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«Recognition and valuing the role of rural women» – collection of stories

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The stories compiled in this book  represent women from Tavush and VayotsDzorMarzes, who are engaged in agricultural consumer cooperatives, which were established within the framework of Oxfam’s “Economic Justice” program.

 

Oxfam in Armenia has been implementing charity and development programs for more than 20 years now. We recognize and promote the role of rural women and their contribution to the agricultural development, provision of food security and eradication of poverty and in all ourendeavoursfollow the motto “Women are the soul and heart of our programs”.

 

Since 2010, in the poorest border villages of Tavush and VayotsDzor, 25 cooperatives were established with Oxfam’s assistance, where 64 % of members are women. Many of these women have already won great achievements, such as receiving  “The Female Food Hero” award, and some of them are still taking the path of fulfilling expectations. For some women working at the cooperative is the only source for their family’s survival, while for others it is an opportunity to make extra money. Nevertheless, all of them are united by a hope and faith that hasbeen awakened in their communities thanks to cooperatives. “Much has changed in our lives,”say women, meaning not only their personal achievements, but also the positive changes taking place in their communities.

 

According to Margarita Hakobyan, the Country Director of Oxfam in Armenia, many issues are being resolved due to the operation of agricultural cooperatives: the idea of social enterprise is realized, access to loans is facilitated, hope is awakened in people, and migration and migrant labour is lessened(which hold special signicagancefor the border-area regions of the Republic of Armenia).

 

Thanks to the joint efforts of Oxfam and its partners – the Business Support Centre (BSC) and the Scientific Centre of Vegetable and Industrial Crops (SCVIC) of the RA Ministry of Agriculture – around 3,000 small holder farmers have increased their income by 30%. These farmers also make use of new agricultural entrepreneurial infrastructures, such as 20 greenhouses, which help to adapt to climate change and grow non-traditional crops, and which are operating based on the social enterprise model. Small holder farmers also utilize nine refrigeration centers, which have been established for the purpose of storage of fruits and vegetables, and offer cooperative members and other residents of communities the opportunity of storing harvest, as well as two community production units for processing of fruits and berries. The loans provided by The HorizonFoundation, a local partner of Oxfam, are accessible to all small entrepreneurial farmers and members of agricultural cooperatives. The cooperatives have also establish new connections with wholesalersand retailors to sell their harvest.

 

One of the innovations brought to life within the framework of Oxfam’s “Economic  Justice” program is establishing cooperatives of women. Presently eight cooperatives of women already function in Tavush and VayotsDzorMarzes.

 

Margarita Hakobyan, Oxfam in Armenia Country Director notes  that the core idea of establishing cooperatives of women was born as a result of of men’s migration for labour, even though the priority was to effectively utilize women’s potential. “We make an attempt to mitigate the migration problem by linking women to the village, by engaging them in economic activities. For that purpose we also decided to establish women cooperatives. Our objective was to encourage women, improve their self-confidence, and increase their economic opportunities”, she says. The outcome was more than positive, because female farmers, in parallel to economic achievements, were also willing to participate in decision-making processes in relation to their communities.

 

“Our experience proves that these cooperatives are more sustainable, women have effective business skills, are more responsible and dutiful, and observe the principle of social justice better, as compared to the case when a cooperative is headed by a man. The experience shows also that a male manager more widely spreads his authority over other members, personal interests become a priority, and the principle of social justice and accountability is pushed back”, says Margarita Hakobyan.

 

When talking about women’s cooperatives, Arthur Gomktsyan, Oxfam Economic Justice Program Officer notes that unlike mixed cooperatives (with men and women members) women’s cooperatives are more organized and transparent and show greater results. Mixed cooperatives quite often face two problems. “First, women mostly abstain from participating in decision making and not because they are forced by men to act so. It is their own decision conditioned by traditional way of thinking. And second, men are more practical and when they do not see the expected results very soon, they get disappointed,” Arthur says.

 

Conversations with women cooperative members prove that cooperatives bring about significantly important changes in their lives and social status. They feel an increase in self-esteem, their opinions are recognized in their communities and they acquire a certain civil stance. Having gained a good reputation among village people these women attempt to participate and win in local government elections so that they can change something in villages.

 

The most important characteristic of cooperatives established by Oxfam in Tavush and VayotsDzorMarzes is that they are based on the concept of social enterprise. This means that the greenhouses or refrigerating farms operating within the framework of cooperatives generate income not only for the cooperative members and their families, but assist the entire communitytoo, since some portion of income is directed towards solutionsto the social problems of each community.

 

Experience shows that up to 40% of revenue generated from operation of the greenhouses or refrigerating farms can be directed towards the solution of social problems and the needs of the community. The concept of social enterprise is brand new for Armenia, yet its implementation vital, not only in terms of finding solutions for urgent community problems, but also reducing the vulnerability of rural communities against climate changes, including damages caused by hails recorded almost every year.

 

One of the major objectives of the “Economic Justice” program implemented by Oxfam is reduction of poverty, as well as establishment of social justice. Both the social enterprise model, and the idea of women’s cooperatives fit the scope of this objective. The situational analysis of rural women in agriculture shows that all the major problems currently existing in rural areas have an especially severe impact on women as the main labour force in the agricultural sector, thus making them the most vulnerable group, who are in need of additional assistance. In this respect, women’s cooperatives can be regarded as an operational and perspective model for many other villages in the Republic. The actions targeted towards expansion of women’s opportunities and efficient utilization of their potential are not an end in itself, but they are intended to promote the well-being and development of Armenian villages. Armenian villages will revive only due to joint and unified work and strength of both men and women.

 

***

The stories of women compiled in the book were gathered within the framework of the project “Improving Small Holder Farming through Agricultural Cooperatives and Value Chain Development in Tavush Marz, Armenia” implemented by Oxfam in cooperation with the Business Support Centre (BSC) and the Scientific Centre of Vegetable and Industrial Crops (SCVIC) of the RA Ministry of Agriculture, and with financial assistance of the Austrian Development Cooperation.

 

You can read the Book  here

 

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