“My marriage was arranged against my will. It took practically a few days to make it happen. A few weeks into the married life my husband started beating me…” This is the story of Nodira, a young Tajik woman who has suffered abuse from those who, supposedly, should be loving and caring. And she is one of the many women across the world that has been the victims of domestic violence.
Around one-third of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. In the most extreme cases, violence against women can lead to death. Around two-thirds of victims of intimate partner or family related homicides are women.
In Tajikistan, physical and psychological abuse of wives by husbands remains a big issue, domestic violence is common. In traditional families, a bride moves to in-law’s home, where she literally serves a large family of her husband and is exposed to permanent bullying and abuse. Underreporting is an important factor complicating the problem. In a patriarchal society, like in Tajikistan, there is a deep-rooted belief that ‘a woman must put up with violence to keep the family’. It takes courage to ‘wash dirty linen in public’, as they say, by reporting abuse, and face public censure.
In 2013, the Parliament adopted the Law on prevention of violence in the family. The State Programme for the Prevention of Domestic Violence in the Republic of Tajikistan for 2014-2023 enables state institutions and public organizations to provide practical assistance to victims of domestic violence. Currently, there are 33 crisis centres operated by state and public organizations and three temporary shelters. Among those is the Public Organization “Korvoni Umed” (caravan of hope in Tajik) that suggests a different perspective for working towards sustainability. The organization helps women who have survived domestic abuse and human trafficking by providing legal advice, psychological counselling, arranging for medical aid. It also runs a shelter for those who have no one and nowhere to turn to, and who can stay in it for 3 to 6 months depending on the severity of the case.
It all started back in 2009 when three like-minded women opened and registered a public organisation with the mission to help women in need. Along with counseling, they were offering sewing courses so that the women acquire a good practical skill that would allow them to cover their basic needs instead of “running from pillar to post” says Umeda Sadritdinova, director of the organization. When some of the women voiced their interest in culinary, Umeda and her team started desperately looking for options. The solutions came around when Umeda met Claire, an American girl, at a social event. Clair had come to Dushanbe to study Farsi, and it turned out she was a certified pastry chef. She got interested in the social initiative in a heartbeat and volunteered to conduct culinary classes for the care recipients twice a week. “The courses were a huge success. In two years that Clair had stayed in Dushanbe, our girls learned and practised so many new recipes, they never knew of before”, says Umeda enthusiastically.
High demand and interest in sewing and culinary courses brought about a question of employment. Umeda explains that to get a job, the women needed certificates of completion of practical courses. “Therefore, we negotiated and came to an agreement with the ministry of labour and social protection to include our beneficiaries in the program of the national center of adult education. Our agreement allows us to conduct the courses, while the centre verifies and certifies the course takers” she adds. The importance of vocational training cannot be overprized as “the majority of women seeking help have barely finished secondary school”, explains Umeda, “more than that, they are convinced that the only job they can be good at is dishwashing or cleaning”. She elaborates, “The core reason lies in the family upbringing when girls are brought up to be obedient and accepting. Parents traditionally would rather invest into the son’s education, because he is the future caretaker, while daughter is a stranger’s property. Therefore, we are trying to change their mindset, and help them overcome doubts and disclose hidden talents”.
The partnership with the ministry of labour has definitely proved its worth. With certificates, the women are now employed in the service sector, as Umeda tells WIB. State support comes also from the ministry of health, in a separate room in the health centre and maternity hospital where the victims of domestic violence and abuse receive treatment for free. Also, the city administration allocated a venue for accommodating a classroom for 30 women and 20 sewing machines without a rental fee.
Clair had once suggested that taking in orders for bakery would be a good source of income. That, in its turn, prompted Umeda to cherish the idea of opening a small café. And it happened in October 2016. Although she says they never imagined it to be as it is now, “We were thinking about a small patisserie, that would ensure stable earnings for the girls and support our organization”. But the entrance with a showcase, it later emerged, was not enough. Umeda also explains that visitors would ask about mains and were not interested in desserts. The café was thus extended to the office room, and so was the menu. Ensuring quality is of paramount importance, of which she says, “We regularly perform a quality check to make sure the clients and future employers of our so-called graduates are happy”.
Women get help and solace here, more than that they drive the process of self-discovery. “Because they play a decisive role in their lives” Umeda concludes. “And we want our clients to enjoy not only our produce but also the sense of belonging to a good cause”.