After nearly 27 years of independence from the former Soviet Union, Tajikistan has navigated a fragile transition from a planned to a market economy. However, much of its economic growth is attributed to remittances earned by migrant workers abroad, mainly in Russia. In 2014, Tajikistan was the most remittance-dependent economy in the world, with remittances accounting for 49% of its GDP.
Many challenges facing women in the Tajik economy are different from those encountered by men. Though the female labor force participation is around 45%, women tend to be employed in fields where the average income is lower such as healthcare, education, and agriculture. Women also bear a major burden of unpaid household work, whether or not they are employed in the formal sector. Both rural and urban women spend, on average, over 30 hours a week on unpaid domestic work in Tajikistan. The time invested in tending to the household directly affects women’s ability to participation in the paid workforce, personal and professional development, and entrepreneurship. 
The aforementioned migrant labor patterns have resulted in many female-headed households, dependent on remittances from male relatives working abroad. The current period of negative growth in Russia has meant many migrant workers are the first to be let go, resulting in even more Tajik households without income.
Women are less likely than men to consider entrepreneurship as a career path, largely because they don’t see other women entrepreneurs as role models. Low participation of women in business, as entrepreneurs and senior managers, has been shown to undermine a country’s economic potential. In Central Asia, structural barriers and local social norms create additional constraints for women to pursue entrepreneurship, undermining their mobility, access to resources and networks. Unfortunately, entities setup to promote enterprise development have often re-enforced gender inequality. One study of 18,000 firms supported by business incubators found that only 6 percent were women run. Only recently are some of the world’s leading venture capital firms and incubators beginning to come to terms with widespread sexual discrimination.
There is significant potential for fostering a culture of entrepreneurship amongst the women who remain in Tajikistan. The social benefits associated with women’s economic participation and their ownership and control of productive assets include speeding up development, reduced poverty and inequalities and improved children’s nutrition, health, and school attendance. Women typically invest a higher proportion of their earnings in their families and communities than men.
Women-led businesses in Tajikistan tend to be concentrated in small-scale production in sectors such as handicrafts, tailoring, beauty salons and catering services. Accelerate Prosperity, is working to harness women’s untapped economic potential by providing them with a unique range of technical supports to diversify their business offerings, and support them in growing their value chain. Accelerate Prosperity also facilitates connections for women to access the full range of credit, banking and financial services and facilities essential to more fully develop their assets, their land and their businesses.
In its first year of operations in Tajikistan, Accelerate Prosperity has worked directly with 142 women who participated in the business incubation program, of which 8 went on to complete the business acceleration program. Three women were selected to receive innovation capital from Accelerate Prosperity’s investment committee to grow their businesses.
Abduraimova Chonamo from Ishkashim Region increased the efficiency of her cashmere yarn business with the support she received from Accelerate Prosperity, by purchasing her own yarn processing equipment and completing construction of her workshop. This enabled her to reduce the lag time she previously encountered with sending the wool for processing in Afghanistan, increase the volume of production, enhance quality control and employ four additional women.
Kumushay Tajalieva from Murghab Region has been a serial entrepreneur for more than 20 years, starting out as an importer; she also managed a livestock business for over 17 years and eventually started her own hotel. Her vision was to expand her traditional yak farming business, but she struggled to attract capital. Seed capital from Accelerate Prosperity has enabled her to expand her animal husbandry capacity to produce high-quality meat and dairy products in the spring.
Accelerate Prosperity also works with communities to ignite a culture of entrepreneurship in Tajikistan through its signature competition, Prosperity Cup. People with business ideas from across Tajikistan are challenged to compete against each other for seed financing. The competition consists of six stages including a one-week long summer camp and incubation period, trainings, pairing competitors with appropriate mentors, investment-readiness training, and pitching sessions.
In 2018, Accelerate Prosperity will launch its first Women’s Prosperity Cup to help break down some of the barriers to women’s participation in the entrepreneurship ecosystem.
One of the inaugural Prosperity Cup Top 10 Finalists, Nazira Dilyobova, an apparel-printing entrepreneur, shared her experience with the competition, “After working for my brothers for so long, I never thought that, I too, could become an entrepreneur someday. Prosperity Cup made me realize that I have all it takes to become a successful businesswoman.”
Accelerate Prosperity will also host a women’s entrepreneurship forum this year, where successful businesswomen from each region of Tajikistan will share their experiences with aspiring young women entrepreneurs. Accelerate Prosperity will collaborate with other national and international organizations that support women’s entrepreneurship to raise awareness about the availability of resources for women seeking to establish their own businesses and increase the number of women-led businesses in Tajikistan.
About Accelerate Prosperity: Accelerate Prosperity was established as an initiative of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) in 2015, in recognition that existing enterprise development efforts for Central Asia and neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan were inadequate to promote locally-driven entrepreneurship and small and medium enterprise (SME) development. With decades of economic experience in these frontier economies, the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) and the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development’s (AKFED) jointly designed Accelerate Prosperity to catalyze new region-wide enterprise growth.
Joanna Shackleton is currently participating in an Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC) Fellowship as a Donor Relations Coordinator at Accelerate Prosperity, Tajikistan. She is based in Dushanbe, and supports two regional offices in developing their program plans, composing proposals and donor reports and designing communications tools and collateral. She holds a Masters in International Development and Globalization from the University of Ottawa. Joanna is originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba and grew up in Newmarket, just outside of Toronto, Ontario.
Kumushay Tajalieva attracted seed capital from Accelerate Prosperity that has enabled her to expand her animal husbandry capacity to produce high-quality yak meat and dairy products in the spring.
Abduraimova Chonamo increased the productivity of her cashmere wool business with support from Accelerate Prosperity and employed four additional women from the community. She currently exports some of her wool products to clients in the United States.
By Joanna Shackleton
 UNDP. Barriers to Female Entrepreneurship in Tajikistan. Micro-narrative Study. Retrieved from http://www.tj.undp.org/content/tajikistan/en/home/library/poverty/barriers-to-female-entrepreneurship-in-tajikistan–micronarrativ.html
 Koellinger, Philipp and Minniti, Maria and Schade, Christian, Seeing the World with Different Eyes: Gender Differences in Perceptions and the Propensity to Start a Business (March 2008). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1115354.
 IFC Jobs Study, 2013.
 Incubators for All? Business Incubation and Gender Differences in New Firm Performance, Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Research, Amezcua and McKelvie, 2011.
 A Backlash Builds Against Sexual Harassment in Silicon Valley, New York Times, 3 July 2017. See: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/03/technology/silicon-valley-sexual-harassment.html.
 OECD, Investing in women and girls. Retrieved from OECD; http://www.oecd.org/dac/gender-development/investinginwomenandgirls.htm
The views expressed in this publication are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views or opinions of the Aga Khan Development Network, Aga Khan Foundation Canada, Global Affairs Canada, or Accelerate Prosperity.