Over the past twenty years, economic growth in Azerbaijan has brought new employment opportunities for its people. Unemployment rates dropped from 12 percent in 2000 to five percent in 2018.
However, the boon has not benefitted everyone equally. Employment rates among women, although relatively high (67 percent), are lower than among men (72 percent). In general, women find it harder than men to get jobs in well-paid sectors, such as energy or industry. They tend to be employed mainly in underpaid sectors traditionally regarded as feminine, such as education, health care and services. Only 26 percent of the country’s entrepreneurs are women.
In Azerbaijan, as in many parts of the world, the disparities in economic opportunities for women and men are rooted in patriarchal norms and traditional gender roles. These deeply ingrained social norms impede the realisation of legal provisions on gender equality. Traditional gender roles in the household leave women bearing the burden of unpaid domestic and care work – a fundamental obstacle to their entering and rising in the labour market or setting up their own enterprises. Women also find it harder to come by opportunities for professional development, including skills training and networking, which are key to their economic empowerment and independence. Confidence, capital and connections, easily available to men, elude most women.
In such a context, giving women spaces to meet, network, exchange ideas, forge partnerships, attract capital, gain confidence and grow professionally can have transformative impacts. In rural and remote areas especially, such spaces can be instrumental in helping women to learn more about their rights, discover untapped potential, and overcome obstacles that once seemed insurmountable.
The Women’s Resource Centres in Azerbaijan have done precisely this, equipping women in rural areas with tools and resources to help them launch their own businesses.
Since their launch in 2011, the eight Women Resource Centers in Bilasuvar, Neftchala, Salyan, Sabirabad, Masalli, Zaqatala, Qusar and Khazar, have provided more than 6,000 women with free training courses on a range of hard and soft skills – from accounting and financial literacy, computer science, fundraising and women’s human and economic rights to resumé writing, presentation skills and networking. Over the years, nearly 150 women launched their own businesses, with in kind grant support, business development training and mentorship support.
This booklet presents the experiences of six women whose exposure to the Women’s Resource Centres changed their lives. Their stories demonstrate that with the right idea, personal determination and the right support, women can overcome myriad challenges and become successful entrepreneurs. They also show that it is critical to sustain and expand Women’s Resource Centres to reach more women in Azerbaijan and take this model for women’s entrepreneurship to other countries.
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Story by Sandra Ismanovsky, Arzu Jafarli, Bharati Sadasivam, Nadir Guluzadeh and Gulara Humbatova