and was decided on the basis of sharia. A change occurred after the Soviet Union took control of Central Asia. The Soviet regime regarded Islam as the most backward religion of all, anti-social, degrading to women and promoting „such barbaric habits as circumcision and fasting.“ Thus, immediately after the revolution in 1917, he tried to gradually first separate Islam from the law, but later to remove religion from society as a whole. One of the official reasons for this was precisely the desire to equalise women, which the Soviet leadership considered incompatible with Islam. Some authors add, however, that the Soviet struggle for women’s emancipation was not entirely disinterested. Its aim was to create a so-called surrogate proletariat in the region, which was almost non-existent. From the equalisation of women the Soviet leadership hoped to create a group of loyal and grateful population.
Secularisation and the replacement of Muslim law by state law was gradual, and for a time a dual judicial system operated. Most of the courts continued to give judgments based on the Sharia, but there were also Soviet courts, dealing mainly with Russian cases. The powers of the religious courts were, however, progressively more restricted during the 1920s, and their financial support was withdrawn until, in the early 1930s, the Muslim the judiciary has disappeared from public life. Thus, all judicial powers lay in the hands of Soviet courts deciding on the basis of Soviet law, drafted in Moscow and adapted to local conditions.
The first intervention into the family sphere by the Soviet regime was the issuance of a decree on state control over marriage in 1917. Only marriages contracted in a civil ceremony were to be legal, both spouses were to enter into the union voluntarily and both had to be unmarried before the union. The minimum age of the bride was set at 16 years, the groom at 18 years. The regulation did not resonate with the local population, who found it contrary to previous practice. Due to the practical unenforceability of the new legislation as a result of the existence of dual jurisdiction, the regulation did not have much impact in practice.
In 1928, the Family Law Act stipulated that only marriages registered at the ZAGS9 would be considered valid, while previously contracted marriages were also valid. When registering with the ZAGS, the spouses had to prove that they had reached the required age and were no longer in any other union. Divorce was possible either by agreement of both spouses or at the request of either spouse and was always based on a court procedure. In 1938 the minimum age of marriage for girls was raised to 18. With the adoption of the Penal Code in 1926, polygamy, underage marriage, forced marriage and the payment of kalym became criminal offences.
The status of women in law after the independence of Uzbekistan
After the independence of Uzbekistan, the ideological reasons for promoting women’s emancipation have passed away, but the newly established republic has decided to enshrine women’s rights in its legislation, following the example of all modern democratic states. And since the state was founded on secular principles, the legislation is free of any links with religious norms. Women’s rights are included not only in the Constitution of Uzbekistan, but also in many other laws. The Constitution enshrines equality between men and women in Articles 18 and 46, and the Family Law, the Civil Code and the Criminal Code also deal with the status of women within the family.
The Family Act 1998 regulates marital and family relationships, matrimonial property and matrimonial disputes. It sets the minimum age for marriage at 17 for women, with the possibility of a maximum reduction of one year in special cases, and 18 for men. Both the man and the woman have the right to ask for a divorce, but the man is limited in this right if his wife is pregnant or if their child is less than one year old, unless the wife consents to the divorce. In the event of a divorce, the pregnant wife or the mother caring for the common child is entitled to maintenance payments from her former husband. Both spouses have equal property rights.
In addition to national legislation, women’s rights are guaranteed by international treaties to which Uzbekistan is a signatory. These include in particular the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, adopted by the United Nations in 1979 and ratified by the Republic of Uzbekistan in 1995. Although the content of this Convention should correspond to the national legislation of its signatories, in the case of Uzbekistan there is a discrepancy between the minimum age for marriage set by Uzbek law at 17 and the Convention at 18. 
The status of women in terms of religion
In addition to legislation, religion has had and continues to have an impact on the status of women in Uzbek society. Historically, Islam has been determinant for the status of women even much earlier than legislation, as it is not only a religion in the form of man’s relationship with God, but has also been a legal code determining and regulating relations between people for centuries. Thus, while state legislation underwent many changes during the transition from Soviet Uzbekistan to an independent republic, Islam and its view of the status of women remained unchanged.
