Behind the Research: Exploring Coerced Liberation: Muslim Women in Soviet Tajikistan 

Coerced Liberation: Muslim Women in Soviet Tajikistan offers unique insights into the shifts in behaviour and attitudes surrounding the Soviet emancipation of women in the Muslim periphery, Tajikistan. Read the full blog post by UTP author Zamira Abman, here:

When I began working on my manuscript, Coerced Liberation: Muslim Women in Soviet Tajikistan, my goal was to uncover the intricate layers of Soviet attempts to emancipate Muslim women in Central Asia. Focusing on Tajikistan allowed me to delve deeply into a specific geographical and cultural context, providing a nuanced understanding of how top-down reforms intersected with entrenched traditions. Researching and writing this book has been a journey of discovery, offering insights into the complexities of gender politics and the enduring legacy of Soviet policies on contemporary societies. 

Researching the Past

The foundation of this manuscript lies in extensive archival research and oral histories. Accessing the previously unexplored Communist Party Archive of the Tajik Republic was a significant breakthrough. These archives provided a wealth of primary sources, including government documents, policy papers, and personal correspondences that illuminated Soviet strategies for implementing reforms aimed primarily at women in the Muslim majority periphery. 

Conducting oral history interviews was another crucial aspect of my research. Speaking with women who lived through the Soviet era in Tajikistan, including influential figures like Nizoramoh Zaripova, provided personal insights that archival documents could not. These interviews, conducted in Tajik (dialect of Farsi), Russian, and Uzbek, revealed the lived experiences of women navigating the complex landscape of Soviet policies and traditional expectations. Their stories highlighted the nuanced realities of the Soviet emancipation campaign, illustrating both its successes and limitations. 

Writing the Manuscript 

Writing this book involved weaving together diverse sources into a coherent narrative. One of the challenges was balancing the factual rigour required for historical scholarship with the need to create an engaging and accessible narrative. The stories of individual women, their struggles, and their triumphs became the backbone of the manuscript, bringing to life the broader historical trends and policies. 

A significant theme that emerged during the writing process was the disparity between urban and rural experiences. While urban women in Tajikistan benefited significantly from Soviet reforms in education and employment, rural women remained largely untouched by these changes. This urban-rural divide underscored the limitations of the Soviet approach, which failed to penetrate deeply into the fabric of rural society. In these areas, traditional patriarchal structures remained strong, and education and professional opportunities for women were limited. 

Relating to Current Events 

The findings of this research have profound implications for contemporary discussions on gender equality. The resurgence of practices such as veiling, child marriage, and polygamy in post-Soviet Tajikistan mirrors similar trends in other parts of the world where these practices are reasserting themselves. This resurgence prompts critical questions about the sustainability of top-down reforms and the need for culturally sensitive approaches to gender equality. Nonetheless, the top down approach in Soviet Central Asia introduced impressive outcomes in terms of girls’ education, women’s professional options, marriage age, rights to divorce, and more. 

In light of the #MeToo movement and the global push for women’s rights, this research offers valuable lessons. It demonstrates that legal and institutional changes, while necessary, are insufficient on their own to bring about lasting social transformation. Without addressing the underlying cultural and social norms, reforms can be superficial and temporary. The Soviet experience in Tajikistan serves as a guiding tale about the complexities of implementing emancipatory reforms in deeply traditional societies. 

Expanding the Discussion: State-Centered Feminism 

Expanding on the topic of state-centered feminism provides a broader context for understanding the Soviet experiment. State-centred feminism, as seen in the Soviet Union, Iran, Turkey, Tunisia, and elsewhere, involves the government taking an active role in promoting gender equality, often through legal reforms and educational campaigns. These interventions are typically top-down and may face resistance from traditional segments of society. 

In the Soviet case, the focus was on unveiling women, abolishing child marriage and polygamy, and expanding educational and career opportunities. While these measures had significant impacts, especially in urban areas, they often failed to change deeply rooted cultural attitudes in rural communities. This dichotomy between urban and rural experiences highlights the limitations of state-centered approaches that do not engage with local cultural contexts. 

The relevance of this discussion extends to contemporary global policies. For instance, in post-9/11 Afghanistan, similar top-down approaches were advocated by Western governments to “liberate” Muslim women. The Soviet experience provides a historical parallel that can inform current policy debates, emphasizing the need for nuanced and community-driven approaches to gender equality. 


Coerced Liberation: Muslim Women in Soviet Tajikistan is not just a historical account; it is a lens through which we can examine the broader dynamics of gender politics and social change. The research and writing process behind this book has revealed the complexities of state-driven feminist policies and their long-term impacts. By understanding the successes and failures of the Soviet approach, we can gain valuable insights into the ongoing struggles for gender equality in various cultural and political contexts. 

As we continue to grapple with these issues in the 21st century, the lessons from Soviet Tajikistan remind us of the importance of holistic and culturally sensitive strategies. Gender equality cannot be achieved through legislation alone; it requires a deep engagement with the social and cultural fabric of society. This research contributes to that ongoing conversation, offering historical perspectives that are essential for shaping future policies and practices. 

Learn more about Coerced Liberation: Muslim Women in Soviet Tajikistan by Zamira Abman.

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