Ulviyya Babayeva was born and raised in a remote village in the district of Barda, Azerbaijan, 260 km west of Baku, not far from the frontline zone.
Since childhood, Ulviyya has dreamt of becoming a leader in her community. She has been particularly worried about the position of women and the ingrained gender stereotypes that prevent locals from unleashing their full potential.
After receiving higher education in the nearby city of Ganja and in Istanbul, Turkey, the young woman decided to return to her native village with the intention of taking action.
While working in Barda, Ulviyya learnt about the EU-funded Eastern Partnership Civil Society Fellowship programme, and applied without hesitation.
Under this programme, every year 20 ambitious civil society activists from the Eastern partner countries are selected to receive up to €5,000 to develop their innovative ideas and change their countries for the better.
With this fellowship from the EU, Ulviyya developed a small project in support of women in the region of Barda, called ‘Stronger hand by hand’.
"My goal was to help young women to overcome gender stereotypes and strengthen their own self-esteem. We taught them to assert their rights, and developed their IT literacy, soft skills, leadership skills and confidence," says Ulviyya.
At the final stage of the project, the participants applied their new knowledge and skills to create their own small-scale projects for developing their region. Their ideas covered many topics – from healthy lifestyle for young people and promoting sports, to protecting the environment and supporting education.
"The scholarship programme gave me a great opportunity to join the ranks of socially active women who advocate for gender equality in the regions of Azerbaijan," the young activist says.
But dreamer and fighter Ulviyya will not stop here. Her plans for the future include getting a diploma in an EU country and expanding her horizons. Then, she intends to open her own NGO in Barda for implementing joint projects with the EU on gender equality. Another ambitious idea Ulviyya has is to open a university in Barda with an innovative approach to education, run by bright young people.
"I believe that knowledge grows when it is shared. We all have a mission in life. Mine is to help people who are eager to learn and develop," says Ulviyya.
Author: Elena Ostapenko