For many Armenian women, domestic violence is a fact of life. The Armenian adage, “A woman is like wool. The more you beat her, the softer she will become”, is indicative of the kind of abuse-enabling environment young men and women grow up in. Strict gender norms conspire to constrain women’s choices, and legitimize violence against the vulnerable. Just as men learn to use violence as a tool from an early age, women are taught to tolerate abuse as part of the price for relying on men for their basic needs. But with the help of NEF, women across Armenia are increasingly taking a stand against violence at home, and forging new paths for their fellow countrywomen in the process.
Take Mane, for example, who left her husband and abuser of 9 years in fear for her life and the life of her young daughter. Both sought protection at a local women’s shelter in Yerevan following a particularly brutal attack that put Mane in the hospital. A shelter staff member spoke to Mane about NEF’s ongoing initiative, which helps women survivors of domestic and sexual violence start their own small business and achieve financial independence. Soon after leaving the shelter, she attended NEF’s business development trainings, and drafted a proposal to acquire a small grant to put her plan into action. With a roadmap in hand, she launched her very own bakery business, quickly making a name for herself. Now her own boss, Mane says she "struggles to keep up with demand" for her signature cakes and pastries. "It can be exhausting", she says, but "I know that my daughter and I will reap the rewards". Hers is a full-time job that brings monetary as well as intangible rewards: restored confidence, a sense of purpose, and the friendships she has made with other survivors along the way.
Survivors like thirty-five year old Anahit, who made her way to a shelter in Yerevan after her then-partner and his family made threats against her life. Though pregnant, scared, and initially hesitant to assume the breadwinner’s mantle, Anahit was determined to provide for her newborn daughter no matter the stigmas accompanying her decision. After leaving the shelter, she joined NEF’s business development trainings, and, like Mane, drafted a proposal to acquire a small grant to give life to her ideas. Now the proud owner of a laser hair removal business, Anahit holds no shame in raising her child independently: “I’m back on my feet again, and I’m not dependent on anyone. I can take care of my baby and myself.”
Survivors of domestic and sexual violence frequently report feelings of powerless and worthlessness following an assault. NEF has found that the most effective way to support survivors is to empower each to exercise what has been taken away in the moment of crisis: agency. We provide survivors with the set of technical skills and competencies needed to design and realize their own business model, and then nest these tools in strong support networks that women can fall back upon for guidance and encouragement. Our results have been promising.
We tracked our most recent batch of graduates over a 4-6 month period. Four months post-graduation, 95% of respondents reported increased self-esteem, and 89% claimed their psychological wellbeing had improved by virtue of their participation.
Given the importance of social values in shaping acceptable behavior, we also tracked attitudes and perceptions frequently used to justify domestic violence. The results demonstrate significant shifts in participant attitudes, with 89% of respondents agreeing that domestic violence is not their fault, and 69% indicating that controlling behavior is unhealthy. 84% of graduates now earn monthly incomes ranging from US$300-400 – on par with the average Armenian salary of US$340/month. Better still, most expect to see their income increase as their businesses expand.
NEF is gearing up to empower an additional 200 women to rebuild their lives over the next 2 years using this same approach. We also plan to partner with 4 local organizations to train them how to apply our model in their own communities, dramatically expanding the number of women who can be reached.
AS ALWAYS, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT! IT HELPS TO MAKE STORIES LIKE ANAHIT'S AND MANE'S THE RULE, NOT THE EXCEPTION!
After working for more than 15 years in an Armenian bakery, Tamara dreamed of starting her own business. She saw self-employment as the best way to improve her family’s life and provide her sons a chance at higher education. But she had no idea where to find the money to capitalize such a venture and was leery of taking many risks.
In summer 2014, Tamara became involved in NEF’s Women’s Economic Empowerment and Advocacy project. Balancing her job at the bakery and participation in the project was a challenge that proved rewarding. In the project’s training sessions, she learned how to start and run a business and how to develop confidence in risk-taking. During business planning, she focused on how to organize the production process so that her potential bakery would be viable in the marketplace and profitable.
After conducting market research, Tamara understood what kind of baked goods she was going to produce. She also learned how to make financial calculations. In addition to gaining business skills and knowledge from the project, Tamara received a grant of more than $1,200 to start her business. She quickly registered the business, becoming a sole entrepreneur producing semi-prepared food. She hired one of her relatives to work for her, thus becoming an employer. Her success in her own business paid off when her employer offered Tamara a higher-level job: Now she is the head of production unit in the bakery.
Tamara is happy with WEEA’s impact. Her family’s lifestyle has improved. She is successfully operating her business, which sells 16 to 20 kilograms per week and generates $500 to $600 of income a month. She plans to expand production.
# the name is changed
The Near East Foundation‘s Women’s Empowerment and Advocacy (WEEA) project continues to make great strides in supporting survivors of domestic violence in Armenia. Training and support is provided for women who want to find employment and for those who want to start microenterprises.
NEF has now trained 30 participants on how to write a CV and prepare for a job interview; strengthen time and risk management skills; and learn about Armenian labor laws and rights, has enabled many women to become productive participants in the labor market.
After gaining basic work skills, the women were then able to build professional networks, identify jobs in their chosen fields, and with the help of the project expert, negotiate with prospective employers. As a result, 24 women found jobs in different sectors of the labor market as nurses, managers, cleaners, bakers, hairdressers, and sale managers.
NEF’s WEEA project has enabled women to find job security and financial independence by building a distinguished network of potential employers who were willing and eager to work with them. To date, the project has helped women find jobs that pay up to $400 per month, a decent wage in Armenia. A recent survey shows that the participation in the project has also significantly increased women’s self-confidence and helped them have a more positive outlook on their future. Often, the main beneficiaries of the WEEA project are single mothers who are the sole provider for their families.