International Alert’s in-depth research into violence against women and girls in Tajikistan suggests that over 60% of ever-married women aged 15-49 (among the beneficiaries of the Zindagii Shoista project) have experienced different forms of spousal violence during their lifetime, including physical, sexual, or emotional violence. Official figures place this figure at 31%, but it has been acknowledged that this figure is on the rise. In this context, the vulnerability of women living with disabilities and of women parenting children with disabilities in Tajikistan increases significantly due to their dependence on caregivers. Existing stigma and ableism associated with different forms of disabilities (associations with illness, anomaly, ugliness, incapacity to have fulfilling life and/or punishment for sins) exacerbate the situation of these women and girls. This report is a study into the intersection of gender, violence and disabilities, with a focus on the role of disabilities in increasing the risk of sexual and gender-based violence and domestic violence perpetrated against women with disabilities and women parenting children with disabilities in Dushanbe, Bokhtar and Khorog.
The study targeted women and men between the ages of 18-65 living with disabilities or parenting children with disabilities. Field data were collected through 12 focus group discussions (four in each location) divided by age and gender, with men and women living with disabilities or parenting children with disabilities. 30 repeat in-depth interviews were conducted with women and men with disabilities among different age groups, as well as women with children with disabilities.
Women with disabilities are thought to be physically unable to fulfil their gender roles and considered unattractive to their husbands; it is widely believed that they are incapable of conceiving, carrying or parenting children, or that they would give birth to disabled children. Participants reported low education levels, informal employment or unemployment, and physical impairments that restricted individual mobility. Disability significantly reduces women’s economic opportunity, increasing their dependency on family members and caregivers. Among the researched women living with disabilities, only 20% were formally employed and 20% had university degrees. People with disabilities are viewed as helpless, dependent and different from the rest of society. Disability-related stigmatisation removes other multiple identities from disabled people, denying them agency and associating them only with the disability. In the longer term, this leads to a more extreme forms of ableism, denying rights to education, employment, personal life choices, marriage, childbirth and parenting. In many instances, different forms of stigma and discrimination had been internalised by the research participants. Mothers of children with disabilities face abuse, isolation and loneliness due to restricted mobility associated with caregiving responsibilities and financial dependency on spouses and in-laws. They face associative disability discrimination and stigma. All women interview participants, as well as the majority of women FGD participants, reported to have experienced or to be currently experiencing different forms of SGBV perpetrated both within and outside the family circle. There is a strong link between mental health and sexual violence in all three locations. Disability increases the likelihood of abuse against married women and significantly increases the probability of divorce, separation, or abandonment. This forces women to either tolerate violence or become second wives to financially sustain themselves and their children. Only 20% of the researched women living with disabilities were currently married as first wives; 20% were divorced or abandoned; 20% were living as second wives; 40% were single.
Persons with disabilities (PWDs) also face discrimination in finding work, and women with disabilities encounter particular barriers to employment. In a Sughd oblast survey of 164 PWDs, 36.6% were employed, with more women than men working. Most women worked in petty trade or as seamstresses, and the majority found work themselves or through friends and relatives. Of those who were not employed, most cited health reasons, but some cited lack of experience. Women with disabilities were divided about employment quotas for PWDs, but they emphasised enabling PWDs to organise work for themselves, especially as entrepreneurs. The survey also revealed that women with disabilities receive less pension than men (TJS24–280 compared to men’s TJS30– 300 per month).
Recommendations include making VAWG-prevention approaches more nuanced to geographical and cultural context; deepening research into intersectionality, violence against women and girls, disability and masculinity to provide an evidence base for policy and programming; taking into account the needs of mothers parenting children with disabilities more holistically.