Social and legal support for violence-affected women and children in Tajikistan

A woman and three children in front of home
Photo: UNICEF/M.Ruziev
February 1, 2023

VOSE, Tajikistan - Shermatova Marjona is a 35-year-old mother of three. Like many women in Tajikistan, she has experienced gender-based violence. The World Bank estimates that violence occurs in one third of marriages in Tajikistan.

While baking samosa to sell near her home, she recalls her ordeal.

Ms. Shermatova met her husband while she was working abroad as a cleaner in Moscow. 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. 

Woman and two children at market stall
Ms. Shermatova and her children selling products at a market. Photo: UNICEF/M.Ruziev

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. 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." 

As the abuse intensified, Ms. Shermatova says she would take the stress out on her children. 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.

Two children holding produce
Psychosocial support has benefited both Ms. Shermatova and her children. Photo: UNICEF/M.Ruziev

Escape route 

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.

It was not until she contacted the local organization Hayot dar Oila (Life in a Family), which provides social and legal support services, that she began to see progress. Hayot dar Oila is supported by the Spotlight Initiative and provides assistance to women and children who are experiencing violence. Their lawyers gave Ms. Shermatova legal support and worked with her to draft an appeal to the President of the Republic of Tajikistan, the Commissioner for Human Rights, the General Prosecutor's Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Committee on Women and Family Affairs. 

As a result, 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.

Over the past two years, the Spotlight Initiative has provided 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. 

Young girl and woman in kitchen
Ms. Shermatova and her daughter preparing food. Photo: UNICEF/M.Ruziev

A fresh start

"Nowadays, we go to the city park, and Mom often buys treats. Mom does not cry or scream anymore," Ms. Shermatova's children say.

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. 

By Umedzoda Farangis


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