Dec. 2014—In the mountainous Dashkasan district of rural Azerbaijan, old habits die hard. Many families maintain patriarchal traditions and women aren’t often encouraged to speak up. Hardly any woman has held a top government position in this district. But now things are changing.
Once shy and retiring, 36-year-old Aida Naghiyeva figured she would become a farmer like her friends. She enrolled in agricultural classes and found work as an accountant to support herself. Then, in June 2012, Naghiyeva began attending leadership training at the Ganja Regional Women's Center organized under the USAID-supported Women’s Participation Program (WPP) implemented by Counterpart International.
“I’m an ordinary Dashkasan woman, so it never occurred to me to prove to others I could lead,” said Naghiyeva. “I didn’t consider the good things I could accomplish as a leader. All the strong women at the training made me think, ‘Why shouldn’t I be a leader too?’”
Over the past two years, WPP has partnered with four women’s centers across Azerbaijan to build the confidence and communications skills of more than 5,000 women, helping prepare them to effectively express their ideas and participate more fully in their communities and careers.
“The training helped me realize my own interests and talent,” said Naghiyeva. “I gained confidence that helps me every day, both at work and in my life. Once I learned to believe in myself, I became more vocal and proactive. Now I don’t limit my goals.”
When Naghiyeva realized her own leadership potential, others did, too. In December 2013, she was promoted and has since held two key positions in local government, serving as the deputy director of the Dashkasan Executive Office and as director of the Department of Agriculture.
Now, she encourages other women to attend the WPP training, which she sees as a rare and valuable opportunity for women to meet other local female leaders. Here, women can gather in a safe and encouraging environment to share their stories and ideas and learn from one another.
“It’s tough being a woman in Azerbaijan,” said Naghiyeva. “It doesn’t matter who you are, all women face gender discrimination. There aren’t many places where women can go to develop their skills. The training brings us together to talk about our problems and find solutions. Now we know what we’re capable of, as one or as many.”
The skills Naghiyeva has gained will be with her forever, helping her in all aspects of her life. Her leadership training was part of more than 100 training sessions organized by USAID to date to help women in Azerbaijan become stronger, more active members of their own families, communities and government.
The Women’s Participation Program, which runs from 2011 to 2015, is designed to improve the status of women in Azerbaijan by raising public awareness on issues that affect women and empowering more women to engage in political processes.
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Last updated: December 18, 2014