15 Feb 2021
GENDER LEADERSHIP SCHOOL GRADUATES TRAIN THEIR COMMUNITIES
A group of 25 women and five men from Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia are heading into 2021 with a new ambition bolstered by improved skills to foster female leadership and battle gender inequality
They are the recent graduates of the Asian region’s first Fairtrade Gender Leadership School who are set on sharing their newly-gained knowledge and experience with their families, cooperatives and communities.
“I participated in the school and got knowledge about gender equality, financial education, project writing, proper communication, and team building. I spread my knowledge among village women. I became a public speaker and learned how to explain my full opinion,” says Irisalieva Uulkan, who was honored with her certificate along with the other programme particpants during the Gender Leadership School graduation ceremony in Kyrgzstan on 22 December 2020.
During the year-long course, women are taught to understand equality and what their rights are, while learning business skills and ways of monitoring and managing resources. Special importance is put on finance, negotiation and applying for funded projects. Men are also invited to join the training to get a better understanding of gender equality and to learn how to support women when it comes to them having a stronger voice, pursuing and taking on management roles in farmer organizations.
The Gender Leadership School in Kyrgzstan, launched by the Fairtrade Network of Asia & Pacific Producers (NAPP) and co-funded by the EC Framework Partnership Agreement (EC PFA) project, follows a number of initiatives across the Fairtrade regions that aim to provide gender equality education and strengthen women’s positions in their communities. Also in other fields, Fairtrade has replicated effective programmes in various regions, adapting them to address the local context.
Within Fairtrade, gender equality education has its roots in Côte d’Ivoire, Africa, where the first Women’s School of Leadership saw the light of day in May 2017. The Fairtrade Africa initiative aimed to support female farmers to utilize smart farming strategies to diversify their income, develop their skills to set up businesses and become leaders in their Fairtrade certified cocoa cooperatives.
Gender equality education programmes then spread to Latin America, where the first three schools opened in El Salvador with more than 100 participants, and later, in October 2018, 109 women from six Fairtrade producer organizations in Guatemala graduated from the Guatemalan Women’s Economic Empowerment and Leadership School. Providing tools that facilitate the knowledge of women's rights, seeking equal opportunities and inclusion of women in organizations are at the heart of gender equality education programmes of the Latin American and Caribbean Fairtrade Network, CLAC.
And now, in Central Asia, Fairtrade walnut and cotton farmers from the NAPP coops in Kyrgyzstan join the growing number of farmers and workers worldwide who are benefitting from gender equality education.
To select the students, small-scale producer organizations were asked to recommend members as candidates for the training. These women and men then applied and went through an interview process before the final selection was made.
A key aspect of the recent GLS programme was that participants were also certified to be trainers themselves, to be able to pass on what they’ve learned about gender-related issues to their own organizations and communities. Training women and men to become trainers on gender balance is intended to have a ripple effect, raising more awareness for the topic in rural areas, where enduring gender imbalance is often perceived as set-in-stone. "I participated in the school and now distribute the experience in rural areas,” states Dilbar Sydykova, also a recent GLS graduate.
The graduation ceremony marked the end of an intense year of practical learning that was divided into 10 training modules. Financial education, an income generating programme and a thorough understanding of gender equality were on the agenda, as well as learning how to write project proposals and apply for funded projects.
“We have formed a small group with 14 women from the village. I applied and got approved for the micro-project “Dairy Products Processing,” says Dilbar Sydykova, a resident of Kzyl Unkur village. Dilbar Sydykova is not the only one who’s already seeing the fruits of her work and learnings. “I learned how to write and apply for projects and now we are already implementing one," Toktomamatova Gulza proudly tells us.
During the graduation ceremony, the results of the course were summarized along with a presentation of a gender analysis of the country. The graduates presented the results of their activities based on the skills they had learned during the training, including how to start a small business, how to work in a team and how to plan family income and expenses. How to provide support when acts of violence against women take place was also presented as a key learning. The participants were then awarded certificates by the representative of the Kyrgyzstan Government, Kanyshai Kadyrova, from the Jalal-Abad State Administration Development Department and Zhanybek Borkoshev, Coordinator of Internal Control System (ICS) and ACSC certification, Bio Farmer Coop.
A commitment to engaging more men and women in further trainings also came from the government representative attending the event. All of the participants pledged to continue to raise awareness in their communities and serve as leading examples by creating small businesses in rural areas. Zholodshova Mavliude is a member of the Bio Farmer Coop which produces Fairtrade organic cotton. She says attending the GLS has changed the way she views gender equality. “I had an incomplete understanding that gender equality only means protecting the rights of women. I am working as a teacher and can share my knowledge among students. If we explain the concept of gender equality to children, I believe they will be able to use gender equality correctly.”
In 2021, with co-financing from the European Commission Framework Partnership Agreement project, NAPP is planning to continue rolling out the GLS programme to other countries in the Asia Pacific Region, including Pakistan and Indonesia.