Women Creative Labs: UNDP celebrates Kyrgyzstani Women in the Creative Industries

March 7, 2023
Women Creative Lab in Kyrgyzstan


Are you interested in learning how women are making strides in the creative economy in Kyrgyzstan? Keep reading a blog of Viktoriia Petrova, Head of Exploration of UNDP Kyrgyzstan, to know more.

Participants of the "Women Creative Lab"


The concept of creative work as a labor of love and a manifestation of the artistry tradition is becoming increasingly important in societies that value human development. Despite the many benefits that women's participation in creative work can bring, gender bias still exists in many creative industries. In Kyrgyzstan, where cultural norms often hinder women's advancement, it is crucial to explore innovative models for empowering women that accommodate traditional values without sacrificing their freedom and aspirations.

The Women Creative Lab (WCL), our experimental project was launched in 2022. The WCL is a women-oriented coworking space that provides residents with access to unique training and mentoring support programmes, as well as seed funding to test or accelerate their business ideas in creative industries. The WCL "Akylzhan" in Osh was the first of its kind, and over 100 women and girls shared their aspirations, dreams, and plans during its first year of operation.

Logo of the "Women Creative Lab"


"We are proud to bring together almost 100 women and girls from Osh who shared their aspirations, dreams and plans they have been thinking about for years and make these dreams come true. Entrepreneurs, students, housewives and government employees explored opportunities, exchanged ideas and dreams, uniting and supporting each other. We are happy to acknowledge that throughout the 2022 more than 500 women joined the WCL network through the open events and became ambassadors of the Lab,"- said Gulnur Abylkasymova, WCL Coordinator in Osh.

The WCL team applies human-centered design approach to develop curriculum and mentorship programme that is inclusive and agile. Beside other activities, the WCL offers training, master classes, seminars, psychosocial support, and business start-up resources. It also becomes an inducive environment for exchanging information and knowledge on sexual and reproductive health, gender equality, legal rights, and financial literacy.

“I came across various training programmes, but this is the first time I joined such a laboratory. It turned out to be multifaceted, covering interesting aspects of a woman's life that we simply don't even think about. I met a very advanced group of women who are not easy to gather in Osh right away. For me, as a practicing psychologist, there were a lot of cool insights to consider in the future,”- said the resident of the WCL “Akylzhan”.


Moments from the workshop

The WCL is a safe space where women can overcome their social fears, become more confident, and learn to be honest with themselves, all crucial for unleashing their creativity. With the support of professional mentors, participants are able to take ownership of their personal and professional lives and positively reflect on their participation in the program. The result of the empowerment program was that residents upgraded their skills, started careers after a long break, found new jobs, or launched their own businesses. They continue to collaborate as WCL innovators in joint business initiatives that synergize their talents. The following reflections were shared by the residents of the WCL “Akylzhan”: 

“At some point in my life, I thought that I was destined to be a housewife. My husband is in Russia as a migrant trying to make money for living. I was exhausted with my routine household chores. But when I joined the Women Creative Lab, I discovered myself in a totally new way. Now I am sure that I am able to become an excellent programmer, a handicraft artist while being a good mother."

“I am a religious person and I live in a religious family. Before joining the WCL, I used to think that women are destined to be housewives and limit themselves with everyday household chores. Simultaneously there was something that always attracted me and I could never ignore this feeling of mine. I had a feeling that I could be more useful to others. All members of WCL are so talented and smart! All classes were necessary, important and useful so I recommended my friends and sisters to join the WCL.”

"I am a student and it was a very interesting experience for me to work with women who have faced different challenging situations in their lives. My parents want me to connect my future plans with my future husband and his family. But I don't want to rush. I am convinced that I was right to doubt my parents’ words. Now I am confident that I will create my own destiny. I will apply to schools abroad to become a great international specialist." 

Due to the success of the WCL in Osh, the UNDP is scaling up the WCL network to Batken and Jalal-Abad regions to cover up to 200 rural women, supporting them in finding jobs and creating opportunities to generate sustainable income using their creative skills. The WCL residents in Batken are developing their soft and hard skills, learning how to monetize their hobbies in sewing, cooking, and providing services using digital skills. WCL residents in Jalal-Abad are participating in workshops for personal growth and self-identification and learning how to provide customer services in HoReCa (hospitality, restaurant, and catering) and guide tourists in their area for the best possible experience. The WCLs are expected to become safe platforms of creativity and freedom, not just for residents, but also for the communities, uniting diverse actors interested in local development through the creative economy.

As the result of experimenting, the WCL has become a unique paradigm that can be scaled by UNDP and adopted by grassroots organizations working in the field of women's empowerment. This successfully tested "soft package" can be customized according to the local context and accommodated by different actors. Due to the monetization of residents' creative skills and the innovative nature of the concept toward women's empowerment, the WCL is capable of continuing operations and becoming sustainable, both financially and content-wise.

Moments from the workshop

We believe that the establishment of the WCL network in all regions of Kyrgyzstan might sustain and scale the impact of the Labs where “women support women” environment is elaborating naturally, and residents achieve their goals and realize their dreams faster and easier.  The WCL might become an attractive integrated paradigm from the resource mobilization perspective as it unleashes new opportunities for economic empowerment uniting empowered women and engaging more partners in the network. The Lab is also a great “tool” to promote multidisciplinary digital education, remove destructive gender stereotypes and mainstream innovations toward gender equality with women performing the role of the "agents of change."


If you are interested in learning more about WCL paradigm and collaborating on its further development, please contact me at viktoriia.petrova@undp.org