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In meinem Essay „Unveiling (in) public sphere“ betrachte ich, wie die Versuche der sowjetischen Regierung die Rolle der usbekischen Frau zu ändern verknüpft sind mit den Kategorien öffentliche und private Sphäre. Dabei habe ich mich auf die Zeit um die 1920er fokussiert, da in diesen Zeitrahmen eine Reihe von Ansätzen wie eine Entschleierungskampange fallen. Das Essay habe ich im Wintersemester 2008/09 in meinem Bachelor Regionalstudien Asien/Afrika im Seminar Kinship, friendship and other modes of relationship in Central Asia geschrieben. Den Text habe ich in Englisch verfasst, für Hinweise auf Fehler bin ich dankbar. (Aber natürlich auch für sonstige Anmerkungen, Fragen etc.)

Edit (Nov. 2010): Das Essay kann man nun auch hier als PDF herunterladen: Unveiling (in) public sphere

Unveiling (in) public sphere

Focusing on Uzbek women in the 1920s

“No one who wrote about Uzbek women before the revolution was satisfied with them as they were.”[1], Marianne Kamp noted in her book “The new women in Uzbekistan. Islam, Modernity, and Unveiling under communism”. Not only Soviet scholars tended to draw a dark picture[2], but also local reformers, the Jadid[3], complained about the women’s role within family and state.[4] In the beginning of the 20th century a specific women’s status was seen as an important milestone for states in the process of becoming “modern”.[5] For that reason the Jadid and little later the Soviet rulers concentrated on the women’s role in Uzbekistan. Heuer stresses in her article about gender differences that the soviet strategy aimed at a radical shift concerning women’s role. Women were supposed to grow economically independent through education and being a part of the production.[6] In contrast Corcoran-Nantes stated that the emancipation approach aimed rather at the repression of Islam. She also explains further on that the Soviet administration tried to change the women’s role through changing the marriage system and insert equal rights in divorce matters.[7]

In my essay I want to explore the question how the Soviet attempts to change women’s status intertwined with the categories of public and private sphere. I will focus on the era around the 1920s – the time before and during the Hujum. During this period the Soviet colonial rule made a wide range of attempts trying to change the role of Uzbek women. In this essay I will first describe how the Uzbek women were seen in the beginning of the 20th century by the Jadid and by the Soviets. Afterwards I will show some of the Soviet attempts particular in shifting the marriage rules and costumes, for how I mentioned already changing these matters was seen as essential in changing the women’s position. In a final step I describe how the Uzbek society was divided spatial by gender and how the Hujum attacked this separation in one point but not all.

View on Uzbek women in the beginning of the 20th century

The focus shifted on to the Uzbek women in 1910, when Jadids started to draw attention to them. They demanded “reform in family life and in the raising of daughters”[8] in order to develop the country. The Jadism in general dealt with education, i.e. they created schools with new methods (Usul-I hadid), which were supposed to push forward a modernizing attempt. Some of the Jadids identified with the aims of the Soviet and became a part of the new system, but a lot more got victims of the repressions[9]. Kamp argues nonetheless that even though the Communist Party spread the party’s view to gender related topics:

The ideas for changing women’s roles that most profoundly shaped Uzbek’s activists, whether male or female, expressed continuity with Jadid thought far more than a deep reflection of Bolshevik agendas.[10]

The women’s position in the 1920’s was discussed in the crossfire of tradition, Islam, Muslim reformers ideas and the Bolshevik revolution.[11] Even though different ideas influenced each other or even were grounded in each other, a complex set of visions and conceptions existed. In the years prior to the revolution Soviets (and other western scholars and persons) had a specific stereotype of the “oriental women”.[12] Chatterjee, Majumdar and Sengupta describe in their article “Unveiling Stereotypes: Transitional Politics and Gender in Central Asia” how the women were seen and which factors were included:

The women were portrayed as living in a sorrowful, distressed condition in society. This was manifest in the clothes they wore (paranja), their status in the family (a daughter’s birth was often taunted and treated as an insult), their confinement at home.[13]

Women’s position was based on the perception of women in public sphere (i.e. clothes) and their partly perceived and partly imagined role in private sphere. Whereas women’s role in families was exemplified through daughter’s birth, more complex power structures including age and position, which provoked at least some hidden power for specific women in private sphere, were ignored.[14]

