To celebrate International Women’s Day 2018, we highlight our partners around the world who #PressForProgress to achieve gender equity and meaningful inclusion. Whether boosting literacy in Morocco, fighting corruption in Guatemala, or developing young women leaders in Afghanistan, Counterpart champions women change makers and solution creators who build brighter futures for their communities.

Here is one recent story of the impact of our work from our Women’s Participation Program in Azerbaijan.

“I was always a very active and diligent student at school, trying to dream big,” begins Kenul Rustamova, a young Azeri woman training to be a social worker. This past summer, Kenul saw a Facebook post announcing the Young Women’s Leadership and Development Workshop that would take place in July in Azerbaijan’s capital city of Baku. The workshop was facilitated by Counterpart International’s Women’s Participation Program, with the generous support of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Kenul Rustamova (photo courtesy of Kenul Rustamova)

“I was very excited to participate because there were no such opportunities in my home region of Balaken,” explains Kenul.

Over 200 women across the country applied for only 28 spots. Because she lived six hours away from Baku, Kenul was not initially accepted to the July training. Kenul refused to take ‘no’ for an answer. She found one of the workshop organizers, Zumrud Jalilova, on Facebook and asked her for the opportunity to participate. Impressed with Kenul’s moxie, Zumrud assured Kenul that she would do her best to secure Kenul a spot.

The next day, Kenul was overjoyed to learn that she had been accepted to the workshop and immediately bought her bus ticket.

“I was the very first to arrive at the trainings and was so interested in every session,” says Kenul, reflecting today on her experience at the workshop. “My favorite training focused on leadership skills, and I also enjoyed learning about social entrepreneurship through United Aid for Azerbaijan (UAFA). I made many new friends.”

After Counterpart’s workshop left such a positive impression on Kenul, she was eager to organize a similar project in her own community. Kenul planned a workshop she called “Explore Yourself” and aimed to attract 30 participants to her first training in August.


Kenul (standing) gives a talk on career choices and opportunities at the Balaken district vocational school. “The main purpose of the training was to share useful information for the young people on career, professions and labor opportunities to raise the awareness and equip them with choices,” says Kenul. Several adults also participated in her workshop, underlining the hunger that Azeris of all ages have for information and new opportunities.

“My main purpose was to inspire, motivate and educate other young Azeri people to follow their own dreams and contribute to our society by doing so,” explained Kenul. “I wanted to introduce them to useful online resources, research skills, and education opportunities. I was very excited and full of enthusiasm and I wanted more people to join me in feeling this way.”

Despite her enthusiasm, Kenul was disappointed in her first training. “I didn’t have the necessary presentation skills or experience, and I didn’t manage to bring enough young people together to attend,” Kenul laments.

“Nevertheless, I didn’t give up,” she says. Kenul organized a second training for September, where she “fixed the mistakes I made when organizing the first training, engaging more participants and performing much better.”


Participants in Kenul’s “Explore Yourself” workshop in Balaken, Azerbaijan

Kenul is now looking for new professional opportunities, including a well-paying job and higher education. To continue to grow in her career as a social worker, Kenul began an online course in Mental Health and Psychology from the University of Liverpool. Unfortunately, the internet connection is so poor in Kenul’s home region that she cannot continue the course until she has more consistent internet access.

Just as she has faced previous challenges, Kenul doesn’t intend to let this latest hurdle stop her.

“I don’t feel down and will continue my course as soon as I find the ways of improving my internet connection at home,” says Kenul.

“I want to improve my own and other people’s lives in my community and I strongly believe that I will do it,” she affirms.

“I would like to share my sincere gratitude to all the people who contributed to the positive changes in the lives of these young girls,” says Zumrud, who shares Kenul’s confidence that young Azeri women like her are on new paths to personal success.

The Women’s Participation Program in Azerbaijan is implemented by Counterpart International and funded by USAID.