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Gender equality at the heart of decent work, Campaign 2008-09

From high fashion ‘alta moda’ to dress-making in Ukraine

At 16 per cent, the region of Chernivtsi in Ukraine has the highest unemployment rate in the country and the lowest number of women employed. This is why the region was chosen for an ILO project, funded by Development Cooperation Ireland, that addresses the root causes of labour migration and tries to stem irregular migration and trafficking through training, job placement and entrepreneurial activities. ILO Online reports from Chernivtsi, Ukraine.

Article | 17 December 2008

CHERNIVTSI, Ukraine (ILO Online) – Yulia, a young woman from Ukraine, still remembers the time when she worked in Milan, Italy’s undisputed capital of ‘alta moda’ or high fashion and trendy fashion shows.

She remembers the explosions of colour lighting up the runways: brilliantly hued coats, sleek red leather, velvet jackets in rich tones. And the expensive, stylish sportwear.

Yulia was only behind the scenes of this modern fashion fairy tale, convincing wealthy customers from all over the world that glamorous power women wish to dress in these fashions . But Yulia is more of a real life power woman. Sitting in a simple black and skyblue-colored blouse, she explains how she became a dressmaker in her own country.

“It was a great experience for a dressmaker to work in a place like Milan. The problem was that I worked there with neither a visa nor a contract”, she says.

The atelier owner advised her to return to Ukraine in order to get all the necessary documents. She returned home with the intention of going back to Italy.

“But one day, I heard about the possibility of receiving preferential credit from the ILO to start my own business. And I did not want to miss this opportunity to turn my trade – dressmaking – into an income-generating business”, Yulia explains.

She managed to rent a premise for her atelier at a reasonable price – a class-room in a former school. There was a lot of space for sewing machines, mannequins, and fitting rooms. A friend renovated the room, while she bought the necessary equipment.

Her advice to future business women: “The main thing in business is to have an inspiring idea. The quality of the work is also key to your success. One satisfied client will certainly recommend your services to his or her friends. And you will have no problems to find more clients”.

Yulia profited from a micro-credit pilot project which started in 2006 and complemented the ILO Project on the Prevention of Trafficking in Women which runs in the region of Chernivtsi since November 2003. The pilot provides assistance to potential and actual irregular migrants and victims of trafficking regarding vocational training, job placement, and entrepreneurial activities.

The decision to choose Chernivtsi Oblast was based on the fact that the region has, with 16 per cent, the highest unemployment rate and the lowest employment level among women (43.2 per cent) in the country. It is estimated that about 20 per cent of the entire Oblast population – a third of the working-age population – went abroad in recent years.

During 2006-2007, out of 669 women who approached the ILO project’s partner organization ‘Suchasnyk’ for information on job placement abroad, 508 decided to consider alternative opportunities for income generation in Ukraine after discussions on the risks of irregular migration and trafficking in women. Of these women, 161 confirmed their intention of travelling abroad, however, they were briefed about safe migration practices and procedures for legal job placement abroad.

The loans provided to women entrepreneurs range between US$ 500 and 2,500. They are given by a private bank and secured by a US$ 40,000 guarantee fund. Of the 25 women who received micro-credits since 2006, 23 successfully developed their business. Credits and interest rates were repaid by the women entrepreneurs without disruption.

Their businesses are prospering, just as Yulia’s has done. She now receives lots of orders from her clients, has already hired an assistant and thinks of recruiting several other women for her atelier.Yulia is getting married soon and will make her own wedding dress.

The ILO project in Ukraine also illustrates the complex relationship between migration and employment policies in countries of origin.

“The project addresses the root causes of labour migration by strengthening employment and labour market policies to create decent work in countries of origin. We must ensure that migration, gender and development policies positively reinforce each other. In sum, migration policies should go hand in hand with employment and decent work policies in countries of origin, with a strong focus on decent jobs for men and women in countries of destination”, concludes ILO migration expert Gloria Moreno-Fontes.