Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page


Beginning in 1996, with the establishment by the UNDP of a project on Gender In Development, international donors have committed significant resources to supporting both government initiatives to promote women's rights, and the emergence of non-governmental women's rights organizations in Uzbekistan. The growth in foreign assistance to promote the growth of "civil society" has fostered the creation of as many as 200 non-governmental women's groups, according to the government, since 1997.292 Major international donors include the OSCE, the Soros Foundation/Open Society Institute, the U.S. government through the United States Information Service and United States Agency for International Development, the European Union funding program TACIS, and Novib, the Dutch development agency. USAID alone has provided close to one million dollars to fund women's rights activities since 1995.293 Together with the provision of direct grants to support the activities of local NGOs, agencies such as USAID and the OSCE/ODIHR have sponsored numerous training workshops to expose Uzbek NGO leaders to international theories and methodologies in the field of women's rights. In 1998-2000, these donors specifically focused their efforts around the issue of domestic violence. By 2000, this assistance had been used to create thirteen non-governmental women's crisis centers in provincial capitals, several of which operate telephone hotlines to provide advice and counseling to women, and conduct their own public education seminars.

Alongside the positive influence of these programs in raising awareness among activists and others, both donors and recipients of this assistance described to Human Rights Watch some significant shortcomings in the design, coordination and implementation of some of the aid programs to date. The first among these problems is the mismatch between the amount of assistance agencies have to distribute and the relatively small number of available recipients. Funding, to a large extent, preceded the creation of NGOs willing to tackle the problem of domestic violence.294 This tendency may stem in part from donors' unwillingness to take the risk of funding more general human rights training programs given the current political climate in Uzbekistan.295

The international focus on promoting the growth of the non-governmental sector has inadvertently contributed to an element of competition and friction between nascent NGOs and the state women's committee. In some provinces, women's committee representatives seem to view the NGOs as interlopers in the sphere of their own competence and authority, and resent the fact that NGOs can receive foreign funding. Sometimes this leads women's committees to block or frustrate the activities of the women's NGOs. And while the international aid and training programs play an important role in developing a nascent anti-domestic violence NGO movement in Uzbekistan, there are still fewer NGOs than foreign donors would wish. This has led to competition between donors eager to expand their aid budgets, to identify local grantees and training-seminar attendees, which has had an adverse effect. Some women NGO leaders have shown a propensity to pick and choose among the available options according to which seminar attendance would bring the greatest financial inducement.296 During the period Human Rights Watch carried out its field research for this report, five separate but overlapping training seminars took place simultaneously in the capital, Tashkent.

Such lack of coordination among individual donor agencies not only promotes competition for participants, but leaves NGO leaders little time to actually carry out the activities for which they are being trained.297 From a grantee perspective, the content of some training seminars has been marked by a basic lack of understanding of Uzbek realities that has created the impression, at times, of condescension. Uzbek women leaders resent being likened to the denizens of an underdeveloped country, and such comparisons serve to alienate some of the participants in training activities. NGO activists have noted that various seminars they have attended are uneven in their usefulness and often repetitive, another sign that donor agencies have failed to coordinate content effectively. Consequently, Human Rights Watch welcomes the efforts being made by the OSCE's Tashkent Office and the Open Society Institute to better coordinate international donors in order to address this problem.

The actual content of training seminars and the design of grant programs are only slowly taking into account both the wishes of local NGOs and other leaders, and the specific aspects of the problem of domestic violence in Uzbekistan. It is significant that although considerable foreign assistance was provided to Uzbekistan before 2000, until that year no public international donor agency had allocated funds to support even a cursory study of domestic violence there.298 But the funding that was then made available for programmatic activities, due to a lack of research and inadequate understanding of the phenomenon in Uzbekistan, led donor agencies to promote assistance strategies that simply replicated those employed in other countries. One donor representative told Human Rights Watch, "The donors have become very territorial, especially in the area of women's programs. It is bizarre...Everyone wants to do crisis centers and everyone wants to do women's NGOs...There are cowboy experts running into here with successful programs in Eastern Europe."299

Several local experts expressed doubt that current programs could provide much actual relief to victims of domestic violence. They questioned whether the Western crisis center model, with on the spot counseling and a telephone hotline, is the best approach to the problem in Uzbekistan, particularly in much of the country where phones are rarely reliable and where many women are discouraged from leaving the home unaccompanied, save to go to work or school. One NGO leader told Human Rights Watch, "No one would go to a crisis center. We did a survey and only one person said that they would go to a psychologist [in cases of domestic violence]."300 Some NGOs and women's committees alike are devising alternative models for a center where victims can seek help, based on institutions seen as relatively unthreatening, such as medical clinics or employment training centers, but these have been slow to be established. Women interviewed by Human Rights Watch in rural and urban settings identified access to legal advice and assistance in defending their rights in the courts and in their communities as their key need in escaping situations of domestic violence. None of the rural women had ever heard of crisis centers. The nascent crisis centers as yet provide only sporadic legal assistance to women, especially to those outside of the cities where they are located.

Certainly, the international focus on women's rights generally and domestic violence specifically has the potential to aid Uzbekistan's citizens in their efforts to provide solutions for women victims. Internationally-sponsored programs that take pains to develop programmatic activities in close consultation with local experts, NGO and government activists may have a greater impact.

292 In its report under CEDAW, the government claims that 2,000 national and local NGOs, 70 percent of which are headed by women (but do not necessarily deal directly with women's issues). CEDAW report pp. 33-34.

293 E-mail communication, Sheila Scott, Winrock International, May 4, 2001.

294 For the role of Western aid in driving and shaping women's movements and "civil society," see Valerie Sperling, Organizing Women in Contemporary Russia: Engendering Transition, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

295 Interview, international aid official, May 31, 2000.

296 Report by an international women's rights trainer on results of a training seminar for women's NGOs, November 2000.

297 Interview, aid agency official, May 18, 2000.

298 Funds from USAID through the contracting agency Winrock International sponsored an excellent study by the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, Domestic Violence in Uzbekistan, published in December, 2000.

299 Interview, international aid official, May, 30, 2000.

300 Interview, NGO activist, May 30, 2000.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page