Protection of women’s rights and gender equality are global tasks and Central Asian states are aimed at the same goals. Gender equality including equal rights for both men and women on the labor market can not only make women’s lives better but would also bring serious economic benefits for countries that pay attention to the gender issue.
According to the book Unrealized Potential: The High Cost of Gender Inequality in Earnings written by Quentin Wodon and Bénédicte de la Brière and published by the World Bank, gender inequality is a cause of losses in national wealth of $23,620 per person. Conversely, ensuring gender equality would increase national wealth by 14% all over the world.
The key parameters that can be used for gender equality assessment are access to education, access to the labor market, salary size and distribution of household responsibilities. The Kursiv edition has analyzed three Central Asian states from this point of view even though not all variables can be compared directly because these countries have often relied on different approaches and data collection methods.
As of 2020, there was 8.7 million of the working population in Kazakhstan (65.9% of all people in the country). More than half of them are men, 4.5 million (51.8%), while a further4.2 million (48.2%) are women. A significant part of working Kazakhstanis (41.5%) has a university degree or even postgraduate education (53.9% of them are women); 39.3% have secondary professional education (46% of them are women), and 13% of the working population have secondary general education (41% of them are women).
The most popular economy segments where women prefer to work are trade (825,000 or 58.1%), education (800,900 or 72.2%) and agriculture (42.4%). The gender disproportion is obvious in areas such as health care and social services for the population (72.3% of employees here are women), education, hospitality and food industries (63.5% of employees here are women). Also, women account for the larger share among unqualified workers (57.4%). The maximal gender disproportion can be observed among cleaning workers and servants – the women’s share here is 79.5%.
According to a 2020 report by the National Bureau of Statistics, the proportion of women in leadership positions increased from 32.8% in 2001 to 41.1% in 2020 throughout the country.
For example, at the position of top managers, senior officials, lawmakers and civil servants, women account for more than half of employees (50.7%). In the corporate sector, women account for 42.5% of executives and functional managers; 31.3% of department managers in the field of production and specialized services; and 48.7% in the sphere of hospitality and other services.
Women have also played a more visible role in the parliament. Their share had increased from 9.5% in 2001 to 24% in 2020. However, in the lower chamber, Mazhilis, the growth of the women’s share was slightly slower: from 10.4% in 2000 to 27.4% in 2019.
In 2020 this figure even shrank to 26.5%. In local elected bodies (Maslikhats) the women’s share had steadily grown from 17% in 2006 to 30.5% in 2020. Moreover, in 2020 Kazakhstan embraced new gender quotas for party lists. Now, at least 30% of candidates to both Mazhilis and Maslikhat who are elected from one political party must be women and youth (in the age below 29).
Since 2001 the women’s share among public sector employees has never gone beyond 11.7% (the rate of 2018); in 2020 this rate was at 8.9%. The maximum presence of women in the government was in 2006 (five women or 29.4%). In 2020 there were two women or 11.1% in the cabinet.
The share of women in executive positions in the education system (such as rectors, pro rectors, deans, and their deputies) rose from 37.2% in 2000 to 50.5% in 2016. In 2019 this figure dropped slightly to 49.9%. However, in terms of rector’s positions, the women’s share had grown steadily: from 8.8% in 2000 to 24.1% in 2019.
In the National Bank of Kazakhstan, the women’s share was 22.2% over 2000-2011 and 11.1% in the period from 2011 to 2018. In 2019 that rate increased to 25% but then dropped to 22% in 2020.
Gender disproportion in trade unions and non-governmental organizations has slightly increased. Women used to hold 36.3% of such positions in 2010 and only 34.9% in 2019. In 2020 this rate rose to 35%. The share of women among judges rose from 39.4% in 2000 to 51% in 2020. In the Supreme Court, the women’s share grew from 23% in 2001 to 48% in 2020.
Perhaps the biggest gender disproportion can be seen in the military. Over many years until 2012, there were no female top officials in the country’s army. In the period from 2012 to 2019, the women’s share in the central apparatus of the Ministry of Defense rose to 2.1%. However, in 2020 when Kazakhstan’s authorities once again decided to count female executives among the military they reported the women’s share of 1.5%. All of them have been working in Nur-Sultan.
The gender situation in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is slightly better: over two decades the rate of women in the position of ambassadors has never gone beyond 6.2% (the historical record of 2019). During the pandemic, the rate once again decreased to 4.8%.
According to the State Committee on Statistics, there were 13.2 million working people in the country in 2020 (38% of the population). About 7.7 million are men and 5.5 million are women (41.6%).
Two areas where the women’s share is dominated are education (15.8% of all workers in this sector are women) and health care(9.3%). At the same time, both spheres provide jobs for only 3.7% and 2% of men respectively.
