Women Resource Centres in Azerbaijan stand strong through the COVID-19 pandemic
Even at a time of global pandemic, Azerbaijan’s Women Resource Centres continue to provide a safe space for over 3,000 rural women to share ideas on improving their livelihoods through economic empowerment.
Established in 2011, the main mission of the nine Resource Centres is to help strengthen rural women’s entrepreneurial skills and advance their competitiveness in the labour market, empowering them to overcome the many socio-economic challenges faced by women living in rural areas.
At the Centres we focus our efforts primarily on the vulnerable and most socially excluded, providing them with necessary support to become economically and socially active members of society.
In the last nine years we have managed to create a safe space for hundreds of women to meet, network, exchange ideas and forge partnerships.
The Centres have provided free training courses to some 6,200 women in women’s human and economic rights, and skills such as accounting and financial literacy, computer science and networking techniques.
As a result, nearly 250 rural women are now running their own successful business.
During these challenging times of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, our Women’s Resource Centres have successfully switched to providing online training.
Over 100 women from some of the remotest parts of the country have regularly been participating in our online business development training over recent weeks, including courses covering the basics of finance, marketing and sales, and risk analysis.
Successful candidates have already received all the necessary equipment to start their own businesses.
While the Women’s Resource Centres continue in their efforts to help rural women gain financial independence, the terrible scale of the pandemic’s impacts on women worldwide is also beginning to emerge and needs to be urgently addressed.
The burden of unpaid care work on women has increased due to school closures, the need to look after elderly family members at risk, and other consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Women are typically the primary caregivers at home and have greater domestic responsibilities, doing as much as two and a half times unpaid care and domestic work as men.
Women play a key role in ensuring the well-being and resilience of their families and communities and are thus more exposed to the virus, as well as facing the risk of exhaustion and burnout.
Women are also at high risk of domestic violence due to greater economic stress in households in times of crisis combined with increased social isolation.
This is why we have been working with the Women Resource Centres over the past weeks to help organise regular virtual individual and group psychotherapy sessions.
The economic impacts of the global pandemic will also affect women’s employment and livelihood significantly.
A rapid analysis undertaken by our Accelerator Lab team in Baku has confirmed that women in Azerbaijan, the majority of whom are working in the informal sector, are most vulnerable to the economic consequences of this crisis.
For example, the GDP contribution of 82% of employed women who work in five economic sectors (agriculture, trade, education, healthcare, and social work) is just 27%, which is evidence that women are mostly concentrated in the low-paid areas and in informal jobs — and this is why we immediately started helping women register for social support.
Working with the Women’s Resource Centre coordinators, several members of the Centres demonstrated amazing solidarity in action by launching local campaigns to help low-income families cope with the pandemic by collecting essential products and delivering them to the poorest households in their communities.
As part of our mission to protect the most vulnerable communities, UNDP has joined these efforts and just this week helped procure and deliver packages of a month’s worth of food to help 340 poorest families living in rural areas.
Most of the contents of these packages were purchased from women entrepreneurs, achieving the dual purpose of helping the poorest while also helping women entrepreneurs sustain their small businesses.
The wide-ranging impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have the potential to reverse the limited but important progress that has been made on gender equality and women’s rights.
At the same time it is clear that women’s leadership and contributions must be at the very heart of coronavirus resilience and recovery efforts, and the Women Resource Centres in Azerbaijan have clearly demonstrated their power to stand strong and lead in difficult times.
The Women’s Resource Centres were established by the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan and UNDP, with generous funding and support from USAID, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, UN Women in Georgia, the European Union and the Coca-Cola Foundation.