In the words of Aisulu Jenalieva: “Women can have more freedom and men can share domestic work”
Aisulu Jenalieva, 48, has gone from being an abandoned wife of a migrant worker without the means to support her family, to leading a self-help group and collective that runs Jirgatol district’s first dairy production facility in north-east Tajikistan. Her entire perspective has changed since participating in the project. “Earlier, my only wish for my daughter was that she got a good husband, a good household and a piece of land. Now, I want a good education for her,” says Jenalieva.
I depended on my husband for everything. My life revolved around taking care of him and our four children, and working in the field. So the day he abandoned me in search of a better future abroad, I was left with no support. Like many other women in my village, I didn’t have a formal education and didn’t know how to provide for my children. Working in the fields did not bring enough income.
I was good at producing traditional Tajik dairy products, but lacked the resources to fully utilize my skills. When I heard of UN Women’s project that would give small grants and provide technical knowledge and business support, I proposed the idea of starting a business in dairy production. And it worked!
- Due to high rates of unemployment in Tajikistan, about one million Tajik citizens—a third of men aged 20–39 years—have migrated and live in the Russian Federation .
- A 2009 study found that between 230,880 and 288,600 Tajik women and families were abandoned by migrant workers and living at or below the poverty level .
- With financial support from Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the UN Women project “Empowering abandoned women from migrant families in Tajikistan” provided comprehensive legal, social and economic support via 387 collective self-help groups to 4,500 abandoned women in two regions of Tajikistan. It specifically targeted wives of migrant workers, who had not been considered a vulnerable group until then. Following UN Women’s advocacy on the issue, the Tajik Government passed the Decree #448 on 2 July, 2015, which recognizes this group as socially vulnerable and facilitates their access to free legal, economic and psycho-social services.
We formed a collective self-help group and registered Jirgatol’s first dairy business, “Azamat” (meaning “brave one”). We now collect up to 900 litres of milk in the summer from nearby villages and produce dairy products like Qurut, Chakka and Churgot, which are sold as far as Dushanbe, the capital.
I learned many new skills, like applying for loans and registering a business, making business plans, training other women and managing personnel. Our company, Azamat, now employs 12 women—many of them had been abandoned by their husbands, like me. I went from not knowing where the next meal will come from to sending my children to school and saving money for their university fees.
In February 2016, I participated in a “Cheese Exchange” initiative by UN Women, where Tajik and Swiss women cheese makers came together to share skills and develop new dairy products for Tajikistan. The experience completely changed my perspective on life. I had never been outside my village before, but I got to visit the capital city Dushanbe and Switzerland. I learned many new things, and not just related to the cheese-making business. I learned that women can have more freedom and opportunities, that men can help share domestic work. Earlier, my only wish for my daughter had been that she gets a good husband, a good household, and a piece of land. Now, I want a good education for her. I also engage my sons, who are 12 and 14, in household work, so I can focus more on my business.
Business is booming at Azamat, and I follow news and trends in tourism closely, as tourists are one of our main target clientele.
I try to help other women as much as I can. It makes me feel proud; it gives me wings.”