Uzbekistan Gender Research Guide

This guide provides background on Uzbekistan and discusses researching gender issues in the Uzbek context.


Welcome to Uzbekistan’s Gender Data Research Guide, a resource designed to illuminate the multifaceted dimensions of this crucial topic within the unique cultural and historical context of Uzbekistan. As a nation embedded in the heart of Central Asia, Uzbekistan has a rich tapestry of traditions, customs, and sociopolitical influences that have shaped the experiences of its people in relation to gender and sexuality.

This guide has been carefully curated to serve as a valuable tool for scholars, students, researchers, activists, and anyone keen to explore the intricate dynamics of gender and sexuality within Uzbekistan. We hope to enable users of this guide to develop a deeper and more nuanced understanding of how these constructs are created, perceived, and navigated in this diverse and rapidly evolving society.

Our guide not only provides access to a wide array of academic sources, official databases, articles, books, and multimedia materials, but it also contextualizes the historical, social, and contemporary forces that have shaped the discourse around gender and sexuality in Uzbekistan. We invite you to explore topics such as the historical roles of women in Uzbek society, the evolving legal landscape concerning gender rights and sexual orientation, the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals, and the intersectionality of gender with other identity markers.

Through this guide, we aim to facilitate critical inquiry, promote cross-cultural awareness, and foster informed dialogue on these vital issues. Whether you are embarking on an academic research project, seeking to expand your knowledge, or simply curious about the diverse experiences of Uzbekistan’s people, this resource will empower you to begin the process of navigating the complex terrain of gender and sexuality in Uzbekistan.

Historical background

Uzbekistan’s central location, surrounded by landlocked countries and serving as a crossroads, boasts a rich and complex history that has been shaped by a diverse array of empires, cultures, and influences over the centuries. Throughout its history, the position and rights of women in Uzbekistan have been influenced by its societal norms, religious traditions, and the ruling powers of different eras.

The region that is now Uzbekistan has been inhabited for thousands of years, with evidence of ancient civilizations dating back to the Bronze Age. One of the most notable ancient cultures in the region was the Sogdian civilization, known for its trade along the Silk Road. While the roles of women in these ancient societies varied, women often played important roles in trade, agriculture, and even religious practices.

In the 8th century, the region came under Arab control and was subsequently influenced by Islamic culture and religion. Islamic teachings granted women certain rights, such as the right to inherit property and engage in economic activities. However, the interpretation and application of these rights varied across different regions and communities within Uzbekistan. In the 13th century, the Mongol Empire, under the leadership of Genghis Khan and his successors, swept through Central Asia, including Uzbekistan, bringing it under Mongol rule. This period saw a blending of cultures and the development of trade along the Silk Road. Uzbekistan’s strategic location on the Silk Road made it a vibrant hub for trade and cultural exchange for centuries, with caravanserais and cities like Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva prospering. The ancient trade cities of Samarkand and Bukhara have a large Tajik minority reflecting the Persian dominance of trade, while the Ozbek khans who rose to political power in the early 1500s and give their name to country are of nomadic Turkic origin. The Karakalpaks, living in the Western region, remain a distinct ethnic group, speaking a language closer to Kazakh than standard Uzbek.

Russian imperialism made its significant incursions into Central Asia in the late 19th century, gradually expanding its control over the region. Although the khanates and emirates in what is now Uzbekistan were among the last to cede control (Bukhara 1866, Kokhand 1868, Khiva 1873), Russian domination was soon complete.. The conquest was marked by a combination of military force, political maneuvering, and economic exploitation. The city of Tashkent, as the terminus of the only rail connection from Russia into the region until the completion of the Turkestan-Siberia (Turksib) railway in 1930, and as the provincial capital, grew rapidly to outpace other cities. Its growth reinforced by deportations and the transfer of Soviet industry to the city far from front lines during World War II, it remains the largest city in Central Asia to this day.

Russian colonial rule in Uzbekistan ushered in a period of profound change and upheaval. The indigenous social, economic, and political structures were disrupted, and the local population faced widespread discrimination and subjugation under Russian rule. The imposition of colonial governance, coupled with the extraction of resources, such as the emphasis on cotton production to replace American imports interrupted by the US Civil War, disrupted traditional ways of life and led to economic exploitation.

The situation evolved with the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1922. Uzbekistan, like other Central Asian republics, became part of the Soviet sphere of influence. While the Soviet regime introduced modernization and industrialization, it did so under a coercive and centralized system, including the forced unveiling of women. This often meant that the interests of the indigenous population were secondary to Moscow’s priorities.

