Rural Women in Tajikistan Learn New Skills, Start Earning for their Families

Saida Rajabova makes home-made cheese.
Saida Rajabova makes home-made cheese.

By Tatiana Evstifeeva

An ADB-financed project is helping female entrepreneurs open sewing workshops, bakeries and cattle ranches, and other business ventures.

Saida Rajabova, 43, makes things happen. A motivated and hard-working housewife from the village of Nurobod, every day she makes 20 kg of cheese and sells it in the capital, Dushanbe. Several restaurants and supermarkets are regular clients of Saida’s home-made cheese.

“A good neighbor of mine taught me how to prepare cheese in 2013,” she says. “From then, I made it for my family and started dreaming of developing my skills and earning enough to support my family.”

Saida is a mother of 4 children and her husband is a labor migrant abroad.

Her dream soon came true. Saida took a business development training course and got a conditional grant to start her small dairy business. She renovated a room and bought a refrigerator, a packaging machine, and other necessary houseware. Within a year, Saida was able to earn enough money to pay the tuition fees for two of her children studying medicine and agricultural engineering.

Saida is one of 137 vulnerable rural women in the Rudaki, Gissar, Shahrinau, and Tursunzade districts who have received skills training on business development, grant proposal writing, and financial management, and got conditional grants to start businesses under a road improvement project financed by ADB in Tajikistan. Improved roads are expected to increase trade opportunities and it is important that women are able to take advantage of them too.

Over the past several years, the country has witnessed an increase in the number of households headed by women as a result of men going abroad for jobs. Out of Tajikistan’s population of 8.4 million in 2014, 1.2 million were migrant workers. Overall, many women are left on farms or work in agriculture, where informal, poorly paid, and part-time employment is common. With formal sector jobs scarce, the overall poverty rate for women is high.

With direct skills development and financial support, the ADB project has helped some of these women to start small businesses.

The program—implemented by the government’s Committee on Women and Family Affairs and supported by the local civil society organization Source of Life—has helped female entrepreneurs open sewing workshops, bakeries and cattle ranches, among other business ventures.

“This is the first such ADB initiative in the country,” says Gulnora Kholova, an ADB gender consultant. “It was not easy to roll it out. In the beginning, many women did not believe in the program and refused to participate in it due to fear of losing property or even their kids because they had limited knowledge and lack of confidence.”

“Fortunately, we managed to overcome the false beliefs and stereotypes,” she adds.

In 2014-2015, the ADB project trained women from the four project districts on how to start business, do fundraising, and financial management. After a series of theoretical lessons, the participants attended tailored practical courses on various business ventures.

The project team also helped the new businesswomen to register their businesses with tax authorities and open bank accounts. In addition, the women better understood their legal and civil rights after a legal awareness-raising campaign, which also was a part of the project.

Odinoy Rustamova, 46, and Mahfirat Nabieva, 32, opened a furniture and utensils renting point in Guryod village. They rent out tables, chairs, pots, and other items for weddings and similar events.

“We are now collecting money to expand the business and buy color musical centers,” the new businesswomen explains.

Other beneficiaries have opted for cattle breeding, like Orzugul Hamdamova, whose two cows are her main source of income. The 38-old single mother has now milk to feed her 4 kids. She also sells 8-10 liters of milk every day to support her family.

A newborn calf is a big hope for Orzugul.

“When the calf grows, I will sell it and use the money to improve the house and buy necessary stuff for my kids,” she says.