Tajikistan: Gender and Security

Dilnoza Rakhmatboeva, Graduate of the OSCE Academy in Bishkek. 

During my International Relations classes, I was assigned to do a presentation about J. Ann Tickner’s work “Gender in International Relations: Feminist Perspectives on Achieving Global Security”. As a student, who knew little about any feminist theory I was not happy about the opportunity to talk as a feminist partly because feminist ideas are normally associated with something negative in Central Asian societies. Nevertheless, the article pushed me for serious rethinking of the women’s roles in this world. What is gender? And how do we understand it? Why is gender important and how is it connected with security? Are men natural warriors and are women always victims of wars? Can women also be heroes?

Further research in this matter brought me to the article “Gender and Security” by Caroline Kennedy-Pipe which serves as a base for the current article. Kennedy-Pipe’s work gives answers to the questions above and considers important issues of gender and security. My article explores how western authors’ ideas and concepts apply in the situation of conflict in Tajikistan – the country with different culture and history.

It is important to know the difference between the two often misunderstood concepts: sex (nature) and gender (nurture). Sex has a biological definition, whereas gender is used in a sociological sense[i].

There are different visions of gender and security interrelation. First vision is “practical”. Practical aspects are exemplified by the “essential” role of women in armed forces, as victims, bystanders or helpers in the military conflict or in the militarization in general. Second vision is “discursive”, which symbolizes the relations between militarism and masculinity, and nurturing and femininity[ii].

Kennedy-Pipe and Tickner talk about the development of the concept of security and now goes beyond traditional militarized masculine framework. Significant attention to the link between gender and security illustrates and exposes the “contextually and complexity” of the core between violence, state, men and women.[iii]

Women as victims.

There are hundreds of stories, of during and after war period mass rapes by soldiers. Rape was used as a tool and a weapon. War effects men and women in different ways. Rapes, slavery, sexual slavery, genocide rape, sexual abuse are the women’s war experiences.

However, besides being objectified victims of war women can fulfil their war-related state duties. For example, reproductive duty is important when we talk about large numbers of men dying in conflict and demographic shortages emerging as a result. Yet, such duty can be seen as further victimization of women.[iv] More than 24 millions of Soviet people died during the Second World War; therefore, Stalin demanded to increase birth rate in the Soviet Union republics. Crucial disbalance between male and female population, vital disbalance between elderly and young population were an issue for the state. Women throughout the Soviet Union were encouraged to have more kids, even out of wedlock the State promised to support financially and came up with an idea of very large families with the introduction of medals for motherhood, such as “Motherhood Glory” for having 7, 8 and 9 kids and “Motherhood Heroine” for >10 kids.

My grandmother got a medal for motherhood for having more than 10 children. She saw such sacrifice as her state duty:

We had a big house, an apartment in the city center, car. I worked as a nanny in the kindergarten, my kids were near me, enough of clothes, food, plus this medal of “Motherhood Heroine” gave me so much respect and confidence. I liked it not because the village administration would bring me as an example to other women, but because I understood that I am helping my country, I am a little, but very important nail in the whole mechanism,”

The state used bodies of women for its demographic aims by limiting their legal right to control theirs bodies and make the decisions accordingly. Hence, Tajik women were victims of post-war recovery policies of the Soviet Union and were victims of war and inflicted upon them violence during the armed conflict in the 1990s.

Women as peaceful creatures.

The traditional literature on security has treated women as upholders of peace. Indeed, women have been involved in powerful international and national movements promoting peace and disarmament. These dichotomies of man=war and woman=peace are important, even though they are quite misleading. Women have always been associated with peacekeeping, while men were always linked with fights and wars. Is it because in ancient times men were hunting for food, and women producing babies? Shouldn’t we take into consideration, that time is changing, and so do people, morals and aims?

