By Utkirbek Tadjimov
With the combined goals of empowering women and combating gender-based violence, the public diplomacy (PD) section at Embassy Tashkent launched its inaugural self-defense camp for women and girls in 2021. The effort, funded by a grant to U.S. government exchange program alumni, also includes mental health coaching by an alumna psychologist and has been so popular that the Embassy is working to expand the program across Uzbekistan. The fourth iteration of the three-month camp launched in fall 2022.
The Assistance for Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia-funded project is designed to help vulnerable women and girls build skills and confidence in a country that struggles with high rates of domestic abuse, and is working to improve gender equality across society. Since its inception, the project has taught 240 women and girls in Tashkent essential self-defense skills and helped them overcome their fears and improve their mental health.
Participants have reported that the training helped improve their self-worth and gain a better understanding of the true extent of violence against women in Uzbekistan. “I have become more stress-resistant and began to fight against domestic violence in my family,” one participant said.
This year’s camp began May 16. The program has attracted the attention of the Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu and Krystin Borgognone, deputy director of programs at the secretary of state’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, both of whom visited the camp and met with participants, May 24, and Aug. 30 respectively.
Interest in the program is widespread with more than 600 applications within the first day of announcing each camp. This summer, to capitalize on this important initiative, the PD section sent a group of female self-defense coaches on a two-week Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Sports Visitor Program to the United States. These alumni are expected to launch their own similar self-defense camps in Uzbekistan’s regions to multiply the value of the program especially in more conservative areas of the country.
Utkirbek Tadjimov is the alumni coordinator in the public diplomacy section at Embassy Tashkent.