Muslim norms for the behaviour of women, towards women and norms for family life are contained in the fourth sura of the Qur’an, entitled Women. In the traditional Muslim family, there is a strict division of duties between the man and the woman. The man is responsible for the security of the family, the woman for the household. The man owns the family property and makes decisions about the family’s expenditures. The man is free to move around, while the woman rarely leaves the house and has to walk on the street shrouded in paranja. The wife is to curtsy to her husband and not engage in the men’s conversation. In the family and society, the man is always superior to the woman, the elder to the younger. 
The head of the family is the father, who enjoys the greatest authority. It is his duty to marry off his daughters and see to their proper upbringing, which entails considerable restrictions on their freedom. A daughter’s husband is chosen by her parents, and it is not unusual for her to be under the age of consent at the time of marriage or to see her groom for the first time at the wedding. For the bride, her family receives a kalym from the groom. A woman has no right to initiate a divorce. A man has the right to have more than one wife if he is able to provide for all of them.
In practice, religious norms and newly created legal norms, centuries of practiced Muslim traditions and secular state legislation have clashed in Uzbek society since the Soviet Union. Since the demands of these two kinds of norms are not infrequently in conflict, the resulting relations of people in society are a compromise between the two perspectives. Despite considerable efforts by the Soviet Union to suppress the role of Islam in society, such compromises occurred in Soviet Uzbekistan, and it is no different in the present day, where, despite apparent efforts to revive the traditions and norms of Islam in society, the state legislation is modeled after modern states on democratic and secular principles.
The Status of Women in the Family from the Soviet Union to the Present
In order to assess the changes in the status of women that have taken place in the context of Uzbekistan’s post-socialist transformation, it is necessary to compare the situation before, i.e. during the Soviet period, and the situation now. Many Soviet authors in particular have highlighted the contribution of Soviet Union policy to the improvement of the status of women in Central Asia. However, it should be pointed out that the idea of women’s emancipation in the region existed before the Soviet Union took over the region, and at the same time was not unique in the Muslim area at that time. At the same time as in Uzbekistan, increased attention was paid to the status of women in Turkey, for example, and it is somewhat difficult to determine whether the same or similar changes would have occurred in Central Asia without Soviet influence.
Soviet policy towards women was largely a revolution in this area. However, there were already visible efforts to change society stemming from the Muslim reformist Jadidist movement. Many of its leaders had already questioned the propriety of polygamy, marrying off immature girls, or paying kalym in the early 20th century. Many members of this movement later joined the Communist Party, hoping that with state support they would be better they will implement their ideas. Soviet policy was thus essentially largely a continuation of the earlier reformist efforts of the Jadidist movement.
Relations within the family became one of the most important points of the Soviet regime’s modernization efforts. In his view, traditional Uzbek large families were a sign of backwardness, while small families were a sign of progressiveness and modernity. Local authorities therefore tried to provide newlyweds with an apartment or the means to build a house where they could live separately from their parents. This family model, however, only resonated with a small proportion of the population and even in these cases the ties between parents and children remained very strong. The failure of the Soviet model had its roots primarily in the upbringing of children, who were taught from a young age to respect their parents and older family members and to care for them in old age.  Therefore, the traditional pattern of the large patrilocal family was maintained in most families. Sons brought their wives into the family and lived there with their parents and children, while daughters left their homes. The family remained a relatively closed space where the authority of the elders prevailed. Most rural homes in particular were divided into a male section and a female section that was inaccessible to outsiders. Many men in the countryside, but also in the city, still in the 1980s considered it undignified to appear in public with their wives. 
Soviet policy had only a minimal impact on family relations. In contrast to the changes in public life, family life was not so easily controlled, and therefore in the privacy of Uzbek homes and their closed courtyards, family life as the Uzbeks were accustomed to it continued to take place quite undisturbed. Thus, in its essential features, the traditional family structure has persisted to this day.
Families are patriarchal and patrilocal, and the status of their members is determined by gender and age. Girls are brought up to obey men and elders and to become proper wives and mothers one day. Girls are highly valued for their chastity and restraint before marriage, and therefore, in the context of parental education, rural girls in particular are severely restricted in their movements. They are not allowed to travel long distances unaccompanied by their parents (usually only within the area) and unless they have a legitimate reason to be away from home, they should stay at home. 
