In the fall of 2020, as the COVID-19 infection rate was peaking in Armenia, the country was rocked to its core by the outbreak of what has become known as the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War—which Armenia neither wanted nor was prepared for. By the time a ceasefire agreement was reached last November, with Armenian casualties in the thousands, the loss of strategic territory, the presence of Russian peacekeepers, and mass displacement of uprooted communities, few could take notice of another longstanding battle still underway—the fight for gender equality for Armenia’s women.
Among those on the front lines of this socio-economic reckoning are a group of women daring to take the uncertain post-war situation into their own hands, with financial emancipation as the first step in leveling the playing field in commerce and business, and, ultimately, gaining influence in shaping Armenia’s future at a pivotal historic moment.
“Substantive decisions about national security and economic viability over the next critical five years must have the entire population pulling its weight,” says Yevgenya Jenny Paturyan, Assistant Professor at the American University of Armenia, Political Science and International Affairs Program. “That includes Armenia’s women, whose resilience and ingenuity during a time of national crises and severe loss are nothing short of astounding. Armenian women always played key roles in the fate of the nation, more so in recent years and months. Women’s participation was instrumental in the peaceful Velvet Revolution of 2018. Women are overrepresented in the healthcare and service sectors, so they are, literally, taking care of the nation’s needs, wounds, hurts and losses right now. Women are struggling to keep COVID-19 at bay and are nursing the nation back to life, with hopes and dreams of a better future.”
“Helping families lift themselves out of poverty means helping them build income and wealth, but it is a social phenomenon as well,” wrote Steve Werlin, the author of To Fool the Rain: Haiti’s Poor and Their Pathway to a Better Life. “And one of the social change we try to effect involves working on the way members look at themselves.”
It is quite impressive how someone’s mind and attitude can alter and reset the course of one’s life. However, in order to eventually arrive at that mind reset some people require a substantive hand out, constant observation and follow-up; not simply a prescriptive hand up. When looking at the lowest income countries in the world like Haiti a vast array of NGOs work to alleviate some of its inherent problems with programs that address the root of poverty. Some provide work programs, educational programs, health care, or even microloan programs. But some of Haiti’s families are so extremely poor they cannot dream of qualifying for many of these programs because they have virtually nothing. In fact, they live in such cyclical poverty they cannot feed themselves on a daily basis, or even every other day. In Haiti’s deepest far reaches and unfathomable rural areas are families who live in abject poverty far away from roads and towns. They require the most cumulative social programs designed by worldwide NGOs that specialize in the nuances of poverty reduction and eradication.
In Haiti, for example, one of those social programs is called “Chemen lavi miyo (CLM)” in Creole or a Pathway to a Better Life that is run by Fonkoze, Haiti’s largest microfinance organization. Even as a microfinance enterprise Fonkoze realized that to reach the poorest Haitian families means to provide overarching programs that teach rural women who qualify for their CLM program financial and entrepreneurial skills as well as life and relationship skills.
The energy and enthusiasm was palpable as we walked into a room full of eager women entrepreneurs role-playing the everyday dynamic between business owners and their customers. While the room was loaded with fun and laughter during this exercise, its importance was not lost on any of the women who had come to the campus of Coca-Cola Bottlers Nepal Limited’s (BNL) 5by20 training, an initiative to empower 10,000 women business owners across Nepal by 2020. Even though these women are already a part of Kathmandu’s bustling community of urban shop owners, they had come because they realized there are more business skills to learn, hone, and improve. And, as women in micro-enterprise the more skills they learn, the more they can earn for their households in a country where men overwhelmingly dominate the private sector.