Sovjet visions

The vision of the Bolshevik revolution implied a totally antithetic picture of women, when compared to the stereotype of “oriental women”. For the whole attempt was based on egalitarian values the women had to be equal to men (at least in theory) too. Thus overcoming the mentioned marks of women repression as they were seen by the Soviet was intrinsic to the Soviet set of values and visions.[15]

To reach these goals the Soviet strategy combined legal and administrative practices with the effort of social engineering. The        ulterior motive was to “free” the Uzbek women through actions from above. There was a strong believe that the Muslim women in Central Asia could be liberated in this way.[16] Kamp noted that for Uzbek society was deeply gender-segregated the actions taken had to deal separately with women in order to push them forward to be citizens with political rights.[17] But first of all the Soviets tried to make a difference by establishing new laws i.e. concerning social relations like marriage, divorce and legal rights of children. This was enforced by precedence of civil law over shariat and adat law in  Central Asia.[18] The new law in the beginning of the 1920s banned the marriage of minors, polygamy and levirat.[19] Moreover women gained the equal right to file for divorce, the payment of kalym was forbidden and legal rights were granted to children, who were born outside a marriage.[20] But Kamp argues that the actual rights of Muslim women were not changed in such a range as supposed.

Muslims went to elected qazis to seek justice in matters of family and personal status, while they turned to Russian courts for justice in criminal matters. Islamic law, as practiced in Turkestan and elsewhere, gave men more rights than women in matters of marriage and divorce.[21]

Likewise Corcoran-Nantes stated that all norms connected with marriage and family were classified as personal law and therefore seen as a matter of Islamic law. For this reason many families disobeyed Soviet law even when the marriage matters were removed from the jurisdiction of their traditional courts.[22]

Public and personal sphere

This sample points to a basic phenomenon: the separation of public and personal sphere. The division of both spheres is intimately connected with gender relations. In many cultures the spheres are organized into a hierarchy according to their correlation of gender. Public sphere is often allocated with men as is private sphere with women.[23] In Central Asia the division of spheres was not only a theoretical but an actual spatial one. Almost all spaces were separated by gender. Especially unrelated women and men were not to interact with each other.[24] But even the architecture of the dwellings reflected (and in some areas still reflects) the division of male and female areas in everyday life by segregation of space.[25] “In the ichkari, inside yard, women are separated from men when they have wedding, burial, and other rites whereas the tashkari (outside yard) is the men’s domain.”[26] Of course the degree how spatial gender segregation could be executed was down to different reasons – for instance poor households could not afford a house with two yards, due to that a strict gender segregation was not possible.[27] But even without these possibilities a gender segregation was aimed at with different actions. Kamp explains in her book how female Uzbeks grew up and eventually entered the “adult world”.

Boys and girls, from different ethnic groups, could play on the streets together until they reached ten to twelve years of age. Around this time a girl was given her first paranji, symbolizing and enforcing her entrance into the gender-segregated adult world.  After this she went out only with permission, wearing her veil and accompanied by a family member. She spent time with women, learning to cook, sew, spin, and embroider. She entered the religious and ritual life of women, which might include saying the five daily prayers at home and participating in gatherings where an otin, a female religious teacher, recited the Quaran and called on female saints. She attended parties for female friends who were getting married and joined in other women’s life-cycle gatherings. Eventually a marriage was arranged for her.[28]

Female Uzbeks first experienced not such segregation; just with entering a certain age they as well entered a specific “women’s world” in order to guard their family’s honor[29]. The first paranji given to a girl marked the spatial segregation of women in two ways. First it implied that the girl is a grown up and she had to follow separation rules for example in the household. Second it was an object of spatial segregation itself. By wearing the paranji a woman was separated outside the actual private sphere (household). Even when she entered the public sphere, her appearance made her not to enter downright. She could not been seen as a specific person but rather solely as a member of a group with limited rights (women).

