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 change for women 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 this 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 help to 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 that she 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. She makes women’s clothes and sells them from home 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 enduring an abusive relationship. Without a means to support her child, Hasmik moved in with her parents and immediately contacted the WRC for help, who then 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 prepare for job screening and apply to a number of jobs relevant to her skill-set and background. After circulating her resume to employers in Yerevan and the other regions, Hasmik was soon offered a job in a food factory as a quality manager where she is now able to make enough to cover her rent 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.