This attitude of parents towards the upbringing of their daughters is also evident in the testimony of the informant – a mother of five children from the Fergana region (48 years old):
„I don’t let my twenty-one-year-old daughter go out alone or with her friends, even on special occasions; she can only go out with her older brother. I myself was brought up in a Western way of upbringing, but in the present circumstances I don’t trust people outside. I have to keep an eye on her before I hand her over to her ho’jayin.“
Ho’jayin translates as owner and is a term commonly culturally accepted, especially in rural areas of Uzbekistan and in traditional families. Wives even use the term ho’jaiyinim, which translates as my owner, instead of addressing their husbands by his name. Both in private and in public, this address is considered appropriate and polite and can be quite illustrative of how women themselves perceive their position in the family. 
A woman’s status within the family and her bargaining power is determined by her age, the social status of her family, her contribution to the family income and, above all, her motherhood. The more children a woman has and the more of them are boys, the higher the position within the family she is able to achieve. Even today, there is a marked preference for male children, since a son is able to provide for his parents in old age, protect the family’s honour and carry on the family name. On the other hand, the female child is often seen as the only one who drains the family financially and has nothing to contribute to the family in the future, as she will get married and leave home. Daughters are therefore often referred to by their own mothers as guests in their own homes. The real home is the family of their future husband. 
The persistence of the tradition of large patrilocal families is not only a matter of cultural practices, but also economic considerations play a significant role. Most couples would like to live on their own, but there is often not enough money to build or buy a house or apartment. Therefore, living with parents is the only solution. Ideally, and if the financial situation is good, it is customary for the groom’s parents to build the newlyweds a house and the bride’s parents to furnish it. 
The following table shows the majority of large families by family type in 2005. Almost 55% of families are families in which spouses live together with other relatives.
|Married couple with children||25,6|
|Married couple without children||3,4|
|Married couple with/without children and other relatives||36,6|
|Two or more married couples with/without children and other relatives||18,3|
|Fatherless families headed by a mother||2,3|
|Motherless families headed by the father||0,2|
|Families without father (mother) headed by mother (father), mother’s (father’s) parents and other relatives||3,6|
Table 1: Distribution of families by type in 2005
Source: Women and Men of Uzbekistan 2000-2005. Tashkent: State Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan on Statistics, 2007, p. 40.
The worst position in a multigenerational family is that of the woman in the role of daughter-in-law. If there are multiple sons in the family, even with wives, then the wife of the youngest son has the lowest status. The patriarchal position is no longer occupied only by the father but also by the mother-in-law in relation to the daughter-in-law. The daughter-in-law is forced to get up first, to do most of the housework and is severely limited in the number of things she is free to decide. Even if she wants to visit her parents, for example, her mother-in-law must give her permission. Such pressure on daughters-in-law is greatest at the beginning of the marriage, but it usually decreases with the onset of their motherhood. 
Even though the position of women in the Uzbek family may seem bleak from the perspective of Western culture, women themselves often do not feel this way at all. In fact, they consider the ability to maintain peace and happiness in a marriage to be the main attribute of a modern woman. They also emphasise the ability to be creative, which is important for finding a balance between the many roles a woman plays as mother, wife and daughter-in-law. Motherhood is also an important quality for women themselves.  Society views women not as individuals but, as a rule, as part of the family, as people who create a solid family background and keep the family running. In traditional upbringing, such an idea is instilled from a young age even in girls themselves, who then automatically take it as their own.
The status of women in the Uzbek family is also closely related to and largely determined by several other aspects. These include the way in which marriage is contracted, a woman’s right to divorce and the issue of polygamy. These topics will be the focus of the next part of the study.
Concluding the marriage
Since the 1920s, the Family Act and the Penal Code have set the conditions for entering into marriage. These laws were fundamentally opposed to most of the marriage traditions that had been practiced up to that time, which were based on Muslim law. These included forced marriages, marrying off immature girls and paying kalym. The law also mandated the compulsory registration of marriages with the ZAGS. At the same time, the Soviet leadership’s plan was to replace all Muslim ceremonies, including those for weddings, with Soviet ones. In practice, however, the local population either ignored the new ceremonies or, in some cases, combined them with Muslim ones. 
