Uzbekistan: Film for which HRD Umida Ahmedova faced charges of 'defamation'

“The Burden of Virginity” deals with the tradition that young women must maintain chastity until marriage, and shows the story of a girl driven from the bridegroom’s home in shame. The film was funded by the Swiss embassy in Tashkent and released in May 2009. WLUML has written a brief summary of the narrative of the documentary film, which has not yet been subtitled in English.

“Dissemination of this film does great damage to the spiritual values of Uzbekistan,” said the official report containing the joint findings of the Centre for Mass Communications Monitoring and a group of experts including a religious affairs analyst and two psychologists. “It does not correspond to ideological requirements.”

A young Uzbek girl suffers psychologically from the failure of her marriage following just one night with her husband, after she does not bleed sufficiently the night of her wedding. Traditions are honoured above everything so that if things fail to happen in certain ways during the wedding night, the whole marriage is no longer acceptable or approved of by family and society. The girl thereafter becomes a divorcee.

These young women are called ‘girls’ until they bleed on their wedding night. In the Uzbek case, because the girl didn’t bleed as much as she was supposed to the first time, she was sent home to her parent’s house by her mother-in-law, who claimed she was not the ‘girl’ she was supposed to be, but already a woman on her wedding night.

The presence of blood on a white sheet is used as a symbol of a girl’s purity for her and her husband’s family and friends. The mother-in-law claimed that to prove her ‘innocence’ she would have had to bleed more, and that on checking her, she was found to no longer be a virgin, although she was never taken to a medical doctor to obtain such ‘proof’. On the day the girl was returned home, her mother suggested taking her daughter to the doctor for a checkup the same day, but the mother-in-law refused and claimed she was too busy to do so.

After the girl was returned to her parents’ home, her husband was remarried to a ‘girl’, but yet again his marriage failed. He then tried to return to his first wife; however her family refused to give their daughter away once again to the same person who had made her life miserable and humiliated her and her family by accusing her of not being pure. In small villages it is hard to face society after such accusations. However, she gave birth to a girl after her split with her husband.

Brides’ mothers usually fail to educate their daughters on their wedding night. Fortunately in this case, her parents were fully supportive of her and her baby, who both live at home for the moment. Frequently, issues arise domestically and within wider society, and many girls attempt to commit suicide. The young Uzbek girl and subject of this documentary film also made an attempt on her life, but she survived and her family – convinced of her innocence – continue to be supportive of her.

Summary by Diana al-Hanakta

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