Women and Children in Tashkent, 1961
Women and Children in Tashkent, 1961

Photo of the Day: Women of Tashkent, 1961

Soviet Uzbekistan Opened Doors for Women

1961, Student Women of Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Photo by Harvey Richards
1961, Student Women of Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Photo by Harvey Richards

The social status of women in the countries of the middle east and Asia have become a hot topic around the world as the oil wars go on endlessly bringing scenes of veiled women dressed in black to the screens of millions of televisions, cell phones, tablets and ipads.  In 1961, Harvey and Alice Richards, and Harvey’s son Paul (the writer of this post) were in Tashkent, Uzbekistan making a film about women and children in the Soviet Union, focusing on the women of Tashkent. Harvey took the photo in this post while visiting the campus of the Tashkent State University. Stopping in front of a crowd of students on the steps of the one of the building, Harvey shot a few still photos. The crowd of students was all male. Since the film project was about women and children, Alice Richards asked these women to join the crowd for a photo.

The image tells a story.  The women were not wearing the hajib. But they were also not integrated into the crowd of male students. They stood separately, with serious expressions on their faces. The looks on the faces in the crowd tell the story of the tensions that existed at that time.  The history of the Soviet impact on Uzbekistan includes the transformation of laws governing the status of women.  Illiteracy was wiped out. Women’s rights were advanced in every walk of life.  Marriage without the consent of the woman was outlawed. Shariah law was replaced with secular law.  Women gained places in the courts, in schools, including the universities and in the work force. It was an uphill battle all the way.

The Soviet Women’s Committee had helped arrange the making of the film and their representatives in Tashkent opened doors for the filming. The Soviet Women’s Committee was an all federation group with branches throughout the USSR. The Uzbekistan Committee was a product of the Soviet influence liberating women from the confining traditional roles forced on them throughout the history of that area. Our association with the Soviet Women’s Committee in Tashkent seemed perfectly normal to me at the time.  In retrospect, decades later, I can see that our film and our association with the Soviet Women’s Committee were part of the struggle to advance women’s rights, not just an independent report on it. And I am sure that suited Harvey and Alice just fine. For more photos from this trip see Soviet Union galleries. For the films see  Soviet Union videos.

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