Women make the way

UNDP Eurasia
9 min readMar 8, 2021

What do these women have in common? They’re all leaders in some way, spanning a wide variety of careers and countries and being role models for those women who will come after.

Rajika Musaeva, Photo: UNDP Tajikistan / Takhmina Khakimova

There is no such thing as a man’s or a woman’s profession”

When she was young, Rafika Musaeva was inspired by scientific articles on engineering, which were in abundance in her home. Despite advice to the contrary, she decided to become an electric drive and industrial plants engineer.

A high achiever, she was noticed for her academic accomplishments, active social position and leadership skills during her studies. She was invited to join the Komsomol (communist youth league during the Soviet era), which would serve as a starting point for her political and policy-making career.

During the peak of the crisis and the civil war that hit Tajikistan in the 1990’s, Rafika, then an elected deputy in Parliament, defended the need to keep polygamy illegal. Following the success of the case, she initiated a number of law amendments that laid the foundation for the newly independent country.

In addition to being a politician, scientist and engineer, Rafika is also the founder and leader of Tajikistan’s first Association of Energy Professionals. Combining her love for science and technology with her policy-making experience, she is currently working with UNDP to expand opportunities for women in the energy sector, where they make up only about ten percent of professionals.

Read more of her story here.

Gloria Botnari, left; Natalia Zaiat, right. Photos: UNDP Moldova / Ion Buga

At the age of just 7, Gloria Botnari knows what steps voters should follow at a polling station and, in particular, what precautionary measures they need to take to protect themselves from COVID-19, as well as those around them.

You could say she’s an early leader in civic rights and responsibilities, and happens to have won the second edition of the Electoral Vlogging Contest for children. Her know-how is thanks to the series of electoral comics that have made their way to her school in a village in Moldova. She’s one of 15,000 children throughout the country that received the respective comics through the Centre for Continuous Electoral Training (CCET) with UNDP Moldova and USAID Moldova support.

Natalia Zaiat, a high school principal in the same district, introduce more practical civic and electoral education in her school after a CCET training she attended. She learned new democracy teaching methods, games and alternative sources, which were useful in introducing the topic to classes of different ages.

She hopes she can also be a leader in democracy education. “We aim to be more active in 2021, to participate in different projects, including international ones. We shall continue learning and practicing democracy in school, because we have a beautiful country and we should develop it by being active from the civic standpoint,” she notes.

Read the full story here.

Mariam Bekurashvili. Photo: UNDP Georgia / Nino Zedginidze

Mariam Bekurashvili is one of the first women mediators trained and certified by the Mediators Association of Georgia. As a conflictology professional, Mariam has a multidisciplinary vision of understanding, managing and resolving conflicts based on the principles of negotiation, agreement and non-violence.

“My first case was a family dispute. I was both excited and scared. This case taught me that it is very important to pay attention to details as the result often depends on nuances which you can reveal if you ask the right questions.”

She has been helping resolve conflicts since 2018, after receiving training from an EU-UNDP initiative to promote fair and efficient mediation and arbitration in commercial disputes, enhance the professionalism of Georgian mediators and arbitrators, and improve business environment and access to justice. By end 2020, fifty-five trained and certified professionals had joined her and the first cohort of Georgian mediators, coming from a variety of professional backgrounds and experiences, but all of them fascinated by the opportunity to help people resolve disputes in an efficient, speedy and cost-effective way.

“As a mediator, I have skills and knowledge to help parties transform their destructive conflict into constructive dialogue. I help parties to talk about their misunderstandings.”

Read the full story here.

Nadezhda Prigoda, left, and Ak-Moor Dzhanbolotova. Photos: UNDP Kyrgyzstan / Dmitry Motinov

Civic activist Ak-Moor Dzhanbolotova and family law attorney Nadezhda Prigoda are leading the efforts to reform alimony law and enhance the rights of women and children.

In August 2020, Kyrgyzstan adopted amendments to its Alimony Law to enhance the rights of women and children to collect alimony. In 2018, the country had documented over 40,000 alimony evaders.

The amended law increases access to alimony payments for children and mothers by introducing greater consequences for evaders and the addition of new criteria. The draft law was promoted by the joint UN-EU Spotlight Initiative, a multi-year partnership to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, in close collaboration with civil activists and lawyers like Ak-Moor and Nadezhda.

Ak-Moor, for instance, brought together a community of more than 800 single mothers and negotiated with women MPs to pass amendments to the Family Code of the Kyrgyz Republic. Despite the success, there still is work to be done. “As for implementation, more complex legal mechanisms are needed to be integrated into the judicial system,” says Nadezhda.

Read more about their fight here.

Unlike many young women in her society, Doruntina wanted to see new places and moved far from her family to explore. She made a life there, starting her own family, but still returned back to her hometown to see her family, despite the difficulties.

