Meet Sevara Khamzaeva: International Relations Graduate StudentDecember 05, 2008
Even as she begins her second master’s degree in international relations this semester at Columbia University, Sevara Khamzaeva, a 2005–06 International Fellow, is looking ahead to when she can “get back in the field” to apply what she has been studying to better the lives of women in Central Asia.
In summer 2007 and again after earning her first master’s degree in sociology at Texas Women’s University, Sevara returned to her native Uzbekistan to work for a governmental organization. She conducted research to assess community issues and wrote project grants to address them. While this nonprofit organization supports everyone in the community, it focuses on women because they have less social and economic power.
Sevara grew up in an urban area of Uzbekistan, and she says Uzbek women have seen some advances in recent years. Women are now more active in political, economic, and social spheres, and more women are beginning to choose education and career over tradition, primarily in urban areas. While women in Uzbekistan have to fight against strong cultural norms that see educated women as a danger to the family structure, Sevara believes that women “are starting to see the sacrifice” in choosing family over an education and a career.
Sevara’s plans to pursue her first master’s degree were solidified through her work with Mercy Corps, an organization dedicated to improving living conditions and stimulating small businesses in Central Asia. In Uzbekistan with Mercy Corps, Sevara first worked as a project assistant and then was promoted to community mobilization development officer. She researched women from the Ferghana Valley who are forced to migrate to neighboring countries like Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan for work but who still receive low wages and, at times, suffer abuses at the hand of their brokers. Sevara says her “eye-opening” experience with Mercy Corps gave her many ideas about ways to help the women of Central Asia.
In her AAUW fellowship application, Sevara proposed a research project on Uzbek women’s awareness of their reproductive rights. She found that, although many Uzbek women are aware of their reproductive rights, they often do not or cannot exercise them. Sevara has turned her research over to a local Uzbekistan governmental agency, which is initiating educational programs to promote awareness of the issue.
In the next five years, Sevara hopes to play a part in the continuing advancement of women in Central Asia, working with an international humanitarian organization designing and managing her own projects. This view, however, has expanded outside the borders of her homeland. “Women in Uzbekistan are more empowered than women in Tajikistan or Afghanistan. Since I see these advancements in my own country,” Sevara explains, “I feel I should go to places that need these types of resources.”