Special: Constructing Female Identity in Modern Tajikistan. By Regina Sokolova.

Regina Sokolova. MA in Politics and Security (Central Asia).OSCE Academy in Bishkek.

“We are in the era of expectation of equality, but the expectation is not yet matched by reality.”

-Rt. Hon Harriet Harman MP



With independence, the gender politics of Tajikistan followed “a strategic redeployment of notions of cultural authenticity in the service of new ideological goals.”[i]According to the legislature of Tajikistan, gender politics is a process, which is based on the principle of creating equal opportunities for individual’s self-realization in all social spheres despite of the sexual identity of this individual. While creating national identity, social solidarity and official Islam a priority of new politics, politicizing gender equality and factual empowerment of women contained specious and illusory character. Despite the fact that Tajikistan has adopted a State Programme on The Main Directions of State Policy to Ensure Equal Rights and Opportunities for Men and Women in the Republic of Tajikistan for 2001-2010[ii]and ratified various international conventions on gender equality, the status of women in the society and especially in politics remains very low. There is a huge gap between de jure gender politics and de facto implementation of the state laws and empowerment of women.

Another crucial factor which significantly affected gender politics and female status in the society is influence of Islam on habitus of local people: young people more often attend mosques, especially on Friday prayers, women began to wear hijabs and more families prefer to educate their children at madrassas rather than in secular schools. Despite the effort of the government to secularize society, the religiosity among the population is increasing and traditional values have greatly impacted the mindset of people and gender relations in the society.[iii] Majority of communities in Tajikistan deploy traditional and patriarchal patterns of behavior and conservative view on the role of women in the society and in particular female clothing. The polemics between the state and religious opposition on approaching gender issues, such as clothing, education, employment and construction of an image of a proper Tajik woman has led to the ideological confrontations between the secular state and religious opposition and marginalization of certain group of women as a result. That group includes a minor community that supports autonomy, democratization and emancipation from traditionalism and veiling, and stands contrary to the majority who prefer to adhere to the traditional and cultural setting within the family and society.

In March 2014 UN Women published a report, which positioned Tajikistan on the 69th place among other countries on the number of women working in the Ministries and 89th place on the number of women deputies in the Parliament.[iv]Annually,National Statists Agency of Tajikistan (TAJSTAT) publishes reports on socio-economic and living standards indicators, overall gender performance and etc. According to the publication, the number of Tajik women in politics is about 35-40%.  In 2010, the percentage of women entrepreneurs reached 16% and female employment in the private sector was about 6-7%, whereas 75.1 % of women of the total populationis mostly engaged in agricultural sector, health and education.[v] One can argue that low indicators of female employment in private and industrial sectors, insufficient political participation and underrepresentation in business and entrepreneurship are the result of the imbalanced gender in state policies and adverse influence of traditionalism of family and local religious authorities who position woman in a private domain.

Therefore, this article aims to answer the questions of how the government of Tajikistan and religious opposition construct an identity of a Tajik Woman, and whether those visions collide and coincide. 


Current political ideology and mainstream of gender politics of Tajikistan echoes the Soviet patriarchic system and “traditional gender hierarchies, “with great emphasis of male dominance.[vi]At the same time, it experiences a degree of modernization and recapture of national values, which gradually reshaped women status and gender relations in the society.[vii] Examining Soviet modernistic policies towards emancipation of women, such as engagement in political parties, introducing secular laws and principles and public unveiling of Muslim women, Yvonne Cocoran-Nantes concludes that Central Asian women did not maintain equal opportunities, neither in private nor in public domains. The Soviets perceived Muslim women mainly as mothers and caretakers.[viii]As a result, the communist vision of the female identity and natural role of women as mothers was transformed to the current gender ideologies of the government of Tajikistan.

