“In the near future, I would be happy to see a well-educated and respectful to each other society in Tajikistan”
Last week I had a great pleasure to interview an open, cheerful and persistent person, Mekhrubon, the first ever participant of CAG’s summer residency program from Tajikistan. The activity was held in Malmö from June 12th until June 27th.
What is summer residency indeed?
Summer residency is part of a larger project that aims to invite civil society representatives from Central Asia to reinforce their capacities in strategic organizational positions by increasing knowledge, sharing experiences and best practices, exploring method through non-formal trainings that facilitate the process of organizational development within the thematic areas of the involved organization such as gender equality, women’s/girl’s rights, democratic leadership, anti-discrimination, inclusive organizing, rights of LGBT+ community and strengthening security routines and practices.
Usually, participants of the program spend 2-3 weeks in Sweden visiting different civil society organizations and meeting individuals, who strive for positive changes. At the same time, CAG provides an opportunity for activists from Sweden to visit Central Asian countries and provide opportunities to meet with civil society organizations.
In this modest blog post, you will learn about summer residency from the perspective of the participant. Our participant, Mekhrubon comes from Dushanbe, Tajikistan, a country based right in the heart of Central Asia. As far as I know, Tajikistan is well known for its diverse communities, mountains, osh (plov), and qurutob. To have a green tea right before a meal is part of the culture. For more information about Tajikistan and its latest developments click on this link.
And now let us learn about Mekhrubon and her experience in activism, her opinion about challenges of CSOs in Tajikistan, her future professional plans, as well as about her current work at one of the most famous youth platforms.
-What impression did you get when you just arrived in Malmö?
- Even before I arrived in Malmö, I made a research about this city. I knew many things not only about Malmö in particular but Scandinavian region in general. I got a different impression from what I initially expected. I really didn’t know that Malmö is one of the most diverse cities in the world. One small city includes several cultures which make Malmö colorful and dynamic.
-You are engaged in civil activism, especially in the work with the fundamental human rights of women and girls. How did it all start?
- I started learning about civic activism in 2012 when I first became part of AIESEC in Tajikistan. AIESEC is an international leadership organization that helps youth fulfill their human potential. Working at AIESEC was just the start of my journey. AIESEC helped me understand what I want, why I want it and how to achieve it. From there I learned that I am someone that can influence the changes in my surroundings and the world. After having several leadership positions such as a member of MCP (Membership Committee President), I decided to expand my network and joined Y-PEER Youth Network.
-Currently, you are still part of Y-PEER in Tajikistan. Can you elaborate more on activities of the organization related to issues that face women and girls?
- Y-PEER in Tajikistan mainly focuses on youth but we have some projects within which we specifically raise the issues that girls and women face. When working with girls and women, we provide information about women’s human rights and reproductive rights. Generally, Y-PEER is a gender sensitive network which means that we make sure that we target male and female audience equally.
– What do you find the most challenging in your work as a promoter/defender of women’s and girls’ rights in your community? And how do you handle it?
- There are plenty of challenges that occur in our work but one of the biggest challenges is a fixed mindset of people. People in Tajikistan still follow traditional and conservative views when it comes to gender equality. For instance, in remote areas of the country, some girls are not allowed to get an education since their parents think that girls shouldn’t waste their time at educational institutions. They prepare their daughters for marriages from an early age by telling how good they should be at cooking, cleaning, building relationships with their future in-laws. This also strengthens the existing and already well-spread gender norms. Surely, in cities, we got rid of these kinds of traditional perspectives but in remote areas, it is complicated to work with girls and their parents. In our practice, we did try to work with families, who hold strong traditional and religious values, together with jaamat (a group of Muslims, who study Islam together). I am not sure if it changed many things, but at least they got aware that obstacles for girls in education should be eliminated since it is against the law to prevent children from getting an education. Generally, at the legislative level, Tajikistan is progressive since there are all necessary provisions and laws that are there to protect the rights of girls and women.
-It has been two weeks since you came to Malmö. What are the best lessons learned from civil society organizations and individual activists in Malmö? Did you find out any specific practices that could be integrated into the organization that you come from?
- This has been the first long-term program I was part of. Within this residency I have attended many places in Malmö so far. And I actually enjoyed it! All organizations I have been to, events I have taken part in, individuals I have had nice talks with became very special to me. During these 2 weeks, I have learned many innovative, interactive practices and approaches on how to find life-changing solutions to problems that my community faces. Out of all activities that I was part of I can emphasize some that really touched me. First, Yalla Trappan – the place that gives amazing opportunities for women who have no education, or necessary skills, and accordingly, are unemployed. I am amazed by the model they have created to support women to find jobs, while considering their skills in cooking, crafting and cleaning. I am not sure if we have some similar organizations in Tajikistan. Second, another project idea I would like to implement is the project that CAG has realized under the name of “40 women of Kyrgyzstan”. More information about the project can be found at: https://centralasien.org/en/40-women-of-kyrgyzstan/ I want to create something similar in Tajikistan in order to tell stories of people and how they achieved success despite the troubles they faced. Third, I also appreciate a project of Konstkupan called “Ask me instead” which is both a book and an exhibition. https://www.modernamuseet.se/malmo/en/event/ask-me-instead-book-talk-performance/
– What kind of developments do you wish to see when it comes to gender equality in Tajikistan and/or Central Asian region in the near future?
- I want people of Tajikistan to be able to educate themselves about their rights. It is really significant to know one’s rights, defend and protect them and at the same time to take up the responsibility for respecting the rights of others. All problems are caused by unawareness about one’s fundamental rights and responsibilities. I would be happy to see well-educated people, who respect each other in Tajikistan.
-What message do you want to deliver to youth in Tajikistan and/or Central Asia region?
- These days many people leave Tajikistan to find better lives elsewhere. They think that life is easier abroad. It is an individual choice, but from my point of view, there is nothing that is easy. There are much more developed countries than Tajikistan, but if every young person could think about how they can contribute to the development of Tajikistan – that would be wonderful. I want to tell them that in order to make a difference in a challenging environment similar to that in Tajikistan – it will be paid off. If not now, maybe in several years. In order to make sure that the next generations have better lives than we do, we need to stay in Tajikistan and work on small changes.
Undoubtedly, during her visit to Sweden, Mekhrubon was able to build a network with organizations and individuals as well. Moreover, Mekhrubon learned about human rights based and logical-framework approaches, gender situation in Sweden through sessions held by CAG. This knowledge can be used in the work with civil society in Tajikistan. Stay with us for further updates, folks!
“One of my expectations during this visit was to build a network with different countries. And I am glad that my expectation was met since now I have good contacts from Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Sweden.”
If you want to get to know Mekhrubon, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by: Ainagul Amatbekova