In Armenia, 69 percent of women report being physically assaulted by an intimate partner—often in front of their children—at least once in their lives. With conservative gendered norms embedded in the culture at home and in the community, women’s role in the economy is severely restricted—posing barriers to social and economic development in Armenia. To address this systemic issue, women’s fundamental human rights need to be better protected and advocated for.
The Near East Foundation (NEF) implemented an initiative, in partnership with the Gegharkunik Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) and funded by the European Union, to help 200 survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) enhance their employability and small business skills. The Advancing Gender Equality and the Rights of Survivors of Gender-Based Violence (AGERS) project provides vocational training and business and financial support so that these women can become economically independent and meet their needs with dignity.
This initiative, only half way through its cycle, has already seen tremendous success as 90 percent of GBV survivors who have participated in the program have reported improved self-reliance and economic independence.
Nune*, a young woman who was emotionally and physically abused by her family for many years, tolerated the violence as a means to protect her family as she was financially dependent on her husband. Searching for a safe way out, she sought help from a local community organization—the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) in Yerevan.
In addition to directly helping women through this program, NEF is also working with local community organizations, like the WRC, who already work with GBV survivors. NEF helps these organizations improve their capacity to deliver effective economic development programs that are supportive of gender equality, protective against GBV, and to help them better engage the public, and civil society as a whole in joint action, dialogue, and training around normal, safe workplaces, and protection strategies.
Nune sat down with WRC to discuss her situation and aspirations, which included finding a way to utilize her sewing skills, and they recommended her to enroll in NEF’s AGERS’s business development stream. The trainings helped her to build self-confidence and learn how to develop a profitable business plan for a tailoring business. Impressed by her ambition and comprehensive plan, the project team awarded Nune a grant so that she could purchase a sewing machine and other materials she needed to start and run her business.
Now separated from her husband, Nune lives with her parents. There, she makes women’s clothes and sells them from the house and in different stores in Yerevan. With the success her business has seen, Nune now makes enough of a profit to take care of herself and her family. To continue to grow her business, Nune is negotiating contracts with other stores in Yerevan and other nearby cities in Armenia.
Another woman, Hasmik*, had a small child so took a big risk leaving her husband after experiencing an abusive relationship. Without a means to support her child herself, Hasmik moved in with her parents and immediately contacted the WRC for help, who also referred her to NEF’s program.
Through attending NEF’s trainings, Hasmik became more confident in herself, her abilities, and her potential to succeed independently. With the support of an employability trainer Hasmik developed a CV, a career development plan, and learned how to interview for jobs. The project also helped her to do job screening and apply to a number of jobs relevant to her skill-set and background. Her resume was sent to a number of employers in Yerevan and the other regions. Soon, Hasmik was offered a job in a food factory as a quality manager where she is able to now make enough for her to rent a home for her and her child and provide for her family without depending on anyone else.
The AGERS program has so far helped 98 women develop comprehensive business plans and 91 women develop career plans and CVs. Thirty-three women have received certificates for successful completion of accredited vocational training curricula, and 80 women have received small grants to cover start-up and vocational training expenses.
*The names of the women in this report have been changed to protect their safety.
As we marked International Refugee Day this summer, many paused to reflect on the state of our world today—where families are forced to flee their homes due to war, conflict, and persecution.
In Syria, half of the country’s pre-war population, more than 11 million people, have been killed or forced to flee their homes—largely finding refuge in neighboring countries.
Intessar, a 37 year-old woman and single-mother of five, had to flee Syria with her children as violence intensified in her home country. To escape, she and her family had to walk from Syria to Jordan along the Yarmouk River. Families tend to make their journey on foot during the night to avoid being shot by snipers or being caught by soldiers.
When Intessar was asked if she could envision a future in Jordan, she replied, “Yes, because there is no hope to go back to in Syria.”
While immediate humanitarian aid is important, NEF remains focused on implementing innovative and cost-effective solutions in Jordan and Lebanon to help refugees survive in the short term, and thrive in the long term—enabling them to meet their own needs with dignity and to become productive members of their new communities. NEF does this through skills trainings to encourage economic opportunity, financial literacy, social networking, cash-assistance grants, and training in urban agriculture so that families can become food secure.
