Empowered Women Are Harbingers of Development

Empowered Women Are  Harbingers of DevelopmentEmpowered Women Are  Harbingers of Development

Zahra in her mid-twenties is from Garateh village in Esfarayen county in North Khorasan Province.

“Today I stand here – proud and happy,” she says.  “I have hope again in the future.  I feel empowered.”

In commemoration of International Women’s Day (March 8) – a day to reflect upon progress made by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in their communities – the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Iran related Zahra’s story.

“At one point, my husband and I thought about leaving our hometown behind.  It felt as though it was the only option we had left,” she says. “We had to feed our children, but sadly it was so hard to find a job.  And as a woman I could not contribute to the wellbeing of my family.”

Today, the situation in Esfarayen has changed.

Less than a year ago, the Iranian government together with the UNDP, introduced the Carbon Sequestration Project (CSP) in this area. The CSP project aims to promote area-based development in order to sustain the eco-system – including carbon reduction.  It also promotes socio-economic development by creating jobs and income generation.

  Breaking Poverty Cycle

At the heart of the project lies a simple goal – women’s empowerment – not only as a human right, but also because empowered women are a pathway to achieving sustainable development for their communities.

Gender empowerment and eradication of poverty are essential to economic and social development.

“What once seemed impossible is now possible.  As a woman, I am being trained to contribute to my community and break the cycle of poverty,” said Zahra.

Iran has been significantly affected by the negative impact of desertification.  Since 2003, the Forest, Range and Watershed Organization (FRWO) and UNDP have been working together to help “green” the land and sustainably develop large tracts of the Iranian rangeland plains. The CSP project has adopted a special technique to empower vulnerable groups, and especially women.

It is called social mobilization and micro credit – a model that won the best prize in the 2005 Poverty Alleviation Conference in China.

  Micro Credit Approach

The social mobilization and micro credit approach identifies vulnerable families in a community and organizes them into groups of up to twenty persons.  The organizers are given the title of Village Development Groups.  These groups are then trained by the UNDP project in various income-generating and cooperative activities.

Within a year, the groups are sufficiently active to generate increased income.  They also collaborate on more extensive cooperative and social capital projects.  Consequently, the community benefits from best-practices in management.  Overall development increases.  With more disposable income, village groups then turn their attention to protecting rather than destroying their own environment.

Zahra and other motivated women from the village, who had been trained and empowered under the CSP, were able to showcase their work and talent at an exhibition, ranging from handicrafts to traditional culinary delights.

“I think the key factors for success of this project,” said Zahra, “is cooperation and involvement of women – we are truly working together as a community.”