In recent years, the number of Tajik migrant workers leaving the country in search of employment has continued to grow, to the point where it now represents a significant portion of the country’s male population. While this has brought a certain degree of economic stability to the country in the form of remittances totaling almost USD 3.3 billion, or 45% of national GDP, it has also led to an increasing number of long-term and permanently abandoned women-headed households. IOM research has found that approximately 1/3 of migrating husbands fail to support and return home to their families, leaving the wives particularly vulnerable to depression, a lack of access to housing and land, poor physical health, food shortages, and other related issues. Amongst the problems faced by abandoned female heads of migrant households, access to justice and the mechanisms needed to address their problems remain of particular importance. The problem was well discussed by the Al-Jazeera documentary “Tajikistan’s missing men” filmed in Tajikistan in 2013 (http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/101east/2013/07/201372393525174524.html).
To address the aforementioned challenges, IOM launched a program in 2012 on legal empowerment of women heads of migrant household supported by the Swiss Cooperation Office (SCO) in Tajikistan. This initiative was building on the previous IOM experience of working with abandoned wives in the South of Tajikistan. The program now is at the stage of completion, and the IOM’s NGO partner reported on the achievements of the activities during a round table conducted in August 2013 which brought together the representatives of the government and non-governmental organizations. During the round table lawyers and NGO staff members working on the program reiterated the issues many women face when left by their husbands with no support. As one of the project’s lawyers noted, today many wives of migrant workers are left without any means for sustaining themselves and their children. Women in such situation find it extremely difficult to cope with abandonment, because many of them did not finish school, have no work, and even lack civic registrations of their marriages, as many only have a Nikoh, the religious registration of their marriages. As a result, many women have only very limited access to legal support, lacking means to file for alimony, housing, registration of their children, divorce, and other issues.
The program was implemented in the four districts of the Kulyab Region in Tajikistan. Throughout the project, women received legal support in filing cases to relevant government agencies for legal and social support. As a result, more than 60 women were successful in securing confirmation of paternity, alimony and/or birth certificates for their children and securing courts’ permission to live in houses of the husband’s parents. With no legal support and means to cover such, many women of migrant households are unable independently protect their and their children’s rights. Along with strictly legal support, the project also helped some beneficiaries with securing employment, referring women for vocational training, and securing land for building houses.
The Legal Empowerment project is at the stage of completion, but IOM with financial support of the Norwegian Government will continue these important initiatives for women heads of migrant households, expanding the coverage and scope of the program.