By Rosalind Piggot, KF10, Tajikistan
“Apparently women entrepreneurs are able to raise funds more quickly than men in the world of Kiva,” wrote Peter Tashjian in his recent post.
Peter confirmed what I had long suspected. Through lender pages and meetings with other lenders, it seemed that Kiva’s women entrepreneurs had more of a following than men.
With this in mind, I thought I’d add a post on women in the Tajik workforce. In my experience, many Tajik women do conform to traditional gender roles. But, at the same time, Tajikistan has many female entrepreneurs and highly educated female professionals. As in many cultures, society has ways of allowing women to combine tradition and profession.
Work after marriage? (the traditional side)
Women in Tajikistan often get married in their early 20s or late teens. After the wedding ceremony, the bride often goes and stays with her husband’s family for a certain period. Children usually follow quickly, and even fairly educated women often stay at home for a while to raise the kids.
So, marriage has a definite impact on women in the workforce.
For one of Kiva’s Tajik Field Partners, this has made retaining women staff a point of concern. Try as they might to increase the number of women, sub-offices in some areas have almost exclusively male staff. “We hire women,” one office director said, “but when they get married, they leave.” Women say they will stay when they are hired. They say that their future husband and his family are happy with this. There are even policies so that their husbands will be comfortable that they are safe at work. But it doesn’t matter. They get married and leave. Sometimes it turns out their husband doesn’t want them to work after all.
The entrepreneurs and professionals
Despite this, a lot of women in Tajikistan hold important jobs and start up businesses to support their families.
Of Kiva’s 3 Tajik Field Partners, all three are headed by women. These organizations started off as modest projects, but through these ladies’ leadership, they are now major players in Tajik microfinance.
Also, in Tajikistan, a lot of men work away from home. If they work in another city, they come home for the weekend. If they work abroad, they might not come home for years. In this time, women are sometimes left to get on with raising the family, taking care of things, and earning money if the husband’s remittances stop or go to other relatives. Some wives stay with the husband’s family. But others, like my neighbor in Dushanbe, live alone with 5+ children while their husbands are away for months earning money.
For this reason, Kiva Field Partners value women clients. While visiting one sub-office, the director said, “We want more women clients! We try to find them.” Husbands may go away to Russia, and it is the women who stay local and carry on trade. My neighbor’s husband left again for Russia yesterday, but she and her daughter will continue their sewing business in his absence.
Combining work and home
One thing that surprised me about Tajikistan is how women can make it back into the workforce after years away raising children.* One woman I met “sat at home” for several years after her 2 children were born. Before having kids, she had trained as a lawyer. And, to my surprise, after returning to the job market, she found a job as a jurist for an NGO.
I compare this to one woman I know in the UK, who had real difficulty going back to work after kids. Although she had worked in a professional environment before children, the technology had changed by the time she returned to work. This meant spending a lot of time and money retraining before she could be considered by employers.
*Child-related statutory leave in Tajikistan is generous. In addition to maternity leave, women can take childcare leave until their child is 3. Though they don’t receive state benefits if they take the 3 years, their job is protected for when they return. Source: http://www.ilo.org/public/english/region/eurpro/moscow/info/publ/box_eng.pdf