Although both spouses were required by law to enter into marriage voluntarily, parents continued to choose their children’s partners in most cases. Only representatives of the intelligentsia, who succumbed to Russian influence, sometimes found their counterparts themselves. Even then, however, parental approval of their choice was highly desirable, and defying parental wishes was almost impossible, especially for girls. A girl was always expected to marry a man of equal or higher social status than herself. Her status also depended on the size of the kalym that was to be paid for her and the dowry she received from her parents. Even the most defeated intelligentsia insisted that a girl marry as a virgin. 
Kalym, although eradicated from society according to the official proclamations of the Soviet regime, continued to be practiced mostly in the form of a gift. As late as 1928 the average kalym was one horse and thirty sheep. Later, both in an attempt to keep the payment of kalym as secret as possible and as a result of collectivisation, when families had no livestock to spare, it was made in the form of cash. 
The Soviet wedding ceremony, the so-called qizil-to’j (translated as red wedding), became a new feature of weddings, replacing the traditional Muslim ceremony. In practice, however, in most cases the traditional ceremony continued to take place, and the Soviet ceremony became only a less popular addition to it. This is evidenced by the fact that of the 3,180 couples married in Tashkent in 1980, more than 90 per cent had a Muslim wedding, a respectable proportion given that the capital was subject to the greatest influence of Soviet propaganda and a considerable number of intellectuals or government officials lived there. 
The first of the two ceremonies was usually a qizil-to’j, the main purpose of which was to report the wedding to the ZAGS. After that, a Muslim ceremony called nikoh was held at the groom’s house according to traditional customs. The couple was married by a mullah and the wedding was accompanied by a large ceremony attended by the entire local community. Families had little incentive to register their marriage officially, so it was often the case, especially in villages, that couples came to register after the birth of their first child, as they were then entitled to a family allowance. Another reason for the delay in registering with ZAGS was the persistent practice of underage marriages. Marriages were therefore registered with a delay only when the spouses reached the required age. 
The double ceremony – civil and ecclesiastical is a common practice even today. The situation has not changed in that the majority of the population considers the Muslim ceremony to be more important and the civil ceremony is treated only as an entry in the civil register. However, only the civil marriage is considered official in the eyes of the law.  A wedding is a huge celebration in Uzbekistan, to which 600–1,000 people are normally invited. Especially in the villages, not only relatives and friends but also all people from the street and the wider community are invited. As such a large wedding involves considerable financial costs, it is customary for guests to contribute a certain amount of money. However, according to local information, the size and cost of the wedding has decreased compared to earlier times. This is said to be due to the fact that in the past, anyone who wanted to attend a wedding could come, whereas nowadays named invitations are sent out and so the number of guests is limited.
Traditionally, four courses are cooked at a wedding, the most important of which is plov , a dish that all Central Asian states consider their national dish. The amount of rice needed to cook the wedding plov has also been used to demonstrate how weddings are becoming smaller. Whereas some 40 years ago plov was made with 80 kg of rice, today it is made with only 40 kg. The length of the wedding feast has also changed. Earlier, it used to be celebrated for 3-4 days, today everything is done in a day. 
Many of the wedding traditions carried out in Uzbekistan are also common in Europe. Of the Russian traditions, there was a monument to the monuments to the important personalities Uzbekistan or to memorials to fallen soldiers. The wedding attire is no different from European weddings. Brides wear long white dresses with veils, grooms wear black or white suits.
Since Uzbekistan’s independence, the marriage rate has declined significantly. While in 1991 it was 12.9 marriages per 1,000 inhabitants, in 2011 it was only 7.8 after dropping to six marriages per 1,000 inhabitants in 2004.  The reason for the reduction in the number of marriages is probably due to the high cost of getting married, which in the current economic situation in the country is becoming a major financial burden for most families.
In rural areas in particular, the tradition of parents choosing their future partner is also prevalent. In some cases, especially if the parents have higher education, the girl herself may have a say in the choice of her partner. In principle, however, it is almost unthinkable to push for a partner with whom the parents do not agree. Both boys and girls, however, usually accept this practice and submit to their wishes, believing that their parents know best what is good for their future. The situation in cities is often different. Here, young people can choose their matches themselves and decide to marry only after they get to know the person better. Yet, surprisingly, weddings arranged by parents were most advocated by a woman directly from the capital city among all informants. She does not consider European customs where young people keep meeting and breaking up to be right. When young people have their counterparts chosen by their parents, the chances of a successful marriage are much higher, as parents usually know each other and therefore know what to expect from their children. 