Tajikistan’s legislature has several laws and provisions on increasing women status in the society and intensifying gender balance. However, comparison of the expected and factual results of the program determines sporadic effect and reveals dissent in legal and actual gender performance of the state. In accordance with the government policies, women are appointed in the state apparatus, given seats in the Parliament and political parties.[ix]However, it is highly doubtful whether mandatory provision of seats in the state apparatus and registering women in political parties made women of Tajikistan publicly active and visible, and de facto able to influence decision-making process. Similarly to the Soviet patrimony, current government of Tajikistan impedes women representation in politics. One can claim that “this is largely due to the traditional social, cultural and religious norms that preferentially situate women in the home”[x] and the image of women as a politicians or activists does not fit into the consciousness of Tajik men in the government and would present a deviation from perceived cultural norms.

Even though, the state’s gender politics aims to increase the number of women in the governing bodies, quantitative indicator does not enhance the qualitative process in the politics. Unfortunately, women have no influence on important political decisions and policy issues.Pervaded gender and cultural stereotypes within the government make women inferior and secluded from obtaining equal opportunities.[xi]This means that Tajikistan presents illusory policies towards achieving gender balance and increasing the role of women in the society, hence, it official policies correspond to the tendency of secularism and democratization, whereas, factual implementation reflects traditional patterns of state behavior.


Annually state officials report to the President of Tajikistan and international community on implementation of gender policies and programs in the governmental bodies and provide statistics of successful implications in gender politics and visibility of Tajik women in political parties and government. Notwithstandingthe official claims that the government endeavors to build a secular state and increase the role of women in public, empower them in social, political and economic spheres, the main role of Tajik women is seen only in the private domain.  It was previously stated that women have minor influence on decision-making process due to the cultural and traditional stereotypes within the society. Therefore, to understand the essence and dynamics of gender relations and role of women in contemporary society, it is important to analyze the official position of the government of Tajikistan and in particular, projection of an ideal Tajik woman and gender relations by the head of the state.

Annually on Mother’s Day, March 8th, (until 2010, it was International Women’s Day) the President EmomaliRahmon gives a congratulatory speech to all Tajik women.[xii] Through these messages EmomaliRahmon conveys the idea of statehood, a woman’s role in the family and society, and why the state anchors its hopes on women. When the President addresses his speech to women, several times he emphasizes that foremost, a Tajik woman is a mother:

 “8th of March is initially unique day of the year. This day awakes the sense of kindness and love in our souls, because this day is devoted to our women and mothers-tutors of the future generation and caretakers of the family”. [xiii]

Characterizing the Tajik woman as a mother, housewife, caretaker of the family, preserver of national traditions and custom, Rahmon emphasizes the role of a Tajik woman mainly in private life. From ancient times, respect towards parents, and especially mother, was one of the traditional and cultural norms in Tajik families.[xiv] Hence, by emphasizing a woman as a mother, the President considers her main task in educating and taking care of children,

“Spiritual development and moral education of the child, most of all is associated with the role of women, because the mother is the one who creates an atmosphere of love, compassion, care, patience, establishes good order and discipline, as well as passes family traditions and customs to her children”.[xv]

The Communist rule also put special emphasize on women’s reproductive role where “the status of motherhood was institutionalized within the Soviet Union by the award of honors and privileges to women with large families.”[xvi] The aforementioned signifies that the President projects a traditional conservative vision of a female. Along with promotion of illusory gender equality and improving the status of women in the society, Rahmon highlights the main tasks of Tajik women as educating children, working in agricultural sector, as well as in the spheres of education, health and culture.


After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Tajik society experienced drastic upheaval and return to traditional values and Islam. The reason for this is mainly seen as a rebellion against Soviet repression of religion and disrespect of the communist regime for traditional and religious values of indigenous people.[xvii]Insights on religious practices, gender relations and female identity became the main subjects for contention between the state and religious opposition. This contestation has occurred due to the state attempts to constrain the spread of Islam, establish secular principles and consolidating official Islam. Gender relations and construction of a national identity became one of the main components of new state policies after independence as it was believed to be the core of the national development and upheaval. Since the majority of the population in Tajikistan followed non-official Islam, state policies on constraining religious freedoms and in particular female clothing and education awoke grievance among the religious groups. If in the cities women enjoyed more liberties, living conditions of women in urban and rural areas vastly differ. Unlike in the cities and towns, rural areas in Tajikistan has no modern technology, women do not have an access to information, resources, their daily life is a routine, “there, conservatism and religious control are entrenched in people’s values and the poverty and gender inequality are the norm.”[xviii]

