As Tajik men seek work abroad, women are left to pick up the slack

World Today

Tajikistan will host this year’s ‘Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia’ June 15-16. But there’s something world leaders traveling to the capital may not notice; a large number of the country’s men are missing – forced by unemployment to go abroad to find work.

CGTN’s Natalie Carney reports.

Follow Natalie Carney on Twitter @NatalieCarney77

Dushanbe is eager to present the right appearance to arriving world leaders. Yet behind the scenes, many Tajiks are struggling under a challenged economy.

Lack of job opportunities has driven more than one-million Tajiks abroad in search of work. The remittance they send back was equivalent to nearly 35% of GDP last year, making Tajikistan one of the world’s most remittance-dependent countries.

31-year-old Parvina lives with her four children in a village 60 kilometers west of Dushanbe, near the Uzbek border. Shortly after her youngest was born, her husband left to find a higher paying job in Russia.

“It’s been more than 2 years since he left us for Russia,” she said. “He is working as an assistant to a chef in a cafe. His salary is approximately 20,000 Russian rubles ($300). 5000 he sends to us, 5000 he uses for himself. He never for example sent me 10,000. The most was 5000 never more than that. The costs for him are all very difficult there.”

Forty-eight year-old Gulnora used to work in a market while her husband drove a taxi. But after her health started to fail and hospital costs ate up all their savings, her husband decided to try his luck in Russia.

“There are some women whose husbands have emigrated and are not sending money home,” according to Gulnora.

“Of course all of them have families, children and they should provide them with everything. The women are working everywhere. The women are trying to feed their children. Trying to do something. They are even taking their children to work, in the garden for example.”

“They are trying to get out of their difficulties by themselves.”

Practically every household in this village west of Dushanbe has lost either one or two male members to migration. This common trend seen in villages all across the country is not only changing families but long-standing cultural traditions in this largely patriarchal society.

Political analyst Rashid Abdullo said a knock-on effect from the collapse of the Russian ruble in 2014 drastically reduced the money men were able to send back from Russia – and forced many women to take up traditionally male roles.

He explains that, “Since 2013 and up to today, the amount of money transferred to Tajikistan from Russia for example decreased threefold. In 2013 the total amount was more than four billion dollars. The next year it became only two-and-a-half.”

In the country’s fields, women outnumber men. And in Dushanbe vocational training centers, women are learning traditionally male jobs.

Zarina Nabieva, a mother of two, is an apprentice plumber. “I’m learning how to do this to be able to fix all problems with plumbing at home,” she said. “Because when you call a plumber, either he doesn’t come at all or comes too late.”

“So when I do it by myself, not only I do it better, but I also save money.”

While women may be picking up the economic slack left behind by migrating men, Tajikistan remains the poorest of the former Soviet countries.

Many argue that the government needs to prioritize its spending to create more economic opportunities for Tajiks at home.