Starting a conversation on domestic violence in Tajikistan

Violence against women is increasingly recognised by authorities and communities as a problem in Tajikistan. Despite efforts to address it, one in every two women is still vulnerable to abuse according to estimates. Saferworld works with communities to create space where women can safely meet, learn new skills and discuss their experiences.

In 2011, there were almost 9,000 cases of women in Tajikistan who called crisis centres to report physical or verbal abuse at home. Although this figure seems low, it was unprecedented in a context where such cases are often dismissed. It sparked national outcry, leading parliament to pass new measures aimed to prevent violence against women and children in the home. Violence is rooted in the different roles of women and men in the household, where the man is seen to be the breadwinner and therefore the decision-maker – justifying his use of force on family members who do not obey him. This is also reinforced in communities by a masculine police culture dominated by male officers (according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, only around 18 per cent of officers are women). Cases of domestic violence or abuse are often not taken seriously or are considered to be internal ‘family affairs’ – and not the business of police – making women who are abused less likely to file reports.

Toward a legal framework

Nationally, there have been initial efforts to change police culture around domestic violence: the 2013 Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence put in place a legal framework for addressing cases of abuse and outlined measures that could help women survivors – such as by reporting to women police officers who are specially trained to deal with these cases. The approved bill allows survivors of domestic violence to file legal complaints, and gives the police power to investigate cases of domestic violence based on accounts from eyewitnesses or others. It means that those who committed violence, or even those who threaten it, can be held accountable for their actions – including after divorce. Under the legislation, the Ministry of Internal Affairs hired 14 women police officers and trained them to respond to cases of abuse. Male officers were also taught how to be sensitive to specific security issues affecting women and girls. In almost all jamoats (local municipalities), special police inspectors – who focus on issues faced by women – have been hired.

Building relationships between communities and authorities

Despite well-intentioned efforts to improve the situation, government responses often neglect the experiences and views of people who are subject to violence and insecurity. Together with partners we work with communities across Tajikistan to ensure their concerns are heard and addressed by authorities.

“Bringing together communities, police and other local authorities is crucial for addressing safety concerns,” said Saferworld’s community security project manager, Khirad Kargasov. “By speaking with people who are affected by gender-based violence, the police are able to get a better idea of the insecurities that communities face, and they can work together to come up with solutions. This process of identifying, analysing and prioritising safety concerns – and hearing different perspectives from women, youth and minority ethnic groups – is absolutely crucial. The key is to find solutions that are built on consensus and that are sensitive to potential sources of conflict as well as to gender dynamics.”

Together with the authorities, community policing partnership teams – established and supported by Saferworld and partners – have developed action plans aimed at preventing further domestic violence. The team based in Guliston Town in Sugd region identified violence against women in the home as the top security issue in their community. Participants raised one particularly harrowing case, in which two girls – who had recently graduated from high school – committed suicide because they experienced domestic violence at home. In response, the team met with local law enforcement agencies and authorities, and together they analysed some of the factors that contribute to tragic cases such as these. They found that harmful gender norms limited the potential of victims to break free of abusive situations because of economic and social dependence on their families – mainly on their husbands, but also on fathers or other elders.

After analysing the problem, the Guliston partnership team developed action plan for addressing the causes of gender-based violence, and which laid out how the team would work with the police to change authorities’ attitudes towards victims of violence – for example, by holding authorities accountable to laws that tackle domestic violence and by promoting community accountability. The partnership team together with police also opened a women’s support centre and formed a group for women who would work with youth to challenge abusive stereotypes. The team then invited 50 women from different neighbourhoods to participate in a range of activities based on their interests – from sewing to computer classes – so that they could learn new skills and spend time away from home. It also served as a space where they could feel comfortable raising concerns or problems in a supportive environment. In the longer-term, it is hoped that the skills they learnt at the training, as well as the support they receive from other women in the group, will increase their confidence and capacity to raise sensitive issues, advocate for gender appropriate responses, and find solutions to some of the problems they face. “The trainings were very useful for us in terms of teaching us new skills,” said one participant. “But it was also a good opportunity to get away from the constant stress at home. We could spend several hours with the group learning new things and having fun, without thinking of what problems there are at home.”

As community-led initiatives, participants feel that they have more of a stake in their success. “We developed this [prevention of domestic violence] action plan in close cooperation with the police and in thorough consultation with people who live in the area,” said Robiya, a member of the Guliston partnership team. “We had support with facilitating the meetings, but we feel ownership of the action plan. It is our initiative and responsibility and that is why we tried our best to make a difference.”

These are encouraging steps toward better protection for women. However, there is still a long way to go. While it is commendable that the 2013 bill allows for greater sensitivity to women’s and girl’s security issues, it is not enough to address the underlying causes of violence against women and girls. Patriarchal systems need to be challenged systemically, and there needs to be an increased awareness as well as a positive shift in attitudes and behaviours towards women. Security structures such as police stations also need to be sensitive to the needs of women and provide a safe place for women to file complaints or discuss their safety concerns and needs.

Both men and women need to realise that domestic violence is a serious crime that has very real consequences for an entire society. Communities and authorities – in particular men - must actively work to change the patriarchal culture so that women and girls feel safer in their communities, and when they have concerns they do not hesitate to come forward. A greater focus on prevention is essential, especially through information campaigns (including a focus on women’s legal rights), and by working together to change the norms that contribute to violence against women and girls. With more community-led initiatives that raise these issues, there is a better chance that domestic violence will be more openly addressed nationally.

Read more about our work in Tajikistan here.