“Today I stand here – proud and happy,” says Zahra. “I have hope again in the future. I feel empowered.”
In commemoration of International Women’s Day – a day to reflect upon progress made by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in their communities – we are telling Zahra’s story.
“At one point,” Zahra told us, “my husband and I thought about leaving our hometown behind. It felt as though it was the only option we had left.”
Today, the situation in Esfarayen has changed.
Less than a year ago, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran together with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), introduced the Carbon Sequestration Project (CSP) in this area.
At the heart of the Carbon Sequestration Project lies a simple goal – women’s empowerment – not only as a human right, but also because empowered women are a pathway to achieving sustainable development for their communities.
Gender empowerment and eradication of poverty are essential to economic and social development.
“What once seemed impossible is now possible. As a woman, I am being trained to contribute to my community and break the cycle of poverty,” said Zahra.
Iran is a country which has been significantly affected by the negative impact of desertification. Since 2003, the Iranian Forest, Range and Watershed Organization (FRWO) and UNDP have been working together to help “green” the land and sustainably develop large tracts of the Iranian rangeland plains. The CSP project has adopted a special technique to empower vulnerable groups, and especially women.
It is called social mobilization and micro credit – a model that won the best prize in the 2005 Poverty Alleviation Conference in China.
The social mobilization and micro credit approach identifies vulnerable families in a community and organizes them into groups of up to twenty persons. The organizers are given the title of Village Development Groups. These Village Development Groups are then trained by the UNDP project in various income-generating and cooperative activities.
Within a year, the Village Development Groups are sufficiently active to generate increased income. The groups also collaborate on more extensive cooperative and social capital projects. Consequently, the community benefits from best-practices in management. Overall development increases. With more disposable income, village groups then turn their attention to protecting rather than destroying their own environment.
Zahra and other motivated women from the village, who had been trained and empowered under the Carbon Sequestration Project, were able to showcase their work and talent at this exhibition, ranging from handicrafts to traditional culinary delights.
"I think the key factors for success of this project," said Zahra, "is cooperation and involvement of women – we are truly working together as a community."