Harnessing Social Media for Social Change: An Interview with Tashkent-based Eco-Blogger Mutabar Khushvaktova

Photo: Mutabar Khushvaktova

More and more people in Uzbekistan are paying attention to environmental issues and aspiring to make a real change in their country. One such campaigner is Mutabar Khushvaktova, an eco-blogger who has used her platform to draw attention to environmental issues and inspire others to take action. The Times of Central Asia spoke to Khushvaktova.

What is it like to be an environmental activist in Uzbekistan, and when did you first become so involved in environmental issues?

After my daughter was born, I began thinking about the future and what I could do to provide her with a favorable environment in which to live. I decided to start blogging and talking about the environment to raise awareness about these issues. I realized that the media plays an important role in shaping public opinion, so I resolved to use this tool.

One of my main accomplishments was to create a popular blog about environmentalism and opportunities to change our situation. I try to use my blog for educational outreach and to bring attention to these issues.

I base my content solely on source-verified information, including global statistics. This allows me to create content that’s truthful and credible. Next year, I plan to enroll in a European Master’s program to get a specialized education in the field of ecology. I would like to create books for kindergartners, school children and students.

From my childhood, I was very much in love with nature – animals, plants, everything related to nature. It was a passion my parents also shared. Being a parent is a huge responsibility, and a great motivator. I see every child as if they were my own; this generation is very exciting to me, and I want them to have a good future.

You’ve been involved in eco-activism in Uzbekistan for some time, now; have you noticed any improvement?

Yes, I have. After all, in the almost three years I’ve been involved in this field, I’ve witnessed the emergence and development of various eco-initiatives. Compared to when I first started addressing this issue, the situation today has changed considerably. Back then, people had no idea about environmental issues at all, especially on social media. But even at that time, I felt that people were ready to learn more. They were very interested, and asked me a lot of questions.

Nowadays, because there are more and more pressing environmental issues, people are paying more attention to this topic. It is worth saying that the whole idea of environmental awareness has become very popular in our society. For example, I notice that people no longer just send me direct messages with questions, but also actively discuss the issues in the comments section. They share their successes, tell me that they have started sorting garbage for recycling, started their own eco-friendly businesses, and even stopped using plastic bags.

Recently, there have been stories in the news about the deteriorating air quality in Uzbekistan – do you think the new measures being brought in by the government will bring a satisfactory resolution?

Once the situation became urgent, the state started talking about it more, and the Ministry of Ecology came up with a number of proposals which I like. On paper, everything looks perfect. However, I really hope that their policies will not just be perfect on paper, but when they are implemented in real life. It’s important that an action plan is developed and followed through step by step, so that there’s a true implementation of measures, and not only in the short term, but a stable solution on a long-term basis.

Why do changes in the sphere of the individuals’ environmental responsibility take place so slowly? Is it a peculiarity of mentality, or is it about the amount of support at  a governmental level?

Changes in the amount of responsibility each of us takes are slow; this is due to several factors. First, there is a lack of information and education, and availability of information plays a crucial role. For example, in Uzbekistan, there is very little information in Uzbek. That is, if an Uzbekistani simply types into Google, ‘what is microplastic?’ nothing will come up in the Uzbek language. The lack of sources and statistics in Uzbek creates barriers to education and awareness of the problem.

Secondly, this lack of information is compounded by a dearth of education and knowledge about environmental issues. Many people remain unaware of what is happening in the natural world and what problems exist. They simply go about their daily lives without thinking about ecology. In order to accelerate the process of change, it’s necessary to diversify and improve the information environment. It’s imperative that information about environmental issues is available not only on social networks, but in other media resources, such as radio and television. In addition, informational materials could be placed on public transportation and on the streets in the form of social videos, which would attract the attention of the widest possible audience. It’s also important that this information is presented in simple and understandable language, so that ordinary people can easily assimilate meaningful knowledge about environmental issues.