Our Perspectives

Closing the Gap: Delivering impact for gender equality in Europe and Central Asia


Women attending a workshop on DIY solar water heatersParticipants practice bending cuprum pipe for do-it-yourself solar water heaters during a workshop in Jilikul, Tajikistan. UNDP Photo

In Namangan in Uzbekistan, a long-standing dream for a crafts centre came true. In Misi village in Turkey, a silk unit for niche products, another dream child of a group of women, is having a fourth year of success, against all odds. In Jilkul village in Tajikistan, another group of women have gained more income and more time for their families by learning to set up solar water heaters.

These are some ways in which UNDP is supporting gender equality and women’s empowerment in the Europe and Central Asia region.

In our newly published report, Closing the Gap, we present some of the work we’ve done for gender equality in 19 countries and territories in the region over the past year. We chose projects with measurable impact in a range of areas: economic empowerment, access to resources and essential services, combating discriminatory social norms, promoting participation in decision-making, and building resilience.

In highlighting these initiatives, I found that they had some factors in common that were key to their success. One was a mentoring approach adopted by UNDP.

To develop the crafts centre in Uzbekistan (as part of the UNDP Aid for Trade project), we supported Risliq Djuraeva and three other women who decided to take it on as a cooperative venture. UNDP not only provided the centre with sewing equipment, but also reviewed the business plan and strategy to ensure that the new business met high standards and was sustainable. Within its first year, 88 women had joined the cooperative. Today, two years later, 24 women are officially employed in the cooperative, which means that they enjoy pension benefits.

A second and related approach we adopted was to build the confidence of women and communities and show them that “another world is possible.”

In Kyrgyzstan, where young girls give up their education for early marriage, a life skills course run by UNDP helped to convince parents to keep their daughters in high school. We found that the course had a dramatic impact: it led to a 200 percent increase in the number of girls completing their formal education in 2013-2014, and gaining practical skills in information and communications technology and in sewing to help them find jobs.

What I found most heartening was that our work helped to boost women’s self-esteem and make them confident that they can do big things. Asiye Kürklü from Misi village in southeast Turkey is one of 45 women who received a collective grant to help them set up a silk house and cocoon house to make and market niche silk products. “I have been enjoying producing, earning, having my own money,” Kürklü says. “There was no such thing before. This has been good for me.”

Beyond these small schemes with big impact, we also show in Closing the Gap how UNDP helped countries to reach historic milestones – for example, in tackling violence against women. In Croatia, with our support, the Government drafted a law – the first of its kind in the region – to provide civilian victims of sexual violence in armed conflict with a comprehensive set of reparations.

In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, UNDP partnered with UN Women, women’s organizations and others to help shape the first law on the prevention of domestic violence. Our advocacy helped to shift public perceptions of domestic violence from a private family affair to what it really is – a profound violation of human rights.

This award-winning video, with testimony from a survivor of intimate partner violence, showed me just how far-reaching our work has been, with foundations laid to protect women from further violence.

Blog post Gender equality Europe & Central Asia Jobs and livelihoods Bharati Sadasivam

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