Filed under: Central Asia Climate change Disaster response Environment Health Poverty

Woman takes her medicine as nurse listens to her breathing through stethoscope placed on her back

Checkup of female tuberculosis patient by rural nurse. Photo: UN Aral Sea Programme

Many of us realize the interconnectedness of the environment with the economy and the overall well being of communities. But how do environmental disasters affect the most vulnerable groups?

For people living near the disappearing Aral Sea, where the environmental crisis has led to the devastation of major sectors of the local economy, women are among the most affected.

Women face serious health complications as a result of poor living conditions (Japan International Cooperation Agency, 2010).

Maternal mortality rates are higher in Karakalpakstan than in other parts of Uzbekistan, according to the Reproductive Health department of the Karakalpak Branch of the Uzbek Academy of Science.

About 90 percent of women of childbearing age suffer from severe anemia as well as serious birth complications, miscarriages, kidney disease, thyroid problems and tuberculosis. (Meet rural activists for reproductive health)

Woman, seated, breathing into an apparatus, beside nurse, standing

Tuberculosis patient gets a check up

Women in Karakalpakstan mostly deal with housework, caring for the sick, and some do agricultural work to grow food for their families, if the water supply is sufficient.

“The environmental crisis has added to women’s low status in society by increasing their burdens in an environmentally vulnerable region” says Dr. Oral A. Ataniyazova, Chairperson of the Karakalpak Center for Reproductive Health.

“Their children are at increased risk of disease from unsafe water, nutritional deficiencies and lack of knowledge about prevention.”

Women are also more greatly affected by unemployment than men in this region.

According to the study 46.3 percent of job seekers in 2004 were women, while 74.6 percent of registered unemployed were also women.

Woman standing, holding young child in front of stall selling carpets and handicrafts

Iin Kazakhdarya, Muynak district. Photo: UN Aral Sea Programme

Woman selling bread, at outdoor stall

In Kazakhdarya, Muynak district – one of the areas most heavily affected by the environmental crisis. Photo: UN Aral Sea Programme

How can we empower women?

To date, several initiatives have aimed to improve women’s lives:

  • A UNDP microfinance programme
  • A programme focused on income generation and community development, funded by the European Union
  • A series of projects to improve living standards in Karakalpakstan, funded by the Asian Development Bank

Local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also been active in involving women in entrepreneurship and farming:

  • Center-Perzent conducted an awareness-raising campaign for women and established an organic farm to help to improve nutrition levels.
  • “Tadbirkor ayol” (Entrepreneur woman) established by the Association of Business Women of Uzbekistan provides business startup support, training, microloans and other support to local women. In 2008 they established a microfinance organization “Tadbirkor invest” which has so far issued loans to 2,073 people, 89.2 percent were women involved in farming activities, the production and sale of handicrafts, carpet weaving, cattle management, camel breeding, and small-scale retail businesses.
Women at a long table making quilts

Courses on stitching and embroidery organized by “Tadbirkor ayol” Photo: “Tadbirkor ayol”

  • “Keul Nury” (Kind soul) is a women’s social and legal support centre supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNDP, which provides equipment, meeting spaces and support to personnel, as well as training courses and advocacy events for staff and clients. In 2010 they set up an embroidery workshop employing 20 girls from underprivileged families in designing and producing handicrafts and traditional clothing.
Group of women seated, in matching red traditional outfits

“Keul Nury” team Photo: Erkin Khodjekeev

Keul Nury team - women standing outside, in background a ship on land

“Keul Nury” team Photo: Erkin Khodjekeev

Targeting the most vulnerable

Despite the projects and programmes mentioned above,there are still many unemployed women in the most vulnerable and remote areas – such as Muynak, Shumanay and Kanlikul.

The United Nations Aral Sea programme is currently working on the following projects to help women:

  • Training women in sustainable farming practices and helping them to plant new trees and crops (Meet the new agro-consultants)
  • Developing alternative, non-agricultural activities that can generate income. Building on local knowledge and traditions, we have some upcoming training courses that aim to improve women’s skills with handicrafts and carpet weaving – in order to increase the quality and marketability of their products. Basic business and management concepts will make up an important part of the training curriculum.
  • Tourist information centres are being developed at key historical sites in Karakalpakstan and women will be trained as guides and visitor centre personnel.
  • Supporting healthcare workers to provide more effective information on reproductive health and rights, and offer improved counseling services to rural women. So far, we’ve trained 400 primary healthcare workers.

If you have a success story on a similar project in another part of the world, the UN Aral Sea Programme would love to hear from you.

And please join our community on Facebook!