Advancing Women’s Economic Empowerment: The “Women in Associations” Initiative in Azerbaijan

Aygun Aliyeva, Shalala Kamilova, Catherine Rabus
WNBA Steering Committee meeting

As we enter a new year, CIPE’s Europe & Eurasia Department takes a moment to reflect on our past accomplishments. One particularly transformative project that has reshaped the role of women in Azerbaijan’s dynamic economic landscape is the ‘Women in Associations’ initiative. Launched in October 2020, this initiative, a key component of the USAID Private Sector Activity, stands as a beacon of hope and progress that catalyzed the empowerment of women-led and women-focused business and professional associations.

This strategic initiative was designed to address the unique challenges faced by women entrepreneurs and professionals in Azerbaijan. Recognizing the existing gaps in support and resources for women in the business sector, the CIPE team, in collaboration with its partners, worked diligently to enhance organizational capacities, formulate effective advocacy strategies, and foster a supportive environment for women’s economic participation.

Workshop on building associations’ institutional capacity, facilitated by Bob Harris, a CIPE Association Management Expert

At the heart of this initiative lay a comprehensive capacity-building program, encompassing a series of workshops, mentorship opportunities, and support mechanisms for 22 women’s business associations. Key activities included implementing robust self-governance practices and enhancing membership services within the participating organizations to develop strong policy advocacy skills and ensure financial stability. A large majority of these organizations demonstrated substantial improvements in their operational and strategic capabilities following their participation in the program. Take, for example, the Association of Small and Medium Business Entities and Clubs (KOBSKA), which expanded its membership by 37, established an eight-member team, and achieved financial sustainability through a diversified income portfolio that included membership dues, projects, services, and sponsorships. Notably, KOBSKA successfully restructured its Board of Directors, resulting in a more comprehensive understanding of the board members’ roles and responsibilities and actively contributing to KOBSKA’s growth.

WNBA Launching event

In addition to the success of the organizational capacity-building program, the CIPE team supported its partners to develop the groundbreaking Women’s National Business Agenda (WNBA). This document synthesized insights from over 1,000 private sector representatives and served as a pivotal tool in advocating for women’s rights in business. The WNBA played a crucial role in influencing policy and legislative changes, thereby advancing the economic reform agenda of the Azerbaijani government. This agenda paved the way for greater involvement of women entrepreneurs in decision-making processes, marking a significant shift in the business landscape.

“Access to Finance” training in Masalli, Azerbaijan

Guided by the WNBA, Azerbaijan’s Parliament amended its Labor Code, introducing comprehensive changes that addressed issues ranging from improved leave policies to greater representation of women in managerial roles. These amendments empower pregnant women and mothers, eliminate job restrictions for women, and address workplace harassment and discrimination. The focus now shifts towards the effective implementation and enforcement of these changes to ensure their impact in creating a more equitable workforce in Azerbaijan.

The initiative also excelled in equipping women with essential skills and knowledge. Over 700 women underwent training in financial literacy, digital skills, and market access, preparing them not only to navigate the challenges of the modern business world but also empower them to seize emerging opportunities.

The success of this initiative serves as a blueprint for designing effective women’s economic empowerment projects in the new year and beyond. It underscores the importance of continuous support for women’s associations and emphasizes the pivotal role of the business sector in advocacy efforts for positive change.

While the “Women in Associations” initiative in Azerbaijan formally closed in September 2023, its far-reaching achievements demonstrate that it is more than just a project; it’s a movement. CIPE and its partners remain committed to advancing this movement towards a future where women’s economic empowerment is not just a goal but a tangible reality. As we reflect on the accomplishments of this initiative, it becomes evident that the journey towards women’s economic empowerment has only just begun, and the road ahead is filled with possibilities and promise.

Published Date: February 02, 2024