Partners in law: Legal help leads to brighter futures for Tajikistan’s rural women

Date : 19 September 2012

Like Maksad, Makhfirat Dadaboeva sought help from her local District Task Force to re-enlist in her University studies after three children. Photo credit: UN Women/Ana Lukatela

For Maksad Nodirova , legal aid has meant more than a financial foothold in rural Tajikistan. It has helped her forge a path through trauma, disempowerment and loss - and emerge both a breadwinner and businesswoman.

The 58-year old mother of five and wife of an ill husband, Maksad worked on cooperative farms for much of her life. She married and became a mother at 16, arranging the same for her two eldest daughters when she couldn't pay for their further education. Yet her burden was eased only briefly. Within five years her eldest daughter died, leaving Maksad to care for three young grandchildren. Another daughter was soon divorced by her husband and moved back home with her two children, believing that she had no access to alimony or housing rights.

Following the advice of a neighbor in 2008, Maksad first sought out her local ‘District Task Force' (DTF), supported by the government and UN Women. Her task force is one of 72 centres across the country that provide free legal advice on issues from family law, civic codes and land rights to social protection and assistance with official paperwork for those with low levels of literacy. Over 70 per cent of its clients are women in rural areas.

Maksad emerged from her first appointment with a new faith in Tajikistan's legal system, and a new found confidence in her ability to use it. Over the next four years, task force lawyers guided her through the legalities of guardianship and boarding school fees. When she was allocated a hectare of a collective farm, they gave her advice on how to register it as her own. Through Task Force seminars and training, she learned how to better cultivate crops and manage the land.

Saibibi Sharipova, head of “Boqi Rahimzoda Mahalla Committee and District Task Force, consults with local women three days a week, logging and tracking each case. Photo credit: UN Women/Ana Lukatela

Today Maksad is one of 500 women clients of the District Task Force who run their own farms. She produces two harvests each year and has provided each of her working family members with jobs and stable incomes. “We now buy meat, sugar, some fruit and sweets, says Rahima, one of her daughters. The family now owns their first car.

And life continues to look up for them. Earlier this month Maksad was told by a DTF lawyer that the state will financially contribute to the care of her orphaned grandchildren. “I am one of those women who has started to believe in life again, she says.

The task forces, which began in 2003, established by the Government of Tajikistan with UN Women's support, have become a key resource in helping vulnerable citizens, particularly rural women who now comprise more than 70 per cent of their clientele. A testament to their success came in 2011, when the government decided to expand the service and fully fund it to create 72 District Task Forces across the country. And today more and more people are using the services of the task forces.

The task forces, now completely state-run with UN Women support, report an average 70 per cent success rate for their clients. As they branch farther into remote or rural neighbourhoods, they will continue to ensure that more women understand the law, and can benefit from it towards building a life of independence and empowerment.