Central Asian women have long been seen as having strong character and perseverance. Many have had to cope with economic hardship, including unemployment and poverty, following the collapse of socialism and economic transformation in 1990s. Women lost ground as traditional gender stereotypes prevailed. Now they are slowly coming out and regaining a more active role in society.
In May 2008, when I took over as national director of a housing nonprofit operation in Tajikistan, our organization was helping about a dozen families a year build houses. By 2010, my team was supporting thousands of families through small housing loans and construction assistance across the country. Last year we helped more than 13,000 people improve their living conditions and get construction related skills.
I was the youngest member of the team and a woman, 29 years old. I was unsure of myself and had limited experience, so needed to learn everything on the go in a very male dominated environment. But I wanted the responsibility. I think that my strong character and communication skills were the keys to success.
I was able to change the course of work and take tough decisions by setting clear goals and tasks for the team and explaining everything in detail. I won my team's respect. My mostly male team could see that I was as strong as they were. They also realized that I could support them in difficult moments, listen to them, and never let them down. I am one of them.
So far, my biggest challenge has been the traditional approach of society to women. I believe that many women do not realize their dreams simply because our society cannot accept that women earn more than man and women can be active in the public sphere. This is what I struggle with even in my own family, especially with my in-laws. After all these years, they still find it hard to accept that I am a working mother and wife. I have to take care of my three children, two sons and a daughter.
At the start of my career, I was one of the few women dealing with partners, government officials or important donors. Now I see more and more women in leadership roles. In Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan I interact mostly with women who head organizations or hold senior positions.
Women need to develop themselves and move forward. This is the only solution and is the approach I take at work. For example, when we launched a new type of small housing loan that combined financing with free construction assistance, it became very popular among women who are often both breadwinner and head of family. We help them learn how to manage construction projects and take care of their homes.
Helping those in need and supporting people with housing solutions is our mission but it is not enough. We need to develop our society. We are happy we have donors who support our work, but we need to create communities and learn to solve our own problems. No one can help us. We should be self-sufficient and sustainable.
Image was taken by Stefan Hacker from Habitat for Humanity.