Unlike large urban centres, rural areas in Armenia often lack jobs to offer to women, regardless of their age. The region of Shirak in the north-west of the country is one such case, where female unemployment rates remain high. This was the challenge addressed by ‘Lightning’, a local NGO, with a series of small but very concrete steps. Thanks to EU support, the NGO was able to help local women to get new professional and financial skills, which empowered them to self-employment.
“After losing my home in Nagorno-Karabakh I found myself in a very difficult situation. I moved to the Akhuryan community [in Shirak Province] and was looking for a job to earn a living for my seven children,” says 41-year-old Diana Masuryan. “I acquired a profession following a three-month nail-dressing course that also provided the necessary materials and supplies. Now I work as a nail dresser in one of the oldest salons in Gyumri. This work is crucial for me: it helps me to provide for my children and bring food to the table.”
“I am a single mother with two small children,” says Gjulnara Aghaqhanyan, 38, from Bayandur village in the region of Shirak. “Thanks to a four-month hairdressing course I have learned various aspects of hairdressing, including haircuts, hairstyles, and colouring. In parallel to the theoretical knowledge, I had a chance to practice: the models were my own friends and relatives. Now I provide home hairdressing services to the community’s residents.”
Diana and Gjulnara have many things in common: they are both mothers who need to sustain their families. They both needed new skills to find a job. And this is what brought them, together with other women, to the local initiative on promoting women’s self-employment, launched by Lightning in 2022. The initiative is part of a bigger programme, the CommunityPoverty Reduction “Know How” project, supported by the European Union through CRRC-Armenia and the Eurasia Partnership Foundation (EPF). The initiative helps to combat unemployment among women in Akhuryan and Gyumri communities of the Shirak Province by enhancing their entrepreneurial knowledge, skills and opportunities.
“The key challenge addressed by our organisation was to provide training in new professions for women who lacked skills on the labour market,” explains Arevik Mkrtchyan, the head of the Lightning NGO. “We targeted economically or socially disadvantaged mothers, single mothers, women with children whose husbands had been killed or wounded in the war. The public Integrated Social Service Regional Centres helped us with the selection of participants and interviews.”
The initiative offered the ten selected participants courses in hairdressing, nail dressing and financial literacy. In this activity, Lightning – a relatively new organisation – relied on assistance and guidance from the Eurasia Partnership Foundation and local CSOs. For example, the ‘Speak Up’ training centre was selected to deliver nail dressing and hairdressing courses: it provided professional coaches, a comfortable venue, and an opportunity for practical exercises. Another NGO, ‘We’, conducted four online sessions on financial literacy, which equipped the target women with knowledge on the management of personal and family finances, as well as on planning the income and expenses of their small businesses. And finally, graduates from the ‘Arm Strong’ NGO’s School of Skills initiative organised a two-day course on social media to teach the participants how to engage customers online. Talking about the achievements, Arevik Mkrtchyan; the head of the Lightning NGO underlines: “Six women out of ten maintained their self-employment after the courses ended. To support their continued efforts, we provided the women with the necessary materials and tools to work with clients.”
One important outcome of Lightning’s experience was the collaboration and partnerships established with various organisations, extending beyond the region of Shirak – such as the Unified Social Service Local Office – which leveraged additional resources for implementation of the activities. This has motivated the NGO to work on new initiatives in the field of women’s employment in Armenia: “I want to introduce the concept of ‘Women’s Self-Employment’ in the framework of the programme on ‘Developing the Capabilities of Non-Formal Initiative Groups’ [another EU-funded programme to which the NGO is applying], allowing women from our initiative to share their expertise in nail dressing and hairdressing with other unemployed women to amplify its impact,” saysArevik. “I hope that this idea will be selected, and we will bring it to life. Organisations like ours, have a great potential for changing people’s lives and shaping a more resilient and prosperous society.”
Author: Volha Prokharava
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