I am a huge fan of the BBC World Service and have been following their Extreme World series of programs – a collection of TV, radio and online coverage that examines the extremes of our planet from education and corruption to attitudes towards God and the stories of human survival in the harshest environment, hot and cold. I came across the Extreme World’s recent video coverage of a Tajik wedding entitled Tajikistan Government’s Strict Wedding Rules (video) and also an article about the video.
Aside from the draconian rules on weddings imposed in 2007 by the Tajik government and enforced by minders in attendance (only 150 guess can be invited, only one dish is allowed and the party cannot last more than three hours), the most striking for me was the fact how this video portrayed Tajik women and their role in society. Not sure if this was the “extreme” part that the BBC was trying to get at, but the fact that the featured marriage was arranged by the 18 year old bride’s parents whose daughter met the groom only once before and was crying saying good-bye to her father and family, left me with an uneasy feeling in my gut. The article quotes one of the women present saying, “Every bride cries. My parents chose my husband for me. Love comes later, after you’ve lived together.”
If this is what women go through and have to deal with when they get married, at least in the rural areas, what does it say about the status of Tajik women in general? The women’s lot in Tajikistan must be appalling. I did some very minimal research, but was able to find a ton of information about women in Tajikistan. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch poorly assessed women’s rights and freedoms in the country. Often Tajik women are economically dependent on their husband’s family and suffer harsh treatment not only from their husbands but also the in-laws.
According to the Amnesty International Report from November 2009, “violence against women, and especially in the family, is widespread in Tajikistan. One-third to one-half of women have regularly been subjected to physical, psychological or sexual violence at the hands of their husbands or their in-laws.” Andrea Strasser-Camagni, Amnesty International’s expert on Tajikistan said that “the traditional Tajik family values, reinforced after the break-up of the Soviet Union, impose further discrimination on women by narrowing their identity to that of wife and mother, or pushing them into the lowest paid sector of the job market.”
A very recent article from EurasiaNet.org entitled Tajikistan: Loophole Leaves Women in the Lurch When it Comes to Divorce tells a story of a 43-year-old Shamsigul Khulova struggling to get a divorce from her abusive husband of 18 years without losing property or her six children because the state would not recognize it. Like many women in post-Soviet Tajikistan Khulova had opted for an Islamic marriage ceremony, or nikaah, conducted by an imam. According to the article many, if not most, marriages in Tajikistan today are not officially registered and are therefore not recognized under Tajik law – couples just don’t know they need to register their religious ceremony. The article states that “under Tajik law, women are entitled to 50 percent of a couple’s property upon divorce. Yet, research by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), shows that around 80 percent of women in divorce cases are denied property rights and child support, usually because they lack registration.”
All of this is sad news for Tajik women and society in general. The whole social fabric of Tajikistan is undermined because marriages are strained by dire economic conditions, women’s traditional secondary role in society and a high percentage of the male population working in Russia distorting gender relations.
Check out this article and an amazing collection of photographs of disfranchised Tajik women from the photography blog of the New York Times.
Watch Amnesty International’s short video Tajikistan’s Women – A bitter “family affair.”
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