National level data shows that half of all women in Tajikistan are thought to be regularly subjected to physical, psychological and sexual violence by their husbands or in-laws. International Alert's research showed that the most affected group are 18-24-year olds. Women are expected to marry in their early 20s, at which point it is common for them to move in with their in-laws. Conflict and tension can arise from this family arrangement, leading to mistreatment and younger women feeling as if they have no worth in the household or in wider society.
“Women have a low status in Tajik society,” says our Tajikistan Project Manager Shahribonu Shonasimova. “Practices such as early marriage, polygamy and weak protections for women in terms of divorce and property rights continue to undermine women’s rights, and that’s what we want to change.”
Living with dignity
Our Zinadagii Shoista (‘Living with dignity’) project helps to protect at-risk women from the possibility of violence and builds their place in society by creating a more positive environment and helping to promote financial independence. To ensure lasting change, we bring the whole family together to discuss and improve the role and situation of wives and daughters within the family.
By fostering financial independence and giving families the tools to resolve their conflicts through discussion and understanding, we help Tajik women to contribute to the family economically and be seen as valued members of society. This in turn helps communities to change their attitudes and challenge the social norms towards violence against women and girls.
The project’s two-pronged approach has decreased the percentage of Tajik women who have reported experiencing violence from 64% to 33% and showed positive changes in their mental health, as well as the economic situation of their families. Women’s earnings increased 4-fold and there was a 10-fold increase in the proportion of women with any savings.
It has led to depression levels being halved among women and men, and we saw reports of suicidal thoughts significantly reduce from 12.5% to 0.6% by women and 4.9% to 0% by men.
I am so thankful to the project that helped us to increase our self-esteem and to improve our social status as a dignified family member and a useful person for society.
– Gulnoz (pictured above).
"When we received a fund for buying the cow from the Zindagii Shoista project, we became very happy, as the cattle breeding made us busy and we began to spend our time properly. The sessions they also provided on business development, improvement of relationships, and family health made us more knowledgeable and confident."– Gulnoz
"We used to have 5 or 6 cows before, but we weren’t able to produce an income from cattle breeding. By getting involved in its sessions on women’s contribution to household economics and strengthening our financial management we are bringing in an income that we didn’t think was possible before the project. We now produce milk properly (5-6 liters daily). I regret how inexperienced we were and what a pity it was that we missed many years in which we could have made a good income for our family," explained Mohpari (pictured above).
"I got involved in the business development and behavioural change sessions."
They not only helped me to understand how to create a healthier family environment but also how I can financially help my family by starting a business.
"When my husband joined the sessions, the results were obvious. He has changed, he has stopped drinking. My husband has become more responsible and regrets a lot of his previous actions, especially hurting his family. He is more supportive, calm and easy to interact with now."– Salima (pictured above).
"I had a very bad habit of misusing alcohol that negatively affected my family for a long time. The Zindagii Shoista project provoked me to think and realise that what I was doing was wrong. Now, I recognise that life can be different and more enjoyable. I’m supporting my wife and together we are providing for our family and living in dignity," Mirzoali (pictured above) tells us.
“Supported by the project, I established a green house. It is mostly me who is dealing with the project, but my in-laws are very supportive in maintaining the green house as well. They supported me from the very beginning of the work. My father-in-law usually keeps the green house in the condition favourable for growing vegetables in all seasons.” – Anisa (pictured above).
Violence against women and girls (VAWG) remains a widespread and critical concern in Tajikistan with long-term damaging consequences for individuals and the wider Tajik society. Within this context, women with disabilities in Tajikistan are at a higher risk of violence. People with disabilities are viewed as helpless, dependent and different from the rest of society. It is this discrimination and stigmatisation that increases the risk of violence towards them and reduces their ability to gain independence through economic or educational opportunities. Women parenting children with disabilities also face increased abuse and isolation because of their caregiving responsibilities and financial dependency on spouses and in-laws.
The results of the Zindagii Shoista intervention are optimistic and have laid the groundwork for increasing VAWG prevention efforts in Tajikistan and the broader Central Asia region. However, work around violence against women with disabilities and women parenting children with disabilities is new to us and more needs to be done to deepen understanding of it to develop effective change.
Due to the success of the project's dual method of social and economic empowerment we have designed a workshop manual, which can be used to promote harmony within families and reducing violence. It helps to address questions of gender, relationships, family conflict, violence and communication. It also seeks to build an understanding of women’s contribution to household economics, strengthen financial management skills and help boost household income.
Photos: © Aziz Satorri/International Alert