The establishment of religious institutions such as High Council of Ulama (ShuroiOli, the Supreme Institutional Islamic Body in Tajikistan, Islamic Center and Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT)) presumed a balanced approached to the raised concerns between a secular government and religious population or groups. However, in Tajikistan, majority of religious institutions failed to comply with their genuine tasks.[xix] Instead of supporting women during the anti-hijab campaign, the head of the Department of issuing fatwas in an interview said, “The High Council of Ulama recommended to imam-khatibs and mullahs in mosques to advise Tajik women to wear national religious clothing, but not conservative foreign outfits.”[xx] Moreover, during the Presidential election in 2014, when OiniholBobonazarova ran for office, the same representative said that it is unacceptable for Muslim society to put a woman as a head of the state,

“If the government could be ruled by women, then God would have appointed any of the women-prophets. In the hadith of the Prophet says, if the government will passed into the hands of women, then for men is better to be underground than on the ground.”[xxi]

Aforementioned statements evidence that the highest institutional Islamic body in the country does not perform in accordance with the Sharia law, which positions women equally to men, nor with secular norms. Local newspapers often publish articles on domestic violence against women, suicide of women, forbiddance of girls in hijabs to attend schools and institutions, and unfortunately,the High Council of Ulama and religious authorities rarely touch upon these issues in public.While defining family relations and women role in the society, religious authorities of the High Council of Ulama and the most prominent religious scholar Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda position women mainly in the private domain and support the conservative interests of the male population. Despite the fact that during 1990 the IRPT, the Council of Ulama and Turajon-family advocated one religious ideology and closely cooperated with each other. However, after the civic conflict,tensions and animosity between them have increased.[xxii]Hoji AkbarTurajonzoda often criticizes the High Council of Ulama and the state for their inadequate policies on banning hijab and undermining the rights of women in the society. Instead, the religious scholar suggests that it’s important to address individual security concerns of women in mosques among younger generation and explain that women should not suffer within the family and elsewhere.[xxiii]In reality, while describing the role of women in the society and gender relations in the private and public spheres from the perspective of Islam, both Turajonzoda and representatives of High Council of Ulama adhere to the conservative thinking. Thus, they primarily address such issues as the Muslim woman should be decently dressed, avoid the company of men, either sit at home or work on respectable position.[xxiv] As a result, the majority of the female population has no trust in the religious institutions and authorities, because the High Council of Ulama mainly supports the position of the state and when the situation comes in defending the rights of women with regards to employment, education, wearing of hijab and challenges within the family, proper actions and measures dissolve.


The analysis of the gender politics of Tajikistan poses the question on the nature of secularism of the state and government’s compliance with modernistic and traditional vision on gender power relations.De jure, the legalframework on gender balance completely corresponds to the secular principles, but defacto implementation of those norms failed to ensure gender balance in the social, economic and political spheres. That happened due to the ineffective tools and mechanisms of execution of the national legislature,  lack of impetus and proper supportfrom the governmental officials, as well as limited number of voices raising the issue of gender equality in public domain.

Importantly, both, the head of the state and religious opposition have a conservative view of a woman in private and public spheres. Despite promotion of democratic values and gender equality in the national legislature, EmomaliRahmon adheres to a traditional view of Tajik woman as a mother and caretaker of the family. That creates commonly accepted image of a submissive and obedient Tajik woman andthe gender balance in the private and public spheres remains highly volatile.

The High Council of Ulama is ultimately state oriented religious institution where even if the state’s policies contradict the rights and liberties of Muslim population, especially women, the Council continues to act in accordance with the state policy preferences. And while the religious authorities officially claim that in Islam women and men are equal, in reality, there have been no effective attempts to promote gender balance within Tajik community.

