UNFPA Uzbekistan Meets Cyclists for Women’s Rights

23 April 2015

23 April 2015 – On their route from Jakarta to Amsterdam, the ‘Ride for Women’s Rights’ (R4WR), a team of four young women on bicycles stopped by the UNFPA Uzbekistan office to learn more about what UNFPA and UN Women do to promote women’s rights in the country, but also to share their own experiences.

The ‘R4WR’ is a charity founded by four enthusiastic graduates from The Netherlands who have set themselves an ambitious goal of cycling from Indonesia to Netherlands and, as they travel, to explore the bigger meaning of women’s rights worldwide and learn from meeting people and visiting projects. In their early 20s, Carlijn, Lidewij, Sophie and Monique have embarked on an impressive journey of 400 days, 14,000 kilometers and over 22 countries. By the time they reached Tashkent they had already cycled around 8,000km, averaging some 70-80km per day when on the road.

At UNFPA the cyclists were met by UNFPA Representative Karl Kulessa, other members of the team and Farzona Khashimova of UN Women for a lively exchange of views and ideas.

“We founded the R4RW with the idea of inspiring and motivating others to join the worldwide efforts in bettering women’s lives. When we look at our own country, we see that opportunities are often taken for granted. The possibilities we get to study and determine our own future are denied to women of all ages around the world. A discrepancy that we cannot and will not accept”, - says Carlijn, one of the cyclists.

“Uzbekistan has made big progress towards promoting a stronger role for women, providing a solid legislative base combined with a strong commitment to CEDAW principles”, - Mr. Kulessa said. “Yet more needs to be done, particularly in making gender-related data available, and also tackling early marriage and violence against women, and that’s where UNFPA steps in. We work at different levels to widen women’s choices, promote equal access, and ensure meaningful representation of women in decision-making bodies”

“Some of existing issues might have traditional origins, and one thing that comes to my mind is social perceptions regarding sharing the burden of house chores and upbringing of children. I feel that in this country there is sometimes too much on women’s shoulders. And I admire the strength of women here who are able to carry on full-time work, studying, several kids, care for the elderly and a whole lot of housework”, - he added.

In a study commission by UNFPA in 2011, it was found that almost half of respondents among some 2,000 Uzbek households said they prefer ‘patriarchal’ model of families – where a man dominates in decision-making and income, while a woman is fully responsible for house chores, upbringing of children, and care for elder family members. Only 7% think that spouses should be equal in their aspirations and opportunities regarding education and career, while their parents or domestics could help with children and house life. Unfortunately, the burden of house chores laid on women’s shoulders appears to grow in families with less income, where women also take responsibilities for family budget, shopping and small house repairs.


Farzona Khashimova of UN Women described how economic empowerment of women is the area where UN and the government need to strengthen their efforts: “We support initiatives that help develop women entrepreneurship, especially in rural areas. We provide business training for women, and in partnership with local administration help them in getting microcredits for small startups. Women are traditionally involved in farming and livestock breeding, as well as handicrafts, but we try to widen their business ideas and empower them with knowledge required to enter the local business environment, which is mostly dominated by men”.

As the cyclists tell about their cycling experience, they stress that some concerns related to women’s rights are almost universal. “Violence against women knows no borders. We’ve come across this problem in almost every country we visited, throughout South-East and Central Asia, and across East Europe. What strikes us most is women’s own attitude towards gender violence – in some countries it is almost accepted as ‘normal’, - shares Monique.

“Important part of our project is sharing our experiences through blogs, video and photos. By doing this, we want to bring awareness and educate young people worldwide on this important issue. We believe everyone has a role to play, and we want to inspire our peers to start something similar”, - says Sophie.

Inspired by the young women’s enthusiasm and innovative approach, UNFPA team suggested that they meet other UNFPA Country Offices along their route, and already put them in touch with the teams in Turkmenistan, Iran and Georgia. At the end, UNFPA shared with the cyclists souvenirs including T-shirts, which they promised to wear on the way.

“Every little action counts, - Mr. Kulessa noted, - In our shared passion towards empowering, protecting and educating women it is great to hear these young activists’ story, and their remarkable example of how the message of development is transferred through sports and physical activity”