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Shaina Agbayani Essay 1, Question 2 260355132

Feminized Poverty in Tajikistan: Legacies of Independence from the Soviet Union

The impoverishment of men and women in Tajikistan is largely attributable to the

institutionally-destructive ramifications of its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Those bearing the brunt of this impoverishment are disproportionately women. Gender

inequality in Tajikistan becomes apparent when we consider the level of female poverty

vis-à-vis men as well as women’s employment participation, income, and educational

attainment. Two-thirds of the population living below the poverty line are female-headed

households, which are at greater risk of becoming even poorer due women’s low

participation in the labour market and inadequate access to land and credit1. Women

comprise only 19% of the labour force, compared with almost 80% before independence,

and they are now six times less likely to be employed than men2. The vast majority of

female population work in lower-paid sectors (86%), such as agriculture (75%), public

health services and education3. Wages in these branches are approximately 4-7 times lower

than in other spheres where men dominate such as construction and communications 4.

Accordingly, the ratio of female to male income earned is 0.655. Moreover, although three-

fourths of the female workforce contributes to the agricultural sector, 93.2% of farms are

male-headed (report) 6. Education-wise, only 37% of girls complete 11 years of schooling,

compared with 63% of boys 7.

These post-independence statistics, if juxtaposed with pre-independence statistics,

indicate a substantial proliferation of gender inequality following Tajikistan’s autonomy

from the Soviet Union. In respect to this, I argue that although gender inequalities did exist

in Soviet times, two significant implications of independence – (a) the resurgence of a

traditional, patriarchally-oriented culture and (b) the transition into the market economy -

have perpetuated and exacerbated gender inequality in Tajikistan.

Shaina Agbayani Essay 1, Question 2 260355132

As mentioned, independence incited a cultural revival fortifying the traditional,

Islamic attitudes and practices that were previously suppressed by the communist state. As

stated by Special Rapporteur on violence against women in Tajikistan Yakin Ertürk, “Upon

independence, as the country moved away from its Soviet past, hard-line patriarchal values,

presented with religious overtones, gained prominence in public discourse”8. As a result,

independence has imposed further discrimination against women by narrowing their

identity to that of wife and mother9. In these respects, Tajikistan’s post-independence

cultural revival intensified Tajiki society’s subscription to patriarchal caricatures of

women, which would advocate their confinement to domestic spheres.

These caricatures have aggravated women’s limited access to and mobility within

the spheres of education and employment, especially when situated in context of the

transition into the market economy which has (a) increased unemployment10 and (b)

privatized education11. The post-independence transition into a market based economy

eliminated employment safety nets previously provided by the communist state 12. The

intensified post-independence confinement of women to the domestic sphere combined

with the loss of employment safety net has decreased their labour participation and

mobility. Women comprise only 19% of the labour force, compared with almost 80%

before independence13. Moreover, the transition process shows a gendered division of

labour in which women are pushed into the lowest positions or worst-paid sectors14.

Women’s inequality of employment is exacerbated by the privatization of education that

was previously provided for free by the state. Because education became an unaffordable

expense for many in the economically destitute post-independence market economy15,

females – increasingly viewed as primarily valuable in terms of their domestic capabilities

due to intensified post-independence conservatism – would be considered less valuable

Shaina Agbayani Essay 1, Question 2 260355132

than males for educational investment16. The resulting educational inequality- 37% of girls

completed 11 years of schooling, compared to 63% of boys (7) – keeps women

disproportionately less skilled and trained than men, thus reinforcing and worsening the

gender inequality in the labour economy, where women are already in the lowest positions

and worst-paid sectors.

The combination of this new division of labour and women’s increased domestic

responsibilities hinders women’s political mobility. As researchers of the Gorno-

Badakhshan area note, although political liberalisation theoretically creates opportunities

for previously excluded groups, like women, to participate in politics, the harsh material

effects of economic liberalisation has minimized the time and resources available to

women for political participation 17.

