Peace of Mind: Women living with dignity in Tajikistan
“I had a lot of problems with my husband and his relatives before the Living with Dignity project,” explains Dilafruz, from Jomi district in southeastern Tajikistan.
Like many women and girls around the world, Dilafruz has witnessed the gender gaps in her country – including in education, healthcare and employment. Women often lack a voice in society and in their own homes.
Women are expected to marry in their early 20s. As in many countries in central and south Asia, the family unit is not limited to the husband and wife, but also includes in-laws. This family dynamic can lead to tension and family violence is prevalent.
To address this issue, our Zinadagii Shoista (‘Living with Dignity’) project helps women contribute to their families economically by providing a means of income for them and to be seen as valued members of society. It also gives families and communities the tools to resolve conflicts through discussion and understanding rather than violence. In doing so, it is challenging social attitudes towards violence against women and girls.
Here are the stories of three women who have experienced first-hand the changes this can bring to people’s lives.
Dilafruz joined the Living with Dignity project in 2019. “There was a misunderstanding and disputes in my family” at that time, she explains. “Plus, we have a person with a disability in the family and it was very difficult for us.”
The project provided the support of psychologists and business assistants. Participants could meet one-to-one or as a group with these specialists to discuss the problems they were facing and to try to find ways of solving them.
“During the group sessions we attended, we talked openly about mental health and wellbeing,” recalls Dilafruz. “My neighbours and I always shared our problems with the specialists and they helped us a lot.”
Through these discussions, Dilafruz requested a greenhouse to help support her family economically. “This greenhouse has changed my life for the better,” she explains.
Since the project began, Dilafruz has also noticed more respectful communication among members of her community. “There is less violence and less controlling behaviours, and now we can see a significant change in our society.”
“In the beginning, it was very difficult for me to talk about my personal problems,” Munira explains. “But we learned to express ourselves.”
“Many of us were jobless and unhappy,” she recalls. “My neighbours had mental health and wellbeing problems before the project too.”
Munira received a dairy cow to help her contribute to her family’s income. “We use her milk for our daily life and sometimes we sell it to other neighbours … This is how we make a living.” The cow has since had a calf too.
Munira and her neighbours all used the free mental health services provided through the project, which she credits with having improved people’s mental health locally.
Before joining the Living with Dignity project, Firuza didn’t have a job and was experiencing “lots of family problems”.
Through the project, she was trained as a dressmaker and given a sewing machine. “Now I feel independent. I am a breadwinner in my family.”
This has “improved the quality of my life, mental health and wellbeing,” she explains. She has also seen the positive impact this has had on her neighbours.
“In order to make a better life and wellbeing for those in our society we need more support.” Most important among this would be “training and professional courses for women and girls”.
The Living with Dignity project has shown how valuable such support can be. Not only can it provide women with a more active role in managing their family’s finances, but also change the way they and young girls are perceived by society.
This has had a huge impact on participants’ mental health and wellbeing. It has led to a complete reduction in rates of suicidality, a massive drop in experiences of violence against women and girls (from 66% to 30% over a three-year period according to one study) and a reduction in harmful patriarchal attitudes towards daughters-in-law. It has also improved the food security of families and increased women’s mobility outside the home.
We have since expanded the Living with Dignity project, which is funded by UK International Development, to neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. Our team in Nepal are also borrowing lessons from the programme for their own work to address gender-based violence.
Peace of Mind research
Our research, Peace of Mind, demonstrates how peacebuilders can effectively incorporate such mental health and psychosocial support in their own projects, drawing on lessons from our experience in Rwanda and Tajikistan.