The Hujum

Hence to bring women into public life (and with that into paid work and membership in the Party) the Soviets created a campaign called Hujum[30] including one key symbol – the unveiling.[31] The unveiling can be seen from at least two sides: On the one hand it can be seen as the corollary to liberate women on the other hand it was described as an affront against “the physical manifestations of Muslim culture and practice”[32]. In October 1926[33] at the meeting of the Women’s division organizers a speech was hold regarding “backward traditions” and how to overcome them. The orator focused the behavior of Party members not mentioned unveiling yet. But he gave the campaign its name.[34] Later on different possibilities of the Hujum were discussed and unveiling started to get into the focus. There was no consensus about which proportion unveiling should hold in the whole campaign and who was supposed to unveil, but in the end the Hujum was build around a large unveiling campaign. On March 8 in 1927 (International Women’s Day) a public unveiling was planned and especially Party member’s wives and families were supposed to take part and party members were even threatened to take part in the campaign. According to different accounts some ten thousand women unveiled on that specific day and in the next month the numbers continued to rise.[35] But by far not all women who once unveiled stayed that way.[36] Kamp describes that a lot of women stood between the “choice” to meet the state’s expectations or the family’s expectations.[37] She goes on and states: “Fearing violence, thousands of women resumed wearing their paranjis and chachvons, abandoning them years later.”[38] Just after the public unveiling open violence against unveiled women started and already in the two years following 1927 about 2500 women were killed in Uzbekistan.[39] Kamp declares that Uzbeks who killed women because of their unveiling were no victims of Russian colonialism for they decided as agents to show their opposition through violence against women.[40] But nonetheless the brutal reactions and the reveiling of many women show how the Soviets underestimated the significance of the veil. Akiner declares that the veil “was a statement about the fundamental ordering of society, the nature of gender relations, the division between public and private space […]”[41].

Kamp asks herself in her book about Uzbek women, “why did the Party’s efforts in some spheres, such as education, make and extraordinary impact, while Party ideas about marriage and family, although made into law, only gradually and partially change Uzbek society?”.[42] In finding an answer to this question one is almost forced to pay attention to the important distinction of private and public sphere. Education as well as paid work were processes taking place in public sphere, although they affected the individuals who took part and they brought their experiences back into the private sphere.[43] Marriage and family are fields which rather belong into the private sphere – the core of society. Kamp also noted that behind the walls, in the dwellings, there is the place where family culture is produced and reproduced over and over again.[44] The Soviet attempt to force change by laws from above left the private sphere more or less untouched.  Heuer also mentioned that the efforts of the Soviet colonial rule did not intervene into the intern affairs of the Uzbeks but reproduced female and male space. For instance women were allowed to work but in the manufactures they worked separated from men.[45]

The result?

The public unveiling showed how public and private sphere belong together. The action was hold in the public sphere but aimed also at the division of both spheres how I explained or at least it was absorbed by many Uzbeks[46] as such an “attack”. In contrast to this perception Corcoran-Nantes describes the unveiling rather as economic necessity. She explains that in order to include women into paid work in the manufactures they had to unveil. Otherwise there were less opportunities to let them work with different engines.[47] But this explanation could not rescue the unveiled women who were assaulted or even killed because of the felt attack against the basic order of society, the gender-segregated system. And in the end even the changes in public sphere couldn’t break the patriarchal system. Because the private sphere was left as before, women had still the same family duties but in addition they were supposed to perform as the men in the public production. This double-burden even strengthened the patriarchal relations to some extend.[48]

Bibliography

Alimova, Dilarom and Nodira Azimova. 2000. “Women’s position in Uzbekistan before and after independence”, in: Acar, Feride und Ayse  Gunes-Ayata. Gender and identity construction. Women of Central Asia, the Caucasus and Turkey. Leiden: Brill, 293-304.

Baldauf, Ingeborg. 2007. „Tradition, Revolution, Adaption. Die kulturelle Sowjetisierung Zentralasiens.“, in: Huterer, Andrea; Manfred Sapper and Volker Weichsel. Machtmosaik Zentralasien. Traditionen, Restriktionen, Aspirationen. Bonn: Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung, 99-120.

Chatterjee, Suchandana, Madhumita Majumdar and Anita Sengupta. 1997. “Unveiling Sterotypes: Transitional Politics and Gender in Central Asia”, in: Samaddar, Ranabir. Women in Asia. Work, culture, and politics in South and Central Asia. New Dehli: Vikas Pub. House, 101-119.

Corcoran-Nantes, Yvonne. 2005. Lost voices. Central Asian women confronting transition. London: Zed Books.