Maybe she doesn’t sound like such a hero, or that her story is so unique. But Doruntina is actually the “refashioned” heroine of an ancient Albanian fairy tale that is now being turned on its head.

In the original, Doruntina was given away by her brother to a prince far away.

Her mother didn’t approve and the brother promised he would bring back Doruntina home one day…a promise he has to rise from the grave to stay true to.

Fairy tales and traditional stories play a strong (but often subconscious) role in how our societies views stereotypical gender roles. For instance, a common wish in Albania is “next time, let’s hope it is a boy!” In this story, however, people say “next time, let’s hope it is a girl!” Through words and illustrations, children are exposed to more open, inclusive realities, such as a girl chopping wood and a boy knitting.

Doruntina has turned into a role model for freedom, commitment and the noble attribute of staying true to one’s words.

Read more about the new tale here.

Anastasiia Muranova. Photo: UNDP Ukraine / Yuriy Yudin

“What’s it like owning your own business? It’s like putting out a fire that burns everywhere.”

Anastasiia Muranova is in the language business. From one room and five students, she has grown her English school enterprise to three schools and 800 students. She began to study English at the age of five. She practised for two hours every day, opening her first school at age 6. During her life, she has had six different businesses and different jobs.

Women’s role in business leadership in Ukraine is rising, and the country now ranks second in Europe in the share of women among managers and entrepreneurs (self-employed). The ratio of men to women among managers of legal entities and private entrepreneurs was 59.5 percent men to 40.5 percent women in 2020 — much higher than the world average.

Photo: Zhanabek Amankulov for Astana Art Show

Aigerim Akenova believes fashion should have a conscience.

“The textile industry, which is directly related to the fashion industry, is the second-most polluting industry in the world. Fast fashion has created conditions for an exceedingly consumerist life style.”

Her goal is to introduce more sustainability into the industry in general, and her business specifically. That can be everything from how the fabrics are sourced, to creating season-less collections that combat the idea of buying a new set of clothes each season.

The clothes are of a high quality to serve for longer time periods, produced fairly locally, and the brand remains transparent and actively participates in advocating for changes towards sustainable fashion in the local community.

She was inspired by Sustainable Development Goals, specifically Goal 12: responsible consumption and production. UNDP Kazakhstan helped connect her to people in the industry who could help her make a difference.

“Textile production consumes huge amounts of water (second after agriculture). It’s great that the government is finally paying attention to developing textiles locally, however my biggest wish is that sustainability will also be taken into consideration.”

She also sees gender as an issue in fashion. “The majority of fashion consumers are women, but women in the fashion business are the minority. However, in the industry/production there are mostly women, who are often paid unfairly.”

Her company AIKEN aims to have an impact on environment and social considerations of the fashion industry.

Read more about her journey here.

Photo: UNDP Serbia

Jelena is a trained defectologist, a specialist involved in the development, training and education of children with physical and mental disabilities. She became interested in computer programming in university, where she saw the additional benefits these skills could bring to her work in human development.

“As a special educator and rehabilitator of persons with intellectual disabilities, I know that they need support in every aspect of life,” she says. “Since these people are generally very interested in computers and games, interactive and fun educational platforms based on new technologies can help them a lot. However, assistive technology is very expensive in Serbia. Although there are technological solutions in our country that have been imported from abroad and adapted to our language, there are not many people working in this area.”

Jelena participated in an IT Retraining program, tailored to the needs of persons with disabilities, organized by the Youth with Disabilities Forum with the support of the Office for IT, e-Government and UNDP. It emphasizes the importance of acquiring different skills in a rapidly changing world that increasingly relies on new technologies.

She hopes to one day develop her own tools and business. “My desire is to work on technologies that help persons with disabilities in their daily lives. It is a long-term plan for me, and I still have a lot to learn, but I hope that I am on the right path to achieving it.”

Read her story here.

Photo: UNDP Turkey / Levent Kulu

“Men are generally at the forefront in engineering and opinions of women are being dismissed. Women should not keep silent and they should speak out louder.

So says Dilara Dura, an electrical engineer who works at Turkey’s Mersin Model Factory. Women are disproportionally represented in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but through this Covid-19 year they have also disproportionally borne the burden of the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, things became worse for women during the pandemic. Because people spent more time at home, it became a more challenging period for women who were victims of domestic violence. Responsibilities at home further increased. Everyone including children are at home. If psychological violence or pressure exists, women shoulder a greater burden.”

How do women in Turkey feel about their role during this time? Read more.

These are just but a few of the multitudes of women across the Europe and Central Asia region who are making the way in their fields. Whether large or small scale, Their role in everyday life — whether large or small scale — makes an impact on our societies everywhere.