In Azerbaijan, rural women start breaking the cycle of poverty
In Azerbaijan’s capital city of Baku, it’s not hard to find successful women who run their own businesses or hold high positions in companies and government institutions. So it can be easy to forget that in rural areas of the country, many women are still deprived of basic opportunities.
In the southern part of Azerbaijan, near the border with Iran, early marriage is still common practice. Over 1,000 cases have been registered here between 2012 – 2014. Kept in place by poverty, stereotypes, tradition and social pressure, the practice continues to hinder development in the region.
Gunay Guliyeva, who lives in Bilasuvar, was married off at a young age. Her mother thought it would be good for her future. After Gunay was widowed, however, it became a daily struggle to support her family of three young girls.
“I had to find a solution to take care of my family after the pension allocated to my children stopped,” she says. “This pension was the only income I had to cover the needs of our family and I didn’t know what I would do without it.”
Many rural women have no chance of supporting their families, as they usually don’t get to complete their education and are economically disenfranchised. To those who can’t support their children, the early marriage of a child means one less mouth to feed. To break the cycle, a sustainable solution is needed.
- 4 Women Resource Centers have opened.
- The project directly benefited 416 women, and over 1500 people indirectly.
- 50 new businesses were started under the overall initiative.
In 2016, UNDP and the European Union launched an initiative to assist women living in rural areas of Azerbaijan develop better opportunities for themselves. The initiative brings women together and supports them in launching their own businesses, while helping them to keep informed about their rights and working towards building their self-confidence.
Resource centres for women were established to help women strengthen their presence in community life. “The centre will serve as a public platform to plan and coordinate women’s economic and social initiatives and provide different opportunities for capacity-building and entrepreneurial activities, vocational education and creative self-expression,” says Leyla Alisoy, the coordinator of the centre in Bilasuvar.
“It will serve as a public platform to plan and coordinate women’s economic and social initiatives and provide different opportunities for capacity-building and entrepreneurial activities, vocational education and creative self-expression,” says Leyla.
Through their new centre, women in Bilasuvar have begun to participate in business development trainings and develop business plan proposals. The most feasible proposals were awarded with in-kind contributions. Altogether, 50 new small businesses were started.
Gunay is one of the 13 new entrepreneurs. She started a small cattle breeding business. Confident in the knowledge she gained during the trainings at the centre, she is optimistic her new business will be profitable and help her secure a better future for her daughters.
The scope of the project doesn’t only cover starting businesses but aims to improve already existing ones as well.
Some already existing businesses were also improved with help from the resource centre. Govhar, a pastry chef in Bilasuvar, received additional baking equipment that allowed her to double her number of clients. She is now able to hire more employees and provide better services during busy times. In another part of town, Afsana’s small clothing store needed renovations and better stock. The centre supported the renovation and helped source the clothing and display products.
Afsana’s small business needed renovations and better stock. “I hoped to improve my clothing store by joining the project…I gathered all the information required, and met other positive and confident women,” says Afsana. The Center supported the renovation and helped source the clothing and display products for her to realize her dream. She was not only supported by the center, but by her husband as well.
Gunay, Govhar and Afsana are part of an increasing community of women that are starting to improve the economic life in the region and raise awareness about women’s rights and gender equality.
With support from the EU-UNDP initiative, implemented jointly by the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs of Azerbaijan Republic, UNDP Azerbaijan and the Women’s Association for Rational Development, they hope to break the cycle of poverty that offers few options to their daughters and other young girls.
“I would never let my children become victims of early marriages and I will raise them as active citizens so that they learn to stand firm on their own two feet,” Gunay concludes as she prepares for another day of working to further develop her new business.