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Low women’s political participation in Tajikistan: Will the anti-discrimination law be a solution?

Article by Dilbar Turakhanova

May 17, 2021

Low women’s political participation in Tajikistan: Will the anti-discrimination law be a solution?

Setting the scene: gender (in)equality in Tajikistan

Among Central Asian countries, Tajikistan rates lowest in internationally comparable indices of gender equality. With the score of 0.626 in the Global Gender Gap ranking of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Tajikistan ranked 137 of 153 countries in 2020.[1] This index is a composite measure of four dimensions: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment. Tajikistan ranks highest in health and survival (72 of 153 countries) followed by educational attainment (123 of 153 countries). In political empowerment, Tajikistan ranks 128.[2] The lowest of the four sub-indices is the dimension of economic participation and opportunity, where Tajikistan ranks 134 of 153 countries.[3] In socio-economic development indicators, which make up the Gender Development Index (GDI), the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) ranking of human development, values for the Human Development Index (HDI) of women and men differ substantially. In 2019, the HDI value for men was 0.712 and 0.586 for women showing particular gaps in expected years of schooling (12.6 years for men and 10.7 years for women); mean years of schooling (11.3 years for men and 10.2 years for women) and Gross National Income (GNI). Women’s GNI of $1,440 USD is four and half times lower than for men whose GNI in 2019 was $6,427.[4]


These rankings, while not exhaustive, demonstrate that in Tajikistan women lag behind men in all spheres, including education, economic participation, health and political participation. Women in Tajikistan experience various forms of discrimination in merely all spheres, including Violence Against Women (VAW) as one of the extreme examples and many others. The legislation of Tajikistan does not yet address comprehensively discrimination in all forms and does not prohibit discrimination on all possible grounds in line with the international human rights obligations that Tajikistan voluntarily acceded to, especially the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).


Legal gaps in protection from discrimination in all forms and on all grounds in Tajikistan resulting in gender neutral legislation on women’s political participation[5]

Tajikistan as a signatory to a number of international human rights treaties, including CEDAW established in its Constitution in Article 17 guarantees equality of all before the law and the courts. Human rights and fundamental freedoms are guaranteed by the State for all without distinction based on nationality, race, sex, language, religion, political convictions, and education, social or material status. It also stipulates that men and women have equal rights. Such provisions are replicated in the numerous codes and laws of Tajikistan.


In terms of discrimination based on sex, Tajikistan has adopted the special Law on the State Guarantees of Equal Rights of Men and Women and Equal Opportunities of their Enjoyment (hereinafter, referred to as Gender Equality Law) in 2005. This is the only Law that defines the notion of discrimination. It is defined as any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition of equal rights of men and women in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field. The notion is not inclusive of direct and indirect discrimination and the Law does not protect from intersectional discrimination.[6] Besides, the Law has several critical gaps: it fails to prohibit workplace discrimination; introduce temporary special measures and prohibit violence against women as a form of gender-based discrimination.[7] It has no measures on elimination of existing social and cultural patterns on role of women that perpetuate discrimination against women.


The Article 17 of the Constitution as well as definition of discrimination established by Gender Equality Law are not compliant with the CEDAW intersectionality concept that links discrimination based on sex and gender with other factors that affect women, such as race, ethnicity, religion or belief, health, status, age, class, caste and sexual orientation and gender identity.[8] While the text of CEDAW adopted in 1979 referred to sex-based discrimination, in 2010 the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women explained that Article 1 of the CEDAW (on discrimination) when read together with Articles 2 (f) and 5 (a) covers gender-based discrimination, thus, calling state parties for explicit legal recognition of intersecting forms of discrimination and their prohibition.[9] In Tajikistan, Lesbian, Gay, By-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex (LGBTQI) rights are not recognised.[10] So as the rights of disadvantaged groups of women and girls such as refugee women, migrant women, women left behind by male migrants, widows of male migrants, stateless women, women and girls with disabilities, women living with HIV/AIDS, women in prison and former women inmates, and rural women are not fully considered in legislation.[11]


The Constitution stipulates that any citizen who reached the age of 18 has a right to participate in the political life and administration of the state directly or through representatives, they have a right to vote and be elected upon reaching eligible age (Article 27). Similar equality guarantees are provided in the constitutional laws and laws establishing a right to participate in elections to parliament and local municipalities, civil service and judiciary.


