Munisa’s Triumph Over Gender-Based Violence

January 24, 2024

Munisa Amirova, 25, receives counselling from Makhbuba Azimova, a psychologist a 1313 hotline centre under the Committee of Women and Family Affairs of Tajikistan for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

Photo: UNDP Tajikistan/ M. Ruziev

25-year-old Munisa Amirova* was born and raised in a rural area near Tajikistan’s Hissar city. In 2020, her marriage was arranged by her family. From the outset of her new life, her mother-in-law and sister-in-law disliked her. The tension grew over time and escalated into physical violence against Munisa. Furthermore, all the household chores were on Munisa’s shoulders and there was no support from her husband. 

Munisa hoped that the situation with her in-laws would change for the better once she became pregnant. On the contrary, when they found out about her pregnancy they insisted on an abortion. Munisa kept her second pregnancy a secret from her in-laws and avoided an abortion since she was five months pregnant when they noticed it. What happened next, was terrifying. One day when Munisa was about to finish baking bread in a “tanur” (traditional Tajik clay oven) with gas, her sister-in-law turned on the gas and directed the fire flames towards her.  “I screamed and cried, but no one came to help me. I ran to the water tap. When the fire was off, I became unconscious.” – recalls Munisa. Munisa’s neighbors called an ambulance, and she was hospitalized. Half of her body was burnt and she also learned that she had lost her baby. 

Half of Munisa’s body was burnt and then she learnt that she lost her baby

“My husband and my father-in-law were worried about my sister-in-law rather than about me,” says Munisa. Munisa’s husband convinced her to report to the police that the situation was an accident. Munisa obeyed because she loved her husband. 

In Tajikistan, another contributing factor is the societal belief that reporting against one's relatives is not socially acceptable.

Munisa's narrative is not unique in Tajikistan – a country with deeply ingrained social norms. It echoes the violence experienced by numerous Tajik women.  

A study in 2016 by the research organization “Tahlil Va Mashvarat” (Analysis and Advice), in partnership with the Committee on Women and Family Affairs (CWFA) and Oxfam, interviewed 400 people across six regions of Tajikistan and found that 97 percent of men and 72 percent of women believed that a woman must tolerate violence to keep her family together because if they leave an abusive relationship, they will be unable to provide for their children and/or be publicly ostracized.

According to a UNDP study released in 2021, in Tajikistan, 31 percent face economic, 21% endure psychological, 20% undergo physical, and 6% experience sexual violence in Tajikistan. 

Initially, Munisa followed her husband's advice and forgave his sister. However, his subsequent actions prompted Munisa to take decisive steps to safeguard her rights. During her three months of hospitalization, Munisa’s husband visited her only once.

After the rehabilitation, Munisa got pregnant again. However, her in-laws pressured her husband to leave [divorce] Munisa anyway. Munisa’s marriage was not officially registered as it was a religious one only. Hence, Munisa could not claim anything officially during the divorce. 

Munisa’s marriage wasn’t officially registered, it was a religious one and hence, Munisa couldn’t claim anything

 

 

Makhbuba Azimova, a psychologist at the 1313 Hotline Centre registers survivors for referral to the relevant government-supported social service providers.

Photo: UNDP Tajikistan/ M. Ruziev

In 2022, the Committee of Women and Family Affairs, supported by the UN and funded by the EU, re-launched a hotline to provide services to the survivors of violence. 

“We receive 10 or more calls a day from all over the country. These are official referrals, and many more cases are not being reported for two reasons – women either don’t know about their rights, or they are afraid, or they believe it is inappropriate to report about such issues. Calling the hotline 1313 is free. The cases are very different, and so are the people,” explains Makhbuba Azimova, a hotline psychologist. “We have an individual approach to everyone. Our goal is to listen carefully to the person so that the help is as effective as possible.” 

Every day, 24 hours a day, the personnel of the centre provide psychological and legal consultations over the phone and in-person to the survivors of gender-based violence free of charge. When they encounter cases they are not authorized to help with, they refer them to other relevant authorities such as the police or the prosecutor’s office

“Our lawyers work closely with the survivors. They draft statements and prepare women’s documents for the court. They come to us from all over the Republic - from different regions and rural areas,” Azimova says. “Therefore, we are cooperating with local administrations of the regions to ensure that the process of providing assistance is prompt. They promptly respond to applications and visit survivors of domestic and gender-based violence.”

Over the first 9 months of 2023, around 1,868 people reached out to the hotline seeking assistance —nearly 200 more than in 2022. This surge underscores the importance and necessity of the hotline.

A Journey from Survivor to Champion  

 

Munisa, having made a decision divorced her husband. After three months, Munisa understood that she could not cope alone with post-trauma health problems and severe mental condition. She had learned about the hotline at the Committee of Women and Family Affairs, and reached out. She acknowledged the significance of this hotline as she was able to benefit from the active support from the psychologists, lawyers, and other employees of the hotline.

 After having several therapy sessions with professional psychologists, Munisa began to feel better. She was also provided with professional legal support and her sister-in-law, and her husband were prosecuted and fined. Munisa also received support in claiming alimony for her little daughter and her husband was charged to pay alimonies every month. Unfortunately, she faced the heartbreaking loss of her second daughter during pregnancy and hospitalization.

Periodically, the psychologist and the lawyer of the support centre call Munisa and check on her. With this support, Munisa has managed to not only cope with the impacts of the violence she lived with but has triumphed it. A call to the hotline started this transformative violence-free journey for her.  

After more than two years of implementation, the Spotlight Initiative—a joint programme of the United Nations supported by the European Union and dedicated to eradicating sexual and gender-based violence against women and gir7yls—concluded at the end of 2023. One of the project's pivotal achievements was the hotline 1313 for survivors of gender-based violence, operated within the Committee of Women and Family Affairs under the Government of Tajikistan.  

*Name has been changed to protect the survivor's identity.

There is #NoExcuse for gender-based violence. If you, your loved ones or friends have experienced or witnessed any form of gender-based violence, do not stay silent. Reach out to the hotline at 1313 – they are always ready to provide assistance and support.