The difference in salaries between men and women in Uzbekistan is about 37.5% on average, according to the statistics committee. This figure has not changed for the last five years with a minimum in 2016 (34.5%) and a maximum in 2018 (38.6%).
Secondary general education in Uzbekistan is free for both boys and girls. The overall coefficient of reach with this type of education is 97.1% for girls and 97.7% for boys. One-fifth of both groups pursue higher education with an overall coefficient of 17.7% for women and 19.7% for men. At the same time, some professions traditionally are considered for men or women in Uzbekistan. In 2020 women accounted for 30.1% of all graduates from scientific, engineer and construction professions. Among the teaching staff of Uzbekistani universities, women hold a share of 44.1%.
The women’s share in ministries or state committees as of April 1, 2020, was about 3.03%. This rate rose from 2.9% in 2018-2019.
Uzbekistan doesn’t offer any gender quotas for women. However, in May 2021 Uzbekistan’s Senate approved a new strategy on gender equality that requires the introduction of such quotas and expansion of the practice of designating female candidates to the posts of top officials in the system of state bodies.
In 2020, women accounted for 32.7% of the lower chamber of OliyMazhlis (the parliament) and 23.7% in the Senate (the upper chamber of the parliament). For comparison: in 2019 these rates were 12.6% and 20% respectively.
The women’s share in managing staff in Uzbekistan hasn’t seen big changes for the last four years – 26.5% to 27%. Women own 24.1% of all businesses in the country. The women’s share among judges is 12.8% even though in the Republic of Karakalpakstan their share is bigger (24.2% or one in four judges). In the Surkhandarya region, this rate is the lowest (6.1%). The women’s share among law enforcement officials is 11%.
One more figure. The average time women have to spend on household responsibilities is 5.27 hours while this rate for men is just 2.15 hours. In other words, Uzbek women do about 70% of unpaid domestic duties. Even though there is no relevant data for other Central Asian states, the average world rate of unpaid family responsibilities performed by women is about 75%.
According to the National Statistics Committee of Kyrgyzstan, the country has a working population of 2.4 million (38.2%) out of 6.4 million residents of the country. Men account for 61.6% (or 1.5 million) of them while women account for 38.4% (937,500).
The most common areas for women are agriculture (195,200 people or 44% of all engaged in the industry), education (174,800 or 79.2%), wholesale and retail trade (159,600 or 40.4%) and the manufacturing industry (117,200 or 40.5%). Gender disproportion is obvious in the health system and social services (81.4% of employees here are women) and in real estate (women account for 94.4% of jobs).
The difference in salaries between men and women in 2018 was 28.4%, 23% in 2019 and 24.6% in 2020.
As of the beginning of 2021, there are 726,600 businesses in the country; women hold executive positions in 27.9% of them. The vast majority of these businesses are farms (34.7% of all businesses under women’s rule) and small entrepreneurs (60.1%). Mainly they are involved in agriculture (48.9%) and trade (29.1%). With regard to big enterprises, women act as top executives in 35.8% of them.
The parliament of Kyrgyzstan (JogorkuKenesh) consists of 120 deputies; this order hasn’t changed for the last ten years. Since 2015 the number of women in the parliament hasn’t altered; they hold 17% of all seats in JogorkuKenesh. However, in 2005 and 2006 there were no women in the parliament, according to the statistics committee. In contrast, over the period from 2007 to 2009 the women’s share was 34% as they held 23 seats out of 90.
Since August 2019 Kyrgyzstan has offered women a 30% quota on each electoral district during elections to ail kenesh (local authorities). This practice, however, was a constant object of criticism. In the summer of 2021, the country amended its electoral legislation. According to these amendments, the number of JogorkuKenesh deputies must be decreased from 120 to 90 while gender quotas for women will be diminished.
Women are the most vulnerable to crises
In a joint report on unpaid labor in the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, both the UN Economic Commission for Europe and UN Women highlight the fact that women still have no or limited access to many spheres of public life. Even though the historical rate of the women’s share in the labor force is quite high (70% in Central Asia on average), women are often engaged in part-time or temporary jobs. Many of these jobs are considered as distaff similar to women’s unpaid domestic responsibilities. In the area of education, women account for 74% in Kazakhstan, 72% in Kyrgyzstan and 69% in Uzbekistan. In the health care system this rate is quite higher – 77% in Kazakhstan and 78% in both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Moreover, the women’s share of executive positions is less than the men’s share all over the region. All of the aforementioned proves that women are more vulnerable to crises.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also influenced women more than men, experts said. It’s hard to estimate the impact as the virus is still spreading across the globe while statistics are published with a time lag. (In many countries no survey has been made at all.) However, even this fragmentary data makes it clear that women have lost their jobs or working hours more often than men (women who were involved in the informal economy lost about 70% of their income on average); in many cases, they were forced to carry out more unpaid duties. Remote work is a privilege of office workers in big cities and other qualified specialists. The rest of the women often struggle with weak digital infrastructure and poor digital literacy and can’t work from home. Moreover, about 70% of women said that since the beginning of the pandemic, they were forced to do more home chores (for comparison only 59% of men have made the same statement).
