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A Young Woman Fights Back Against Uzbekistan's Strong Patriarchal Culture

Assault charges have been dropped against 23-year-old Uzbek Gulsanam Alijonova, who could have received a five-year prison sentence if she had been convicted of beating up two men who she said sexually harassed her.

Many people wonder if Alijonova was criminally charged for punching the men or if it was for being so brazen to stand up to a man in the conservative, patriarchal society of Uzbekistan.

News of the charges against Alijonova, who lives in the eastern Namangan Province, were announced on September 8 even though the alleged crime occurred on June 25.

It is interesting, and telling, to follow the events starting with September 8, when the Interior Ministry posted information about the case.

The Interior Ministry’s website said in its statement that on June 25 at 5:30 p.m. local time, “G.A. deliberately disregarding the rules of conduct of society…without cause beat 33-year-old U.A., inflicting physical harm on him…and further, G.A. continued her criminal activity, striking 30-year-old A.N., who was trying to calm the situation, several times in the face.”

The Uzbek website Gazeta.uz reported on the case, following closely the information on the Interior Ministry website.

Alijonova was charged with violating Section 3, Article 277 of the Criminal Code, hooliganism.

Given that the Interior Ministry had used words such as “deliberately disregarding” and “continued her criminal activity,” Alijonova’s chances in court did not look good.

But Alijonova was fortunate that the case against her did not go unnoticed.

Nikita Makarenko, a former journalist for Gazeta.uz, tweeted on September 8 that “A 23-year-old girl has beaten two guys in Namangan right after they catcalled her from a car. So she chased them in a car.”

Social Media Support

The reaction of many on Twitter was supportive of Alijonova and critical of Uzbekistan’s law enforcement for detaining her.

Then came more information about Alijonova.

Gazeta.uz published an interview with her on September 10.

Alijonova explained that she was accompanying her sister-in-law and her 10-month-old baby to Andijon. They were outside and Alijonova’s sister-in-law was trying to arrange the trip to Andijon with a taxi driver when a car pulled up and a man started laughing and making faces at Alijonova for wearing short pants and a T-shirt.

When Alijonova replied to him, the man started using foul language, insulting Alijonova, and making some rude remarks about her mother.

Then the car with the two men drove off.

Since Alijonova already had a taxi, she jumped in and asked the driver to follow the men’s car.

She caught up with her antagonists and confronted one of them. He reportedly hurled insults at her and grabbed her shirt, at which point she started hitting him. When the other man tried to intervene, Alijonova fought him off.

Wearing short pants is not against the law in Uzbekistan, but Uzbek socieiy's patriarical mores mean that many find in offensive. (file photo)

Wearing short pants is not against the law in Uzbekistan, but Uzbek socieiy’s patriarical mores mean that many find in offensive. (file photo)

Both men ran off in different directions but their friends, who were in a different car, started to attack the taxi driver until they saw Alijonova coming after them.

It turns out that Alijonova is a tae kwon do champion in Namangan and competes internationally. She also boxes and knows karate.

She recently worked as a volunteer during the coronavirus outbreak, bringing food to some 500 families in her district.

She is also in her third year of studies at a university.

Public Sentiment

That Gazeta.uz would side with Alijonova in the online article was a sign that public sentiment was behind the young woman in the ordeal.

And sure enough, there was ample public support for her on social networks.

Even Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev’s eldest daughter mentioned Alijonova’s case in broader comments about judicial equality for women and journalists.

But while there were many other comments on social media that seemed to vindicate Alijonova, that is not usually the case for women who try to defend themselves in Uzbekistan and Central Asia in general.

Alijonova’s case also received attention outside Uzbekistan and the absurdity of charging a woman who didn’t quietly accept being insulted was apparently something Uzbek prosecutors could not ignore.

Wearing short pants is not against the law in Uzbekistan, but it is somehow offensive to the patriarchal society that demands women dress modestly and to be submissive.

Alijonova was neither of those and that clearly bothered some people.

Nowhere in the tale of Gulsanam Alijonova is there any mention of the two men who started the problem being questioned by police, lectured about stopping their vehicle to insult someone, about treating women with more respect, or apologizing for making inappropriate comments.

Alijonova was able to physically defend herself, but that is usually not the case in Central Asia.

Uzbek officials — including President Mirziyoev, the Women’s Committee, or the Senate’s gender equality committee — have been promising equal rights for women but none of them have commented publicly about Alijonova’s situation.

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Copyright (c) 2014. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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