Living in Zarqa with her children, Intessar was struggling to provide for her family. Through a local community-based organization she found out about NEF’s program that provides opportunities to reduce negative coping strategies among poor, vulnerable, urban Syrian refugees and Jordanians through business trainings, financial literacy, and start-up grants.
Through NEF’s program and a project grant, Intessar was able to set up a small clothing shop and start earning an income to support her family. She said that the best part of the program was “meeting and learning from other women in similar situations.” She is now able to enroll her children in school, and is taking a course in English herself so that she can continue to develop her network.
With diminishing humanitarian aid, we need your support now more than ever. Thank you for your continued support of the Near East Foundation, and for helping women like Intessar and her family find safe and sustainable solutions to achieve food and financial security!
Like many of the other women, Toma spoke candidly about the events that led her to enroll in NEF UK’s Advancing Gender Equality and the Rights of Survivors of Gender-Based Violence (AGERS-GBV) program. “My life has been hard,” she recalls. “I suffered for a long time.”
Toma, a 40-year-old single mother to a young boy, endured abuse from her husband for more than a decade before escaping and seeking refuge in her parents’ home with her son.
Domestic violence against women is commonplace in Armenia, where 59 percent of women report being subjected to physical, psychological, or sexual violence at the hands of their domestic partners. It is only fairly recently that this widespread issue has entered public discourse as a real and growing problem.
To make matters more difficult, women are not encouraged to work independently and earn an income. Ruzanna Torozyan, director of the Goris Women’s Development Resource Center in Armenia, said, “Men are usually not comfortable with their wives entering the workforce due to social norms that discourage female independence. As a result, the social burden of raising a family falls mostly to women—many of whom struggle to meet household expenses independently from male support.”
Without a job and income to support her son, Toma sought psychological and legal support from the Women’s Support Center (WSC) in Yerevan on the advice of a friend. There, Toma heard about NEF UK’s European Union-funded AGERS-GBV program, which equips survivors with the knowledge, skills, and support structures they need to start their own small businesses or find sustained employment.
“I knew self-employment was better suited to my situation, but I didn’t know how to make it a reality,” Toma explained.
Toma saw the program as an opportunity to become self-reliant, and applied to enrol in the business development component. Through the trainings, she was taught the skills needed to plan, organize, and manage a small business.
“For years, I considered opening up my own shoe business, but the project helped me to transform my idea into action. The other women in the program and I welcomed the opportunity to work with the enterprise development team, and appreciated their inclusive and interactive approach to training.”
Working with the program's business development trainer, Toma developed a viable business plan and finance strategy that was approved by a selection committee. With a project-supported grant secured, Toma purchased materials for 40 shoes, which she quickly transformed into 16 pairs of women’s shoes just in time for the Armenian winter. Toma plans to use her remaining materials to get a head start on a spring line of shoes.
“I love my job. It provides me with the flexibility I need to make an economically sustainable living for my son and me. I feel at peace, and I am highly motivated to move ahead with my plans for the future—whateverI decide those will be.’’
NEF UK’s program was internationally recognized by the European Training Foundation (ETF) with a certificate of excellence for demonstrating good practice in implementing trainings for women’s entrepreneurship. ETF created a video to highlight the programs success in developing economic opportunities for survivors of gender-based and domestic violence. Click here to watch.
To date, 161 women survivors across Yerevan and Lori and Syunik regions have signed up to participate in the business development stream and 131 of those women have developed business plans. Fifty-one women have already received funding to support their small businesses and the remaining 80 women will receive funding in the near future. Additionally, 116 women have enrolled in the employment development trainings where they are learning valuable skills needed to meet employer qualifications.
Thank you for your continued support making stories like Toma's possible!
For more information, visit: www.neareast.org
NEF-UK’s AGERS-GBV project is funded by the European Union and implemented in partnership with Gegharkunik Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI). For more information, please contact: Arpine Baghdoyan (+374 98022475; firstname.lastname@example.org)
 Some names have been changed in this publication to protect the privacy and security of the individuals involved.