A change from the Soviet period seems to be the disappearance of the tradition of paying kalym. All informants unanimously replied that kalym is now a thing of the past in most of the territory. According to some, it was still commonly used 20-30 years ago. Today, it is found only rarely, for example along the border with Turkmenistan. 
However, women still marry very young. Their average age at marriage in 2005 was 22.2 years. For men it was 25 years. The vast majority of women and men enter marriage between the ages of 20 and 24. Specifically, 65.2% of women and 54% of men. However, more significant differences occur in other age categories. While 22.6% of women marry under the age of 20, only 2.3% of men marry at this age. A similar disproportion therefore logically occurs in the 25-29 age category, where the proportions are reversed. Only 9.4% of women marry at this age, compared with 36.5% of men.  The reason for the early marriage of daughters may be the desire to get rid of the cost of caring for them to the household. After the wedding, the daughter will leave the house and the family will be economically relieved. Compared to the Soviet era, fewer children are born today. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the birth rate reached the highest level in Uzbekistan’s history. Compared to the Soviet average, Central Asia had twice the proportion of women of childbearing age. At the same time, the childbearing period of Central Asian women lasted 10 years longer than that of the average Soviet woman. In the mid-1980s, when fertility rates reached another peak, half of the children were born to women with three or more children.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the birth rate dropped significantly, which may have a number of causes. The country found itself in a deteriorating economic situation after independence, which was associated with a decline in the standard of living for a significant part of the population. Real wages, employment and thus real household income declined, which, together with the increased cost of children, affected the reproductive behaviour of the population. Family building was not helped by the fact that the increase in labour migration resulted in men in particular staying away from home for long periods. Equally important was the wider availability of contraceptives, which the government began to provide free of charge to women, replacing the most common Soviet type of contraception – abortion.  Another factor is undoubtedly the significant change in social policy towards mothers that accompanied the establishment of the independent state.
After 2000, the birth rate increased slightly again, but it is far from reaching the levels common in the Soviet period. More than a third of the 4,000 respondents surveyed in 2011 considered three or more children to be the optimal number of children.
Under Muslim law, it was quite difficult for a woman to get a divorce, unlike a man. Therefore, Uzbek women welcomed the advent of Soviet civil law, which gave them this option. The divorce procedure was relatively simple. Women filed a petition with the court, which mostly granted the request. The easiest course was to divorce a childless marriage. If the couple already had children, the mother was usually given custody of them. However, due to the Muslim tradition, which was deeply rooted in society and which still made divorce socially unacceptable, women in Central Asia, compared to other Soviet republics made significantly less use of the right to divorce.  In 1960, the divorce rate in Uzbekistan was 0.3 divorces per 1,000 inhabitants; by 1987, although it had risen to 1.5, it was still more than twice the Soviet average. 
Under current law, both men and women have the right to initiate a divorce. If they agree to the divorce and no children have resulted from the marriage, the spouses can be administratively divorced at the ZAGS by submitting an affidavit. However, if the spouses do not agree on a divorce or if they already have children together, they must apply for a divorce in court. The judge has the right to order a waiting period of up to 6 months during which the spouses have to try to reconcile. This period is almost regularly ordered before the court even starts to hear the case. Such a procedure naturally prolongs the divorce considerably. 
Despite the existence of a formal law, divorce is a social taboo for women. Most of them think that they should be patient and try to submit to their husbands at all costs. For them, staying in a dysfunctional marriage is often more secure than divorce, which carries the risk of economic hardship and deprives the children of their father. They often stay in the marriage even when there is violence against them. Toleration and forgiveness of violent behaviour by the husband is a sign of strength and patience, qualities highly valued by women in local society. It is also a common fear of women that if they do not succeed in their first marriage, they will not succeed in the next one.  Such ideas are also put to them by the domestic press. For example, the national women’s magazine Oila va Jamiyat (translated as Family and Society) wrote in an article: „A woman who has failed to keep her first husband will never keep her second; she is ill-mannered.“ 
The Uzbek government is also extremely interested in preserving marriage and the integrity of families. The aim is to reduce the divorce rate to a minimum, which is being achieved thanks to a very strict divorce policy. Since 1991, when there were 1.6 divorces per 1 000 inhabitants, the divorce rate has been reduced to 0.6. In absolute terms, this was a decrease from 33 300 divorces in 1991 to 18 200 divorces in 2011. 
