In Azerbaijan, rural women start breaking the cycle of poverty

Gunay Guliyeva established a cattle breeding business after a training at the newly established Women Resource Center. Photo: UNDP Azerbaijan

In Azerbaijan’s capital city Baku, it is not hard to find successful women who run their own businesses or hold high positions in companies and government institutions. So it is easy to forget that in rural areas of the country, many women are still deprived of the opportunity to actively participate in social and economic life.

In the southern part of Azerbaijan, near its border with Iran, cases of early marriage are prevalent – over 1,000 in 2012-2014 alone. Driven by poverty, stereotypes, tradition, and community pressure, this prevalence not only affects women’s participation in society, but also has a direct effect on maintaining poverty in the area.

Gunay Guliyeva, who lives in Bilasuvar, married at 13. Her mother thought it would be good for her future. But Gunay was widowed soon after and struggled to support her family of three young girls. “I had been thinking about what I could do to take care of my family after the pension allocated to my children would stop,” she says. “This pension was the only income for my family and the situation was complicated. I couldn’t cover the needs of my children and couldn’t see a way out.”

Many rural women have no chance of supporting their families, due to low levels of education and economic disenfranchisement, so the cycle continues. To those who can’t support their children, the early marriage of a child means one less mouth to feed. And without the confidence of being active members of society, women are less likely to see an alternative to early marriages. To break the cycle, a sustainable solution is needed.

In 2016, UNDP and the European Union launched a project to assist rural women in developing better opportunities for themselves. The project not only supports these women in launching their own businesses, but also brings them together, prepares them to join the market, educates them about their rights, and raises their self-confidence.

Women Resource Centers were established to help women strengthen their presence in community life. Leyla Alisoy, the coordinator of the center in Bilasuvar, highlighted the importance of training and fostering networking among rural women.


  • 4 Women Resource Centers have opened
  • The project directly benefited 416 women, and over 1500 people indirectly.
  • 50 new businesses were started under the overall initiative.

“It will serve as a public platform to plan and coordinate women’s economic and social initiatives and provide different opportunities for capacity-building and entrepreneurial activities, vocational education and creative self-expression,” says Leyla.

Most of Bilasuvar’s active women were selected to participate in business development trainings. After a group discussion to identify their needs and concerns, they took a test to join the training. Once accepted, they then developed business plan proposals. Most feasible proposals were awarded with in-kind contributions. Altogether, 50 new businesses were started.

Gunay had never been engaged in cattle breeding, but through the training calculated that such a business would be profitable. She learned how to project expenses, cash flow development, product marketing and taxes. Another participant trained her and she was able to start a small business.

The scope of the project doesn’t only cover starting businesses but aims to improve already existing ones as well.

Govhar, a master of pastry making in Bilasuvar, received additional baking equipment that allowed her to double her number of clients. “Cooking Azeri national sweets like shakarbura and pakhlava requires more power to fulfill orders,” says Govhar. “It’s difficult for me, especially during wedding and holiday times in the village…I’m planning to increase my work place and hire more employees.”

Afsana’s small business needed renovations and better stock. “I hoped to improve my clothing store by joining the project…I gathered all the information required, and met other positive and confident women,” says Afsana. The Center supported the renovation and helped source the clothing and display products for her to realize her dream. She was not only supported by the center, but by her husband as well.

The project was implemented jointly by the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs of Azerbaijan Republic, UNDP Azerbaijan, and Women’s Association for Rational Development (WARD), and funded by UNDP and the European Union. It is just one project of a larger initiative for advancing gender equality and women’s rights, launched in 2012, which includes similar projects funded by USAID and the Coca-Cola Company.

By developing their communities, and becoming more active in them, these women attracted more of their peers into this initiative. Day by day, these women collectively are improving economic life in their communities and raising awareness on women’s rights and gender equality. This is slowly breaking the cycle.

“I would never, ever let my children become victims of early marriages, and will raise them as active citizens so that they learn to stand firm on their own two feet,” says Gunay after expressing her satisfaction with her newly established business.

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