Tajik businesses run by women living with HIV supply key protective gear for COVID-19 response


Originally published on UN Women's regional website for Europe and Central Asia

Due to the high demand for COVID-19 protection masks, Mammadova managed to fill orders to supply more than 23,000 masks within 10 days.
Due to the high demand for COVID-19 protection masks, Mammadova managed to fill orders to supply more than 23,000 masks within 10 days. Photo: UN Women/Nigina Makhmudova

Like many women in rural Tajikistan, Dilyora Mammadova* succumbed to family pressure to marry. At the age of 30, she was happy and financially independent, but they insisted it was time to start a family. They found her a groom and arranged their marriage.

Within weeks, Mammadova discovered that her husband was a drug user and former prisoner. “I got away from him on the 45th day after marriage,” she explains. “My mother didn’t take me back, saying I embarrassed her. At the same time, I learned I was pregnant. … All my life, I have suffered from prejudice and discrimination, like most women. We have no rights – not only in our husbands’ families, but also in our own.”

Mammadova’s sister took her in and supported her throughout her pregnancy – a difficult one, especially since she worked to save money to raise her child. After giving birth, she took out a loan for her own house, working day-and-night to pay it off and earn a decent living.

Once she was back on her feet, she met a man she loved, remarried and got pregnant again. During this second pregnancy, she tested positive for HIV. “I felt numb, the most fallen woman in the world,” she recalls.

As it turned out, her first husband had been infected long before their marriage. Relieved that her second husband and both children all tested negative, Mammadova began treatment immediately.

After some time, the Director of the Tajik Network of Women Living with HIV approached a local AIDS Centre to recommend positive women for a project. Mammadova agreed and became a volunteer mentor. She took on the role with fervour, working with affected women and high-risk groups, helping identify new cases of local HIV infection, supporting women with the same diagnosis, and bringing them medicine.

Today, she is 43 and works as Project Coordinator for the Network while also running her own tailoring business.

“Working every day with women living with HIV, I see cruel situations when they are subjected to multiple discrimination because of their HIV status. If they are not kicked out of their homes (in 90% of cases they are), they become outcasts primarily within their own families. They are not allowed to cook, sit at the same table, kiss and hug their loved ones; they are not hired; people stop talking to them; they are not accepted by hospitals. … I do not disclose my status. If I do, my business will suffer, and no one will communicate with me. We need to start changing this situation.”

When Mammadova learned about a joint UN Women- UNAIDS project offering business trainings for 30 women living with HIV in 2019, she jumped at the opportunity. At that time, she had a small sewing workshop and her business proposal was one of four approved for funding. The financial support enabled her to expand production and provide new jobs for 10 women living with HIV in her rural hometown.

Nowadays, due to the high demand for COVID-19 protection masks, Mammadova managed to fill orders to supply more than 23,000 masks within 10 days.

“We have been cooperating with Dilyora for a long time and she always fully meets all of our expectations,” says one of her customers, Timur Guseynov, Director of LLC Charogi Donish. “She was able to establish a good team that were able to complete the work efficiently is such a short period of time, which was appreciated so much! I am very proud of her. Despite the difficult times, she tries her best to support people!

Mammadova credits the knowledge she gained from the UN Women business trainings for allowing her to organize an effective production cycle, calculate capacity, efficiently distribute labour and time, and encourage workers to ensure quality and the timely execution of orders.

“Thanks to UN Women support and guidance, I am very glad that I could fulfil my long-standing dream to have my own business and be independent, as well as to support those poor, unprotected women who are abandoned by their own families,” she says. “UN Women support is especially important and timely during such difficult and uncertain times.”

Aziza Hamidova, Country Programme Manager for UN Women Tajikistan, says the project seeks to address three main challenges: economic hardship, stigma and lack of employment or credit. “By empowering women living with HIV economically, we are giving them a chance to have economic security. Consequently, it increases their self-esteem, empowers them, and addresses self-stigma. Supporting their business initiatives and providing learning opportunities will enable women to feel confidence and faith in a bright future.”

*Name changed to protect the individual’s identity.