Youth Defends Women’s Rights in Tajikistan

May 27, 2015

In teaching youth their rights, Counterpart helps young leaders realize the tools they need to fight for justice in their communities.

Ismatullo Asatulloev was 13 years old when he decided he wanted to learn more—to do more—than he could at his school. Growing up in Navdi Village, amid the mountains of rural Tajikistan, a lack of local teachers meant only core subjects could be taught and few extracurricular activities were offered. So, like many of the teenagers around him, Ismatullo became withdrawn and disconnected.

Then, Ismatullo heard about Counterpart’s Young Leaders Program and he signed up for a 10-week civic education class where he learned about human rights, including women’s rights. He was also introduced to lawyers from his community and saw firsthand how knowledge of the law can help people in real, tangible ways.

Ismatullo was inspired. For the first time, he realized the power of an education and felt a responsibility to help others learn too. Suddenly, he began to see civic issues all around him in his everyday life. Today, at 15, Ismatullo recalls the shocking moment he learned of a civic injustice in his own family.

“One day, I was on the street when I saw my three young cousins barefoot, looking for food,” said Ismatullo. “My uncle had argued with his wife and kicked out his family. My aunt had nowhere to go and no skills to find work. I knew it was unfair and I wanted to see justice.”

Using the lessons learned from his class, Ismatullo taught his aunt about her legal rights and advised her to seek alimony. He even accompanied her to court to provide emotional support, though it meant angering his father and uncle. As a young man, Ismatullo knew it was expected for him to side with his family’s patriarchy—but he took a stand for what he knew was right.

“Before, I was quiet and kept to myself, but the YLP program taught me to speak up and share my ideas,” said Ismatullo. “I’m more confident now, and I know how to express my opinion without fear of judgment. The YLP program taught me about civic rights, but more than that, I learned to expand my horizons about right and wrong and I developed the skills to speak my mind. Before, I couldn’t have helped my aunt and cousins. I’m proud that I helped protect them.”

With Ismatullo’s help, his aunt succeeded in collecting alimony. With his aunt and cousins now safe and financially supported, Ismatullo has continued talking to others in his community about their rights. He is even a volunteer for YLP, helping other teenagers become strong young leaders too.

“I learned how important it is for everyone to know their rights,” said Ismatullo. “Many people aren’t taught this, so they can’t solve their own problems. What we learn at school is not enough. I’ll keep sharing what I know so others won’t feel hopeless when they have a problem. They’ll know they have rights, and this will help them in the future.”

Across nine rural communities in Tajikistan, Counterpart’s Young Leaders Program (YLP) has equipped more than 600 young people like Ismatullo with the civic knowledge and communications skills needed to become architects of change and to help build better lives and more durable futures for their families and communities. The program has also supported 115 youth-led community projects designed by young leaders to resolve local problems through sustainable, community-owned solutions.

Program: Counterpart’s Young Leaders Program (YLP)
Funded By: United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
Partners: Marifatnoki Youth Center


This story is a part of our #LeadMore series, recognizing our local partners and community leaders.
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