Voices of 50 women

International Women’s Day: In UNDP’s 50th year, a look at its work with women around the world.

Shyamola Begum at her tea stall in Pakistan. Photo: UNDP Pakistan

Shyamola, 43, shares her fate with tens of thousands of other women in Bangladesh, whose husbands, driven by poverty and lack of employment opportunities, abandon their partners.

But Shyamola turned her life around, thanks to a UNDP partnership. She was awarded an entrepreneur grant of Tk 2,500 (roughly US$30), which she matched with money she had saved working as household help, and set up a small tea stall. In just two months, Shyamola’s profits exceeded her own investment.

Creating income opportunities

Creating job opportunities for women is a key component in reducing poverty and improving families’ lives. Around the world, UNDP has programs that empower women with job skills, trainings, and grants that enable them to earn more income and make better decisions for their families.

Nesrine set up a snail farm in Tunisia. Photo: UNDP Tunisia

At just 27 years old, Nesrine has set up her snail farm in the small village of Boumeftah, Tunisia. Arta now runs her own dental practice in Macedonia, already employing one nurse and planning for expansion.

Clockwise from top left: Arta, Amira, Aisha, and Sharipova (Photos: UNDP Macedonia, Jordan, Syria and Tajikistan, respectively)

Aisha, displaced by the ongoing conflict in Syria, has found strength in a cash-for-work initiative that trained her in plumbing. Amira, who fled to Jordan, is on her way to becoming the local queen of diaper repair.

In Malawi, Nora received training to make compost from waste products and now earns enough to feed her family well and send her three children to school.

Ninite lost her business after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Within three years, she was the leader of a cooperative of 25 women who raise and sell chickens locally.

For Fatma, divorced at the age of 19 with two kids, life changed after meeting the head of a brand whose clothes and accessories are designed by renowned fashion designers in Istanbul and manufactured by women in Southeast Anatolia.

Kadiata is a member of the Foum Gleita cooperative in the south of Mauritania. Photo: UNDP Mauritania

New businesses and skills for women help communities tackle poverty, such as in the experiences of Rukhsana (Pakistan), Borka (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Florence (Chad), Thi Tinh (Viet Nam), Kadiata (Maurtiania), Sharipova (Tajikistan), Shaimaa (Egypt), and Habiba (Afghanistan).

Elena and her children. Photo: UNDP Guatemala

Elena, a survivor of the domestic armed conflict in Guatemala, was raped by soldiers in 1982.

31 years since her family and community was torn apart, she decided to tell her story. With support from UNDP’s Transitional Justice Programme, for the first time in the country’s history Elena and other women from the Mayan town of Ixil shared their stories of sexual violence.

Access to justice and respect for human rights

Achieving gender equality means providing the same respect for human rights and access to justice to women as to men.

The Muganga legal clinic organizes information sessions for women as well as for community leaders. Photo: UNDP DRCongo

Many women have faced similar types of violence as Elena, from Julie (DRCongo) to Ligia (Nicaragua), from Ana (Croatia) to Maria (Colombia).

In order to help create safer environments for women and provide more opportunities for justice, UNDP supports many programs to train women to fill security and legal assistance roles.

In South Sudan, Alice witnessed how breakdowns in police and courts undermined and victimized women in her community. She formed Women Empowerment for Prosperity, a community-based organization to monitor and report cases of attempted mob justice.

Captain Zohra joined the Afghan Police Force. Khadra, 28, made history by becoming Somaliland’s first female National Deputy Prosecutor. Um broke the conservative tribal traditions of her community when she became one of Gaza strip’s first “Mukhtarah”.

Dharsha is training community-based organizations in her village in northern Sri Lanka. Photo: UNDP Sri Lanka

After being displaced several times during the conflict in Sri Lanka, Dharsha faced severe hardships. But now she trains community-based organizations on topics ranging from leadership to documentation, financial management, and conflict mitigation.

Documentation is a big part of having access to services and being considered equal. At 28, Nesma is the principal provider for her children and husband and joined a Citizenship initiative in Egypt. “I need this ID card to be able to find a decent job and fulfill my responsibilities as a mother and a wife. But most importantly, I need it to prove my existence as a woman.”

Documentation has provided Monica and Basi more security. Photos; UNDP Nepal and India.

Similarly, Monica made history as the first transgender person in Nepal to receive a passport recognizing her gender identity as unconnected to her biological sex.

Without proper documentation, Basi faced the risk of losing her home and land in India. In Uganda, Joyce and other women formed the Slum Women’s Initiative for Development, a collective of local women affected by the lack of land rights.

Women activists in Brazil. Photo: Vinícius Carvalho/Marcha das Mulheres Negras

In Azerbaijan, Rena is working to change community attitudes about “bad girls”. In Zambia, Agnes is working hard to stem child marriages. Women are taking to the streets in Brazil to call for the protection of human rights and encouraging society to value the Afro-Brazilian culture.

Building sustainable democracies

In 2013, Khadija would not have considered engaging in any independent civil society or political activities in Tripoli. Not only was such activity forbidden under the former regime in Libya, but it would have likely landed the university student in prison.

But with support from UNDP, she completed the first phase of training to become a Civic Education Instructor for her peers in Libyan universities.
“Youth were at the heart of the revolution in Libya,” she said. “We young people have to play a role in the transition of this country to a sustainable democracy.”

Both Amina (Somalia) and Narine (Armenia) participate in their local councils, representing locals on governance and development issues.

Women are working to prevent sand-encroachment in Niger. Photo: UNDP Niger

Bintou, well over 60, picks up handfuls of sand to put into plastic bags. Her group of 73 female nursery workers is part of an extensive nationwide sand encroachment programme in Niger. In two towns alone, near where Bitou lives, 4,219 hectares of dunes were stabilized.

Protecting the planet and communities

Getting involved is especially important when it comes to climate change and reducing the risk of disasters, and women can play a significant role.

Blanquita promotes responsible pineapple farming in Costa Rica. March is amodel farmer in Cambodia. Photos: UNDP Costa Rica and Cambodia

Women often work in farming, where adaption leads to more climate-friendly growing methods. Blanquita (Costa Rica) promotes responsible pineapple farming. Model farmer March was one of five winners in an Integrated Farming System competition in Cambodia. Lkbira is growing sustainable plants such as saffron to protect the oases in her area of Morocco.

Rosaura, along with eight other women, created a greenhouse that helped them generate new revenue. Photo: UNDP Guatemala

As part of a Guatemalan programme improving resilience in areas hard-hit by climate and conflict, Rosaura has made improvements to her home and worked on sustainable water management.

Women help their communities manage water resources in a sustainable way. Photos: UNDP in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Women in El Salvador and Nicaragua are also working with their communities to protect water sources.

Floods, landslides and mud torrents are increasing in both intensity and frequency in Georgia, where Natela has learned innovative practices to protect her land.

In Kenya, Rose transitioned to a energy-efficient cookstove which led to a boom in her business and improvements in many aspects of her life. Iris, Carmen, Alnora, and Ingrid trained to become solar engineers to provide energy for their communities.

At the University of Barefoot in India, Honduran women practice working on solar panels. Photo: UNDP Honduras

In addition to improving the lives of individual women and girls, gender equality improves the prospects of families, communities and nations.