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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Water and Women’s Empowerment in the Ferghana Valley: Agency of Older Women from Soviet Era in Contemporary Rural Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan


This paper examines the multiple variables that influence Kyrgyz and Uzbek women to take on leadership and decision making positions through their participation in village water committees. Socio-familial roles assigned by age and the political era in which women grew up (Soviet or Post Soviet) are seen as the major influences that determine whether and how women across different ethnicities (Kyrgyz & Uzbek) and nationalities (Kyrgyzstan & Uzbekistan) perceive their empowerment in agency and individual through their association with the water development sector. Ethnographic research in three Kyrgyz and one Uzbek village over a period of five months informs us about how local feminism emerges in these four villages as a tool to address scarcity of portable water. The development organizations working in the Ferghana region have continued to involve women in community resource management. This research shows that older women who were born and raised during the Soviet era are able to take on strong leadership roles in comparison to women who lived through the years of economic and political transitions starting in the late 1980’s. Further, their age assigned social responsibilities make younger and middle aged women more susceptible towards lower rates of participation in the development sector while the older women take on the presidency of local water committees, thus creating not only an intra-village agency but also networks of activism across different villages in the Ferghana valley.

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