Photo: UNDP Azerbaijan/ Elmar Mustafayev. Govhar Khanhuseynova is an entrepreneur in Bilasuvar and owns a private bakery shop, which she was able to set up with support from the European Union.

Govher Khanhuseynova comes from the Bilasuvar region of Azerbaijan, around 190 km south-east of the capital Baku. Govher has always liked baking. She baked for her family, baked batches to order for her friends, and even delivered her goods to the local shop to be sold there. However, fear and a lack of confidence hindered her desire to start her own business. She was worried that it would not work.

In 2016, Govher learned about the opening of the Women's Resource Centre in Bilasuvar. At the time she was working as a cook at the nearest café not too far from the Centre, where the Women’s Resource Centre ordered lunch for participants during the trainings they were organising for women. Fascinated by this opportunity, Govher asked the project team if she could also attend these trainings and that is how she was accepted into the programme. She came to her first training session at the Women’s Resource Centre together with her friend and there she told about her dream to open a bakery shop one day. 

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Govher participated in a number of training courses on the basics of accounting, legal affairs and running a small business. Govher, among other members of the Women’s Resource Centre, benefitted from psychosocial counselling services made available to the rural women as part of the European Union’s support to women empowerment in Azerbaijan.

The centre itself was created within the framework of the project 'Enabling civil society to play a greater role in advancing gender equality and women’s rights', which was carried out in the region by the United Nations Development Programme, in close collaboration with Azerbaijan’s State Committee on Family, Women and Children Affairs with funding from the European Union between 2016 and 2018. Regions near the southern border of Azerbaijan, where patriarchal values are especially strong, were chosen to participate.

"During one of the classes, a letter from a housewife was read to us. It seemed like all the thoughts and feelings that I had were described in the letter. I could not hold back my tears. I left the class fully convinced that I would have my own business and that everything would turn out fine," shares Govher.

 

Photo: European Union. Govher Khanhuseynova loading racks in the oven with fresh baking and browning produce

 

Thanks to the financial support of the project, Govher opened her small bakery, naming it in honour of her granddaughter "Mələyim", which means "my angel".

On 4 March, Govher celebrated the first year anniversary of her business, marking some great milestones she achieved and reflecting on her remarkable journey–difficult and time-consuming at times, but extremely rewarding. The result of her restless work and dedication was the fivefold increase in the volume of production at Govher’s bakery shop. Govher works with two assistants, with practically no time off.

"In the beginning we used about 5 kilogrammes of flour per day, but now we use 20-25 kilogrammes. Before the New Year's holidays, we baked 50 cakes every day!" the business owner says.

All sorts of pastries are made in the bakery. About 30 different kinds of goods are available daily. Traditional pastries such as baklava (broadly known in Azerbaijan as “pakhlava”), shekerbura and gogal are most popular among customers.

Govher Khanhuseynova is enthusiastic and intends to develop her business further. She plans to turn her bakery into a small café for women. The premises offer the opportunity for expansion and there is a great need for a women's leisure spot in the area.  

"Be brave and use your skills, possibilities and talents. Develop them. Let nothing stand in the way of your striving towards financial independence," Govher says, directing her words to all women in Azerbaijan’s regions.

 

Author: Elena Ostapenko

This story was originally published by 1news.az and the European Union Neighbours East initiative, also available in Russian and Azerbaijani. The content of this article was later updated by UNDP.

 

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