Some theories of Feminism fight for the equality of men and women, for freedom of women. But does it mean that women will have the same obligation before the state, as a citizen, to take part in wars and in military actions? Do women need it? Do they want it? It probably depends on the society and family they were born and now live in.

Women and peace are interconnected. The statistics from prisons shows that there are more men than women, therefore, men appear more violent and conflict prone. For example, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies, total amount of female prisoners in Tajikistan is less than 2 % (ICPS). Females are bearers of children who produce new lives, and usually are more pacifist than men, and urge for peace and harmony. Traditional view of women in Tajikistan reinforces the image of women as peaceful creatures preserving harmony at home and not engaging in violence in the streets.

Women as warriors.

Women can be not only victims of wars, or anti-war personalities, but also true warriors. There are female soldiers in the military of the United States of America, Israel, Iran and there are women in terrorist organizations fighting for different causes. During wars females often become soldiers, special agents, nurses, surgeons, laundry women, cooks and prostitutes for soldiers. Many women also contribute during wars, but not only with a gun in their hands. Every contribution is important and needed in order to secure and defend individuals, society, country from the threat and an enemy. During the Civil war in Tajikistan, my other grandmother also contributed to the security of the state with no guns in her hands. Many days and sleepless nights, she spent in the hospital supporting surgeries with anesthesia.

“I was literally living in the hospital, surgeries after surgeries, no time to catch enough sleep or food. You see ordinary people, soldiers, terrorists, everyone needed help, we did not choose who was good or bad, and we helped everyone. We were risking our lives everyday, sometimes working under guns and pressure. The hardest was when terrorists “boeviki” would take us to their secret bases, and we had to make surgeries and help their people there in horrible conditions and under pressure. Young Tajik generation heard about the war, many stories, but to see it and to live in it- I cannot even wish it to the enemy. Many people think that war is only for men, but trust me, when war comes, women are the first and easiest target. We have to be ready for everything, we have to learn how to survive and be independent from men. Like many other women learnt it now, when our husbands, fathers, sons and brothers leave Tajikistan and work in Russia. Fewer men in the country, less male-workers in factories and fields. I don’t need to explain to you that women play an important role in the security of our motherland”.

Hence, women in Tajikistan supported the military system by fulfilling the roles needed to make the militarized mechanism work as smoothly as possible.

Poor socio-economic conditions in the country, which resulted in labour migration of male population to foreign countries, mostly Russia, has also contributed to the transformation of women into “warriors”. The work force vacuum created by the absence of man laborers has prompted women’s participation in agricultural work. Although statistics provided by the Russian Migration Service resend a number of 1.15 million Tajik labour migrants in Russia, unofficially the number is speculated to reach 2-2.5 millions together with the unregistered workers.[v] Consequently, women in Tajikistan had to learn how to live without men and become warriors for economic survival.

Tajik society perceives its women in traditional roles of children bearers and harmony keepers; however, Tajik women have been both victims of wars and active participants of armed conflicts contributing to the wellbeing of the military and the state. Tajik women’s bodies along with the bodies of other Soviet women were used to reproduce the nation and provide the Soviet state with the manpower. Tajik women now have to balance their identities between the image of the strong independent women who can manage their lives while their husbands are away as migrant workers and the image of traditional wives and mothers. Finally, the rising issue of radicalization and militarization of Islam in the region bring new security threats for women and provides women with choices of what roles to play.

[i] J. Ann Tickner. “Gender in International Relations: Feminist Perspectives on Achieving Global Security”. New York. (Columbia University Press, 1992).     <http://www.ces.uc.pt/ficheiros2/files/Short.pdf&gt;.

[ii] Caroline Kennedy-Pipe, “Gender and Security” in Alan Collins (ed.) Contemporary Security      Studies (Oxford University Press, 2007) p. 83

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v]International Organization for Migration. “Tajik Migrants with Re-entry Bans to the Russian Federation”.2014.<http://publications.iom.int/bookstore/free/Tajik_Migrants_Report_15Jan.pdf >.