The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Tajikistan state TV says prostitutes are wearing hijabs to drive up prices

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon during a news conference June 7, 2011, in Vienna on the eve of the World Economic Forum. (Dieter Nagl/AFP/Getty Images)
Placeholder while article actions load

Following a Mother's Day speech last month in which Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon criticized women for wearing "foreign" black clothing, state television has aired a documentary that alleges that prostitutes in the country have been wearing Islamic veils to earn more money, Eurasianet reports.

According to the Web site, which is operated by the Eurasia Program of the Open Society Foundations, Tajik state television recently aired reports suggesting that sex workers were wearing hijabs and face-covering veils as it made them more attractive to clients.

"In case anyone missed the point, a voice-over explained that the women wear hijab because they are greedy," Eurasianet wrote.

Wearing loose religious garments designed to cover female modesty certainly doesn't seem like an intuitive move for sex workers – it's hard to see how seeing less flesh entices customers. Unsurprisingly, the reality appears to be more complicated.

Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic with a population of about 8 million, is a predominantly Muslim nation: The U.S. State Department has estimated that more than 90 percent of its population is Muslim, and that religious adherence appears to be growing in the country. Rahmon, a secular leader though a Sunni himself, has been in power since 1992. His authoritarian government has repeatedly expressed concern over the rise of Islam, linking it to extremism.

Under Rahmon, the Tajikistan government has imposed a number of restrictive policies related to Islam: A few years ago, the country made headlines for attempting to ban children under 18 from mosques and cracking down on men with beards. Since 2005, there have been rules in place about the wearing of hijabs in public educational institutions, though the ban was not always enforced.

Despite this, Islamic dress continues to be popular within the country – some reports suggest that an Islamic outfit that covers more of the body, the niqab, has been growing in popularity in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe. Eurasianet reports that local merchants who sell Islamic clothing have recently been fined large sums.

Another recent report from Ganjinai Ganj and Farangis Najibullah of the U.S.-government funded news agency Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty featured prostitutes who said they had been wearing hijabs during their work. Notably, these sex workers were wearing hijabs not to entice customers, but to avoid "constant insults and verbal attacks in streets" and escape the eye of the police.

Prostitution is illegal in Tajikistan, but the low-income country has developed a reputation as a place to go looking for sex, particularly for visitors from neighboring Afghanistan. After what appeared to be a rise in the number of sex workers in the country in the past few years, Tajikistan authorities began to crack down on prostitution last year.