Did you know?: The Role of Women in Central Asian Nomadic Society

© Munira Malakbozova / Youth Eyes on the Silk Roads UNESCO

Nomadism is one of various forms of living that existed, and continues to exist, along the Silk Roads. The nomads of Central Asia played a significant role in the cultural exchanges that occurred along these historic routes. Nomadic communities living alongside the lands of modern Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, had very specific social structures based around pasturing herds over large areas of grassland and desert, and travelling considerable distances on horseback. Across Central Asia, they co-existed with sedentary populations scattered in pockets of cultivated land in oases and river valleys.

Women in nomadic society played an outstanding role by undertaking an array of tasks including riding, housework, pitching and taking down tents, training and raising children as well as crafting. In addition to this, they held a recognized status in managing domestic issues such as selling or buying the family’s livestock.

Furthermore, in some Central Asian nomadic societies, women’s voices and opinions were often taken into account at community meetings, especially regarding issues of common interest. Women rode freely in the steppes and took part in various cultural and sporting festivals.

Whilst women in the nomadic societies of Central Asia from the 16th century CE onwards, undoubtedly had considerable restrictions placed upon the roles they held within society, they none the less played a vital part in the safeguarding and transmission of cultural heritage such as traditional craftsmanship, or know-how, across the Eurasian Steppe via the Silk Roads. For example, the knowledge and skills required to produce traditional felt carpets, was traditionally passed down through generations by older women to the younger women within the family. The designs as well as the ceremonies involved in creating these felt carpets held important cultural significance inseparably linked to the everyday lives of nomadic people who used them both to keep warm and to decorate their homes.

The nomadic peoples of Central Asia served as an intermediary between diverse cultures and people along the Silk Roads. As in many cultural fields, women have played, and continue to play, an essential role in protecting and transferring important elements of shared knowledge and culture. Whilst their contribution has spanned many different fields, including traditional crafts, performing arts, and oral traditions and expressions, their influence, specifically within the shared heritage of the Silk Roads, remains to be better recognized and documented.


See Also

Ancient Trading Centres in the Malay Peninsula

Sri Lankan Harbour Cities and the Maritime Silk Roads

The Use of the Malay Language in Coastal Javanese Literature

The Evolution of the Arabic language in the Silk Roads

Iraq a Centre of Exchanges along the Silk Roads

The Spread of Islam in Southeast Asia through the Trade Routes

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