Across Tajikistan, communities say that violence against women is a major problem as poor socio-economic conditions have hardened patriarchal attitudes. In Rasht District, central Tajikistan, these attitudes are more widespread than in other parts of the country and have resulted in other gender inequalities including girls dropping out of school.
Matluba Rajabalieva is chairperson of the Gharm Support Centre in Tajikistan which runs a number of projects to help vulnerable women, including providing free legal advice, psychological support, and support for women to set up their own business. Matluba talks to us about her work with women in her community, including her work with Saferworld to address people’s security concerns.
You recently became the first ever – and only – woman on the Public Council on Police Reform under the Department of Ministry of Internal Affairs in Rasht District. How did that come about and what are you working on at the moment?
“There was a call for applications, I applied and was elected. I wanted to help deprived and vulnerable women, those even more deprived than I was. Many women approach me for advice and support and I try to help them. I want to try and resolve their problems or redirect them to authorities for them to address issues together.
A mother of two who was left by her husband approached me one day in a hopeless situation. We gave her legal advice [outlining her rights as a single mother] and she applied for an allotment of land from the local government, which she received. She got the opportunity to study at a college for a degree. Gradually, she stood on her own feet. Now she has her own house with her own plot of land, and her children study at university in the capital.
Women really need to be empowered in our community. They better understand the needs and concerns of other women and are more inclined to address these problems and protect their rights. But I want to help them overcome difficulties and to become independent in all aspects. Being a member of this council I take part in meetings and workshops and I meet with communities – particularly with women. For instance, we met with a community in Jirgatol district, which is a remote and vulnerable area in Rasht Valley, to raise awareness about community security/policing and issues such as domestic violence.”
How do you plan to increase cooperation between people and the police?
“We need to contribute to increasing people’s confidence in the police. I want to support the launch of police units that take into account the specific needs of women in all districts of Rasht Valley. For example, I would like to see authorities make separate spaces in police stations where women can feel comfortable reporting domestic violence or other concerns – and ideally this should be in a different building so they feel secure, which is not currently the case in Gharm.
I want the number of women police officers to increase in our region because women can approach other women more easily, especially around issues of domestic violence or violence against women. Currently, we only have one female police officer who works on the prevention of domestic violence. As a whole, the percentage of women police officers in Rasht Valley is tiny – just 0.03 per cent. I also plan to increase meetings between police, communities and civil society to strengthen cooperation between them and change the police officers’ behaviour and approach when dealing with people.”
What fundamental change do you want to see in society?
“I want to empower women and have their rights respected. I want the number of women to increase on the council and help them address issues of domestic violence, gender equality and access to higher education.
I plan to challenge the harmful gender norms impeding the rights of women in all spheres, and wish for women and girls to choose their futures freely so that nothing interferes with their lives. I also want women and girls to have the financial opportunities to go on to higher education. There are girls in our region who want to continue their studies but do not have the money to pursue their dreams. We have high rates of labour migration: therefore, a great number of women and girls are left alone and with few resources. I would like girls to have the opportunity to study abroad. Education is the key to progress. I want them to witness and achieve what previous generations could not.”
What are your future plans?
“I plan to promote women’s empowerment, for them to become financially independent and be employed. This will also help to decrease the rates of domestic violence. In our women’s resource centre, we hold sewing classes for vulnerable women, such as those from deprived families, abandoned wives, widows and victims of domestic violence. Depending on funding, I plan to organise vocational courses in baking and sewing, and I want to support women to open sweet shops, a small dairy factory, a beauty salon and a wedding boutique for women and girls to get employment. As head of the business resource centre, I want to help women and girls to start their own businesses. And, as a member of the public council I want to inform the authorities of the problems girls and women face and help these women approach law enforcement agencies and have their problems addressed.”
The Gharm Support Centre is a member of a civil society organisation network that Saferworld supports by providing training on community security, conflict and gender sensitivity. In 2017, the Gharm Support Centre conducted awareness raising among local authorities, Public Councils and other civil society in the region about the issue of domestic violence and the challenges women experience in accessing security services. This work in particular led local police and the Public Council to consider electing Matluba to the Council.
 Public Councils (PCs) are sub-national consultative and supervisory bodies established and supported by the Ministry of Internal Affairs in order to facilitate the direct and indirect participation of citizens in discussions on the progress of police reform in its different stages. Saferworld mentors seven PCs, supporting them to advocate and promote community policing in Tajikistan.