This de-politicization of women for lack of time and resources is aggravated by the

mass (male) migration to neighbouring Russia, provoked by the harsh material effects of

economic liberalisation. 25% of households have family members regularly seeking jobs

abroad due to the unavailability of stable employment in Tajikistan’s post-independence

market-based economy18. This exodus is spearheaded by men due to conservative

patriarchal attitudes espousing the limited mobility of women. Men comprise the

overwhelming majority of the more than 800,000 (out of 7.3 million) Tajiki citizens who

work abroad, resulting in disproportionate gender demographics 19. It is consistently noted

that even when husbands are absent due to labour migration, control

over assets, including remittances, remains with the husband’s direct

relatives, rather than with the wife20. Thus, the mass migration for labour

provoked by economic liberalization has increased the economic

mobility of men, rather than women. Moreover, the absence of these

Shaina Agbayani Essay 1, Question 2 260355132

migrant men has increased the domestic workload and need for independence of

hundreds of thousands of women left behind in a nation bereft of the institutions and

societal attitudes vital to support this independence.

When we consider women’s lack of access to property, it becomes evident that the

societal attitudes required for this support are absent. Under the Land Code, women are

legally entitled to land on equal terms as men21. However, the normative, customary laws

derived from revived Islamic traditions have, in practise, translated into women being

inhibited from buying and managing land. As stated in report by the World Bank, “The

current legal framework at face value is non-discriminatory, but does not

take into account customary law, which is followed by most residents”22.

Because independence revived customary norms to undermine these

forms of legal commitments, women’s ownership of property is a rarity. The

social acceptability of women owning land generally only holds for those who are divorced

or widowed23. Accordingly, a meagre 6.8 percent of farms are headed by women 24. In this

regard, the practical implications of the post-independence patriarchal renaissance have

undermined the efficacy of abstract, legal commitments to gender inequality in property


These gender inequalities in education, the labour market, and ownership are

furthermore aggravated by the transition into a market-based economy, inasmuch as this

transition has increased the extent to which Tajikis subscribe to the subsistence lifestyle (in

which individuals devote most of their time and resources to ensuring the provision of

basic needs). The basic services of education and healthcare that were free in the Soviet era

were, in the new market-based economy, rendered commodities for which Tajikis would be

required to pay 25. Moreover, sovkhozes (state farms) were a primary source of employment
Shaina Agbayani Essay 1, Question 2 260355132

in the communist economy of the Soviet era26. Accordingly, the most significant job losses

recorded from the households analyzed in a post-independence study of the Gorno-

Badakhshan region resulted from the collapse of the sovkhozes. By consequence, the

transition into a market-based economy generated a substantial decrease in household

salaries while increasing the household expenditures required for basic services such as

healthcare and education. Accordingly, the thirty women interviewed in Gorno-

Badakhshan, with the exception of four, said that in the new market-based economy,

household income and production were insufficient for meeting basic needs27, in

contradistinction to the Soviet era’s communist economy in which all the women claimed

that in their basic needs were always satisfied28 . Thus, the transition into a market-based

economy has increased the number of Tajikis adhering to a subsistence way of life.

This basic-needs-centered way of life causes individuals to subscribe to the

subsistence ethic that myopically confines one’s scope of action to the realm of survival

first and foremost29. Since the transition into a market-based economy has increased the

extent to which Tajikis uphold the subsistence ethic, it has decreased the time and resources

available for women (and men) to evaluate the gender inequality being exacerbated by

revived patriarchal attitudes. Thus, the subsistence way of life popularized by the transition

into the market-based economy increasingly renders additional, non-survival considerations

such as gender inequality indulgent abstractions.