[i]DenizKandiyoti, “The Politics of Gender and the Soviet Paradox: Neither Colonized, nor Modern?” Central Asian Survey 26, no. 4 (2007): 602.

[ii]Gender Theme Group, Tajikistan: On the Path to Gender Equality (UNDP, 2006).

[iii]Lola Dodkhudoeva, From Islam to Secularism and Back to Islam?“Women’sQuestion” in Muslim Societies XX-early XXIcenturies(Donish, 2013).

[iv]BarnoKodirduht, “On the number of Women Working in the Ministries, Tajikistan took 69th place [ПоЧислуЖенщинРаботающих в Министерствах, ТаджикистанЗанимает 69 –е Место],” Radio Ozodi, March 13, 2014, <http://rus.ozodi.org/content/article/25295200.html> (accessed 1 August 2014).

[v]Statistical Agency of Tajikistan, Gender Statistics 2008-2012, <http://www.stat.tj/ru/gender/generbazeng/> (accessed 15 August 2014).

[vi]DenizKandiyoti, “The Politics of Gender and the Soviet Paradox: Neither Colonized, nor Modern?” Central Asian Survey 26, no. 4 (2007):602.

[vii] Sophia Kasymova, “Gender Relations in Tajik Society,” in Gender Politics in Central Asia: Historical Perspectives and Current Living Conditions of Women, ed. Hämmerle, Christa, (Vol. 18. BöhlauVerlag Köln Weimar, 2008).

[viii]Yvonne Cocoran-Nantes, Lost voices: Central Asian Women Confronting Transition (Zed Books, 2005).

[ix]AbdughaniMamadazimov and AllaKuvatova, Political Party Regulations and Women’s Participation in Political Life in Tajikistan (NAPST, 2011)

[x]“Tajikistan,” European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity, December 2013, <http://www.europeanforum.net/country/tajikistan> (accessed August 13, 2014).

[xi]Supra n. 9.

[xii]EmomaliRahmon, “Congratulatory Message Dedicated to the Mother’s Day.”President.tj,                         <http://president.tj/ru/taxonomy/term/5/101> (accessed August 12, 2004).

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv]Colette Harris, Muslim youth: Tensions and Transitions in Tajikistan (Westview Press, 2006).

[xv]Supra n. 13.

[xvi]Jane Falkingham and ShireenLateef, Women and gender relations in Tajikistan (Asian Development Bank, Programs Department East and Office of Environment and Social Development, 2000),.

[xvii] Yvonne Cocoran-Nantes, Lost voices: Central Asian Women Confronting Transition (Zed Books, 2005).

[xviii] Larisa Dodkhudoeva, “Everyday Life of Tajik Women: Some Considerations,” CodrulCosminului 19, no. 2 (2013): 400.

[xix]Tim Epkenhans, “Defining Normative Islam: Some Remarks on Contemporary Islamic Thought in Tajikistan–HojiAkbarTurajonzoda’s Sharia and Society,” Central Asian Survey 30, no. 1 (2011).

[xx]DilafruzNabieva, “The Government of Tajikistan Prefers Traditional Islamic Clothing [ПравительствоТаджикистанаПредпочитаетТрадиционнуюОдеждуИсламской],” Central Asia Online, October 19, 2010,                                                                                                                            <http://centralasiaonline.com/ru/articles/caii/features/main/2010/10/19/feature-01?mobile=true> (accessed August 21, 2014).

[xxi]BarnoKodirduht, “Woman-President?In Tajikistan?[Женщина – Президент?ВТаджикистане?],” Radio Ozodi, September 20, 2013, <http://rus.ozodi.org/content/article/25111925.html> (accessedAugust21, 2014).

[xxii]Tim Epkenhans, “Defining Normative Islam: Some Remarks on Contemporary Islamic Thought in Tajikistan–Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda’s Sharia and Society,” Central Asian Survey 30, no. 1 (2011).

[xxiii]Akbar Turajonzoda, The Place of Women in Islam [ЧойхоиЗандарИслом] (Shujoiyon, 2011).

[xxiv]Ibid; http://www.fergananews.com/news.php?id=15647