Chairperson of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis Tanzila Narbayeva, who is heading the delegation of Uzbekistan at the 68th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68) in New York, gave an interview to UN News.

Earlier, Tanzila Narbayeva spoke at the session, listing common approaches to gender equality developed by Central Asian countries. These include promoting STEM education among women, especially in rural areas, bridging the digital divide in the regions, and legal assistance when faced with discrimination.

Earlier, during the session, she highlighted in her speech gender equality initiatives in Central Asia, including promoting STEM education for women, especially in the rural areas, addressing digital disparities in the regions as well as legal assistance to victims of discrimination.

In the interview, the head of the Senate, who also chairs the Republican Commission on Enhancing the Role of Women in Society, Gender Equality and Family, emphasized Uzbekistan’s pioneering role in criminalizing domestic violence in Central Asia.

Tanzila Narbayeva noted that the delegation aimed to share Uzbekistan’s experience in gender legislation as well as to listen and learn from other countries.

“In addition to representing Uzbekistan, we also speak on behalf of Central Asian countries. In 2021, Uzbekistan initiated the establishment of the Dialogue of Women Leaders of Central Asia, involving all five Central Asian states. Ahead of our visit to New York, we held consultations with Central Asian states, with Azerbaijan also participating. We arrived with specific proposals I voiced not only for Uzbekistan but also for all Central Asian states and Azerbaijan,” the head of the Senate shared.

UN News noted that many states in the region set Uzbekistan as an example of a country having criminalized domestic violence. “Passing it must have presented considerable challenges, hasn’t it?” the interviewer asked.

“You are absolutely right. For many years, discussing this issue in post-Soviet Central Asian countries was taboo. It was considered a closed topic, attributed to our national traditions and mentality, perhaps deemed characteristic of Central Asian or Muslim countries. But in recent years, there has been a change in outlook, with women increasingly demanding respect for their rights,” emphasized the chairperson of the Senate.

“And the most significant aspect is that the leadership of our states perceives our appeals very positively, and everyone in the leadership agrees that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities,” she added.

Tanzila Narbayeva emphasized that Uzbekistan, the first in the Central Asian region to implement the criminalization of domestic violence, is now sharing its experience with other countries. “We hear that Kazakhstan is also considering such a law. Similar legislation is being deliberated in other states as well. But adopting this law is only half the battle. The most crucial aspect is its implementation,” Narbayeva underscored.

The head of the delegation acknowledged that passing this law was a formidable challenge. “It took us, the working group, an entire year to work on it. Of course, some individuals in positions of authority, particularly male leaders, were reluctant to accept these norms. However, everyone ultimately had to understand and embrace what we proposed. Hence, this law was ratified last April and is now in force,” she shared.

Tanzila Narbayeva highlighted that the country is undertaking “extensive propaganda and awareness-raising efforts among the population” through mahallas to convey that the concept of domestic violence is now codified in law and entails accountability.

“Employment of our population and employment of women is of utmost importance. If women wish to work in the public or private sector, they can find a job. But beyond that, in our traditional families, many women themselves want to work close to their homes, sometimes even from home. Great opportunities are available for these women today. On the eve of March 8, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev announced the allocation of 15 trillion soums (equivalent to more than $1 billion) to women’s employment,” she elaborated.

UN News highlighted the importance of women’s participation in decision-making processes, including holding leadership positions. “You serve as a shining example. What message would you share with young girls who are beginning their journey and aspire to establish themselves in the political or economic spheres?” the representative of Uzbekistan was asked.

Tanzila Narbayeva acknowledged that Uzbekistan had previously “lagged behind on this issue.” “Six or seven years ago, only 15% of MPs were women, and today it is already 32%, which is the result of purposeful work to prepare women for leadership. And we don’t want to stop at that figure,” she noted. Narbayeva added that while in the past, women’s quotas constituted only a third of the party list, today parties must ensure that women make up at least 40%.

“And, of course, women’s voices should be heard during the resolution of any disputable situations, during the distribution of budget funds, resources, during the discussion of other socially significant issues,” she stated.

UN News asked Tanzila Narbayeva about Uzbekistan’s approach to addressing the common problem of early marriages in the region.

Narbayeva agreed that the issue exists but noted that it is not unique to Central Asian states but also prevalent in many countries worldwide.

She outlined recent legislative amendments aimed at addressing this concern: whereas previously the legal marriage age for girls was 17 and for boys 18, Uzbekistan has now raised the legal marriage age for girls to 18.

Additionally, local authorities were previously allowed to lower the marriage age based on circumstances such as pregnancy, but this provision has been revised.

“The most important thing is that it is not just a legislative revision; people’s mindsets are changing. Previously, girls' parents thought that it was unnecessary to provide them with a good education or profession, as they would eventually move to another family. The focus was mainly on boys, seen as the breadwinners of the family. This stereotype was deeply ingrained in people’s thinking, but in recent years, the situation has been evolving. People now witness successful women who can work and study on an equal footing with men,” commented Narbayeva.

The average age of marriage in Uzbekistan is now 26−27 for boys and 23−24 for girls, the head of the Senate noted. “We observe growth in these statistics,” she added.

“However, we wouldn’t want the situation to resemble that of some perfectly developed countries, where girls do not consider marriage or starting a family. We believe that the optimal age for this is between 20 and 30. Our state is actively working towards this goal,” Narbayeva asserted.