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Time's Up For Tajik Sex Pests

15 Sep 2018 Gandhara - RFE/RL

Women have grown accustomed to being harassed by strange men on the streets of Dushanbe:

"Is your mom looking for a son-in-law?"

"I'm speechless."

"Hey, $100 girl."

Overtures can range from unsolicited "compliments" to personal insults to physical assault. Whatever the case they are not welcomed.

Acting on complaints, police in the Tajik capital are flipping the script on catcallers with the introduction of strict measures intended to get them to keep their comments to themselves.

Catcallers in Dushanbe now face the prospect of up to two weeks in jail, community service, and the humiliation of having their pictures plastered on police websites as a warning to others.

Naming And Shaming

Anisa Ibrohimova recently saw a melon seller get his comeuppance. The 19-year-old student was shopping earlier this month at a street-side market stall when a merchant, Muhammadjon Qurbonov, called her a "$100 girl," slang for prostitute.

Ibrohimova says she confronted Qurbonov, telling him he had "no right to say that."

"But he shouted: 'Get lost,' and pushed me," Ibrohimova told RFE/RL on September 9. The teenager managed to partially record the incident on her mobile phone and handed it to police.

On September 6, a Dushanbe court convicted the 21-year-old Qurbonov of disorderly conduct and sentenced him to five days in jail and community work.

Photos of Qurbonov sweeping streets, and cleaning and painting the walls of an old building were published on the website of the Dushanbe police department.

Officials explained that they name and shame offenders to "make others think twice" about catcalling.

"Citizens, especially young people, will see the photos of the offenders washing floors, sweeping, and painting walls," says Nusratullo Saidzoda, a spokesman of the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police in Tajikistan.

"The pictures are aimed at making other people to think about the implications," Saidzoda told RFE/RL's Tajik Service.

Dushanbe city authorities set up a special group to address women's complaints about street harassment after a group of women called on the officials in July to tackle the problem.

Police say the city's 2,700 CCTV cameras help authorities monitor bad behavior by men.

Women's rights activist Hilola Nazarova welcomes the measures against street harassment, saying they will help change attitudes.

"Sharing these photos on the Internet will definitely have an impact," Nazarova told RFE/RL. "People see that there is punishment for bad behavior."

'Compliment'

Nazarova says women are often subjected to comments from total strangers on the street, while using public transport, and at bazaars, making them feel uncomfortable and unsafe.

Some men see their overtures as "innocent," says Behruz, a college student who spoke to RFE/RL on condition that his full name not be used.

"I didn't know it was a crime, it was just a compliment, an innocent remark about someone's nice coat, for example," Behruz said.

"I don't see it as a big deal if someone tells me the color of my shirt suits me," he added.

Many women, however, say unsolicited comments are unacceptable, and are often sexually suggestive, gender-based harassment.

Ibrohimova, the victim of harassment at the market, says it was a "painful" experience.

"I often see young men in the streets saying extremely inappropriate things to women," Ibrohimova told RFE/RL. "It has to stop."

Dushanbe authorities say they want to promote more respectful behavior among city dwellers and, in January, the city mayor issued a decree setting up special groups to promote good citizenship and raise people's awareness of their rights.

Despite recent efforts, city police say they received about 10 complaints from women about street harassment in the past two weeks alone.

Written by RFE/RL correspondent Farangis Najibullah based on a report by Tajik Service correspondent Mirzonabi Kholiqzod.

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