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‘Youth talks’ shining a light on ‘the elephant in the room,’ opening discussions on gender-based violence.

Print version
30 November 2018

Following the remarkable activities of World Children’s Day, UNICEF organised ‘Youth talks’ at Kitob Olami, a well-known bookstore in the centre of Tashkent. Young people, experts and the Government came together for an open and important discussion of a topic that is often hidden from view, gender-based violence.

The speakers’ bright orange scarves declared their commitment to ‘16 days of activism against Gender-based Violence’, an international campaign which is marked this month.

Opening the proceedings, Sascha Graumann, Representative, UNICEF Uzbekistan, shared some worrying facts from a recent UNICEF global report. The report highlights that in 38 low and middle-income countries, close to 17 million women have experienced sexual violence in childhood. In 28 countries in Europe, around 2.5 million young women report experiences of sexual violence before age 15. The report also states that only 1% of girls who were victims had reached out for professional help.

Dilorom Kuzieva, representative of the Women’s Committee of Uzbekistan, agreed that the problem of gender-based violence also exists in Uzbekistan. She pointed to a new helpline (1146) for women to report violence in families, and to the specialist services provided in each makhalla (neighbourhood) to identify cases of domestic violence, offer consultation, and prevent situations worsening. She also flagged up the network of 130 social rehabilitation centres across Uzbekistan for women who have suffered violence, and referred to the social, psychological and physical help they can get there.

Several of the speakers then bravely recounted first-hand accounts of gender-based violence.

Faina Yagafarova, a champion for women’s rights, spoke of a childhood filled with fear of her physically and psychologically abusive father.

“He would beat us. He felt this was his right as the head of the family. Even when my mother ran to the neighbours and banged on their doors, they didn’t help. The way they saw it, they didn’t have the right to intervene.”

Annick Kayitesi-Jozan, a French-Rwandan psychologist based in Tashkent, spoke of her work with girls trafficked into prostitution in Paris. Contrasting their expectations of a better life abroad with the harsh reality of the abuse and entrapment they faced on arrival, she pointed out that this kind of violence happens all over the world and has effects that are psychological as well as physical. Her message was powerful: “Don’t look away. These girls must not be invisible.”
Kseniya Eroshikina, a student of the pharmaceutical lyceum and Anastasia Cherepanova, another champion for women’s rights, both spoke passionately about the psychological repercussions of sexual and physical harassment, and the daily fear of men they live with. They told the audience how from an early age they’d been told to dress conservatively to avoid ‘inviting attention’ and they resented this kind of ‘victim blaming’.

Shakhnoza Zafari, Executive Assistant, UNICEF Uzbekistan, also grew up with an abusive father. She posed some challenging questions to the audience, asking them to address their own prejudices:

“If a girl is assaulted, do you ask, what was she wearing? If a house-wife is beaten, do you ask, did she fail in her duties?”
She suggested that change can come only when families bring up their sons to respect women and give their daughters the right to take responsibility for their lives.
“We have a saying, ‘when you raise a boy, you raise an individual. When you raise a girl, you raise the nation.’ Let’s think about what kind of nation we are raising.”

Dilorom Kuzieva joined the discussion to highlight the positive work that the Women’s Committee does with families and shared the challenge of changing deep rooted views that disapprove of women working outside of the home. She praised the participants for openly expressing their stories and opinions, and said that everyone, even at government level must change their mind set and perceptions. She asked for people to support their local women’s meetings to address these issues.

Muhammedjon, 18, shared that his mother had suffered domestic violence at the hands of his father, but that when she found the strength to leave him, their lives had improved. “If there is a problem in a family, the family should not be dealing with it alone,” he said, and praised the Women’s Committee for helping his father reform.

Shakhnoza Zafari concluded ‘Youth Talks’ with a plea. “Gender violence is widespread. This is the elephant in the room that we know about but don’t mention. Let’s not cover up the holes and gaps at the expense of women, asking them to endure.”

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UNICEF is the driving force that helps build a world where the rights of every child are realized. We have the global authority to influence decision-makers, and the variety of partners at grassroots level to turn the most innovative ideas into reality. That makes us unique among world organizations, and unique among those working with the young.

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