Women in Uzbekistan farmers’ markets are being told that they must behave in “a more seemly fashion.”
Deputy Prime Minister Elmira Bositxonova created controversy when she addressed women in the market at an official meeting on domestic violence. She said the female sellers are “unenlightened” and “lacking in spirituality.”
The prime minister suggested that the women be offered regular educational pep talks led by volunteers from the Women’s Committee. Additionally, the women will now have to listen to religious selections from the Hadith, words from the prophet Muhammad, and poetry readings from Zulfiya over the loudspeakers at the market.
Women traders at the market are less than pleased with these suggestions from the prime minister, accusing Bositxonova of negative stereotyping.
Rano, an herb seller at the market, is not happy with the changes. “There are some rude people, it’s true, but we also suffer from being stereotyped,” she said. Nadezhda, a honey seller, added, “We are mothers and wives. How can we lack moral standards when we bring up children? And as for being uneducated, some of the women here have college degrees, but times are hard and they can’t find suitable jobs.”
Others wonder why the government is concerned with the women sellers at all, asking if there are more pressing problems the government could be dealing with. According to some of the traders, conditions in the mountain areas of Uzbekistan could use some government attention. Residents have no gas or electricity and children are studying in schools with leaking roofs.
Besides the uproar from the female traders, there has been backlash on Uzbekistan blogs as well. Some believe that the women at the market could be more polite, cleaner, or more honest, but also believe that broadcasting religious messages and calling them out publicly is not a good idea.
One online comment stated that the prime minister could have tried a gentler tactic. “If Elmira Bositxonova were a genuinely cultured person herself, she would know how to speak to these women more gently. They have a hard life, and don’t work down the market for fun,” the commenter said.
Despite the backlash, the Women’s Committee is complaining that people are taking the prime minister’s words out of context and that they should behave more respectfully.
This is not the first time the prime minister has been in hot water for her comments. Four years ago, she accused female singers of wearing what she deemed “provocative outfits.” She said, “If they think democracy means doing what you like without regard for public opinion, you’re very much mistaken. Uzbekistan isn’t Robinson Crusoe’s island.” She meant what she said too, as 3 singers were banned from performing on stage and 11 received formal warnings.
Overall, traditional culture is not allowing these women traders to sell in the market without discrimination. If such comments were said in the United States, there would certainly be protests. Women must build other women up, especially if the woman making the comments comes from a place of privilege speaking to those with less.