WCED Lecture - With or Without Women's Movements? Democratization, Economic Transformation, and Women's Equality in Central Asia
Marianne Kamp, associate professor, Department of History, University of Wyoming. Sponsored by the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies, Center for Russian and East European Studies, and Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies.
Seventy years of Soviet approaches to development allowed Central Asian women to establish some capabilities that would support aspects of gender equality. But the Soviet system also limited economic and political freedoms and thus denied other capabilities to both women and men, and treated women more as people who need to be taken care of than as people who should be empowered. Independence opened a variety of possibilities for development, and each Central Asian state has taken its own path, responding to differing internal constraints and external pressures and opportunities. For some women in independent Central Asian states, new freedoms correlate with expanded capabilities, while for others, poverty limits capabilities and renders even theoretical freedoms rather meaningless. In Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, women's NGOs are the main sites of women's activism, and their efforts to empower themselves economically, politically and socially. Women's NGOs have been hampered in Uzbekistan, and barely active in Tajikistan. Is the NGO-ization of women's activism any more effective in expanding Central Asian women's capabilities (meaning, to borrow Amartya Sen's words, "the transformation possibilities of means into actual freedoms") than was the Soviet system? Is gender mainstreaming in development projects in Central Asia likely to produce either empowerment or more cohesive and active women's movements that can expand democratic space and claim equality?
 Amartya Sen, "Gender Inequality and Theories of Justice," reprinted in Capabilities, Freedom, and Equality: Amartya Sen's Work from a Gender Perspective. Eds. B. Agarwal, J. Humphries, I. Robeyns. New Delhi: Oxford University Press 2006, 425.