Tajikistan: Teenage Girls Dropping Out of School
Increasing numbers of girls are missing out on an education as “tradition”
dictates they don’t need it.
By Anora Sarkorova and Aslibegim Manzarshoeva in Dushanbe (RCA No. 481,
Economic problems and the eroding value of education for women
have left increasing numbers of girls in Tajikistan illiterate with no
employment opportunities outside the home.
"Tajik society with its
traditional beliefs risks a massive decline in intellectual development in the
near future,” warns political analyst Manuchehra Jumakhonova.
government and international non-government groups need to think about this
problem seriously, from both the economic and social
According to Tajik education ministry figures, the number
of girls aged 16 to 17 attending the final two school years has dropped by 12
per cent since 1991, and the figure for the preceding four years has also
Education minister Abdujabbor Rahmonov, however, argues that
overall, 98 per cent of girls do go to school.
Although the government
makes efforts to improve the status of women, it stops short of intervening in
the way families deal with their daughters.
In the Soviet period, girls
were required to attend school, and women were encouraged to go on to higher
education and work outside the home. However, since 1991, poverty, high
unemployment, and the return of older social values have increased the pressure
on women to marry as early as possible, especially in rural
Traditionally, a girl’s father looks after her until she
gets married, when the responsibility passes to her husband. Once she has left
the family home, her parents may be very reluctant to take her back if she has
problems with her husband.
One reason for keeping girls out of school is
that educated women are seen by some as unattractive marriage material – they
are less likely to assume the submissive role they are expected to assume
towards the husband’s entire family.
When Sarvinoz, now 19, from the
village of Nimich in the Rasht valley in Tajikistan’s eastern mountains, got
married three years ago her new family was pleased that she had never been to
However, her lack of education is now something of a
disadvantage, since her husband has left her for another woman, and her only
chance of gaining financial security is to remarry.
“I don't know what
will happen now. I can only marry a widower or someone who has been married
before," she said. “My parents told me I didn't need to study, and that the most
important thing for a girl is to marry well and at the right time. All I can do
is tidy the house and cook. I can’t even sew.”
Although most parents who
take their daughters out of school plead poverty, and this is undoubtedly a
factor, the fact that sons from similar backgrounds are allowed to continue on
to higher education shows the differing expectations attached to each sex.
The influence of Islam has strengthened since the end of Soviet rule,
and many local clerics perpetuate the traditional view that women’s place is in
At a mosque on the outskirts of the capital Dushanbe, a cleric
leading Friday prayers calls on worshippers to stop their daughters going to
school, warning that they will be depraved by teachers who force them to remove
headscarves and wear European-style clothing. In Tajikistan, women commonly wear
traditional costume including a headscarf, which is not necessarily a symbol of
particularly strong faith.
Zamon Alifbekov, an advisor to the education
minister, told IWPR that in fact schools allow pupils to wear whatever they
want, including head coverings. “We don't force anyone to wear any [particular]
thing,” he said.
Negmatullo Suhbatov, rector of the Islamic University in
Dushanbe, was dismissive of clerics who try to bar women from
“Semi-literate mullahs who only know the Arabic alphabet and
have studied a few [of the religion’s] tenets say that women shouldn’t have an
education and should merely serve their husbands,”he said. “Contrary to the
popular view, Islam in fact accords a high position to women.”
concluded, “The Islamic scholars say teach a man and you educate one person, but
teach a woman and you educate a nation.”
But regardless of how people
view women’s moral right to education, some parents see it as a pointless and
unnecessary luxury since they believe their daughters will go straight from
their home to the husband’s and will never have to seek formal employment.
The Rasht valley, where Sarvinoz lives, is an underdeveloped part of the
country, and suffered badly in the 1992-97 civil war as a stronghold of the
opposition Islamic forces. This is the kind of place where girls are commonly
discouraged from going to school – much more so than in urban areas, and even
some other rural areas such as Badakhshan where educated women enjoy higher
Last year teachers in the Rasht valley started compiling lists
to determine exactly how many children were dropping out of school, and why.
There are far fewer girls than boys, especially in the higher years.
the valley, schoolteacher Nigina has come up with a scheme to encourage parents
to let girls attend school. She goes from house to house promising they will be
taught sewing, among other things. “We tell them there are sewing machines in
school, and then they aren’t opposed to it,” she said.
expectation in rural areas is that women will be married by the age of 20, many
decide not to complete a university course in case that reduces their chances.
“All the girls my age got married when they were 17 or 18, but I was 20
and still studying,” said Zamira Nazirova, now 22. “I was ashamed when people
would come round asking when I’d finally get married.
“I decided to get
married first, and then continue my studies. The way it turned out, my husband
preferred me to stay and study at home - but not go anywhere”.
government tries to encourage women to go on to higher education, and for
example has a scheme where nearly 500 female students were enrolled in
universities this academic year, even though they lacked the qualifications
required for entrance.
But going to university involves the high cost of
living in a city, and job prospects afterwards are particularly uncertain for
Mavluda, 19, comes from Vahdat, 30 kilometres from Dushanbe, and
would like to attend university - but cannot afford the fees or living costs.
“If you don’t have money they won't accept you anywhere," she said.
Her parents are now looking out for a likely husband.
fall in female educational attainment in Tajikistan is affecting the labour
market, especially the professions. Kimatgul Aliberdieva, a gender expert in
Dushanbe, warned, "We should be raising the alarm now, because in 20 or 30
years’ time there won’t be any women left at all in the professions - law,
engineering and teaching – where men dominate even now."
is a BBC correspondent and Asilbegim Manzarshoeva an IWPR contributor, both in