Oynihol Bobonazarova is a pioneer of the human rights movement in Tajikistan and one of the country’s most well-known female human rights activists. Since the end of the Tajik civil war in 1997, Ms. Bobonazarova has worked tirelessly to draw attention to women’s rights, torture in detention centers, and the plight of Tajik migrant laborers.
In September 2013, Ms. Bobonazarova became the first ever female candidate for President of Tajikistan when the only Islamic political party in Central Asia nominated her as its standard bearer. Since her unsuccessful bid for the presidency, Ms. Bobonazarova has continued to speak out against torture and has been instrumental in working with the NGO association “Coalition Against Torture” and the Ombudsman’s Office to establish the first independent prison monitoring program since prisons were closed to outside access in 2004.
We caught up with Ms. Bobonazarova to reflect on her work since receiving the International Women of Courage award in 2014.
1. In a perfect world, women and girls would:
In a perfect world, women and girls would be ideal – highly educated, actively participate in public life, goal oriented, smart, and brave.
2. In three words, what does courage mean to you?
Courage is personal and public position of a person despite the risks and challenges in the society and the state.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama greets Oynihol Bobonazarova at the IWOC award ceremony in 2014.
3. What’s your favorite memory from the International Women of Courage Award ceremony and/or your time on the exchange program?
Great atmosphere in the hall. State and public figures of the United States have paid tribute to the universal values of human rights and standing ovation to us. We were very proud of it. The meeting with State Department officials and First Lady Michelle Obama.
4. What other International Woman of Courage stands out to you from your time in the United States?
Ruslana Lijichko from Ukraine. She is a true patriot, a courageous fighter for a free and independent Ukraine.
5. How did the International Women of Courage Award change your work?
This award became for me a great responsibility. It stimulated my work. This award has been positive for the women's movement in Tajikistan.
6. What’s the secret to getting things done and making progress on the issues that matter to you?
Thorough knowledge of the reality which is happening, the development and implementation of targeted programs and projects, strict security, genuine democratization of the society’s political, social and economic life of the country.
7. What do you think is the biggest barrier to progress in your work?
The old conservative and primitive system of thought, which we inherited from the past on the most important problems of the country life and the country.
8. What’s the accomplishment you’re most proud of? Are there any projects you’ve worked on since the award?
Protection of victims of torture. UN Committee on Migrant Workers accepted my recommendations on migration and recommended Tajikistan to work on them and implement them. EU project on “Empowering Media and Civil Society Activists to Support Democratic Return in Tajikistan.”
9. Who is your role model and why?
Sakharov Andrey Dmitriyevich, academic, social activist and Nobel Prize winner. He spoke out against the totalitarian regime in the USSR, he was against commissioning Soviet Union troops to Afghanistan, he condemned the “Prague Spring.”
10. What should the next generation of women leaders know about leadership and courage? What can they do to continue your work?
The next generation of leaders must realize that the leadership and courage can be achieved only through hard work on a daily basis, that the path to it is associated with problems and is sometimes with disappointments. This should not stop them.