Seven ways we’re challenging gender-based violence in Tajikistan

25 November 2020 Shamsiya Rakhimshoeva Seven ways we’re challenging gender-based violence in Tajikistan

To mark the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence (GBV), we share how we work with partners in Tajikistan to challenge norms causing inequality and violence, support domestic violence survivors and promote women’s participation.

Tajikistan is a traditionally patriarchal and hierarchical society: traditions and customs dictate that women are first and foremost mothers and wives, must be submissive to men and their families and belong in the home. These and other gender norms limit their rights, minimise their voice and expose them to GBV, including domestic violence and child, early and forced marriage.

Gender norms shape more than behaviours. They shape laws: currently neither domestic violence nor marital rape are recognised as crimes under Tajikistan’s criminal law. They shape if and how women access justice: only one in five survivors of domestic violence files a report in Tajikistan. They shape institutional policies and practices: when women report GBV, they are advised to resolve domestic issues themselves, despite the impact it may have on them.

Saferworld and partners – the Association of Scientific and Technical Intelligentsia of Tajikistan, the Lawyers Association of Pamir, Jahon, Marifatnoki, Community Policing Partnership Teams and public councils – have been working on making communities safer since 2010, through a tested community security approach.

These are seven ways in which we ensure women’s and girls’ safety and security needs are seen as community security needs, addressed and in which we hope to transform gender norms fuelling violence and inequality:

  1. Start each project or initiative with a community security assessment that meaningfully includes women’s needs in both methodology and questions: create women-only (and young-women) focus group discussions, engage existing women’s groups and include questions around women’s and girls’ specific needs and experiences. Because we have done this, every community security assessment we have conducted in Tajikistan has found domestic violence and early marriages are major community security concerns.
  2. Invest in gender-sensitive conflict analysis: we conducted a more detailed gender-sensitive conflict analysis in February 2020, which allowed participants to understand the root causes of issues such as GBV and exclusion of women from decision-making. In this methodology, people from different backgrounds are able to understand how gender norms fuel violence and conflict. But they also understand how these perpetuate inequality, poverty and instability, such as the links between gender norms, low literacy rates among young girls and women and poverty. It also helps them see their roles as people, community leaders, family members and authorities in fostering or challenging harmful norms, and identifies opportunities for positive change. Overall, it gives us the sense that gender issues are complex and there is a need for more advocacy and transformation at all levels, including at the national level to achieve systemic changes.
  3. Ensure community action plans include and respond to women’s and girls’ needs: To address the issues identified through our gender-sensitive conflict analysis, together with our partners, we design community action plans. We ensure these respond to the needs of women and girls: four out of 19 action plans that we supported this year are focused on women’s needs, such as strengthening GBV referral mechanisms, raising awareness on GBV and COVID-19, and working with youth to challenge gender norms.
  4. Ensure women are able to meaningfully participate in and lead community efforts for peace and security: We have made efforts for more gender-balanced Community Policing Partnership Teams (CPPTs). Today, 11 CPPTs that Saferworld and our partners support across the country are women-led. This contributes towards the safety and security of societies and helps challenge the traditional norms and roles prescribed to women. We also have increased partnerships with and support to women’s organisations, currently two of our four partners are women-led organisations.
  5. Conduct gender-sensitive conflict analysis regularly, and be flexible in your approach: We have seen the impact of COVID-19 on the level of domestic violence women face, with one of our partners, the women’s centre ‘Gulrukhsor’, reporting a 30 per cent rise in women seeking help for domestic abuse in 2020, compared to 2019. Due to this, Saferworld supported Gulrukhsor with a small grant which they have used to increase their psycho-social support and legal counselling to survivors of domestic violence at their women’s refuge in Khujand. We see this as a crucial part of our holistic approach to tackling violence against women where women are given immediate support when needed, as well as working on longer-term change.
  6. Pair responding to women’s needs with gender-transformative action: Our gender analysis has also emphasised the crucial nature of working with police in Tajikistan to shift harmful gender norms at the community level, given their influence within the hierarchical structure of Tajik society. We provided reflection exercises and workshops about harmful gender norms and domestic violence to the Tajikistan police. So far, the response from the police has been positive, with a small impact in the communities where we work as a result such as increased reporting of GBV cases to the police. But it is clear that we need more national advocacy to continue shifting entrenched norms for more equal participation of women in decision-making, developing strategic documents and programmes. Our partners also do this through trainings community policing structures on leadership and prevention of domestic violence; performing theatre plays on the harmful consequences of domestic violence; vocational trainings for girls and women to shift traditional roles, and supporting girl leadership through sport by inviting sportswomen to talk with girls in the community.
  7. Pair community-level action with advocacy at higher levels: To promote systemic change we pair our community-level action with advocacy and awareness raising at higher levels, including advocacy on domestic violence among people and law enforcement agencies on the National Law on the Prevention of Violence in the Family. Currently only 19 per cent of legislators in Tajikistan’s parliament are women, while only two parliamentary committees and one ministry are headed by women. To address the low participation and under-representation of women in decision-making processes, we work with Tajikistan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs to advocate for a mandatory quota for women members of CPPTs. Although currently women make up about 33 per cent of CPPT members, this number is lower than in 2016. Another goal we are advocating for is to ensure that women are included in the development of strategic documents and programmes in the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

A holistic approach to peacebuilding and GBV prevention is possible and effective. The positive outcomes we are seeing, plus the potential in younger generations with different mindsets is creating a more equal Tajikistan, where women and girls can live their lives without the fear and impact of violence.