In Tajikistan, rural women gain business skills and independence through self-help groups
“I earn money and it makes me happy,” says Anjira Ashurova, a 46-year-old woman who lives in the small village of Shahraki Somoniyon in Sughd Province, northern Tajikistan. “I spend it on my basic needs and those of my children. I feel strong. I learned new skills and am practicing them in my daily life. I enjoy my work and the most important thing is that I enjoy working as a team. We support each other.”
Anjira was 38 when she divorced an abusive husband and left with her three children. She had only secondary-level education and as soon as she completed school, she got married. Soon her life was taken over by housework and taking care of her small children.
“I want my daughter to be educated in the future. She wants to be a doctor, so her brothers and I will do all the best to help her to make her dream come true,” she says.
Today Anjira has a house where she lives with her daughter. Two of her sons are working in Russia as migrant workers, earning money to support the family, and so is she through her business enterprise.
In November 2010, at a meeting among village women and activists of the jamoat (local community authority), Anjira and five other women came together around their common interest in handicrafts. They decided to create a group, which they named “Umed” (which means “Hope”). They started meeting to knit scarves, sweaters and socks, sew traditional kurpa and kurpacha (bed covers and mattresses) and embroider headscarves for women and male chiefs. Soon, they started looking for avenues to expand their work.
Anjira is one of the beneficiaries of the Central Asia Regional Migration Programme (CARMP) in Tajikistan currently being implemented by UN Women, jointly with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the World Bank. It works to empower and mobilize the families of migrant workers to enhance their economic opportunities and improve their livelihoods.
The project supports rural Self-Help Groups (SHGs) in getting access to micro-credits, trains members to start their own businesses and supports joint economic initiatives.
Anjira says that before engaging in the project she did not know how to run a business. She knew little about her rights and did not know where to turn for help. As a member of the Self-Help Group, she attended specialized workshops on how to run her own business. She learned about business-planning, effective use of remittances and how to manage her household budget and use the money available effectively.
With the support of the Migration Programme, Anjira and her group were able to get an interest-free loan from the Agency of Social Protection, Employment and Migration. They used it to buy raw materials for their sewing and knitting, which they have since been able to sell in their community at the local market.
To date, the Migration Programme has assisted 1,966 families in Sughd Province through partnerships with the Self-Help Groups which undertake diverse activities such as, crop farming, cattle breeding, milk processing, rabbit breeding, dry fruit processing, knitting, carpet weaving, dressmaking, trading, seed breaking, and more.
Such activities have increased household incomes, economic independence, and promoted social networking between migrants’ families. Women unite in groups around their common interests, supporting each other, gaining new skills and knowledge, actively participating in social life and making their own decisions.
“This project has changed life for many migrant families for the better and helped provide work for a large number of rural women,” notes Yodgorova Rahbar, the Head of the Department of Women and Family Affairs, a local executive body in the province of Sughd Oblast, where the Regional Programme is active. “We believe that the creation of small-scale business is a key step towards the development of rural areas of Tajikistan.”
Anjira and her group have also learned about energy-saving technologies, methods for drying fruits and how to use solar panels in their households.
Today, Anjira successfully runs her small business, and wants to do more. She wants to establish a small workshop with modern equipment to enlarge the business and involve more women so that they too can independently earn a living and make their futures more sustainable.