There is a truism. It is that in the developing world (and some would argue, every part of the world) women do most of the work, bear the brunt of economic shocks, suffer disproportionately from domestic abuse. Turn that around to a more positive formula. Women hold families together, achieve as well if not better than men when given economic or educational opportunities and if they can read and write, improve the chances of their children enjoying a better life.
In Tajikistan I worked with an agency that ran a bunch of micro-credit projects across the country. At the most basic level was a program that provided women with loans of US$ 50 which they used to set up small businesses selling bread or cigarettes and soft drinks in the markets. Or perhaps making dresses at home. Each woman was part of a group of friends and neighbours, and each member in the group guaranteed that if one of the members was unable to make the repayments on the loan, they would do so on her behalf. Group guaranteed lending, it’s called. The program had a default rate of less than 2%!
Obviously, the individual women didn’t make fortunes but the income they generated made a huge difference to their families. School fees, shoes, a bit of savings, perhaps even a fan or fridge. Shartuz, is a district in southern Tajikistan, not too far from the Afghan border. This picture was taken when the monthly collections were made. Women paid the program officer back their monthly instalment, plus interest. It was also a time to get together and laugh, share stories and ask questions about how to increase their loans or how improve their business skills.
Now, if you’ve never been in Central Asia then you are missing out. Colours are well loved in this part of the world. And they are thrown about in no particular way other than to make you feel good. The carpets are ornately patterned and most wall space is covered with embroidered tapestries called suzana . Tajik women would be horrified and sad to see how so many Western women dress in black and white. Looking good in Central Asia means shining like a neon light on the Ginza.
This woman was one of the more successful participants in the GGLS program. She ran an open-air stall on the main road near the bus station in Shartuz town.
I spied these high school girls sitting under a tree and approached them with my camera. I made some ridiculously clumsy remark in Russian which got them giggling. And me a nicer picture.