Meer Omurbekova, entrepreneur / Photo : UNDP Kyrgyzstan

Women and girls make up half of the world's population and therefore half its potential. However, gender inequality persists globally, especially in Central Asia, resulting in stagnant social progress.  Lack of education leads to lack of access to vocational training and limited opportunities for women in the labour market. Empowering women and girls plays a crucial role in accelerating economic growth and promoting social development. Active participation of women in the labour force would boost growth in countries. Whichever country you live in, gender equality is a basic human right. Promoting gender equality is key to all aspects of a healthy society, from reducing poverty to improving public health, education, protection and well-being of children. Investing in education for girls and increasing the age for marriage will generate returns five times bigger than the amount invested. Investing in income-generating programmes for women will generate seven times the amount investment. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 supports this.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the economy hard, with many businesses forced to shut down and millions of people out of work. We share the stories of Kyrgyz entrepreneurs who managed to survive the lockdown with the help of innovative technologies and digitalisation. We previously published the story of a businessman who, was able to set up an online optical lens store during the quarantine and even expanded his business. Today, we're not just talking about strong businessmen, but about resilient female entrepreneurs.

It is a young girl from Talas who managed to keep her business afloat through resourcefulness and kindness.

"I am only 26 years old, my parents are from Talas, and I visit my small hometown quite often. I was in my 4th year of university at the time, and like any girl I wanted to go out with my friends, but our city had absolutely no entertainment for youth. So four years ago, I opened a pizzeria.”

- Meer Omurbekova, an entrepreneur

She wanted to not only make money, but also contribute to her community's development. Being familiar with the Internet and the living standard of the population, she weighed all the pros and cons and came to the conclusion that the her pizzeria should not only be a place for eating food, but also a hangout place for teenagers and youth.

"Of course, the main focus was on providing fast food, and since the pizzeria was a relatively new concept for the region, people were interested and clientele slowly increased. But, in 2020, the pandemic hit Kyrgyzstan very hard. Everyone experienced hardship - some of us lost our jobs, some of us lost family members."

- Meer Omurbekova, an entrepreneur

Despite the many reasons to give up during such a difficult time, Meer Omurbekova decided to move on. The pizzeria founder stressed that teamwork is very important in difficult situations. And strict compliance with all necessary sanitary measures helped to discipline not only the team, but also the customers too.

"Despite the strict sanitary measures, our community was very responsible and disciplined. As a result of this, there were no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the region for a very long time. Of course, apart from that there were problems with suppliers who could not deliver goods on time and it was not uncommon to have days when there were absolutely no customers. Nevertheless, thanks to the joint efforts of the team and community, and also thanks to the support of my parents, we managed to survive a difficult period."

- Meer Omurbekova, an entrepreneur

According to the statistics on foreign trade of the National Statistical Committee in Kyrgyzstan, between January to April 2020, foreign and domestic trade was 1.754 Billion US dollars, down by 21.1% (2 billion 222.6 million US dollars) compared to the previous term.

It is no secret that in Kyrgyzstan, small businesses are rarely supported by the state, and many entrepreneurs end up closing their business when hit by unexpected events. However, the proportion of small and medium-sized businesses in the country is high, and they are the main source of income for many families.

"Now the pandemic is a part of our lives and has taught us how to live and cope with it all. We have learnt many lessons. We have become stronger and more aware, discovered new things and started offering alternatives to customers, and innovative ways of working have helped to keep businesses afloat. For example, because of the coronavirus situation, schools and universities switched to online learning. During the quarantine period, students could come to us and use the internet completely free of charge. We provided all the conditions for children to study and do their homework in comfort. At the same time, students using the free wi-fi often became our regular customers.”

- Meer Omurbekova, an entrepreneur

Omurbekova plans to continue learning and expanding her business.

During the pandemic, UNDP in Kyrgyzstan, in an effort to increase women's employment and income, announced a competition among women entrepreneurs to finance the development of existing businesses. The event was an incentive for women entrepreneurship and created opportunities for economic growth and job creation for the local population during difficult times.

So, what can we do to support SDG 5?

- Empower children by showing respect for equality

- Respect both men and women in the family

- Protect women's reproductive rights 

- Stop violence against women and girls

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