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'Mum does not cry or scream anymore': Breaking the silence of domestic abuse in Tajikistan

Like many women in Tajikistan, Shermatova Marjona has experienced gender-based violence.

Ms. Shermatova met her husband while she was working abroad as a cleaner in Moscow, Russia. It wasn’t long before they were married, and he persuaded her to send all the money she earned to her father-in-law in Tajikistan, who was to use the funds to build a house for them.

Once construction had begun, Ms. Shermatova and her husband returned to Tajikistan. She used the last of her savings to put a roof on the house, install windows and doors, and to paint the rooms. The family lived in the semi-finished home together. In addition, she provided her father-in-law with money almost daily, whenever he would ask for it.

House of Discord

The situation changed as soon as Ms. Shermatova ran out of money. Her husband stopped coming home and her father-in-law started claiming the house as his own, attempting to kick Ms. Shermatova and her children out. When she refused to leave, her father-in-law began physically abusing her and regularly beat her in front of the children.

Ms. Shermatova and her children lived in fear of constant abuse.
© UNICEF/M.Ruziev

Ms. Shermatova and her children lived in fear of constant abuse.

The family lived in constant fear. Whenever their grandfather was around, the children shuddered, thinking that he might hurt their mother again.

“I knew that my father-in-law used to treat his first wife in the same way, driving her to a deep mental breakdown,” shares Ms. Shermatova. “Now, he periodically beats his second wife.”

She had no money, no education and she could not leave her young children alone and go out to work. She would steal corn from a neighbour’s farm to feed the family, as her husband had stopped supporting them. He also did nothing to protect his family from his father’s violence.

Ms. Shermatova repeatedly contacted local law enforcement about the abuse. Despite having evidence from six medical examinations, nothing changed. She did not know how to move forward with the case.

A legal breakthrough

It wasn’t until she got in touch with the local organization Hayot dar Oila (Life in a Family). The organization provides social and legal support services to women and children who are experiencing violence.  It is supported by the Spotlight Initiative, a global programme of the United Nations supported by the European Union to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.

The Hayot dar Oila lawyers gave Ms. Shermatova legal assistance, and worked with her to draft an appeal to the Tajikistan authorities, including the President.

Ms. Shermatova and her children received social and legal support from a local organization.
© UNICEF/M.Ruziev

Ms. Shermatova and her children received social and legal support from a local organization.

The appeal worked: the Department of Internal Affairs detained Ms. Shermatova’s father-in-law, and he was tried and sentenced to six months in prison for his abuse. The court also initiated a criminal case against her husband for evading child support.

Foundations of a new life

Over the past two years, the Spotlight Initiative has supported psychological and legal assistance to vulnerable women like Ms. Shermatova, and helped them to become financially independent by providing capital to start their own small businesses.

Ms. Shermatova purchased an oven and a sewing machine so she could cook food to sell and earn an income through her tailoring business.  Multiple studies have found that financial independence is a key factor in reducing women’s vulnerability to violence and allowing them to break the cycle of violence.

“Nowadays, we go to the city park, and Mum often buys treats. Mum does not cry or scream anymore”, says one of Ms. Shermatova’s three children.

Ms. Shermatova dreams of completing the construction of her house, continuing her small business, and giving her children the education that she could not afford for herself.

She no longer fears her father-in-law and receives ongoing legal assistance and social support through the Spotlight Initiative.

Addressing gender violence in Tajikistan

  • The overall vision of the Spotlight Initiative in Tajikistan is that women and girls enjoy their right to a life free of violence. The Programme will contribute to the elimination of sexual and gender-based violence by responding to the needs of women and girls and addressing the underlying causes of violence against women and girls.

  • UN Women describes gender-based domestic violence in Tajikistan as prevalent, and surrounded by a culture of silence. Although 20 per cent of married women have experienced emotional, physical or sexual violence by their husbands, only one in five victims files a report.

  • A 2021 World Bank assessment shows that 31 cent of married women experienced emotional, physical, and/or sexual violence at least once in their marriage and 24 per cent experienced it within the past 12 months.

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