Tajikistan has a bi-cameral Parliament, Majlisi Oli. The Lower Chamber (Majlisi namoyandagon) is directly elected for a five-year term. Nationals of Tajikistan who reached 30 years and have a higher education have a right to run for the post of the member of the Lower Chamber of the Parliament (Article 49). The elections are administered by the Central Commission on Election and Referenda which supervises district election commissions and precinct election commissions. Elections are conducted in accordance with the Constitutional Law on Elections to Majlisi Oli (High Assembly) that in line with Article 17 of the Constitution ensures the right to vote regardless of ethnicity, race, sex, language, beliefs, political convictions, social status, education and property (Article 4). There are two requirements for running for elections: 1) an election deposit that has to be paid by candidates during registration process, and 2) higher education. Both are gender neutral requirements, but in fact they place women into disadvantaged position compared to men.[12] The deposit shall be paid from the personal means of the candidates and it equals to ten units used for calculation (in 2020, the deposit amount was 5,800 Tajik Somoni or USD $600). The deposit is returned if candidate obtains at least ten per cent of votes. The Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women recommended to withdraw a deposit fee for women to increase their political participation.[13] In general, the deposit fee is too high given Tajikistan economic situation and poverty levels, especially for women, whose economic activity is much lower compared to men and the gender wage gap in Tajikistan.[14] OSCE regards that a requirement of a higher education is overly restrictive and recommends to fully remove it for both male and female candidates. So as the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women considers that such a requirement contravenes the CEDAW even if applied to both women and men, because it may have a disproportionate impact on women.[15] In Tajikistan, where women have a restricted access to higher education such a requirement places women in more disadvantaged position compared to men.


Do women equally enjoy rights to political participation in Tajikistan?

Back in 1995, the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) noted that despite a call of UN Economic and Social Council to reach 30 per cent target of women’s political participation by 1995 that is also termed as “critical mass”, the progress to achieve it was modest.[16] The BPfA called for a balanced political participation and power-sharing between women and men in decision-making as internationally agreed target.[17] Statistical data on women’s participation in politics and decision-making demonstrates that 1995 target of 30 per cent is out of reach in 2021 in Tajikistan.


In the Parliament, despite progress compared to 2015 elections (when women made up 14.5 per cent of all members of the Upper Chamber and 19 per cent of all members in the Lower Chamber), in the 2020 elections, in the Upper Chamber (where members are appointed) women made up 25.8 per cent and in the Lower Chamber women made up 23.8 per cent of all members.[18] Currently, two of the nine committees of the Lower Chamber of the Parliament are chaired by women.[19] One of the three deputy chairmen of the Lower Chamber of the Parliament is a woman. There are no special measures to promote women candidates in political parties.[20] In Tajikistan, there is no any women’s fraction or coalition of women members of Parliament.[21]


At the decision-making level, 30 per cent representation is out of reach. As to high level positions, women are usually appointed to posts of ministers responsible for social issues. Recent appointments in the Government resulted in appointment of a woman on a post of the Deputy Prime Minister on social affairs. Among 18 Ministers, women hold two posts: the Minister of Labour, Employment and Migration, and the Minister of Culture.


In the civil service, the share of women among civil servants decreased from 35.2 per cent in 2013 to 23.8 per cent in 2019. As to senior level in the civil service, women made up 19.1 per cent of all managers in 2020. At the local level, women made up 26.7 per cent of all civil servants and 21.5 per cent of all managers. Three women were chairing districts (equivalent to head of local government at the district level).[22] In 2017 the amendment was introduced to Decree of the President on Procedure of Competitive Recruitment for the Positions of Civil Service that provided women participating in the competitive recruitment for positions of civil service for the first time with additional three scores during exams.[23] This measure is aimed at encouraging young women to enter the civil service. However, the analysis of impact of this measure has not been conducted as yet.


Since its independence, Tajikistan did not have any female President, Prime Minister, governors of provinces, ambassadors or representatives of Tajikistan to international bodies. As to the defence and security sector, share of women working in law enforcement bodies: office of the Prosecutor General, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, Agency on Anti-Corruption and Financial Control, Drug Control Agency, State Committee on National Security, and Customs Service, is not disclosed. Women have not been appointed to the positions of Ministers or Chairpersons of these bodies in Tajikistan.


While one woman was appointed to the position of the Chairperson of the Supreme Economic Court, share of women among judges is far below 30 per cent target. In the Constitutional Court, only one position of the seven posts of judges is occupied by a woman. In the economic courts, women make up 15.8 per cent of all judges. In the courts of general jurisdiction, women hold 19 per cent of all posts of judge.


Another (good) law: will the political participation of women improve?

