Passing through the pleasant high mountains, vast steppes, beautifully architectural fountains, fresh water lakes, and witnessing the rich culture of Tajikistan had been an enlightening experience to learn more about the country’s history and the role its citizens play in shaping its economy.
Throughout our travel, the hardworking Tajikistani women were seen busy in their daily routine work and engaged in running and managing shops of dry-fruit, vegetables, grocery and garments in local markets. It was observed that more than 80% women lead businesses and deal with customers based on little bargaining. Thus, the local women were indulged in various small businesses such as selling of handicrafts, fruits, Tajik Naan (Tajik bread) and jewellery. However, it is also pertinent to mention that women had also taken most of the jobs in restaurants as servers and chefs which is a rarity to see in Pakistan. It was quite rejoicing moment for the tourists and the delegations hailing from different countries to witness the vibrant participation of women in the income generation activities in markets.
Owing to this, responsibilities of women have increased to the great extent in Tajikistan because they are not only engaged in income generation activities but also in household chores. This is largely because of the migration of male family members to Russia and different other countries to earn for supporting their families financially in Tajikistan. However, it was noticed that a woman worked in the fields for crop raising and travelled to the market for selling the products to earn some amount of money to meet the household expenditure. According to the World Bank, about 45.5% of women in Tajikistan are actively engaged in all sectors of the labour market. A local resident of Tajikistan was asked about the work hours in the market. She said, “I work here 12 hours a day from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.” It was observed that majority of women were engaged in economic actives from 8 to 12 hours a day which indicated that Tajik women are very dedicated to earning through hard work to reduce dependency on male family members.
The total population of Tajikistan is around 9 million and about 1.5 million work out of the country, leaving women to support the family by themselves. As a result, the migration rate becomes higher. The main factor is the surge in unemployment, as people have limited access to employment opportunities in Tajikistan. Therefore, most of the male members move for jobs to other countries, especially Russia. However, the male members of the family who live with their families support female members in economic activities but not in household chores. When asked if her husband helps in household chores, one respondent replied “no”.
For women, it is challenging to find job opportunities and set up a business. To encourage women, Agha Khan Foundation (AKF) and Mountain Societies Development Support Programme (MSDSP) have formed Village Organisations (VOs) and Social Unions for the Development of Village Organisations (SUDVOs) based on the membership of male and females. However, the participation of women members in VOs and SUDVOs is more than 70%. AKF/MSDSP has initiated many projects with the support of the government of Tajikistan and other multiple donner agencies with the Community Institutions (CIs) like VOs and SUDVOs. Agha Khan foundation focuses on agriculture and food security, economic inclusion, early childhood development, civil society and health and nutrition. While, MSDSP’s projects include food security and nutrition, Wakhan ultra-poor support, creating opportunities in a safe environment, construction of family medicine centers, construction of bore holes and to facilitate mainstreaming village technology groups. AKF/MSDSP also provide training of capacity building of farmers and rural women for the start of small entrepreneurs like fruit processing units to sell the locally prepared jams in the markets for earning money.
The Village Organisation (VO) in Wahdat town, District Shugnon, Tajikistan is working with 151 members which was formed by AKF/MSDSP in 1998. A 70-year old lady working in the VO since its formation shared, “this VO formed two community-based saving groups in 2012. The saving groups lend money to its members for health emergencies, education and construction of the houses. She added further, “The group members are also engaged in fruit processing activity. The members collect fruits to prepare different type of jams to sell in various villages, especially in Murghab town.”
Murghab town is situated in the Pamir Mountains of Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region of Tajikistan. It is the highest town in Tajikistan at 3650 m above the sea level. The residents of this town are poor and depend on livestock with the lack of access of food for appetite. Therefore, the jams produced from fruit processing activities are a great source of food for the residents of this area at the local level on such altitudes. The members of this VO sell jams at Murghab town at a good price as compared to the price in their own villages.
Moreover, the VO members said, “It will be highly beneficial for us, if the government develops a separate warehouse and workshops for the processing of fruit and vegetables where we could work in the season with relative ease. In this way, we can earn a lot of money because a good number of customers can increase through income generation activities like processed fruit. In this regard, we are looking for government support to materialize this demand.”
Although females were making the products and selling them, yet they do not have linkages with the market to earn more benefits. Despite all the challenges, Tajikistan has many successful businesswomen working in several sectors of the economy. To promote their work, it is indispensable for them to link their products to market for monetary benefits.
Another member of VO said, “We have also been selling these products in neighbouring countries like Afghanistan and have been asked by the Afghan women to provide them training for the preparation of jams out of fruit processing activity. Therefore, we consider it as our big achievement which was possible after the support of AKF/MSDSP and government of Tajikistan because these institutions have discovered our potential and taught us how to use it for the income generation activities.”
Sultana Ali and Nadir Ali Shah work as field researchers for the SUCCESS programme at RSPN.
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