Haller, Dieter. 2005. dtv-Atlas Ethnologie, 1. Aufl. München: Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag.

Heuer, Brigitte. 2004. „Geschlechterdifferenz“, in: von Gumppenberg, Marie-Carin and Udo Steinbach. Zentralasien. Geschichte Politik Wirtschaft Ein Lexikon. München: Beck, 92-96.

Kamp, Marianne. 2006. The new women in Uzbekistan. Islam, Modernity, and Unveiling under communism. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Krämer, Annette. 2007. „Islam in Zentralasien. Blüte, Unterdrückung, Instrumentalisierung.“, in: Huterer, Andrea; Manfred Sapper and Volker Weichsel. Machtmosaik Zentralasien. Traditionen, Restriktionen, Aspirationen. Bonn: Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung, 53-76.


[1] Kamp 2006, p. 32

 

[2] Heuer 2004, p. 93

[3] „Jadid“ means new or modern and was a Muslim reform movement.

[4] Kamp 2006, p. 32-52

[5] Kamp 2006, p. 8

[6] Heuer 2004, p. 93

[7] Corcoran-Nantes 2005, p. 39

[8] Kamp 2006, p. 31

[9] Krämer 2007, pp. 58-59

[10] Kamp 2006, p. 32

[11] Alimova et.al. 2000, p. 293

[12] Chatterjee et.al. 1997, p. 103

[13] Chatterjee et.al. 1997, p. 103

[14] Heuer 2004, p. 92

[15] Chatterjee et.al. 1997, p. 108

[16] Chatterjee et.al. 1997, p. 111

[17] Kamp 2006, p. 14

[18] Corcoran-Nantes 2005, p.39

[19] Heuer 2004, p. 93

[20] Corcoran-Nantes 2005, pp. 39–40

[21] Kamp 2006, p. 24

[22] Corcoran-Nantes 2005, p. 40

[23] Haller 2005, p. 101

[24] Kamp 2006, p. 29

[25] Alimova 2000, p. 299

[26] Alimova 2000, p. 299

[27] Kamp 2006, p. 30

[28] Kamp 2006, p. 30

[29] Kamp 2006, p. 29

[30] I will only explore the on goings around the Hujum. But one should not forget that there were unveiled Uzbek women before that campaign already. They worked for the government or belonged to families who were strongly influenced by the Party or Jadism ideas.

[31] Kamp 2006, p. 12

[32] Corcoran-Nantes 2005, p. 43

[33] In my illustration of the Hujum I draw my knowledge from Marianne Kamp’s book „The new women in Uzbekistan“, if nothing else is mentioned.

[34] The name devolped through different translation but is rooted in the words used by the orater.

[35] Corcoran-Nantes 2005, p. 45

[36] Corcoran-Nantes 2005, p. 45

[37] Kamp 2006, p. 12

[38] Kamp 2006, p. 11

[39] Corcoran-Nantes 2005, p. 47

[40] Kamp 2006, p. 13

[41] Corcoran-Nantes 2005, p. 44

[42] Kamp 2006, p. 6

[43] Of course private and public sphere are never categories which can be looked at without concerning the other category for there are the same individuals who act (or not act) in both spheres and which to some degree transfer experiences from one sphere to the other.

[44] Kamp 2006, p. 29

[45] Heuer 2004, p. 92

[46] Kamp mentioned that there was no entity in the reception of the unveiling, but different points of view according to prerevolutionary standpoints, class and gender. (Kamp 2006: 12)

[47] Corcoran-Nantes 2005, pp. 45-46

[48] Alimova et.al 2000, 294-295

I want to explore the question how the Soviet attempts to change women’s status intertwined with the categories of public and private sphere. I will focus on the era around the 1920s – the time before and during the Hujum. During this period the Soviet colonial rule made a wide range of attempts trying to change the role of Uzbek women. In this essay I will first describe how the Uzbek women were seen in the beginning of the 20th century by the Jadid and by the Soviets. Afterwards I will show some of the Soviet attempts particular in shifting the marriage rules and costumes, for how I mentioned already changing these matters was seen as essential in changing the women’s position. In a final step I describe how the Uzbek society was divided spatial by gender and how the Hujum attacked this separation in one point but not all.
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