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Uzbekistan: Men in the Driver’s Seat
Shahlo Sharopova

In my home country, Uzbekistan, males are considered one step above females. The husband is the leader and the wife is the follower. The husband makes the decisions and controls the money; the wife can only tell him her opinions, but cannot go against him. The wife also has to take care of her mother- and father-in-law, and do all the cooking, cleaning, and child care while the husband supports the family financially. The wife can work only if her husband lets her.

Although some Americans may think these roles are too old-fashioned, I see value in them. Clearly defined roles help society to remain stable. Uzbeks rarely divorce, and from the time we’re children, we understand what’s expected of us.

Girls have to help their mothers with housework, while boys help their fathers with gardening, washing the car, and fixing things. Girls and boys also have different rules. A girl who hangs out with boys, wears revealing clothes (or even pants instead of a long skirt), or comes home late is not a “good girl” and boys wouldn’t want to marry such a girl. But boys can hang out with girls, wear what they want, and come home late (depending on their parents’ strictness) without harming their reputations.

The different rules continue into adulthood: Males can drive cars or ride bikes, but it’s odd when females drive or ride. It’s acceptable when males drink and smoke, but it’s inappropriate for females to do so. Men are supposed to get educated, get a job, and then marry in their mid-20s. Meanwhile, girls are supposed to get married before they turn 21 or they’ll be considered “old ladies.” Although girls learn a lot in high school (Uzbekistan’s education system is good), people think that it’s not necessary for women to go to college because they’ll be busy with housework after they get married, anyway.

I don’t want to say that men and women are unequal in Uzbekistan; they just have different responsibilities in the society. For the most part, women don’t complain because they believe they do a better job than men with housework and men do a better job at being in charge of the family.

A Few Objections

Still, I have a few big objections to the gender roles. I don’t think it’s fair that women aren’t supposed to drive or go to college, and must get permission from their husbands to work. Like many girls, I want to learn how to drive and have a career of my own.

My parents want me to get married soon, and I hope to find a husband who understands me and respects my point of view. I wouldn’t want to have a strict leader-follower relationship, which would make me feel like a servant. I hope to have a relationship similar to my parents’ relationship.

Yes, Dad expects Mom to take care of my siblings and me, do the cooking and cleaning, and not wear revealing clothes (although he let her wear pants after we moved to the U.S.). But he respects Mom’s opinions and ideas, asks her for advice when he needs it, and sometimes helps with housework. He also supports Mom as she’s working toward her nursing license. I see their relationship as a good example of appropriate gender roles: They each have a different function in the family, but there’s room to maneuver.

In general, gender roles have become less significant than they were when my grandmother was a girl. For instance, today there are more Uzbek women who go to college, have careers, drive, and even get involved in politics, than there were half a century ago. Although women’s role in the family hasn’t changed so much—we’re still expected to be the housekeepers and primary caregivers—our opportunities to take part in the larger society have improved a lot.

Read more about gender roles and women's achievements in "Women Around the World."

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