Salimakhon Vahobzade | Institute for War and Peace Reporting
I was born in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, one of four children, and we lived in the town of Nurek, not far from the city. My mother was a primary school teacher and my father worked for the interior ministry but is now retired.
After leaving school I wanted to become a lawyer like my father, believing that it would allow me to fight corruption and crime. Later, I realised this was just a child’s dream and my father was against me following in his footstep. My parents tried to persuade me to choose a profession more appropriate to a woman.
In my last year at school, I was elected leader of the class and head of our Komsomol (communist youth) group. I used to write articles for the city newspaper about youth problems. One report, when I was just 16, was critical of the lack of places for young people to go in their free time. After it was published, I enjoyed the limelight and felt like a star. But later my headmaster chided me and told me to report to the city Komsomol committee.
Fortunately, the first secretary of the committee turned out to be a good person. He praised me for the article but also asked for my ideas on solving the problems. Perhaps this taught me to criticise constructively.
My parents recognised my interest in journalism and advised me to enrol in the journalism faculty of Tajik state university.
By pursuing journalism rather than a legal career I have been able to achieve my childhood dream – to fight for human rights; to report about corruption among government officials; and to contribute to raising women’s status in the society.
I first heard about IWPR during a visit to Almaty, the financial centre of Kazakstan, in 2000 where I took part in a gender seminar. During a trip to Bishkek later that year I met people from the IWPR Bishkek office and when IWPR opened an office in Dushanbe in 2001 I got involved in its work.
I find that topics that IWPR covers are important and timely. IWPR trainers are experienced, professional and friendly. For me seeing my articles published on the IWPR website is reward in itself.
I was one of the few journalists to cover the issue of trade in new-born babies. Many felt embarrassment and unease to acknowledge that this happens in Tajikistan. The authorities, in particular, felt it cast a shadow over the country's international image.
I was especially proud of my report for IWPR that came out of that work, Baby Trade Worries Tajikistan Poverty.
I was reprimanded over the story by the state commitee for women’s affairs. They said it was a shame on our people that women sell their children, so why did I want to write about it. But that way it would never be reported. If the reasons that prompted these poor, unfortunate women to commit such an act are not discussed, the problem will not be solved.
For me to be a journalist means to tell the public the truth about things that go on in our society and to attract public attention to issues like human rights, freedom of expression and freedom of religion; and to prompt officials to address problems facing people.
But the most important thing for me is always to remain human and to treat everyone equally, even a criminal. He might be in conflict with the law, but he is also a member of our society.