On 23 May 2008, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Yakin Ertürk, delivered the following statement:
“From 15 to 23 May 2008, at the invitation of the Government, I conducted an official visit to Tajikistan. During the course of my visit, which included Dushanbe, Khujand, Kurgan-Tyube, Bobodjon Gafurovskiy and Vakhdat districts, I met with representatives of various ministries and Government institutions, members of the Parliament, the Council of Ulema and individual imams, human rights and women’s organizations, crisis centres, women farmers, victims of violence, women at the Nurek women’s prison, representatives of the donor community and United Nations agencies.
I will submit a full report with my findings and recommendations to the Government and the United Nations Human Rights Council. Today, I would like to share my preliminary observations with respect to some priority areas relating to my specific mandate, where much needs to be done by the Government, in cooperation with civil society and the donor community. In doing so, I would like to acknowledge at the outset the significant challenges that the Government of Tajikistan faces. Challenges posed by the transition to a market economy, the devastating consequences of the civil war and high levels of poverty constrain the country’s socio-economic development and its ability to protect and promote the rights and well-being of its population.
I congratulate the Government on having ratified numerous international instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, all of which form an integral part of the legal system of the Republic. Equality between men and women is guaranteed under the Constitution of Tajikistan and the existing legislative framework. There are also various programmes that promote the rights of women, such as the “Basic Directions of State Policy to ensure equal rights and opportunities for men and women in Tajikistan for the period 2001-2010”, the principles of which were codified into law in 2005.
While gender equality is ensured and promoted in law, there are concerns that, in practice, the situation of women has regressed in the past 15 years, and that many significant achievements in the areas of women’s employment, participation in public life and education, to name but a few, have taken a step back. Today, women in Tajikistan are caught within a web of poverty, patriarchy, and a weak protective infrastructure, resulting in increased vulnerability to violence and discrimination inside and outside their homes.
Poverty and unemployment, which remain the most serious problems confronting Tajikistan, affect women disproportionately. Over the past decade, as industries that traditionally employed a large proportion of women declined and other sectors became reconfigured, women lost their jobs and became dispossessed. Today, the vast majority of women are agricultural workers with insecure access to land and inputs, or they try to earn a meagre subsistence in the informal sector. Those working in the formal labour market are mainly concentrated in the low-paid sectors, such as education, health and culture. Various programmes undertaken by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection in recent years aiming to improve women’s access to vocational training, such as the newly created Adult Vocational Training Centre, are promising initiatives.
Seasonal labour migration, mainly to the Russian Federation, and the inflow of remittances have become a significant component of the national and household economy of Tajikistan. Though female migration is said to be on the increase, the vast majority of over one million migrants are men. While migration of men has enabled their households to improve their levels of subsistence, it has not been free of problems, particularly for the wives and children left in the family home with the in-laws. It is not uncommon for women living under such circumstances to encounter abuse and violence by their in-laws, or even eviction from the family house, particularly if the husband does not come back for long durations or does not send remittances.
As a result of strong patriarchal values prevailing in both the public and private spheres of life, women in general are expected to be obedient to their husbands and his family and often get blamed for having provoked disciplinary measures. Family preservation is a highly upheld value that often has primacy over the interests of individual women. Unless serious injuries occur, domestic violence is by and large accepted as a normal aspect of private life by men and women alike and not acknowledged as a problem warranting public intervention. As a result, women must endure systematic abuse and humiliation in silence. In some cases a woman may resort to killing her abuser and be condemned to many years of imprisonment, leaving her children destitute. Suicides of women are said to be increasing, as the only way out of an oppressive life.
Many of my interlocutors expressed concern about the increasing trend in unregistered marriages as being a major source of vulnerability for women to domestic abuse and abandonment. Not having an official marriage certificate makes it more difficult for these women to seek redress and take their claims related to housing or alimony to a court. Practices pertaining to civil and residency (“propiska”) registrations have also been raised as aggravating factors. In a context where most wives come to live at their husband’s family home, upon divorce or separation, they may have no entitlement to property, housing or financial compensation should they hold a propiska in another locality. Women in registered marriages are not immune to such problems.
Against this backdrop, access to information and the existing infrastructure for the provision of services such as crisis centres and shelters for victims of violence and those under threat are inadequate in terms of availability, quantity, and human and financial capacity. While the adoption of the draft Bill on Social and Legal Protection against Domestic Violence - which I was assured will be before the Parliament in July - will no doubt contribute towards improved prevention, protection and prosecution of domestic abuses, particularly violence against women, other measures are needed to urgently enhance women’s access to justice and the effectiveness and availability of services offered to victims, support the social and economic empowerment of women and change gender stereotypes as well as patriarchal mentalities that perpetuate the subordinate position of women in the family and in society.
The Government’s recent initiatives, as well as the notable efforts of non-governmental organizations for the promotion and protection of women’s rights, are indisputable contributions towards the creation of an enabling environment for combating violence against women. A life free of violence is possible and it is an entitlement for all persons. In this respect, I call on the Government and the donor community to prioritize women’s rights and increase support for initiatives aimed at empowering women and ending all forms of violence against them.”
Yakin Ertürk, Professor of Sociology at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women in 2003. Tajikistan is the sixteenth country she has visited. For more information on the mandate, please visit the webpage: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/women/rapporteur/index.htm