The divorce rate is declining mainly due to the many obstacles the state imposes on divorce. The courts are trying to „preserve the family“ at all costs, often in spite of obvious evidence domestic violence. Women seeking divorce are generally looked down upon and their reasons for divorce are not considered compelling enough. Although there is no justification for this under the Family Act or the Mahalla Act, the local self-governing body known as the mahalla plays a role in divorce proceedings. It issues a letter of recommendation to the court deciding the divorce. If the mahalla refuses to issue a letter, it is virtually impossible to get a divorce. However, the mahalla tries to prevent divorce in many other ways. Since she is responsible for redistributing welfare benefits, she can, and in practice does, deny them to women who do not intend to reconcile with their husbands. Other means of preventing divorce by the mahalla include refusing to issue any of the documents required in a divorce or demanding illegal fees for the issuance of such documents. 
The situation is then even more difficult in the years that the President declares the Year of the Family.  This happened in 1998 and currently in 2012. In these years, there is a particular emphasis on low divorce rates and ZAGS have refused to carry out even those divorces agreed by both partners on the grounds that they cannot do so because it is the Year of the Family.  However, in addition to measures to reduce the divorce rate at the level of judges and ZAGS staff, who are ordered to reject as many divorce applications as possible, there is also considerable pressure on citizens themselves not to apply at all. While it is common to pay 200-300 thousand soms (approx. 80–120 USD) for a divorce, 6 million soms (approx. 2,400 USD) were paid in 2012.  In a situation where the average salary is around 560,000 sums, most people are unable to pay such a fee for divorce. It is therefore understandable that in the year of the family, divorce becomes almost impossible for ordinary applicants, not only for financial but also for bureaucratic reasons.
In some cases, the mahalla may also „divorce“ the couple, but this is not an actual divorce but merely an approval of their separation and a proposed division of property. If one of the couple, usually the man, disagrees with the settlement proposed by the mahalla and chooses not to act on it, there are no penalties as the man and woman are still officially married before the law. 
The traditional Muslim divorce, which is still practiced in Uzbekistan, has the same consequences. It is a divorce that only the man has the right to initiate and he is considered divorced after he says to his wife „I am wooing you“ three times in a row. However, this type of divorce puts the woman at a considerable disadvantage, as she is not legally entitled to a property settlement with her husband. The husband may also deny her access to her children, or the wife may be forced to look after the children herself without any financial contribution from the father. Thus, a woman can only hope for an equitable solution after an official divorce through the courts. Even here, however, full justice is not guaranteed. In the case of the division of joint property, for example, a woman who has lived in the same household with her husband and his parents may not be able to claim part of her property because the house is officially owned by the husband’s father.
Polygamy in Uzbekistan was a common tradition based on Islamic law. Islam allowed a man to have more than one wife if he was able to support them and treat them all equally well. Polygamy was also a perfectly natural solution to a wife’s infertility, much more socially acceptable than divorce or denying a man a child.  Already the Jadidist movement, however, had challenged this view, and with the advent of the Soviets, polygamy was definitively declared detrimental to the dignity of women, illegal and criminal. Like many other Soviet laws, however, it was circumvented, thanks to the existence of religious marriage, which was not legally recognised as official. Thus, the man in question did not sin against the law if he was officially married to one woman and in a religious marriage he married one or, exceptionally, several other women. In fact, however, he was practicing full-fledged polygamy.
Although polygyny was generally not desired by women, after the Second World War there was a situation where even women themselves asked for official permission for polygamy. Many men, particularly from the Fergana region, died in the war and there was an acute shortage of men. A group of 50 local women therefore demanded that men be allowed to marry two or three wives so that they or their daughters could have the chance to marry regularly. 
