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Gender-based Opinion of Labour Market in Kyrgyzstan

Overcoming gender inequality is still a relevant task for Kyrgyzstan. This is a big problem and it concerns the labour market.

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Nazgul knew her future would be connected with the English language when she was a child. Her mother taught English at school and conveyed her love to this discipline to her daughter.

After completion of high school, the girl was enrolled to the foreign languages department. She was dreaming of getting a degree and getting a job at an international organisation, where she could earn well and would have an opportunity to travel and see the world.

Humanities are the second popular discipline among school leavers in Kyrgyzstan. Girls enter these specialties more often than men do. Every fourth female school leaver chooses education-related professions. Educational specialties in Kyrgyzstan are “women’s”. Nine of ten students of these departments are girls. Next are services, economy, natural sciences and management.

The most “men’s” departments are agricultural, engineering, interdisciplinary sciences and jurisprudence.

According to Vice Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan Altynai Omurbekova, this trend towards humanities has been observed among girls in the last 30 years.

 “What was the reason? The absence of plants and factories, where women could apply their engineering skills, the lack of productive facilities. The labour market has made the choice. Men have become more interested in engineering specialties in the last 5-10 years. We have been short of power engineers, mining engineers, in a word, digit heads,” Omurbekova said.

According to her, now the government is developing a new concept of the education strategy and it will have STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education as a priority. School curricula are going to be focused on natural sciences.

Unequal labour

Now Nazgul teaches English to the students of the Zh. Balasagyn Kyrgyz National University. Her plans of high-paying job and travels were frustrated by personal circumstances. She got married in the final year and her career was put aside.

“After our child was born, I was offered to teach at my department. At first, I had a small academic load and I was glad with that as I could spend more time with my family. Two years later, I became a full-time instructor.  Despite the academic load, I’ve had enough time to raise a child and do the housework,” the woman said.

The majority in Kyrgyzstan think that a family and children are a priority for women. Therefore, according to gender expert Anara Niyazova, there are other factors that influence the choice of a future profession but personal preferences and future plans of girls and boys.

“The society applies pressure on both men and women. A man should earn, a man is the head of the family. While women’s dominating factors of her life strategy are neither the career, nor earnings,” Niyazova said.

The average Kyrgyzstani woman gets married and has her first child in the first two years after the graduation of university – at the age of 23. A man, in average, gets married four years later. Despite the right of a man to have a maternity leave, according to the Labour Code, a woman traditionally takes care of a child.

Although there are slightly more girls among graduates of higher educational institutions than young people – almost 57 per cent, the picture of employment of women and men is the opposite. In 2018, there were 2.5 million economically active people over 15 years old in Kyrgyzstan. Most of them – 61 per cent – were men.

The unequal representation of women and men in the labour market, according to Anara Niyazova, can be explained by the “fallout” of young women from professional activity.

“The labour activity overlaps the reproductive activity and a woman should have time to pay the reproductive tax, i.e. to give birth. Our women are traditionally taking care of children and other family members, for example, with disabilities, and old family members,” the expert said.

Moreover, Kyrgyzstan women drop out of the labour market many times. In 2018, one woman had at least three kids and this indicator keeps on growing since 2010.  Moreover, according to Niyazova, in some families men prohibit their women to work and think they should do the household work only.

Moreover, the officials statistical data don’t show the real picture as it doesn’t contain the shadow labour market. According to Anara Niyazova, the majority of workers there are women.

“First of all, women agree to work without any labour contracts and social contributions because they don’t have many official job opportunities. Second, there are more opportunities to obtain leave as the woman’s role is to care. This is the so-called care economy,” the expert said.

Cultural norms and traditions of Kyrgyzstan imply that all household burden falls on women. They spend about 4.5 hours daily to take care of family members and the house, and in rural areas they spend two hours more. Men spend time on household chores just a little more than one hour a day, and in rural area they spend 30 minutes more. 

According to the statistics, men spend more time at their jobs – about 7 hours a day in towns and 5 in rural areas. While women spend 6 and 3.5 hours a day, respectively.

However, if we combine official job and household chores, we’ll see that women work approximately 1.5 more than men do. 

(Un)feminine work?

The sphere of education, where Nazgul works, is traditionally considered “feminine” in Kyrgyzstan. The same is true about real estate and public health. Despite the equal number of students of both sexes that study medicine in Kyrgyzstan, there are 8 of 10 women as medical workers.

Almost equal numbers of men and women are engaged in the sphere of services, arts, science and trade. The largest disbalance is seen in social and engineering spheres.

In power, construction, mining and transportation industries, only one of 10 employees is woman.

According to the official data, the list of most high-paying occupations in Kyrgyzstan is headed by financial intermediation and insurance, information and communication, as well as power and mining operations.

While there’s not so much disbalance in financial intermediation, 59 per cent of men vs. 41 per cent of women, there’s more disbalance in information and communication, 63 per cent of men vs. 37 per cent of women.

Mining and power industries can be regarded as fully “men’s” industries. There is only one women out of 10 employees in these spheres.

Low-paying jobs are those of people of art, where both sexes are represented equally (122 dollars). The wages of public health and education workers are about 150 dollars.

“The wage of a teacher at a state university is low. I am not satisfied with my wage and if it’s not for my husband’s wage and my parents’ help, I don’t know how I would survive,” Nazgul said.

However, even despite the equal representation of men and women in a given sphere, the latter were paid almost 30 per cent less in 2018 in Kyrgyzstan. The average monthly wage was 235 dollars. The least gap in wages, almost 13 per cent, was in Issyk Kul region. Women in Dzhalal Abad region earned the least, only 60 per cent of what men earned. In Bishkek, women were paid 76 per cent of men’s wage.

However, Kyrgyzstan has an official list of jobs forbidden for women due to “hazardous and (or) dangerous conditions”. According to Vice Prime Minister Altynai Omurbekova, now the government is revising it as it is discriminatory.

“At the same time, the ministry of labour and social development wants to issue a document of “recommended occupations”, which will be difficult for women. However, the highest-paying jobs are those that have very difficult working conditions. And if a woman thinks she can be a miller or a miner, it’s her choice,” Omurbekova said.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.

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