This is me: pedagogue, businesswoman and Director of refrigerator repair shop

The interview was conducted by Alpamis Babaniyazov

December 13, 2022
Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

Zarifakhon Mamatqulova is a woman who could find an explanation to her spouse’s question: “You are a teacher, professor and a researcher. Why do you need this job in technical sphere, if you, as a woman, have to work with men?”.

Her story is an eye-opening experience that proves the professions have no gender and that gender equality is fully possible in all fields.

Zarifakhon, was born in the village of Kum Khiyali, Dangara district of Fergana region. From younger ages, just like any children in her village used to be active both in school activities and family, helping parents with household chores. Sharing her memories from childhood, she highlights the important role of parents in her success in life.

“Yes, there was a lot to do at home, we carried water, we herded cows if needed, she said. If compare, children in rural area likely to have more work than children in cities. However, I can say that this is nothing compared to the care our parents gave us. I am very grateful to my father who created all comfortable conditions to grow, he even arranged a classroom at home, so that we could concentrate on our study. He and mother used to sit next to us and together learn things. He used to bring lots of proverbs and sayings that helped us to dream about our future. Particularly, this one, “If a family grows an academic person, its seven generations will be protected from the pain of two worlds”, drove me to dream of becoming a teacher and an educated person for my father.”

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

Zarifakhon’s dream brought her to Fergana city and study at Fergana State University where she learnеd the fundamentals of teaching. Although she was experiencing the challenges of urban life, she actively took part in social life of the University. Around the time of graduation, she was lucky to participate in the workshop organized by the Center "Combating any discrimination against rural women". She was one of the thirty women who was born in the village and guided the workshop organizers through the challenges rural women faced. Feeling satisfied with the atmosphere of the gender workshop, she stated:

“It was a feel-at-ease place where I was learning about worldviews on gender equality, roles of man and woman in life and many more. Since that time, I started thinking differently about women’s role in society.” 

Her easy-going personality and thoughts about women were noticed by the Center representatives and she was encouraged to interview for a job. “I was excited with the opportunity, she said. “However, my lack of English language was frustrating. I witnessed my peer getting selected, she knew the language well, though didn’t know much about rural life. This left me with ache in my heart.”

This situation triggered another dream. She dreamt her family would learn foreign languages. “My children will learn languages, if possible five different languages, she stated. “They [children] will conquer the peaks I couldn’t.”

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

Both she and her husband working as young teachers and renting an apartment, realized that the idea of children taking language courses requires higher expenses and strong efforts from parents. So, they thought whether starting some business would be helpful. This was the first steps into entrepreneurship world. “We opened a small stationery store and tried our best to enter the trade sector. Soon realized it required lots of efforts to own the field,” she stated. “That was a great experience. I understood the main thing was that everyone may fail, but there is a huge wisdom in getting back on your feet.”

While keeping on personal and professional life, she succeeded on earning Doctorate and professorship of the International Academy of Sciences, excellency in public education, doctorate of philosophy in pedagogic sciences, and eleven international level certificates. All these engagements on national and international levels led her to support the international developments. She used to participate in various trainings covering development goals of government. One of the trainings she took was part of the Startup contest for women and girls to support the gender mainstreaming in the technical area such as Refrigeration and air-conditioning sector (RAC), organized by the joint project of State ecology committee, UN Development Programme and Global Environment Facility.

“Firstly, when heard about refrigerators, air conditioners and freons, it seemed boring to me frankly, I almost quit”, she recalled. “But my daughter joined me and explained that these trainings were relevant to green technologies and business plan for women startup project. I got interested and fully engaged when it came to managers and business plan makers session.”

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

This was the second chance to try her entrepreneurship skills. She shared her business experience, what entrepreneurship requires, marketing needs during the training. “Why shouldn’t I use my knowledge in this technical field as well?" she thought and actively participated in the process of business plan development.

Continuing on this path, she became more and more interested in becoming a business woman and set herself a goal to win the contest and open a new company that would provide service in refrigeration and air-conditioning sector. She was so happy when her next dream fulfilled. “When they [contest organizers] called and informed that I was one of the winners, I was confident I was doing the right thing.”

Yet, becoming a winner and receiving RAC tools and equipment was the very first milestone in her startup business. The more she was engaged with establishing new company the more she faced challenges. “Especially I, as a woman director, had a hard time at the initial stage, whatever you say, I am a teacher, I speak like a teacher”, she said. She realized how hard it was to professionally implement this business while she herself was new in it. She understood that just renting a place and hiring technicians alone won’t bring good income as expected. She received less positive feedback about technicians she hired. “The main challenge was hiring the right technicians, because if the technicians are not experienced and if the customers’ needs are not fully satisfied, it does not help a good reputation”, she stated. Once her husband even shared his concern: “Why do you need this job in technical sphere, if you, as a woman, have to work with men? You are a teacher, professor and a researcher”. 

Nevertheless, she worked hard. She hired a new team of qualified technicians after establishing cooperation with other RAC companies in Fergana, she participated in master-class sessions in Tashkent. “If one man can do what another man does, then a woman can also do that”, she used to say. She found a good place for a repair shop and started spreading the word among colleagues during meetings that she opened a RAC company and that they can bring their broken fridges and ACs.

Photo: UNDP uzbekistan

Slow but sure, she moved to her success. These days she hears positive feedback about her technicians from neighborhood. “It was rewarding to receive thankful feedback from community and happy to see that this repair shop supports the families of five technicians”, she said. “I don’t do stats, but if I count five-six clients a day average, twenty days a month, then it is more than a hundred services provided to the population.”

Her daughter Shahzodakhon Mamatqulova is always by her side since the trainings. All the actions and decisions taken by Zarifakhon positively resulted in daughter’s interest in the field of business. She also helps her mother with running the shop. This way, once male-dominated field is being mastered by women-entrepreneurs, enabling greater gender equality.

By the way, the response Zarifakhon gave to her husband was: Dear, if we are lucky, we will retire soon and we won’t have to worry about our retirement. We will run this workshop together and make a living from this business, and it keep us busy.” Her partner agreed. Now, it is a green family business.