Systemic Oppression and Harassment of Women In Central Asia

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While sexual harassment is a global issue and must be discussed everywhere, Central Asia is at a whole other level of harassment issues. With recent events and social movements, more women are finding the courage to stand up against abusers, harassers and call them out by saying their experiences out loud.  The “Time’s up” movement is one of many movements that influenced many women to speak up and share their side of the story. Although it’s a long journey, with each step women and all victims of harassment are getting closer to the goal of eliminating this injustice. Unfortunately, Central Asia is one of many places around the world that have not made a step in the right direction yet.           

Inequality is one of the major issues Central Asian countries face today. Activism, political movements and generally liberal points of view is not really supported in those regions, neither by government nor the people themselves. Sexual Harassment finds its roots deep in the history of a nation, where sexism was not an issue, but a lifestyle. Since the morals and values of many Turkic ethnic groups are traditional and conservative it is evident that harassment is not going away as long as peoples’ mindset is still on the wrong side. Historically in Central Asia, the role of the man was hunting and the role of the woman was to take care of the household. This ideology that females are a “companion piece” rather than an individual on their own created a mindset that females can be treated any way males wanted. It saddens me deeply that harassment in my country is so normalized. Just because it happens regularly does not mean it has to stay that way.          

Sexual harassment is born from sexist views that start blooming even in your childhood, from your family. Every “that’s a toy for boys only” or “you are a girl, you shouldn’t…” builds up and affects us and our views. The family puts these values in our head and we form opinions based on them. When you tell a child what is “right” for girls or what is “right” for boys, you are becoming part of the problem that helps the sexist point of view to form and develop. Apart from that, environment plays a huge role in the views towards gender roles. School classes such as Home Economic for girls and wood carving for boys promotes sexist/stereotypical gender roles that further emphasizes the problem. Have you ever been told “he teases you because he likes you”? If I had a dollar each time someone told me that, I’d be able to afford a house in NYC. This phrase excuses boys from their actions, further forcing a girl to be enduring when she does not have to be. Later, those people who told you this phrase would call harassers “persistent” instead of what they actually are.            

There is a tradition called “bride kidnapping” in many Central Asian countries that was commonly practiced and happens sometimes even today, in 2019. Essentially, a man would see a girl and instead of asking a permission from the girl’s family or God forbid, from the girl herself, would kidnap her and bring to his house. Man’s family would welcome the girl, a new bride, by placing a scarf on her head. Unfortunately, this practice happens in rural areas of the Central Asian countries as of today. Not only this is a horrible form of sexual harassment, but an abduction, rape and captivation all in one mix. Girls were not allowed to leave or run away, because her family would not welcome her back and it was considered a sin to run away from your new household. Due to this ancient and inhumane “tradition”, thousands of young women are forced into a life they do not wish for themselves.    

Despite this tradition almost (!) dying out, sexism and harassment happens all around the region even in the modern families with “open” views. My mother married my father in 1998, and essentially became a slave for my father’s family. She would wake up earlier than everyone else, cook four to five times a day, do all the chores around the house and keep quiet with no opinion, no rights for spare time or friends. Within a few months, she lost tons of weight from stress and exhaustion. Unfortunately, this problem with new brides is still relevant today. New brides are expected to become servants to groom’s family, not a member of a family. This form of oppression seems so inhumane to me, making me think about my mother’s silence and not understanding how a person can claim this harassment as “tradition”. Instead of fixing it, people around me and my family would say “that’s how it is” or “there is nothing to be done about it”. Even now, my widowed mother is pressured by relatives to stay in the same house as my grandmother, her mother-in-law, who tormented her all those years. By using emotional manipulation, relatives in Kazakh families voice their unwanted opinions to try and persuade my Mother. I have had numerous talks with some of my relatives, but nothing seems to be working through this old-fashioned sexist exterior. How unfair it is when your own family has antiquated and discriminatory values?          

I see this harassment every day, I experience catcalling every day, I experience the injustice every day. At the workplace, at school, even at home. I see the news about a young girl being a victim of a rapist and an astonishing amount of commentaries that blame the girl for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, for wearing  “provocative” clothing or just speculating how she must have acted to “deserve it”. There are men, women, even other young girls who blame the victim on rape, not the actual rapist. How unfair it is victim always gets blamed for harasser’s actions or thoughts? How unfair it is I have to exclude certain items from my wardrobe, because they are deemed disrespectful? When will these injustices stop? What can I do about it?          

Before harassment or sexism stops, people must see how wrong it is themselves. It is not enough to wait for people to realize it anymore. We must be active with our opinions, we must share them anywhere we can, on social media, on events, at family gatherings. Raising awareness is the first step, but it is a step in the right direction. I certainly hope that this generation will be active in their objective to discuss the issues of inequality, especially in regions like Central Asia, where many people have not yet made these steps.


Madina Tuleshova describes herself as the “ultimate enthusiast” who is eager for knowledge. She is a political science and business student, Potterhead, mentor for youths and an overall worldly person who wants to help tear down the wall of ignorance and be part of change.Instagram: @mdinspr

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