The path to fair and accessible justice does not look the same to all justice seekers, and in particular can be filled with obstacles for those from marginalized and vulnerable communities. In recognition of these challenges, the USAIDJudicial Strengthening Activity in Uzbekistan (JSSA) has focused targeted efforts toward increasing the practical legal literacy of traditionally-marginalized groups in Uzbekistan, including women and persons with disabilities. These initiatives are part of the larger effort of JSSA—implemented by the East-West Management Institute and partnered with Street Law, Inc. — to help improve the inclusive delivery of justice for all in Uzbekistan.
To empower disadvantaged groups to more confidently interact with the legal system and to share their learning with their local communities, JSSA has hosted a series of Legal Life Skills trainings of trainers focused on essential legal literacy and facilitation skills. Designed and delivered by Street Law. Inc., these trainings have partnered with Uzbek NGOs to build the skills of leaders in affected communities to both better understand their legal rights and protections, and to deliver follow-on trainings and awareness activities in their home regions.
JSSA organized the first Legal Life Skills training of trainers in April 2022 in cooperation with women-focused NGO representatives from across Uzbekistan, including Mehrjon NGO, which provides social and legal support services to women and girls in Fergana Valley. Each training is built around a dual purpose—equipping the participants with the practical legal knowledge relevant to common justice issues for their constituencies, and increasing participants’ capacity to share this knowledge with their own communities long after the training concludes. To further these goals, participants delved into the relevant details of Uzbek law regarding women’s rights in marriage, divorce, and domestic violence—some of the most common justice problems facing women in their constituencies. Street Law Inc. experts also delivered lessons and led practice opportunities on interactive teaching methods, further engaging with participants on how to deliver their own trainings in participatory and inclusive ways.
Upon completion of this training, Mehrjon NGO has already designed and delivered three follow-on trainings in Fergana Valley and Kokand, with modest financial and logistical support from JSSA. As a respected local voice, Mehrjon leaders were able to convene key stakeholders responsible for women’s protection and prevention of gender-based violence at these trainings—mahalla council leaders, representatives of local line ministries, and other community decision makers. Mehrjon leaders reported that the interactive tools and models they developed during their Legal Life Skills training directly equipped them to better engage their community members in practical learning and discussion. JSSA will continue to support Mehrjon in these and other related efforts to protect and provide for vulnerable women in their communities.
JSSA continued its Legal Life Skills training of trainers series in December 2022 with ‘Sharoit Plus’ Public Association of People with Disabilities. As an organization, Sharoit Plus unites not only persons with disabilities, but also those who want to help them, to create a barrier-free and inclusive society for all in Uzbekistan. “The NGO operates as both an educational facility, and as a place to provide people with legal support and increased access to justice. For many citizens with disabilities, Sharoit Plus is their only way to get legal aid,” emphasizes Mukhabbat Rakhimova, Chairperson of the organization.
Through the training, participants learned about how to protect their rights while navigating the Uzbek legal system, including an emphasis on the rights of women with disabilities. EWMI’s partner Street Law, Inc. prioritized a participatory approach when delivering the training, both incorporating lived experience of participants into the training methodology and focusing on how participants could advocate on behalf of the disability community in Uzbekistan. By bringing in local legal expertise from Street Law Trainer and Associate Professor at Tashkent State University of Law Botrijon Kosimov, JSSA tailored the training to the specific legal and social context, and sought to build local capacity at multiple levels.
Shariot Plus representative Murod Egamov emphasized the importance of inclusive legal literacy efforts like these: “People have to know their rights and legal opportunities. I myself did not know many things before this training event. By participating in such training sessions, me and my colleagues had a great opportunity to gain useful knowledge and learn new skills.”
After completing the training, participant Nargiza Arzieva also noted the impact of connecting with other disability activists on these subjects: “I was so inspired by other participants! We had a chance to share our knowledge with others and learn how to continue developing our skills.” Nargiza, who has several thousand followers on social media, uses her platform to speak on disability within the Uzbek context. “In my opinion, social media platforms for our legal support knock down barriers of time and distance, both educating and assisting the public. It’s the future,” she notes.
Nargiza is currently studying at the Tashkent University of Information Technologies as the recipient of a Ministry for Development of Information Technologies and Communications academic scholarship. Since training with JSSA, Nargiza has also been appointed as a Coordinator for Youth Cooperation at the Center for People with Disabilities in Shakhrisabz City, located in Kashkadarya region. “My role entails providing free consultations to young individuals with disabilities on various matters, including education, social aid applications, housing arrangements, labor issues, and credit issues,” she added. JSSA plans to provide continuing support to Nargiza and other Shariot Plus participants to educate and advocate on behalf of their communities, as part of its wider push for inclusive justice across Uzbekistan.