Women sustaining forests in Uzbekistan

Uzbek women participating in traditional crafts production training

©FAO/Eleonora Fayzullaeva


Mahbuba was carefully following the instructions of a traditional crafts master, looking from time to time at her cell phone which was placed on the table with the screen facing upwards: she had to make sure that her four children were okay. She had left them with her mother-in-law that morning and they agreed that if something happened, she would message her.

Mahbuba’s husband and his father left for Russia some time ago to find better jobs and she had become the de facto head of the household until the men returned home. Even if the men had been at home, she would not have left the children with them, because of social norms that prescribe domestic chore roles to women. It is highly unusual for Mahbuba to be away from home and she only leaves once a month to purchase household goods.

If forests are “dwindling”, how would the family survive on only a small, partial income from the sale of seedlings and fruit, and growing wheat and raising livestock?

But this time was different – this time she went to the district centre to join a three-day masterclass with 25 other women from Matmon and Jovuz, the highest and remotest mountainous villages of Kitab district in Kashkadarya province, to learn carpet weaving and how to make woollen blankets, clothing and souvenirs. Since her marriage at 18, she has been unable to attend university or vocational school because of her sizeable workload at home – looking after the children, maintaining a supply of water for drinking and the cattle, keeping the house warm in the cold season and undertaking the many other domestic chores typical of an average rural woman in her neighbourhood.

For Mahbuba’s community, the forest is the main source of income and survival. She still remembers her mom teaching her how to interact with the forest; details such as how to safely light a fire for cooking in the grazing areas and how to harvest Ferula smelly. Not much has changed since then, but recently when buying goods in the bazaar, she heard through a local municipality campaign that the forest is degrading due to the continuous use of wood in the winter and animal grazing.

If forests are “dwindling”, how would the family survive on only a small, partial income from the sale of seedlings and fruit, and growing wheat and raising livestock?

©FAO/Eleonora Fayzullaeva

FAO currently works with four pilot areas in Uzbekistan to sustain forests in mountain and valley regions and support the most vulnerable. FAO has introduced alternative and diverse income-generating activities for women to increase their family income, which in turn will decrease their dependence on grazing and illegal logging.

Experts recommend that communities increase their engagement with local non-wood resources, for example, environmentally-friendly sheep wool. This is available in most households but is often not utilized, and in most cases, is simply thrown away or burned after shearing.

The introduction of carpet weaving and blanket making using wool represents the revival of, and new directions for, traditional crafts.

There is high demand on the market and in the developing ecotourism sector along the routes of the Great Silk Road. This is why Mahbuba and over 100 other women from the regions of Kashkadarya, Syrdarya and Namangan have learned to produce environmentally-friendly non-wood crafts.

Women do not usually engage in formal relations with forest enterprises due to widespread stereotypes that perceive men as the main breadwinners. Although the legislation provides equal rights for both women and men to own property, there are significant gender disparities in land and real estate ownership. The majority of forest grazing ticket owners and contractors are men.

©FAO/Eleonora Fayzullaeva

Family finances are accumulated in the hands of the elder male, usually a father-in-law, who controls the family budget and expenditure. Women are not visible in forest management in Uzbekistan either, and less than 20 percent of the State Forestry Committee’s professional staff are female, with an even lower percentage found in the forestry organizations.

FAO works closely with the State Committee on Forestry to strengthen the country's gender equality commitments and is conducting comprehensive work on introducing gender equality principles into the institutional policy and legal frameworks that govern forest management.

One of the biggest achievements is the development of the first long-term, budgeted Corporate Gender Strategy of the Committee, which includes the establishment of a gender coordinator position in each forestry enterprise. Sustainable forest management is inseparably linked with integrated area development, basic infrastructure development (water, energy and roads), the provision of high-quality social services and finally, the creation of jobs for women and men across the value chain.

Thoughtful, knowledgeable and careful management of forestry, timber and non-timber resources, using forest-friendly approaches and technologies at all levels will bring benefits for all – for Mahbuba, other women, men and the world as a whole.


Mahbuba’ story, and many more, are part of the quarterly FAO gender newsletter for Europe and Central Asia, launched this month. Should you want to receive future issues, please write to [email protected].

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