In order to change something in my country, I need to change myself
Author: Interview with Tahmina from Tajikistan by Irene Munz
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 11/16/2004
Irene Munz writes: I have the great pleasure to be with Tahmina in the same program, Gender and Peace Building, here at UPEACE. Although we detected very soon, that our motivations and interests are similar, each of us student is bringing a different background and different visions, enriching our daily course here at UPEACE. Tahmina, as the only representative from Central Asia in our group, brings us valuable insight into her culture, her individual way of thinking and her struggle for her religion, the Islam, and women rights in her country, Tajikistan.
Many reasons were making my choice to come to UPEACE very difficult but also worth being here, says Tahmina. With my 26 years, I am considered in my own country an old Lady since I am still not married. In Tajikistan the oppression and discrimination of women is severe, and I feel that in my country everything is gendered to a very unequal extreme. One of the main issues is, that our religion, Islam, has found great misinterpretation, especially in the way men use it to oppress women. The confusion is between tradition and religion and we need to change this.
As an example: in Tajikistan, the majority of women are not allowed to work anymore after they get married, and many even have to drop out of university. In the Koran, though, there is no such rule. In contrary, at the prophet s time, Mohamed (the prophet) was working for his first wife!
Different to other women in my country, I see myself as grateful for having received many opportunities in my life, such as the chance to go as an exchange student to the United States at the age of 16. This really changed my life, since I learned about a totally different lifestyle and the freedom women had in other countries. When I was working, back in my country, with NGO s I got aware of the unfairness against women in Tajikistan. I started to question: What is this? I had so many questions and began to look for answers also within the Islam and the Koran. This is very difficult for me, since the original Koran is in Arabic, which I do not know. But through well-educated theologists, books about Islam and Islamic research through the Internet I found many answers and proves that such oppression against women in my country does not find legitimacy within the Koran.
With my growing awareness, I want to change so many things in my country concerning women s issues, and still I know, that it will take some time and can not be achieved in the next one or two years.
I have to be also careful for myself. Today being here at UPEACE for ten months, I have received another chance to run away from my forced marriage back home in Tajikistan. There is great social pressure from the whole society, including my girlfriends and even my mother. Of course the decision of coming here at UPEACE has been very difficult, since I know, that I am bringing myself in big trouble also in the future. Even my girlfriends, being married, would avoid the contact with me, and I am scared of going back with all the pressure and the awareness that as a soon-married woman, I will loose so many human and women’s rights. With the acceptance of a marriage I would need to give up my freedom, settling down and loosing any chance to travel, I would need to stop working and I would not be protected from any potential domestic violence, which is unfortunately customary in many households in my country.
If I will go back to my country, choosing not to marry, I would need to be very strong against the whole society, since they would punish and insult me, and I do not know, if I can resist such high pressure.
Having all this worries in mind before coming to UPEACE, I was not sure, what I really want. But today I am happy and feel that I am at the right place here at UPEACE. Especially our first introduction course in Gender and Peace Building with Sara Sharatt had a great impact on me. I received some new answers and made a point for myself: In order to change something in my country, I need to change myself. And I feel that I am changing and that is good. I get empowered!
A female friend from Central Asia told me recently: don’t think you can change something, stop thinking about all this terrible things. You are so young, Tahmina, relax and become selfish, leave your country and become happy. I totally disagree with her. Yes, it would be easy but not right. And I chose to go for a different way.
I hope after this year, I will be prepared for my fight on women’s issues in Tajikistan. Knowing that it will be very hard to go back to Tajikistan, I start to hope receiving an opportunity to stay outside of my country.
I chose to fight for the women in my country, from Tajikistan or abroad. If I don’t do it, and some others don’t start to do it but prefer to leaving my country, things will become worse in Tajikistan. Somebody has to do it and I will do it!