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Care and Women's Life Course

Shifting Care Relations in Women's Life Courses in Tajikistan

by Swetlana Torno

Please see here for the project results.


Grandmother with daughter and grandchild, Tajikistan © Swetlana Torno, 2016

The role and status of women in Islam is a highly controversial topic. With regard to Muslim countries of the former Soviet Union it acquired particular attention because Soviet authorities radically intervened in traditional family values in their quest to liberate women from patriarchal domination and integrate them in public life. Independence brought considerable change to the region: Political transformation went along with fast economic recession and forced particularly men into labor migration. This has considerable effect on the everyday life as well as care roles of women and deserves a careful investigation.

Inquiries about the role and status of women in Central Asia commonly picture them either as guardians of traditional values and Islam that resisted Soviet policies or victims of patriarchal family norms and male domination. The works of the anthropologists Tett (1996) and Harris (2004; 2006) are representative for Tajikistan. Studies that analyze gender relations form the point of view of transforming political and economic regimes in post-socialist countries focused rather on East-Central Europe (Gal & Kligman 2000) or have been done in developmental studies (Falkingham 2000). A systematic inquiry using anthropological theory and methods is missing up until today. By taking into account theories of care in anthropology and social sciences (Alber & Drotbohm 2015; Finch & Groves 1983; Folbre 2001; Mol 2008; Mol, Moser & Pols 2010; Thelen 2014; Tronto 1993), my study provides a starting point to a long overdue debate on women’s lives in changing welfare provision in Central Asian countries.

Based on long-term anthropological field work, my study explored how women in a town in southern Tajikistan realize their culturally informed life projects and which relationships of care are constructed, invoked or transformed in this process. I did this by focusing on ideas and arrangements of care, on the one hand, rooted in the institution family and, on the other hand, provided by state policies and public organizations. At a broad level, my research studied how processes of post-soviet institutional transformation, capitalist neoliberalization and nation building influence everdyday care practices and the life of women in Tajikistan.


Alber, E. and H. Drotbohm (2015) Anthropological Perspectives on Care. Work, Kinship, and the Life-Course. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Falkingham, J. (2000) Women and Gender Relations in Tajikistan. Country Briefing Paper, Executive Summary, Asian Development Bank.

Finch, J. and D. Groves (1983) A Labour of Love. Women, Work and Caring. London: Routledge.

Folbre, N. (2001) The Invisible Hearth. Economics and Family Values. New York: New Press.

Gal, S and G. Kligman (2000) The Politics of Gender after Socialism: A Comparative-Historical Essay. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press.

Harris, C. (2004) Control and Subversion. Gender Relations in Tajikistan. London/Sterlin: Pluto Press.

Harris, C. (2006) Muslim Youth. Tensions and Traditions in Tajikistan. Boulder/Oxford: Westview Press.

Mol, A. (2008) The Logic of Care. London: Routledge.

Mol, A., Moser, I. and J. Pols (2010) Care in Practice. On Tinkering in Clinics, Homes and Farms. Bielefeld: Transcript.

Tett, G. (1996) Ambiguous Alliances. Marriage and Identity in a Muslim Village in Soviet Tajikistan.

Thelen, T. (2013) Care/Sorge. Konstruktion, Reproduktion und Auflösung bedeutsamer Bindungen. Berlin: Transcript.

Tronto, J. (1993) Moral Boundaries. A Political Argument for an Ethik of Care. New York/London: Routledge.



The results of the project have been regularly discussed in the framework of the Cluster Colloquium (KJC), the seminar "Islamic(ate) Spheres" organized by Prof. Dr. Daniel König and PD Dr. Sophie Roche (KJC), in the Medical Anthropology Forum at the SAI (Heidelberg University), the Interdisciplinary Research Colloquium on Migration and Health organized by the Institute of Public Health, Department of General Practice and Health Service Research, as well as the Central Asia Research Colloquium at Tübingen University. On the broader international level, the ongoing research was presented at the International Symposium “The Family in History of Central Asia”, IWH Heidelberg, with a paper entitiled “Marriage and migration: The interrelations of labor migration, wedding gifts and the Law on Ritual Regulations in Tajikistan”, November 2014, in a guest lecture "Spaces of Love, Freedom and Beauty? Young Women in Tajikistan between parental home, education and marriage" at the Central Asia Seminar at EHESS, Paris, in May 2016, as well as at the AAGE 2017 conference with a paper on "Old age care as a life course management strategy: Perspectives from women's lives in Tajikistan", May 2017. Furthermore, two publications arose alongside the dissertation (cf. C16 Publications).


Notes from the Field

Kulob's Major Bazar on Fire
Women's Crisis Center