Yet these considerations of gender inequality that may be indulgent abstraction for

the sixty-percent of Tajikis now living under the poverty line30 are vital to the nation as a

whole inasmuch as gender equality facilitates any nation’s development31. Tajikistan’s

constitution provides for gender equality under the law32. But as Kyung Ae Park notes

when analyzing gender inequality in South Korea, when women are legally “given” - rather
Shaina Agbayani Essay 1, Question 2 260355132

having actively sought and fought for - gender equality, the lag, or mere absence, of

societal attitudes reflecting these abstract legal commitments depletes the latter’s pragmatic

value (134). Situated in the context of Tajikistan’s patriarchal renaissance, the nation’s

aforementioned constitutional commitment bears no significance. Moreover, due to the

proliferated impoverishment spawned by the institutionally-destructive market

liberalization, the material, economic grounding crucial to promoting gender equality is

fragile. Therefore, Tajikistan must couple its legal commitment to gender equality with

both (a) an internal cultural revolution attainable through education and (b) the external

institutional reparation essential to resurrecting the labour market. Working in conjunction

with one another, these interdependent components will facilitate development, which

operates as both a function and variable of gender equality algebra.

(Asian Development Bank 2010: 1)
(Asian Development Bank 2010: 1)
(Amnesty International 2009: 12)
(Amnesty International 2009: 12)
(United Nations Development Programme, 2009)
(Giovarelli and Undeland 2008: 6)
(Asian Development Bank 2010: 1)
(Amnesty International 2009: 11)
(Somach 2010: 40)
(Amnesty International 2009: 30)
(Kanji 2002: 139)
(Kanji 2002: 141)
(Asian Development Bank 2010: 1)
(Amnesty International 2009:11)
(Kanji 2002: 145)
(Saberi 2006)
(Kanji 2002: 149)
(Amnesty International 2009: 10)
(Somach 2010: 40)
(Giovarelli and Undeland 2008: 34)
(Giovarelli and Undeland 2008: 19)
(Giovarelli and Undeland 2008: 6)
(Giovarelli and Undeland 2008: 6)
(Giovarelli and Undeland 2008: 6)
(Kanji 2002: 141)
(Kanji 2002: 141)
(Kanji 2002: 143)
(Kanji 2002: 141)
(Scott 2006: 4)
(Central Intelligence Agency: 2009)
(United Nations Development Fund for Women 2008:1)
(Somach 2010: 38)

Works Cited

Country Partnership Strategy: Tajikistan, 2010–2014 - Gender Analysis. Rep. Asian Development

Bank. Web. 8 Nov. 2010. <


Financing Gender Equality Is Financing Development. Rep. United Nations Development Fund for

Women, Feb. 2008. Web. 8 Nov. 2010. <


Giovarelli, Renee, and Asyl Undeland. Understanding Household Level Barriers Constraining

Women’s Access to Land and Financial Resources in Tajikistan. Publication. 2008. Web. 7

Nov. 2010. <>.

"Human Development Report 2009 - Tajikistan." International Human Development Indicators -

UNDP. United Nations Development Programme, 2009. Web. 10 Nov. 2010.


Kanji, Nazneen. "Trading and Trade-Offs: Women's Livelihoods in Gorno-Badakhshan, Tajikis."

Development in Practice 12.2 (2002): 138-52. JSTOR. Web. 4 Nov. 2010.


Park, Kyung A. "Women and Development: The Case of South Korea." Comparative Politics 25.2

(1993): 127-45. Print.

"Population Below the Poverty Line." CIA - Central Intelligence Agency. 2009. Web. 8 Nov. 2010.


Saberi, By Roxana. "TAJIKISTAN: Gender Equality Clashes With Culture, Religion - IPS" IPS Inter Press Service. 15 Nov. 2006. Web. 6 Nov. 2010.


Scott, James C. The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia. New

Haven: Yale UP, 2006. Print.

Somach, Susan. Agency for International Development. Gender Assessment USAID / Central Asian

Republics. DevTech Systems, Inc. and Deborah Rubin of Cultural Practice, Mar. 2010. Web. 7

Nov. 2010. <>.

Violence Is Not Just a Family Affair: Women Face Abuse in Tajikistan. Publication. Amnesty

International, 2009. Web. 7 Nov. 2010. <