"We want to raise the status of rural women, prepare them for the market economy and create conditions in which women are able to make a living wage.” — Bubuzura Azhumudinova, founder of Eldik UzdarFor 20 years, the Global Fund has supported human rights organizations that improve women’s economic status and wellbeing. Effective interventions for women’s economic empowerment go beyond income generation. They include support for women entrepreneurs, provision of micro-loans and credit, labor rights education and organizing, and non-traditional skills training programs.
In 1997, Bubuzura Azhimudinova, a retired schoolteacher, traveled around rural villages in Kyrgyzstan with the goal of training unemployed Kirgyz women and girls in traditional arts and crafts. Since its break with the Soviet Union and transition from communism to a market economy, Kyrgyzstan suffers from high rates of unemployment and poverty. Fifty-five percent of Kyrgyzstan’s population live below the poverty line with annual incomes averaging $280.
After seeing the conditions of other villages, Bubuzura decided it would be more effective to create an organization in her own village to bring women and girls together to produce and sell handicrafts. Sales of handicrafts would enable the group to offer financial assistance to the poor, implement projects to protect the environment and provide incomes for the members and their families. After a year, when women from the neighboring village of Djal noticed the group’s success, they joined too.
To create more opportunities for the women, Eldik Uzdar has expanded its professional training activities to include classes in English and computer literacy. Village women who previously may never have seen electronic technology now use it to write, print text and perform basic accounting.
In addition to emerging as an important women’s organization in Kyrgyzstan that provides unemployed rural women with sustainable livelihoods, the group also provides a space for women to discuss and stop practices that restrict women’s rights. For example, they set out to stop bride kidnapping, a tradition that had morphed into rape and forced marriage. In the past, when a young couple decided to marry, the groom took the bride to his house where both families came together to make arrangements for the wedding. Now men kidnap and rape very young girls aged 15 to 18, then force them into marriage. Girls are powerless, especially given the strong cultural mores to uphold family and community “honor.” Eldik Uzdar now organizes seminars and trainings to educate the entire community—from schoolgirls and boys to single women and men to married couples—about challenging and ending this practice.