Marriage, Divorce and Mutual Indebtedness

Perspectives from Tajikistan




Tajikistan, Central Asia, Marriage, Divorce, Debt, Gender relations


This article offers an original insight on the gift economy in Tajikistan. As long shown by the literature, ceremonial expenditures sustain social status and convey moral obligations and social order. In this context, we find that marriage breakdown sheds a new light on social cohesion and the sense of indebtedness in Tajik society. In the case studies provided, the material and symbolic meaning of marital breakdown is analysed from the perspective of divorced women. In the context of high ritual expenditure, we ask what are the effects of divorce (and more broadly, demarriage) on women’s perceptions of gender and marital roles in a context of economic crisis and mass male migration to Russia. Specifically, we are interested in the language of debt that shapes women’s discourses about their former marital bond, and how it disrupts the principles of the gift economy that derive from traditional gender and generational roles. In particular, the notion of debt allows divorced women to condemn their ex-in-laws’ failings towards them. The end of the marriage opens the way for the denunciation of broken promises, the expression of unfulfilled expectations and the breaking of marital, gender and collective obligations towards the spouse. While it brings with it a demand for recognition and social justice, it also expresses the contradictory tensions that run through society, its norms and the traditional social roles associated with conjugality.

Image credit J. Cleuziou

credit J. Cleuziou