Polygamy is illegal but still practiced today. According to the law, polygyny is punishable, but given the definition of polygamy, which the law sees as „cohabitation with at least two wives in the same household“, allows punishment only if the husband and all his wives live together in the same household. For this reason too, polygamy in Uzbekistan today looks practically like each wife living separately and the husband visiting them in turn. There are very few cases of polygyny that are punished because they are difficult to prove. In 2000, 41 such cases were recorded.  Under the Criminal Code, men who are proved to be practising polygyny face a fine of between 50 and 100 times their monthly salary, or community service for up to three years, or imprisonment for up to three years.
Some sources report that the rate of polygamy in Uzbekistan increased after the collapse of the USSR. It is also far from being a rural affair and has recently become popular with many men who earn enough to support more than one wife. These include businessmen, government officials and other men in high positions. Since some of the highest paid employees in the country are police officers, polygyny is widespread among them. The more frequent occurrence of polygyny in the present day would also correspond with the reduction in the tradition of paying kalym. Indeed, a man often had to save for a long time to pay kalym for multiple wives, and thus few men could afford to do so. In the present day, when kalym is no longer common, this opens the field to a wider range of men.
Research conducted in 2012 showed that some men are not aware of the illegality of polygamy. Many others, while not personally admitting to polygyny, insiders said it was practically possible, all they needed was enough money and not to live with both women in the same household. Of course, the second, or other wives, must be married in a religious ceremony, since officially one can only marry one woman. The other wives are therefore not legally entitled to any property or child support in the event of separation.
Women interviewed in 2005 in the Fergana region also expressed concern about the increasing incidence of polygamy. Young women aged 18-25 in particular refused to accept polygyny on principle, stating that rather than accept that their husband had found another wife, they would rather ask for a divorce despite social condemnation. Other women also mostly disagreed with polygamy, but pointed to the difficulty of a situation in which polygyny is part of culture and tradition and cannot be effectively prevented in practice. Only 9 out of 46 women would be willing to stay in a union with a man who had another wife, provided he treated both equally well. 
It is clear that the status of women is influenced by the state, its form of government and the state system, among other factors. However, as the example of the status of women within Uzbek families has shown, not all aspects in this area are entirely within the state’s control. Indeed, in some cases, the status of women has remained almost untouched despite the regime change. Religious marriages continue to be practiced without official registration with the ZAGS, which gives room for the continued marriage of underage girls and the practice of polygamy. The only restriction on polygamy is that a husband cannot live with multiple wives in the same household, but this does not seem to pose a significant complication for men. Indeed, there is speculation that the number of men practising polygamy increased after the collapse of the USSR. Furthermore, the tradition of the bride’s parents choosing the husband-to-be is also practised.
Among the changes that can be identified compared to the Soviet period is the disappearance of the tradition of paying kalym in most of Uzbekistan. Until 20-30 years ago, kalym was a practiced form of payment that the future husband or his family had to make to the bride and her family. Kalym was often perceived negatively by women, as it evoked the idea that parents were actually selling their daughter to her husband. Moreover, the kalym was quite expensive and the man often saved for it for several years. This then led to men marrying at an advanced age and marrying much younger women.
Another change associated with Uzbekistan’s independence has been the state’s excessive pressure to keep families together and its adherence to low divorce rates. While a woman has the legal right to ask for a divorce, this is considered taboo for women in the local culture. A woman’s role is to adapt to her husband, to be strong, patient and to be able to endure hardship. The renewed adherence to traditional values after Uzbekistan’s independence has led to the government itself trying to prevent divorce in every possible way. Divorce proceedings are accompanied by obstruction by the courts or the mahalla, and in the years of the family proclaimed by the President, divorce fees are driven up to amounts that a person on an average wage cannot afford to pay in the slightest. Women seeking divorce are automatically looked down upon and are often not granted even in cases where they are clearly victims of domestic violence.
An overall comparison of the Soviet and post-Soviet periods shows that Uzbekistan’s independence did not bring about significant positive changes in the status of women in the family. As under the Soviet Union, secular legislation now exists, but is circumvented in practice, and family life continues to be governed largely by the norms of Islam and traditional customs.
The article is an output of the project of the Internal Grant Agency IGA PEF 20121075 solved at the Faculty of Economics and Management of the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague
 A clan is a group of people united by certain common interests and deriving their origins from a single ancestor. JANDOUREK, J. Sociologický slovník. Edition 1. Prague: Portál, 2001, p. 122.
