Towards Sustainable Development: Promoting Rural Women’s Leadership and Economic Empowerment

Jul 5, 2018

Photo: Ives Ives

Baku, 5 July 2018 –  As countries of the world unwind their potential to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), equal opportunities for women to participate in the economy remain one of the biggest global challenges. Gender equality and empowerment, including through financial autonomy and entrepreneurial maturity, is one of the 17 SDGs, yet women today own only 30% of formal small and medium-sized enterprises, while 70% of these women do not have access to the capital they need to grow, and this disproportion is even higher for women living in rural communities.

In Azerbaijan, where rural women represent 77 percent of the total women population of the country, engrained cultural stereotypes oftentimes reiterate the image of women solely as homemakers, a problem faced in most rural communities of Azerbaijan. While women strive to play a more integrated role in society they frequently struggle to find jobs outside the home. More often than not, the lack of basic literacy skills or access to job vacancy resources only amplifies their challenge, preventing them from exploring opportunities outside of what is traditionally expected.

To eliminate these barriers, UNDP and the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs have been jointly implementing the project on “Promoting Rural Women Participation in Economic and Social Life” since 2011. In 2015 the project received financial support from Coca-Cola Foundation’s global funding platform –the New World Project (NWP). The New World Project supports inclusive and sustainable solutions to key developmental challenges across Europe and Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. In Azerbaijan, the project encouraged women in remote areas to realise their potential while also improving their learning curves and business maturity. Working in Baku, Sabirabad, Neftchala and Salyan, training sessions taught women the skills required for job hunting, resume writing, interview techniques, and effective communication. Two new Women Resource Centres were established in Neftchala and Salyan. These centres are UNDP’s flagship models to help women gain business-related skills and be more publicly involved in their communities.

Overall, the project assisted 21 women with disabilities develop business skills. These 21 women, along with others involved in training sessions, developed their own business proposals. Some proposals were funded, resulting in over 20 women entrepreneurs establishing businesses of their own. These new establishments now offer a wide range of services, including bakery and farming, fitness and beauty, wedding and event management, with some specialising in computer science and digital technologies. To tackle stereotypes, gender equality sessions were held in schools for 80 teachers and students. Forty-five students attended training of trainer sessions to continue educating their peers on gender equality. Altogether, 452 women directly benefitted from the activities. Only in Neftchala, water and sanitation systems were installed in six locations, to improve access to clean water and sanitation infrastructure for children in secondary education, including for 800 school girls.

Today, taking the project to the next level, UNDP in partnership with the Government of Azerbaijan and the Coca-Cola Foundation kicks off the first Women’s Regional Conference in Salyan, a southern city of Azerbaijan known by many as the ‘Gateway to the South’ and a prominent transport and communication artery of the region that links Azerbaijan with the rest of the world. Bringing together nearly 100 participants from across the country, including the capital Baku, Salyan, Bilasuvar, Neftchala, Sabirabad and Masalli, the conference aims to provide a platform for rural women to voice their issues and challenges, and help the Government mainstream rural women’s priorities into national policy-making. Collectively, the participating delegates, including representatives of government agencies, international organisations, the private sector, civil society organisations, regional Women Resource Centres and their registered members, along with independent experts are gathered together to draw innovative solutions to fuel the empowerment of rural women in the context of human development and economic growth. Sustainable development, as seen by UNDP, is a futile exercise without women’s participation, and today’s regional conference is an attempt to take a closer look at rural women’s perspectives through their own prospective ensuring that rural women take part in decision making that affect their future and the future of the society where they live and operate.  

Contact information

For questions, please contact Arzu Jafarli, Communications and External Relations Analyst for UNDP in Azerbaijan at

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