Tajik women step up 

Female entrepreneurship in Tajikistan has transformed from a survival necessity to a prestigious endeavour. 

Female entrepreneurs in Tajikistan encounter challenges when starting and operating businesses, primarily due to unfavourable business conditions, high competition, and limited access to financing – a recent survey conducted by Emerging Europe under the She’s Next Empowered by Visa initiative revealed.   

The motivations of Tajik women to pursue entrepreneurship vary, with a focus on financial stability and independence, as well as proving themselves, addressing unemployment, and helping others.  

Despite progress in reducing the gender gap, deep-rooted cultural perceptions and gender biases continue to perpetuate gender inequality.  

Although female entrepreneurship is now considered prestigious in Tajikistan, societal stereotypes persist, even with advancements made in larger cities and sectors like IT. 

The challenges 

Unfavourable business conditions were identified as the most frequently reported challenge (36 per cent of respondents) when opening and running a business for female entrepreneurs in Tajikistan. 

During an in-depth interview, one business founder emphasized, “The problems of female entrepreneurs heavily intersect with the problems of those of entrepreneurs in general. Those challenges can [also] be observed in international rankings – doing business in Tajikistan is not ranked high,” she said. “Doing business here is hard for both genders.”  

Securing investment or financing was another significant challenge mentioned by 29 per cent of entrepreneurs surveyed. One business owner described the struggle she faced with initial financing. “I received a grant for computer software, but there were no computers. Then, donors asked me to write the continuation of the project,” she added. 

Limited access to formal finance and alternative funding options was also revealed by the survey results. When asked about the main source of funding to start a business, Tajik entrepreneurs mentioned their own savings (40 per cent), followed closely by loans from family or friends (39 per cent). 

In contrast, bank loans accounted for only 15 per cent of funding, while other sources accounted for six per cent, reflecting the self-reliance of entrepreneurs on their own money and on social networks for financial support. 

Other challenges were high competition (34 per cent), lack of legislation (26 per cent) finding workers and building teams (25 per cent), the complexities of bureaucracy, (19 per cent), and the influence of the current economic and political situation at the local level (15 per cent). 

In addition, difficulties related to workforce quality and administrative pressure were explained by one business owner: “The main issue in the [business] environment of Tajikistan at the moment is the pool of high-quality workforce. Also, a lot of business have closed due to high administrative pressure, so there is a ban on tax examinations now.”  

The need for robust risk management systems was also mentioned. Same business owner said: “The Covid-19 pandemic tested the current state of [non-existent] risk management system.”  


According to survey results, the main drivers for Tajik women entrepreneurs to start their own businesses include the desire for increased income (68 per cent) and the aspiration for independence and the pursuit of personal interests (34 per cent).  

Additionally, they are motivated by proving themselves and seeking recognition (12 per cent), having ideas that benefit others (10 per cent), addressing unemployment (nine per cent), helping others (eight per cent), building a career, and fulfilling a dream, and making a positive impact as leaders (six per cent, respectively).  

Additional motivations were revealed by entrepreneurs during a series of in-depth interviews, including challenging gender norms, pursuing innovation, making a positive impact on society, addressing personal and societal needs, and advocating for gender equality.  

One business manager highlighted her motivation to address gender disparities in technical fields. “There are more technical and less technical courses in the IT offer,” she said. “Women were focusing less on [technical ones] because they did not think they have a quantitative or programming mindset. It was stimulating to change these statistics.” 

For some entrepreneurs, the motivation lied in their passion for innovation. One business founder expressed her love for innovation, stating, “I am a conductor – I love innovation, the idea, I see it. I can realise it through my own experience and then recommend it to others.”  

Another business founder said, “My intrinsic motivation can be described by a motto: ‘Help yourself, and then others.’ I wanted to help society, to take part in the development processes.”   

In addition to entrepreneurship, women are also actively involved in community leadership. A community leader, who studied finance in the US, returned to Tajikistan and encountered gender-based discrimination. This experience inspired her to work in the field of gender equality and women empowerment.  

Gender equality and a changing environment 

Gender inequality poses a complex challenge in Tajikistan, stemming from its traditional, patriarchal society. Within this context, female entrepreneurs face additional obstacles due to cultural perceptions and gender-based biases.  

One business founder cleverly captured the essence of their struggle, stating, “[Doing business] for women [in Tajikistan] is twice as hard, as they encounter numerous invisible barriers.”  

Our survey findings shed light on the specific challenges encountered by Tajik female entrepreneurs, unveiling the impact of local cultural perceptions (eight per cent) and gender discrimination (seven per cent) – underscoring the urgent need for enhanced gender equality within workplace settings. 

The lack of adequate infrastructure and limited mobility, resulting from responsibilities related to childcare and elderly care, are significant challenges for female entrepreneurs. “One of the serious restraining factors is the limited mobility due to the need to take care of children and elder relatives, and also a limited infrastructure,” a business founder said.  

Social stereotypes also play a significant role in perpetuating gender inequality. Many men in Tajikistan still hold the belief that women should primarily fulfil domestic duties rather than pursue careers outside the home.  

One business manager described the societal pressure women face, stating, “If you do want something different from life, it’s a bit challenging to find support because there is a constant society pressure. This pressure comes from your family, from people you care, and it’s hard to leave… initiatives and ideas are not supported.” 

Education is another crucial aspect influencing gender equality in Tajikistan. There is a preference for boys to pursue higher education, which limits women’s opportunities. One community leader noted, “Girls with higher education are considered more attractive brides. However, there is still a preference for young boys pursuing higher education.” 

Furthermore, advancements have been made in bridging the gender gap, especially in larger cities and fields like IT, where women’s representation has significantly improved. However, as one business manager stressed, “Things are very different in rural areas.” 

Lastly, over the years, female entrepreneurship in Tajikistan has transformed from a survival necessity to a prestigious endeavour. Previously, it was seen as a means to earn a basic livelihood, leaving women in vulnerable social positions. However, the perception has shifted. As one business founder shared, “being a female entrepreneur is now widely regarded as prestigious.” 

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