“I used to set the table for breakfast, lunch or dinner every day and, as usual, when I joined others around the table, it was already empty. Last week, when I set the table for dinner…everyone was waiting for me. I was so shocked positively that I could not eat. When I cleaned the table, and washed the dishes after, my father-in-law nursed my son to sleep. This happened for the first time in my life in my husband’s family and this is due to the ZS sessions”.
These were the words of a young woman who has benefitted from the ZS sessions currently being implemented in four villages in South and North of Tajikistan. Her story and that of many others have been testimony to the positive changes experienced in relationships with husbands and in-laws.
Levels of violence against women and girls are high in Tajikistan, driven by gender inequalities and livelihood insecurity. Young daughters-in-law are particularly vulnerable to intimate partner violence (IPV) and violence from in-laws. In many countries in Asia the family unit is not a husband/wife dyad, but extends to a complex grouping of in-laws who often exploit, and are violent towards, younger daughters-in-law. Therefore, interventions may be more successful if they extend beyond the husband/wife dyad to the family unit. However, there is a major gap in evidence-based interventions to reduce IPV and violence from in-laws, both in Tajikistan and globally.
To develop an integrated social and economic approach with a family-level focus, we used the ‘Stepping Stones’ intervention as the basis for an innovative livelihoods intervention which integrates efforts to prevent violence against women and girls and promote gender equality. Formative research on IPV, gender and livelihoods was conducted to inform the intervention. An adaptation workshop was held in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, bringing together implementing partners and the What Works global team to brainstorm and draft a training manual based on the contextual analysis and the findings of the formative research. Following this, local partners joined the group and were introduced to, and consulted on, the draft methodology through 3 days of pilot training with the draft manual.
The adapted intervention was named “Zindagii Shoista” – “Living with Dignity” and is now being implemented in four villages in Tajikistan, covering 81 target families with around 270 members, including 60% women (above 35 years old) and 40% men (18-35 years old).
Feedback indicates that the approaches used through Zindagii Shoista (ZS) are being very well received and found relevant to the Tajik context: Zuhro from partner organization Women of Orient (WoO): “At first glance, the information provided in ZS sessions seems to be simple, but makes you realise that we usually omit to pay attention to simple but very important things”.
Dilorom from partners organization ATO): “There were challenges at the initial stage of the intervention, but successes now outnumber the challenges. We are very pleased that in our village, out of 20 target families, in 15 families (75%) we already have improved family relationships”.
Mehrinisso (partner organization Farodis): “I was walking in the street and an old man, who was not our target beneficiary, approached and thanked me for working with families to improve relationships and the economic situation. He said, ‘you’re doing a very important and valuable job and my wish is you cover as many families in the village as possible’”.
Another young woman gave this testimony: “My mother-in-law is gradually changing positively and is looking after her grandchildren now. She is trying now to avoid criticising me… My husband is becoming kinder. Yesterday we chatted and I joked about whether he was thinking of taking another wife. He responded that no, why should I marry someone else? I have a son and a daughter and I am content with my life”.
Target families are running small enterprises in which young women, particularly daughters-in-law are actively involved. The economic empowerment component is contributing positively not only to family economies and increasing daughters’-in-law earning power, but also improving gender attitudes, knowledge and behaviors within families and reducing violence: Mavluda U. purchased a cow and calf through project support to the family business. She gets 5 litres of milk a day and can sell and market dairy products, bringing in 55-60 somoni (£5-6)/week to the family fund. “The sessions and activities that I and my husband are involved in on income generation helped us to improve our relationship. We had a cow before as well, but my husband was not interested to help me to look after her. Now, he pays special attention to the new cow and is very motivated and interested to look after her. He even bathes the cow twice a week”.
Zindagii Shoista is generating evidence and lessons about how best to tackle the high levels of violence experienced by women in Tajikistan. But it is important that we scale up the approach in other areas of Tajikistan, particularly urban areas, in order to improve, and share widely, our understanding of how to prevent violence against women and girls and positively transform our society to one in which women and girls are treated equally. For more information, please visit http://www.international-alert.org/tajikistan