Tajikistan did not establish an environment conducive for improvement of participation of women in political life and decision-making and it does not establish neither in law nor in practice temporary special measures to remedy the situation. In 2018, Government established a working group to draft a comprehensive anti-discrimination law in line with the recommendations it received during two cycles of the Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights (UPR) and respective National Action Plans (NAPs) adopted to implement these recommendations. The draft law was prepared in 2020 and was submitted to the Government for the review. The draft law establishes a comprehensive definition of discrimination and includes list of grounds upon which discrimination may take place, including sex, sexual orientation and gender identity and covers all spheres where discrimination may occur. It further defines direct and indirect discrimination and calls for adoption of positive measures, including temporary special measures. Would this law if adopted be a solution to currently low political participation of women? Most probably not, because exclusion of women from political participation is a result of combination of factors, including social and political discourses; political structures and institutions; and socio-cultural and functional constraints that limit women’s individual and collective agency.[24]


Since 1999 Tajikistan has taken a strong strand in ensuring gender equality when the President adopted a Decree on advancement of the role of women in Tajikistan that was followed by the adoption of the State Programme ‘On Main Directions of National Policy on Provision of Equal Rights and Opportunities of Men and Women in the Republic of Tajikistan for 2001-2009’ (hereinafter, the State Programme) in 2001 and the Gender Equality Law in 2005. However, the rhetoric on gender equality, especially, on political participation of women was declarative, because some of the measures institutionalised a ‘glass ceiling’. The 1999 Decree while focused on the promotion of women to senior management positions in government at the national and local levels, judiciary, prosecutor’s bodies, and educational institutions, it explicitly restricted such appointment to the positions of only Deputy Minister and excluded their appointment to the positions of Deputy Ministers of Defense and Internal Affairs.[25] Since 2000, the Government adopted a targeted state programme to promote women in leadership. It is called a State Programmes on Education, Selection and Appointment of Talented Women and Girls to Management Positions that initially covered the period of 2007-2016 and, then, 2017-2022. The programme has an ambition of 30 per cent representation of women in public bodies. However, the fulfilment of such an ambition remains out of reach.


Since 2009, Tajikistan further rolled back in conceptualising gender equality when the International Women’s Day celebrated on March 8th was renamed to the Mother’s Day using explicitly nationalist and anti-feminist explanations. The Mother’s Day was proclaimed to praise a woman mother, creator of life, educator of generations, mentor of young boys and youth on kind path, and sustainable founder of the family.[26] It was further linked to the three thousand-old tradition of Aryan men to honour mothers and wives during spring season. In majority of his annual addresses to the Parliament, the President underlines the role of women in implementation of social policy, their role as mothers and educators of daughters as main guardians of families and traditions.[27] These narratives are particularly disempowering for women and girls given the already prevalent perception in the Tajikistan’s society about the role of woman as a wife and a mother and, respective, high burden of unpaid care work.[28] The nationwide time use survey was not conducted in Tajikistan to assess engagement of women in unpaid care work. However, the Labour Force Survey (LFS) conducted in 2016 clearly demonstrated that women regardless of their economic activity and employment status are extensively engaged in unpaid work related to household duties; care after sick and disabled members of the family.[29] Besides, families in Tajikistan are still an extended family with several generations sharing one household and young women – daughters, including daughters-in-law – holding the lowest position in family hierarchy with restricted agency to making decisions over their access to education; health, including reproductive health and rights; marriage and their engagement to public domains.[30]


Thus, ideologically, Tajikistan’s political landscape is not supportive of the meaningful political participation of women and approaches towards gender equality are contradictory. The legislation on elections while gender neutral, in reality, imposes excessive requirements for women preventing them from political participation and does not take into account their low economic and educational status compared to men. Strong gender stereotypes that put women in subordinate position compared to men prevent women from playing more active roles in public domains and gaining necessary networking and social capital required for running for elections and promotion of their careers.


While adoption of anti-discrimination law will be an important step in recognising intersectional discrimination in all forms and in all spheres of life, it is unlikely that law alone will remedy current low participation of women in political life in Tajikistan. To amplify the impact of the adoption of anti-discrimination law the following considerations should be taken into account to boost the political participation of women:

  • Introduce quotas for political participation of women as a fast-track strategy to improve political participation of women in all branches of state power;
  • Narrow gaps in economic participation and opportunities of women and educational attainment, especially at the level of higher education;
  • Implement large scale communication, information and education campaigns to change gender stereotypes and promote women’s participation in public domains; and


Establish a caucus of current and former women in power (covering all branches of state power) for the purpose of networking and building collective power and agency of women, and link them with younger generations of women, promote leadership and role models among young women.


