First Published in: Dunia Magazine
It is not very often that human rights clash with fashion on the catwalk, but recent history suggests that when they do come head to head in a democratic and free society, human rights carry the day. We saw it in France in March 2011 when French fashion powerhouse – Christian Dior – fired its artistic designer, John Galliano, one of the best designers in the business, for uttering racist and hateful comments in a Paris pub. The courts took it a notch further by slapping Galliano earlier this month with a 6000 euro ($8,421) suspended fine for his derogatory comments.
The recent cancellation of a New York Fashion Week show this September, due to pressure from rights groups adds weight to the assertion that abuse – in any form whatsoever – is never fashionable.
On 9 September 2011, IMG Worldwide Inc (IMG), the organizer of New York Fashion Week, announced the cancellation of the show of Gulnara Karimova, daughter of the President of Uzbekistan*. She doubles as Uzbekistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations and Ambassador to Spain. Her show was called off due to her country’s “atrocious human rights record” and her links to the repressive regime that denies its people, including children, basic rights and freedoms.
Gulnara Karimova, 39, was scheduled to showcase the 2012 Spring Collection of her clothing line – “Guli” – at the Lincoln Center during Fashion Week on 15 September 2011 but the show was nicked thanks to rigorous campaigning by Human Rights Watch and other rights groups and individuals of good will in New York.
Some of the rights violations linked to President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan and his daughter Gulnara include forced child labour in cotton farms, widespread and systematic torture and brutal repression of political dissent. The government of Uzbekistan also stifles free association, free assembly and free speech by throwing journalists and human rights activists behind bars. This government to which Gulnara is associated has forced several non-governmental institutions like Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and others in the country to shutdown.
Human Rights Watch reports that in order to stop Gulnara Karimova from showcasing her clothing line, the organization reached out to IMG and Fashion Week’s official sponsor, Mercedes-Benz. The Executive Director of Human Rights Watch spoke with the management of IMG about the need for the prestigious Fashion Week to distance itself from abusers and their cronies.
In Uzbekistan, about 2 million children, according to Human Rights Watch, are required by the government to drop out of school each year and work for two months “in difficult and dangerous conditions” picking cotton – some of which is used in Gulnara’s Collections.Perpetrators of rights violations, those associated with abuse or and those who benefit from abuse must be challenged on all fronts – even if it means taking the fight to the catwalk. The cancellation of Gulnara’s show is a move in the right direction and a testament to the conviction that when human rights clash with fashion on the catwalk in a free society, rights should prevail.
It is now up to Gulnara Karimova to use her positions of influence as eldest daughter of a dictator, Uzbekistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Ambassador to Spain, to restore the dignity of child labourers and all individuals with limited rights in Uzbekistan — or at least, distance herself from the repressive Uzbek regime.
If she decides to stay on the wrong side of history, she should keep in mind that, in the words of Steve Swerdlow, Human Rights Watch’s Uzbekistan researcher, “enslaving children and torturing dissidents is never chic.”
*The Republic of Uzbekistan is located in Central Asia. It was part of the Soviet Union.
*Photo of Gulnara, Cannes Film Festival 2010: Style Guru.
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