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Women's crime rate on the rise in Uzbekistan
The government and analysts are discussing ways to enhance economic opportunities and get social support for women to stem the rising tide.
By Shakar Saadi
TASHKENT – Kokand resident Jamilya Nazarova recently spent two years in prison for circulating banned religious literature.
Her husband had gone to Kazakhstan in search of work, she said, but he disappeared, leaving her to fend for herself.
After his disappearance, one of his distant acquaintances came and offered her money, food and clothes.
"She called it charitable assistance in God's name," Nazarova said of the outreach. "But after a while, she demanded full repayment."
"I found myself in a trap and had to repay the debt by circulating banned literature," Nazarova said.
The female crime rate in Uzbekistan is on the rise, according to the Interior Ministry (MVD), and authorities and analysts are discussing ways to reverse the trend.
Women are accounting for a larger percentage of crimes – including pandering, fraud, robbery, homicide, drug trafficking and extremism. Females committed 20 per cent of Uzbek crimes in 2011, 23 per cent in 2012, and more than 26 per cent so far this year, according to the ministry.
Nazarova's case exemplifies a situation in which women can be forced into doing something illegal because they lack an understanding of how legal complications can sometimes arise out of seemingly unrelated instances, and that's one aspect the government would like to correct.
"We are discussing ways of improving [educational] work with women and plan to hold an awareness campaign to prevent women's involvement in crime," MVD spokesman Rashid Zorboyev told Central Asia Online. "We plan to assign lawyers and police officers to meet with women, particularly in rural areas, to educate them legally."
Mahallas can help, too
Another approach is involving communities.
Every neighbourhood association, or mahalla, should support women who need help, Zoyir Mukhamejanov, an activist in "Constitution," a Tashkent mahalla committee, told Central Asia Online.
"Our people have a good tradition of helping the needy," he said. "We are busy establishing a system to collect mahalla member donations that a mahalla commission will then distribute among the needy families."
In other efforts, the Uzbek Women's Committee, with the MVD, has organised several roundtables in the provinces to discuss measures to prevent women's involvement in crime.
Economic help needed
Educational and public awareness campaigns, though, aren't effective on their own, independent political scientist and psychologist Erkin Kariyev said.
"What we really need is to give people jobs, so they can earn enough … to support their families," he said. "You'll be surprised how fast the crime rate drops." The MVD acknowledges the economic factors behind crime.
"In many cases, it's grinding poverty that causes them [women] to commit crimes they'd never even think of," Zorboyev said, pointing to women's growing involvement in drug trafficking.
"Arrests of female drug couriers and pushers have become more frequent – they now comprise more than 30 per cent [of arrested suspects] to date versus 18 per cent just three years ago," he said.
With such data in mind, the government has worked to create a favourable climate for small and family-owned business development, Andijan businesswoman Ainisa Sagdiyeva said.
"I could've gone abroad to make money, but I chose to start up a small clothing factory at home," she said. "I got some help from the local authorities and the Women's Committee. I have 10 employees."
NGOs work to stem tide, too
Sagdiyeva said that she, too, believes in the importance of educating the public, and the country is turning to activists and NGOs, such as Woman of the East, to help in that regard.
"Our foundation helps women find a niche in life," Saodat Tursunbayeva, chairwoman of Woman of the East, said. "Not only do we organise seminars and educational discussions for women – we also help them in practical terms to find something ... to do."
Uzbek traditions and customs, especially attitudes toward family and children, weigh much more heavily on women than on men, she said, and her NGO tries to direct women to move past that burden.
"People expect the state to bring about instant results through [various] economic reforms, which is impossible," Tursunbayeva added. "Today, though, it is within our powers to give a woman not only some money but also to equip her to support her family in the long term."