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Challenging Norms to Put a Roof Over Their Heads

13/08/2015 11:41 BST | Updated 11/08/2016 10:59 BST

Empowering women in Tajikistan

Sitting in her a cheerful garden full of cherries, peppers, and herbs you would never know that Shamsikhon Kholova's life was ever any different. But it was. Six years ago, she and her six children lived in a one-room, mud brick house with a leaking ceiling.

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Shamsikhon lives in the Kumsangir district, one of Tajikistan's poorest regions. Like most of her neighbors, the families are led by women because more than half of the men work in Russia or Kazakhstan. And, while they, like her son, send money home to take care of their families and account for roughly half of the country's GDP, it is the women who raise the children, work in the fields, and try to keep a roof over their families' heads.

Tajikistan also has strong traditions that work against women who head households. It is frowned upon for women to meet men outside of the family. That could make getting help pretty difficult. To help Shamsikhon and the tens of thousands of women like her, we developed a construction and renovation loan program to help improve living conditions in rural areas. Since it is rare for women in the country to have construction experience, the program offers free advice and assistance on top of a loan to guide them through the process of renovating or building their homes. At the same time, women are offered financial trainings and assistance on how to manage and repay their loans.

In Tajikistan, the average person lives on just $2 a day meaning almost half of the population lives below the poverty line. It also has the lowest level of housing in the former Soviet Union--163 dwellings per 1,000 inhabitants. People do not have a lot of money around here and cannot build or buy a whole house. They can only afford to spend $30 to $45 per month to repay loans. That means they have to build in stages. This can be problematic for many families who cannot finish their houses before winter arrives. It gets very cold here in winter, especially if you don't have a proper floor or ceiling. With loans, women can immediately finish and start living in at least two rooms avoiding having to live in open or temporary shelters during the cold months.

Loan programs help women who cannot afford the interest rates banks charge for short term loans--usually around 30 percent. Loans average around $1,000, but can be as small as $200 to $300. People generally pay back $15 to $65 a month, with an average payment of around $40 a month according to schedules agreed with loan officers. Normally, repayments are done within a year or a year and a half.

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Sitting in her garden, surrounded by her daughters and grandson, Shamsikhon says that even some men in the village don't have such a house as hers. They come to her and ask she was able to do it. They still wonder how a single mother like Samsikhon was able to do the work of man. Samsikhon is very proud of her house and what she has been able to accomplish. You can see her story also in this video.

Photo, video: John Wendle for Habitat for Humanity EMEA