Dilbar Turakhanova is an independent consultant with over 15 years of extensive experience in researching gender equality issues in Tajikistan (native country), Central Asia, South Caucasus and others. Dilbar has several academic and non-academic publications in the areas of gender, migration, gender-based violence. Her research interests include gender, migration, Central Asia.


Image UNDP in Europe and CIS by under (CC).


[1] World Economic Forum. 2020. Global Gender Gap Report. P.329

[2] World Economic Forum. 2020. Global Gender Gap Report. P.329

[3] World Economic Forum. 2020. Global Gender Gap Report. P.329

[4] UNDP.2020. Inequalities in Human Development in the 21st Century Briefing note for countries on the 2019 Human Development Report Tajikistan,

[5] While Article 7 of CEDAW regards political participation of women as a right: (a) to vote in all elections and public referenda and to be eligible for election to all publicly elected bodies; (b) to participate in the formulation of government policy and the implementation thereof and to hold public office and perform all public functions at all levels of government; (c) to participate in non-governmental organisations and associations concerned with the public and political life of the country, in this article only the following rights are assessed: (a) right to be elected and (b) right to participate in the formulation of government policy and the implementation thereof and to hold public office and perform all public functions at all levels of government.

[6] CEDAW. Concluding observations on Tajikistan 2018. CEDAW/C/TJK/CO/6, paragraph 11 (a).

[7] CEDAW in its General Recommendation No.25 noted that such measures are a wide variety of legislative, executive, administrative and other regulatory instruments, policies and practices, such as outreach or support programmes; allocation and/or reallocation of resources; preferential treatment; targeted recruitment, hiring and promotion; numerical goals connected with time frames; and quota systems. (paragraph 22)

[8] CEDAW, General Recommendation No.28 on the core obligations of States parties under Article 2 of the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW/C/GC/28, paragraph 18, 2010,

[9] Ibid.

[10] CEDAW. Concluding observations on Tajikistan 2018, CEDAW/C/TJK/CO/6, paragraphs 11 (b), 39 (c), (e).

[11] CEDAW. Concluding observations on Tajikistan 2018, CEDAW/C/TJK/CO/6, paragraph 12 (c).

[12] OSCE ODIHR, Republic of Tajikistan Parliamentary Elections 1 March 2015 OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Final Report p.11, 2015,

[13] CEDAW, Concluding observations on Tajikistan 2007, CEDAW/C/TJK/CO/3, paragraph 26.

[14] OSCE ODIHR, Republic of Tajikistan Parliamentary Elections 1 March 2020 ODIHR Needs Assessment Mission Report, p.7, 2020,

[15] CEDAW, General Recommendation No.23: Political and Public Life, paragraph 23, 1997,

[16] Ibid, paragraph 16.

[17] United Nations. 1995. Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, Critical Area G, “Women, Power and Decision-Making”.

[18] According to data of the Committee on Women’s and Family Affairs under the Government of Tajikistan published in 2021.

[19] Both women MPs head the  traditional for women areas: one of the two committees deals with education, health, culture and youth policy and another one focuses on social issues, family and protection of health; available at:

[20] IPU Parline, Tajikistan, House of Representatives,

[21] Mamadazimov, A and Kuvatova, A. 2011. Political Party Regulations and Women’s Participation in Political Life of Tajikistan, National Association of Political Scientists of Tajikistan, p. 46.

[22] Committee on Women’s and Family Affairs under the Government of Tajikistan. 2021. Analysis of Implementation of the National Strategy on Advancement of Role of Women for 2011-2020.

[23] European Union. 2018. European Union – Tajikistan Civil Society Seminar on Practical Implementation of the Gender Equality Principles in Tajikistan, Seminar Report, p.17

[24] Bari, Farzana. 2005. Women’s Political Participation: Issues and Challenges. p.3.

[25] Kasymova, S. 2007. Transformation of Gender Order in Tajik Society, p.51.

[26] Decree of the President of the Republic of Tajikistan “On Mother’s Day” adopted on 6 March 2009, No.632,

[27] President of the Republic of Tajikistan, see website:

[28] Kasymova, S. 2007. Transformation of Gender Order in Tajik Society, p.52.

[29] Agency of Statistics under the President of Tajikistan. 2017. Situation in the Labour Market in the Republic of Tajikistan (Report on findings of the labour force survey conducted from 20 July to 20 August, 2016), p.94; 96.

[30] Temkina,  A.2006. Subordination to Older vs. Deconstruction of Patriarchy: Women’s Sexuality in Marriage (North of Tajikistan), Journal of Social Policy Studies, 4 (4), p.446.

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