Eurasianet notes that domestic violence cases are not rare in Tajikistan.  Government representatives and international organizations have in the past estimated that one in two women in Tajikistan have at some time experienced domestic violence.  It is this reality that underlies the often-unacknowledged epidemic of suicide and self-harm among Tajik women.

Taboos around this topic are especially strong in rural communities, which account in Tajikistan for more than 70 percent of the population.

Eurasianet notes that abusive men are reportedly enabled by a popular norm best encapsulated by the Tajik proverb: “When a toad has a husband, she has respect.”  That is to say, unmarried women of a certain age enjoy a lower standing in most traditional communities, so many are prepared to endure physical abuse to avoid experiencing social death.

What is more, girls are taught from an early age that they are a guest in their home, and that when they reach adulthood, they should leave.

This socially enforced norm compels women who go to live under the roofs of their husband’s family after marrying to abide by certain strictures.  A wife must uncomplainingly clean, cook, and take care of her in-laws.

Even in those situations where women are prepared to flee an abusive relationship, however, there are few options available, according to Eurasianet.  Tajikistan, with its population of 10 million people, has only seven shelters for women. They offer accommodation for only up to six months.  There is about twice that number of so-called crisis centers for women, but they are located mostly in major towns and cities.

With little by way of an education and non-existent job prospects, a women will find it difficult to make her own way. 

The law is not much help.  Legislation on the prevention of domestic violence, known as the Family Violence Law, was adopted in 2013, but critics view it as toothless.

“The Family Violence Law does not recognize domestic violence as a crime, providing only for administrative liability,” Human Rights Watch said in a 2019 report.  “The law does not criminalize domestic violence. Victims seeking prosecution and punishment of the abuser must bring claims under articles of the Tajik Criminal Code that govern assault and similar acts involving force or violence.”

The implication of administrative liability is that penalties, when they are imposed, are relatively light – either a small fine or, in a more severe case, up to two weeks in jail.  Lobbying by activists for domestic violence to be included in the Criminal Code have fallen on deaf ears.

All the while, a National Program on the Prevention of Domestic Violence 2014-23, developed jointly by the state’s Women and Family Affairs Committee, other government bodies and civil society groups, has run its course.

According to a UNDP survey published in 2021, women confronted with violence in the household tend first of all to seek help from their own parents, their in-laws, or their husband’s wider family.  Only 10 percent of victims contact law enforcement or seek legal help.  In the latter scenario, women are routinely advised to consider being patient and not to put the integrity of the family unit at risk.

Arguably one of the chief failures of the National Program on the Prevention of Domestic Violence has been that many women appear still not to accept that they are victims.