In 2020 the World Bank conducted research on how different countries react to the pandemic. In many cases, unpaid labor has been considered as something normal and authorities just tune out that issue. At the same time, UN Women believes that all the formal world economy is based on unpaid and unseen labor of women and girls. That is why its redistribution and reassessment is a key element of gender equality.
Women, Business and the Law 2021
Women, Business and the Law 2021 studies by the World Bank measure the laws and regulations that affect women’s economic opportunities in different countries. The project presents eight indicators structured around women’s interactions with the law as they move through their careers: Mobility, Workplace, Pay, Marriage, Parenthood, Entrepreneurship, Assets, and Pension.
Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have 100 points each on indicators such as Mobility and Assets. (This indicator reflects gender differences in property legislation.)
The indicator of Marriage in Uzbekistan is lower and the World Bank’s analysts believe that women in this country face more restrictions in terms of marriage legislation – the possibility to act as a head of a family or to get a divorce. (This move can be a threat to women’s financial security.)
The Entrepreneurship indicator measures restrictions that women face while trying to open or run a business (usually, the indicator takes into account access to loans, bank accounts, their right to sign official documents and register a business on their own). In Kazakhstan, this indicator has scored 75 points while Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan score 100.
In terms of Parenthood, the World Bank believes that Kazakhstan is a leader (80); Kyrgyzstan has shown the lowest result (40). This indicator measures the rights of pregnant women including labor rights and the right to get paid maternity leave.
Indicator of Labor analyzes laws that affect women’s decision to enter the labor market. Kyrgyzstan has shown the highest result out of the three countries in terms of the Labor indicator.
The Pay indicator measures legislation that provokes professional division and the gender gap in salaries. All three countries scored 25 points.
The indicator of Pension assesses laws that impact women’s pensions. It might seem strange but the World Bank experts believe that early retirement may cause a potentially bigger gender gap between men’s and women’s pensions and put women at a bigger risk of poverty while being old.
Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action is a key point in providing gender equality. This is a strategic program aimed at expanding the rights and capabilities of women and this document has been approved at the global level. In September 1995, 189 member states of the United Nations developed and adopted this program. Since then the UN has reassessed the changes in this area every five years.
In 2020, when the UN Women reviewed the results of the last five years, the organization concluded that the way Beijing Declaration was implemented didn’t comply with the original endeavors. On the one hand, modern women and girls possess rights and capabilities no one could even imagine throughout human history. On the other hand, even 25 years after the declaration was adopted, poverty, discrimination and violence still exist while conflicts and humanitarian crises have become more complicated and lingering which makes the female population of the Earth more vulnerable than ever before.
According to this report, women aged 25-34 all over the world more often (by 25%) find themselves in poverty. (With income less than $1.90 a day.)
Also, women are forced to spend about 4.1 hours per day on average on unpaid domestic duties, child care, or caring for a sick relative. Usually, men spend about 1.7 hours a day on those duties. This gap is one of the main reasons women can’t play toe-to-toe with men in the labor market. There are 62% of able-bodied women aged 25-54 on the labor market against 93% of men of the same age. Almost one-third (31%) of all young women have no jobs, education or vocational training while only 14% of men reported the same situation. Moreover, the disproportion in salaries between men and women is another challenge. This rate is 16% on average in the entire world but in some counties, the gap may reach 35%. More than a half billion women and girls above 15 around the globe have limited access to education; 32 million younger girls do not attend primary school (against 27 million boys); women and girls often suffer from violence but its true scale can’t be assessed because more than 70% of female victims of violence have never reported a crime or ask for help; they also have little if any representation in power structures.
Several surveys have shown that 43% of women and 53% of men all over the world believe that men are doing better in politics than women. Perhaps, this is why the women’s share in national parliaments increased by only14% over the last 25 years when the Beijing Declaration was adopted. (As of 2020, 25% of all deputies are women while in 1995 they accounted for 11%.) Women account for at least half of the cabinet in only 14 countries. With regard to the global scale, men hold 75% of parliament seats, 73% of executive positions and 70% of the seats in the climate change negotiation process on average. Over the period from 1992 to 2018 only 13% of negotiators, 4% of signers and 3% of mediators in the key peacekeeping processes were women.
At the local level, women act as decision-makers more often – they hold 36% of seats in the local legislative bodies on average. It is worth noting that the most effective tool in the fight against gender inequality in politics is quotas. As of 2019 gender quotas were common practice in only 80 countries. In these states, women took 30% of seats in parliament while in the countries with no quotas they hold just 18% of seats.