Soviet colonialism in Uzbekistan can be characterized by several key aspects. First, it entailed the forced collectivization of agriculture, which disrupted traditional farming practices and caused severe social and economic dislocation. In particular the emphasis on the water-intensive and labor-intensive crop of cotton ultimately led to both the drying up of the Aral Sea and environmental pollution in Karakalpakstan and the ongoing use of periodic forced labor (corvée) to pick cotton, particularly impacting women and children. Second, the Soviet authorities implemented a policy of Russification, which aimed to undermine local cultures and languages in favor of Russian dominance. The traditional Arabic script used to write the Uzbek language since around 1000 AD was transitioned to the Cyrillic alphabet by 1940. Furthermore, Uzbekistan, like other Soviet republics, experienced repression, censorship, and human rights abuses under the Soviet regime. Dissent was met with harsh penalties, and the local population had limited autonomy over their political and economic affairs. The interaction of the Soviet economic system and distorted political regime with the coercive economic sector based on cotton led to notable corruption and scandal that by the 1980s revealed major problems with the Soviet state more generally.

During the period of Soviet colonization, Uzbekistan experienced significant changes in women’s rights as a result of the policies and ideologies of the Soviet government. Positive developments included increased access to education for women, enabling them to pursue careers in fields such as medicine and engineering. Legal reforms theoretically granted women equal rights with men, including the right to vote and work in various professions, while also aiming to eliminate discriminatory practices. Additionally, economic opportunities for women expanded, contributing to their financial independence.

However, there were negative aspects to these changes. Traditional societal norms often resisted the shift toward gender equality, with many families continuing to expect women to fulfill traditional roles as homemakers and mothers. This divergence between legal rights and societal expectations created a complex dynamic. Moreover, the so-called “double burden” emerged as women were required to balance professional careers with domestic responsibilities. Despite legal equality, women’s representation in higher political positions remained limited, reflecting the predominantly male-dominated political landscape. The promotion of Soviet values sometimes clashed with Uzbek cultural traditions, leading to perceptions of cultural disruption and the potential erosion of traditional gender roles.

Uzbekistan gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 following its dissolution.Islam Karimov, who had been the First Secretary of the Communist Party, became the country’s first president and ruled until his death in 2016. While remaining a centralized authoritarian state with major crises (for example, the Andijan massacre where hundreds of protesters were killed), Uzbekistan has evolved culturally. The Cyrillic script has been transitioned to Latin, and a cultural identity is being built around the Uzbek language and the grand historical relics of the Timurid era (Amir Timur, who was Turkic, but not strictly speaking an Uzbek ruler). Uzbekistan is the most populous of the countries covered here, with more of a farming and agricultural population than most, and remains relatively low income. Its size and central position mean that it will continue to have a complex relationship with other countries in the region, politically and culturally.

Women’s rights in Uzbekistan

Uzbek women have made notable advancements in education and workforce participation over recent years. Many women are actively involved in various professions, including healthcare, education, and government. However, traditional gender roles continue to exert significant influence over many aspects of Uzbek society. These roles often translate into disparities in political representation and access to high-ranking decision-making positions. While women have made significant inroads in some sectors, they remain underrepresented in key leadership roles.

Domestic violence remains a critical issue in Uzbekistan. Cultural norms, coupled with limited awareness and resources, create hurdles in effectively combating this problem. While the Uzbek government has taken steps to promote gender equality and address violence against women through legislative measures, the consistent enforcement and implementation of these laws remain a challenge.

Despite these challenges, there are active women’s rights activists and organizations in Uzbekistan working diligently to raise awareness about gender issues, empower women, and advocate for meaningful change. Their efforts are crucial in promoting gender equality and challenging deeply ingrained societal norms.

LGBTQIA+ rights in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan maintains a conservative stance on LGBTQIA+ rights, making the situation for LGBTQIA+ individuals particularly challenging. Homosexuality is illegal in Uzbekistan and is punishable by imprisonment. Thus, the country lacks legal recognition or protection for same-sex relationships, leaving LGBTQIA+ individuals vulnerable to discrimination and harassment. They face societal stigmatization and often keep their sexual orientation concealed to avoid discrimination.

The LGBTQIA+ community in Uzbekistan operates in a climate where open advocacy or activism for LGBTQIA+ rights is risky due to societal and legal constraints. Authorities have at times taken repressive measures against LGBTQIA+ individuals and organizations, and there is limited room for public discourse on LGBTQIA+ rights. While there may be pockets of support and underground LGBTQIA+ networks, the overall environment for LGBTQIA+ individuals in Uzbekistan remains challenging, emphasizing the need for greater recognition, protection, and understanding of their rights and experiences.

