Women in Iran's poorest province start businesses with UNDP loan
Jamileh Dahmardeh, a young resident of Sistan-Baluchestan, Iran, returned from the local Friday bazaar having sold all the traditional dresses she had made at home. With the money she earned, she could buy the school notebooks she had promised to her eight-year old child.
Sistan-Baluchestan is Iran's poorest province, and with a 900-kilometer border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, it lies on main drug smuggling routes. Two years ago, Dahmardeh passed her days at home in Shirabad, in Iran's south-eastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan, feeling desperate. Like many others there, she had lost her young husband to drug addiction.
Dahmardeh's life is changing, however, and she can now provide for her family of nine, thanks to a small loan obtained through a pilot poverty alleviation project the United Nations Deveoplment Program (UNDP) started in cooperation with the Government's Management and Planning Organization. The Family and Sustainable Development Fund, an Iranian civil society organization, is carrying out the project.
With a $90 loan, she bought a sewing machine, and she is earning more than her brother, the family's only other breadwinner. To launch the project, a team from the UN, the Government and civil society groups went to Nepal for training by the UNDP South Asia Poverty Alleviation Program."After training, we came back to Shirabad and went door to door telling women about the project and the benefits it could bring," said one of three facilitators, Shahnaz Arbabi.
The seven social mobilization and micro-credit community organizations set up in the project have enabled 210 women to take literacy and skills classes. Once a month, the directors and staff of the organizations meet to discuss their progress and problems.
"It is important to note that traditionally, women here do not participate in social activities or leave their homes alone, and they are not allowed to speak in public where men are present," said member of the Family and Sustainable Development Fund, Esmail Hamidi.
Nonetheless, at a recent meeting, the directors talked confidently, summarizing their activities, including new loans given to group members. Now the women go to the municipal government, and even talk to the mayor, to request services for their neighborhoods, such as garbage collection, paving streets, or bringing electricity to their homes.
Many of the women have received loans for new enterprises. Bakhtavar, for example, borrowed about $75 to purchase materials to make traditional dresses. After paying her monthly installment, she has an average income of $15 per month. Nazpari Sargolzei, the mother of five, used the loan she received after her husband's death to buy two ovens for baking bread.
The women have recently rented two stands to sell their products at Friday bazaars, something unprecedented in Shirabad.
Chairman of National Rural Support Program in Pakistan, Shoaib Sultan Khan recently monitored the project and recommended that it be expanded. "We started small, have shown results, and would like to make it a much broader project," says UNDP Program Officer in charge of the project, Ali Farzin. "That way we can extend the benefits of this program to many more families." — (menareport.com)
© 2003 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)
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