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Tajikistan’s Epidemic of Domestic Violence Against Women

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Crossroads Asia | Society | Central Asia

Tajikistan’s Epidemic of Domestic Violence Against Women

At the highest level, the problem lies unaddressed: powerful representatives of state bodies have failed to strongly and publicly condemn domestic violence.

Tajikistan’s Epidemic of Domestic Violence Against Women
Credit: Depositphotos

Domestic violence and gender-based violence is a significant problem across Central Asia, as we at the International Partnership for Human Rights’ (IPHR) highlighted in an article on the topic exactly one year ago. On March 8, this year, we launched a new report called “‘When I got married I lost my life’: Unveiling the Epidemic of Domestic Violence Against Women in Tajikistan,” which documents the continued use of domestic violence against women in the country, the failure of the state to effectively combat it, and the systemic enabling of this crime at all levels of society. 

Tajikistan is a deeply patriarchal society. Gender roles remain traditional, and stereotypical attitudes contribute to the perpetuation of domestic and gender-based violence. In 2024, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women raised concerns about entrenched patriarchal attitudes in Tajikistan. These attitudes significantly reduce opportunities and the quality of life for many women and girls, who face obstacles in accessing education and acquiring economic independence.

Unfortunately, a growing numbers of families prioritize finding a husband for their daughter over her education; the rate of underage marriage has risen by 60 percent since 2022. In our report, we document how many women are prohibited from working or studying after marriage, and that control and deliberate social isolation of married women is not uncommon. Indeed, even on the level of pop culture, women are subject to controlling opinions. For instance, voices aired in state media recently called for control and fines for women who dare to dress in an untraditional way.

At the highest level, the problem lies unaddressed. Powerful representatives of state bodies have failed to strongly and publicly condemn domestic violence – a factor that has contributed to impunity for perpetrators. Despite Tajikistan’s Law on the Prevention of Family Violence being in effect for over a decade, the government has failed to take sufficient steps to protect women from violence. 

Inadequate understanding by officials of the gendered nature of domestic violence is a significant problem. Police often react inappropriately when women victims of domestic violence turn to them for help, often trying to persuade them to reconcile with their husbands, rather than investigating the abusive incident. There are even reports of police mocking victims, or simply dismissing their claims. In an extreme case, which was referred to us during our research, an abusive husband had cut his wife’s face with a knife and threatened to rape her daughter. When the woman turned to the police, they told her, “You have children, it’ll be ok, you should stay together,” and advised her to reconcile. 

In our report, civil society representatives in Tajikistan highlight the need for police to receive comprehensive training on domestic and gender-based violence in order to challenge stereotypical attitudes toward women. “Most of them [police officers] see domestic violence as normal,” one interviewee lamented. Another women’s rights expert from Tajikistan said: “There is no specialized knowledge at the state level about the gendered nature of domestic violence, that it is about power and control of men over women – until now domestic violence is mainly viewed as an administrative offense.” 

Victim-blaming is also a big problem. The internal police instructions for dealing with incidents of domestic violence direct officers to identify who started the “conflict,” indicating that domestic violence is viewed as a “conflict between two people, and therefore disregarding the imbalance of power and control in a relationship. If a man beats his wife because she is not doing the housework according to his expectations, this is not in any way a “conflict” between two people; it is an attack.

Despite the government having taken some steps to address problems of domestic and gender-based violence, the overall situation has not improved over the last decade, and there seems to be a lack of political will to spend money on tackling the problem. For instance, there is no earmarked funding for the State Program for the Prevention of Domestic Violence in Tajikistan. And, while work is underway to criminalize domestic violence in Tajikistan, the proposed revisions to the criminal code will punish only some types of violence – physical violence, isolation, intimidation, control and economic deprivation, and neglect – but overlook psychological violence, marital rape, and sexual assault. 

It is estimated that 80 percent of women in Tajikistan have experienced domestic violence at some point in their lives. A UNICEF study from 2022 revealed that over 40 percent of respondents believed that beating a woman can be justifiable if she, for instance, refuses to obey (34.3 percent), argues (40.7 percent), doesn’t perform household chores (28.2 percent), refuses sex (22 percent), or cheats (79.8 percent). Nearly 50 percent of the respondents also noted that violence against women is a “private matter” for families – directly in line with the opinion of many in the police force in Tajikistan, it seems.

Tajikistan’s government should step up efforts, including legislation and funding, in order to combat this pervasive human rights violation, prosecute perpetrators effectively, implement functioning victim protection measures, and combat patriarchal stereotypes to get to the root of the problem of domestic violence in the country. 

Our highly professional civil society partners in Tajikistan also reiterate that the state’s insufficient handling of the widespread nature of domestic violence needs to be urgently resolved. It is vital to dismantle the deep-rooted societal discrimination, challenge gender stereotypes, and promote a culture of empathy, understanding and accountability.