Education Hampers Marriage For Rural Tajik Women
Prejudice against educated brides stems from fear they will rebel against traditional domestic roles.
By Haramgul Qodir - 18 May 12
Gulnoza Kabirova’s dream of attending nursing college ended in February when her family decided the 17-year-old would be better off getting married instead.
Her mother Gulandom, who has raised 13 children in the village of Vahdat in southern Tajikistan, says she had her daughter’s best interests in mind when she declined to help pay 600 US dollars in college fees. Instead, when another family asked if Gulnoza would marry their son, Gulandom borrowed 7,000 dollars to pay for the wedding.
Like many parents in rural Tajikistan, Gulandom believed her daughter’s marriage prospects would suffer if she were educated, so she was keen to marry her off quickly.
“I see [the example] of girls in the neighbourhood who are educated. Years go by and no one wants them as daughters-in-law. That was my worry, and that is why I didn’t allow my daughter to go to study,” she said.
Gulandom still owes 3,000 dollars from the wedding, but believes it was a price worth paying.
“I’d rather cope with the difficulties of repaying the loan than face the situation of no one wanting to marry my daughter,” she said. “These days it is difficult to marry off young people.”
After women marry in Tajikistan, they move in with their husband’s extended family and are expected to submit to the authority of the men and older in-laws. From the family’s point of view, educated women are seen as unattractive marriage material, particularly in the countryside.
Educated women are perceived as less likely to be submissive towards their in-laws. If a bride’s education leads to formal employment, some villagers fear she will not be available to work in the fields, do the housework and care for the children and elderly. In case of divorce, such women will also be better placed to defend their legal rights.
Many parents, like Gulandom, do not feel it is worth investing in their daughters’ education. They expect their daughters to move straight to their husband’s home after marriage and never seek formal employment, meaning their college fees will have been wasted.
There is also an expectation that women will be married by 20. Women beyond that age – who might have postponed starting a family to complete their education – are considered too old to wed.
Dushanbe-based sociologist Rustam Akramov said there was nothing new in families rejecting educated women as prospective wives for their sons.
“In rural areas, young men prefer to marry young girls with no schooling, or who attended for only a few years and then stopped, because it is easy to control them. They are naive,” Akramov said.
In case of divorce or in legal disputes, educated women are educated are able to demand their full entitlements, Akramov said.
While Tajik legislation grants women equal status, custom and practice dictate that they have fewer property and inheritance rights.
Auntie Rohila, as she is known to her neighbours in Vahdat, is a respected 63-year-old whom villagers frequently invite to weddings and other social gatherings. When conducting rites and rituals, they often consult her on the details. Asked about educated women, Rohila summed up her view with a common stereotype.
“An educated daughter-in-law will sling her handbag over her shoulder in the morning [to go to work] and will come back in the evening – someone else will have to do the housework for her. Such a daughter-in-law isn’t suited to us. For city life, yes, but not for us,” Rohila said.
A chronic shortage of men has been a feature of Tajikistan since independence in 1991, and adds to the pressure on parents who have daughters. First there was the 1992-97 civil war in which many men were killed or displaced. Then came the mass exodus of men as labour migrants to Russia and other countries in search of work.
Munira Rozikova, a 37-year- old doctor in the village of Kaduchi, in the Vose district also in the south of Tajikistan, said she was still single because educated women had such a poor reputation.
“[Families] don’t want us as daughters-in-law. In our village, educated girls are considered to have libertine attitudes,” Rozikova said.
But she noted that when her neighbours fell sick, they had no problem seeking help from female doctors or nurses.
Sometimes Rozikova – who still lives with her mother and siblings – regrets the price she has paid for her education. But her mother Manzura Boboeva is proud of her daughter’s achievements, even though she worries what will happen when she dies, as Munira’s brothers could ask her to leave the family home.
“Where would she go? I often hear my neighbours criticising my daughter, saying she is still unmarried, and blaming her education for it,” Boboeva said.
Having witnessed her daughter’s experiences, Boboeva had no hesitation in blessing her son’s marriage to a university student. But such attitudes remain unusual.
Public attitudes towards educated women undermine the Tajik authorities’ efforts to encourage female education. Though the government tries to improve the status of women, analysts note that it stops short of intervening in the way families deal with their daughters.
In 1997, the government launched a scheme to attract rural women into higher education, and by 2011, more than 7,000 women had received a free university education, according to official statistics.
Today, there are signs that attitudes are beginning to change amongst younger Tajik men. Some view education as an advantage when seeking a bride, as this increases the chance of providing a better future for children, both economically and by creating a stimulating home environment.
Karim, a 24-year-old student in the southern Bokhtar district, said his family rejected a girlfriend he met at university, setting his love for her against his loyalty to them.
“I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “If I was to live well and be happy, I needed to have their consent and blessing, but my heart was against it.”
It was not a problem he had to worry about for long. After his girlfriend learned of his family’s hostility to the match, she left him for someone else.
For Muhammad, a 24-year old student at Kulob State University, his family’s rejection of his medical student girlfriend proved too much. Not only did his mother object to his girlfriend studying, his brothers said that at 24, she was too old for him.
His mother said she did not trust a career-orientated woman, saying she would be focused solely on her job.
Unlike Karim, Mohammad plans to ignore his family’s concerns. He expects to spend some time working in Russia after graduating, but hopes his girlfriend will be waiting for him when he returns.
Haramgul Qodir is an IWPR-trained journalist in Tajikistan.