Methodology note

The data gathering methodology employed a comprehensive and multifaceted approach, utilizing a diverse array of sources to compile gendered data pertaining to Uzbekistan. The process involved a systematic exploration of open-source information, encompassing data from state institutions, social media platforms, international and regional non-governmental organizations (INGOs), local NGOs, and a spectrum of media outlets, ranging from independent sources to those affiliated with the state. Each source underwent careful evaluation to ensure its relevance and reliability in terms of containing data related to gender and sexuality. This inclusive approach enabled a holistic view of Uzbekistan’s gender landscape, encompassing a broad range of perspectives and transcending official narratives. This methodological strategy facilitates a comprehensive understanding of gender dynamics within the country, leveraging the diversity of sources to enhance the collected data and contribute to a well-rounded analytical framework.

Statement on social media and digital ethnographies

In the realm of Central Asian studies, the emergence of social media has brought forth a dynamic and invaluable resource for researchers seeking to comprehend the region’s cultural, social, and political landscape. Social media platforms offer an unfiltered window into the lives, opinions, and interactions of individuals across Central Asia, transcending geographical boundaries and providing a real-time connection to the region’s contemporary realities. Through platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, and YouTube, researchers can gain access to a diverse array of voices, including local activists, artists, scholars, and ordinary citizens, who share their perspectives on everything from cultural traditions to current events. This digital ethnography enriches our understanding of regional identities, societal shifts, and emerging grassroots movements. By harnessing the power of social media as a research tool, researchers are empowered to capture the nuances and complexities of Central Asian societies in ways that traditional academic sources may struggle to capture, thus fostering a more comprehensive and authentic portrayal of the region.

Statement on LGBTQIA+ issues in Uzbekistan

The process of gathering data on LGBTQIA+ communities in Uzbekistan is inherently complex and challenging. Uzbekistan, like many countries in the region, maintains conservative social norms and legal restrictions on LGBTQIA+ rights, which create a climate of fear and secrecy for this community. Consequently, the compiled data may not fully reflect the true extent of LGBTQIA+ issues and experiences in the country.

The primary factors contributing to this complexity include the vulnerability and low visibility of LGBTQIA+ individuals in Uzbekistan. Many LGBTQIA+ individuals fear discrimination, violence, and legal repercussions, which forces them to conceal their sexual orientation and gender identity. This fear of exposure often deters individuals from participating in surveys, interviews, or any form of data collection that could potentially reveal their LGBTQIA+ identity.

Moreover, societal stigma and discrimination further contribute to the invisibility of LGBTQIA+ communities, as they are often excluded from mainstream discourse, health services, and legal protections. This isolation makes it difficult for researchers and organizations to reach out to LGBTQIA+ individuals and gather accurate information about their needs, experiences, and challenges.


Please note that the availability and accessibility of archival materials may vary, and it’s advisable to contact these institutions directly or check their websites for the most up-to-date information.

  1. National Library of Uzbekistan: The National Library of Uzbekistan, located in Tashkent, may hold historical documents and manuscripts related to women’s history in Uzbekistan. They have a substantial collection of books, manuscripts, and archival materials.

  2. Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan: This research institute may have historical research and publications related to the role of women in Uzbekistan’s history, culture, and society.

  3. Family and Women’s Committee of Uzbekistan: The Women’s Committee of Uzbekistan may have archives or resources related to women’s issues, achievements, and contributions in Uzbekistan.

  4. University Libraries: Universities in Uzbekistan, such as the National University of Uzbekistan, may have specialized collections and archives related to women’s history and gender studies.

Academic journals

Here are some notable journals that have published research on gender and sexuality in Central Asia.

  1. Central Asian Survey: This journal covers a wide range of topics related to Central Asia, including gender and social issues. It often features articles that explore gender dynamics, women’s roles, and cultural aspects of the region.
  2. Central Asian Affairs: This journal covers political, economic, and social issues in Central Asia, including articles that touch on gender and social dynamics in the region.
  3. Inner Asia: While broader in scope, this journal occasionally publishes articles that delve into gender and sexuality issues in Inner Asia, which includes parts of Central Asia.
  4. Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography: Although not exclusive to Central Asia, this journal publishes research on gender, place, and culture from a feminist perspective, and some articles may address gender issues in the region.
  5. Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe: This journal covers a range of topics related to the region, including gender and sexuality. It might feature articles that discuss gender dynamics and societal changes in Central Asia.

Created 2023-10-15, updated 2023-11-02

Last modified 2024.05.22: 2024 0.3 release (daee0b4)