 Compared to the rest of Central Asia, however, it was still by far the least underdeveloped. The largest cities were located here (Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, Kokand, Fergana, Andijan), and there was a university and a number of scientific research institutes in Tashkent. LOBANOFF-ROSTOVSKY, P. The Soviet Muslim Republics in Central Asia. Journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Jul., 1928), pp. 249-250.
 MÜLLER, K. Armut und Sozialpolitik in den zentralasiatischen Transformationsländern. Berlin: Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik, 2003, p. 15.
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 EXNEROVÁ, V. Islám ve Střední Asii za carské a sovětské vlády: Na příkladu jednoho z center oblasti, Ferganské doliny. 1st ed. Prague: Karolinum, 2008, p. 42.
 KAMP, M. The new woman in Uzbekistan: Islam, modernity, and unveiling under communism. 1st ed. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006, p. 68.
 KAMP, M. c.d. , p. 69.
 Zapis Aktov Grazhdanskogo Sostoyaniya – Registry Office.
 EXNEROVÁ, V. Islám ve Střední Asii za carské a sovětské vlády: Na příkladu jednoho z center oblasti, Ferganské doliny. 1st ed. Prague: Karolinum, 2008, p. 81.
 A form of payment that the future husband’s family must make to the bride and her family.
 KAMP, M. The new woman in Uzbekistan: Islam, modernity, and unveiling under communism. 1st ed. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006, p. 70.
 MEE, W. Women in the Republic of Uzbekistan. Manila: Asian Development Bank, Programs Dept. East and Office of Environment and Social Development, 2001, p. 9.
 Gender Expertise of Family and Labour Codes of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Asian Development Bank, 2008, p. 29.
 Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
 MEE, W. Women in the Republic of Uzbekistan. Manila: Asian Development Bank, Programs Dept. East and Office of Environment and Social Development, 2001, p. 9.
 A typical female garment used in Central Asia covering the body and head of a woman, including the face.
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 This is traditionally the task of the eldest son. If for some reason he is unable to perform this task, they come to
a number of younger sons.
 KURBANOVA, M. The Role of Traditional Gender Ideologies in the Empowerment of Women in Post Soviet Uzbekistan. Center for International Studies, 2005. Master’s thesis. Ohio University, p. 67.
 Information obtained during the research from a female informant from Fergana (24 years old).
 Domestic violence in Uzbekistan. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, 2000, pp. 14-15.
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 Translated as educated man, he is the religious authority in the village.
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 Law on the Family of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Article 13.
 A risotto-style dish, its composition varies depending on the region, but the constant ingredients are beef or mutton, carrots, garlic, alternatively chickpeas, boiled egg, raisins.
 Information obtained during the research of an informant from Rishtan in Fergana region (55 years old).
 Gender Equality in Uzbekistan: Facts and Figures 2000-2004. Tashkent: State Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan on Statistics, 2005, p. 13; Quarterly Reports. State Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan on Statistics [online]. 2012 [cited 2012-11-01]. Available from: http://www.stat.uz/en/reports/214/.
 Opinion of the informant – a mother of two children from Tashkent (about 30 years old).
 Information from a Russian teacher from Shafirkon near Bukhara (45 years old).
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 Oila va Jamiyat, women’s magazine, 2001, No. 2.
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 It is a tradition that every year, on the eve of the anniversary of the founding of the independent republic, the President announces the direction the country will take in the coming year. Each year is dedicated to a specific social or economic topic. For example, 2011 was the year of small business, 2010 the year of harmoniously developing generation or 2009 the year of rural development.
 Human Rights Watch. Uzbekistan: Sacrificing Women to Save the Family?: Domestic Violence in Uzbekistan. New York, NY: Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 25.
 Conversion at the black market rate from summer 2012.
 Information from a 22-year-old female informant from Rishtan in Fergana region.
 Human Rights Watch. Uzbekistan: Sacrificing Women to Save the Family?: Domestic Violence in Uzbekistan. New York, NY: Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 28.
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 Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Article 126.
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 The actual incidence of polygamy is very difficult to ascertain due to its illegality.
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