Women’s Rights in Central Asia

107. What does this number stand for? As the Global Gender Gap Report for 2020 [1] admits, this number represents the number of years needed for Central Asia and Eastern Europe to achieve gender equality. In this report, we can find the global gender equality rankings of three Central Asian countries: out of 153 countries, Kazakhstan placed at 72nd place, Kyrgyzstan at #93 and Tajikistan at #137. This begs the question: why have these countries scored so poorly in terms of gender equality? What is the general state of women’s rights in the region? This video will discuss the biggest challenges faced by Central Asian women today, and how the current situation has been shaped by the region’s modern history.

Until the late 1980s, Central Asian women had considerable rights. Thanks to reforms introduced early in the Soviet period, many women were employed, had land rights, and a quota system in politics had been implemented. However, regardless of career status, women were still fully responsible for the household and childcare, thus hampering their capacity to become leaders in society. In the end, the emancipation of women couldn’t be fully reached in Soviet Central Asia.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, negative changes in social welfare, political participation were introduced that rolled back much of the progress made during the Soviet era, pushing women back to their “traditional roles” [3].

Nevertheless, Central Asian countries still ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW); Tajikistan – 1993, Kyrgyzstan – 1997, and Kazakhstan – 1998 [4] and became a part of the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), requiring guarantees of gender equality in cooperation with civil society and other actors. Accordingly, gender-based policies and action plans have since been put into action. However, these plans have not always been effective. Central Asian women still face many challenges. One of the most serious of these is the problem with bride kidnapping [5].

Despite laws criminalizing the practice, it is still common in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. UN figures state that in 2018, 13.8 % of girls under the age of 24 were victims of this phenomenon in Kyrgyzstan [6]. In Kazakhstan, 5,000 women are kidnapped annually, according to women’s rights organizations [7]. Most cases of kidnapping result in rape. Girls and their parents do not report to the authorities because of gender norms and stereotypes.

Secondly, early and arranged marriages. Although the legal age for marriage is at least 18 years old, unregistered marriages of underage girls still commonly occur. Despite legal punishments for those guilty of following this practice, many cases go unreported [8]. For example, 7% of girls in Kazakhstan get married before the age of 18, according to the UN. Even for those over 18, societal pressures to marry before the age of 23 limits the education and career possibilities of many women.

Thirdly, domestic violence: a global problem of which Central Asia is not an exception. According to UN Women in Central Asia and Europe, one in five women in Tajikistan, 30% of women in Kyrgyzstan and 20 % of women in Kazakhstan experience violence, primarily from their partners [9]. However, instances are likely under-reported due to economic dependence on abusers and fear of community judgment.

Furthermore, women’s rights demonstrations are frequently repressed in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan [11,12], including International Women’s Day walks on the 8th of March. In some cases, participants of peaceful protests have been taken to the police station or attacked by local nationalist groups.

The political participation of women is another major issue. Politics in Central Asia have long been perceived as a domain for men. An example of a mechanism for increasing women’s participation has been the 30% gender quotas that have been implemented in Kyrgyzstan. As for Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, there are no quotas, although both countries have almost the same number of women in their parliaments as does Kyrgyzstan.

Last but not least, women’s employment and the gender gap in payment. The latest report by Women Business and the Law shows that Central Asian countries have been struggling with providing equal employment terms and economic opportunities both for men and women. In regards to equal payment, Tajikistan has a law mandating equal pay while in Kazakhstan women make 31 % less than men do, and in Kyrgyzstan, women earn 25 % less money. The report also highlights the issue of sexual harassment at workplaces and educational institutions. As Cabar Asia reports, every fourth woman in Kyrgyzstan experiences harassment at the workplace, and every fifth female student faces harassment at educational institutions [14].

Despite measures being taken to some extent by government agencies and civil society, women’s rights are not fully respected and defended in Central Asia. Hence, there is still so much to fight for. Though they work through tight limitations, organizations, networks, initiative groups, and individual activists continue promoting gender equality; lobbying and reinforcing the current laws and eliminating social norms and stereotypes concerning women’s gender roles.

Disclaimer. This clip was created with the funds from SIDA and managed through ForumCiv. ForumCiv does not necessarily share the views expressed in this clip.

Written by: Ainagul Amatbekova, Central Asia Solidarity Groups, Malmö, Sweden
Animated by: Alia Tarasov, Tarasov Animation Studio, Osh, Kyrgyzstan


List of literature used:

1.“Global Gender Gap Report 2020.” World Economic Forum, www.weforum.org/reports/global-gender-gap-report-2020 

2.Shurko, Tatyana. “‘Худжум’: Женская Эмансипация в Период Ранних Советских ‘Экспериментов’ в Советской Киргизии (1918-1930 Гг.), Фемштаб, 18 Nov. 2016, www.art-initiatives.org/ru/content/hudzhum-zhenskaya-emansipaciya-v-period 

3.Ishkanian, Armine. “VI. Gendered Transitions: The Impact of the Post-Soviet Transition on Women in Central Asia and the Caucasus.” Perspectives on Global Development and Technology, 2003, www.academia.edu/8648047/VI._Gendered_Transitions_The_Impact_of_the_Post-Soviet_Transition_on_Women_in_Central_Asia_and_the_Caucasus

4.“UN, United Nations, UN Treaties, Treaties.” United Nations, United Nations, treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-8&chapter=4&clang=_en

5.Mamma Sackey girl or bride-kidnapping –  is a practice throughout history and around the world in which a man abducts the woman he wishes to marry. Urban Dictionary, January 31, 2012 https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Bride%20kidnapping 

6.UN Statement on Bride Kidnapping and Child Marriage.” Home Page, 31 May 2018, www.unicef.org/kyrgyzstan/press-releases/un-statement-bride-kidnapping-and-child-marriage    

7.“Год После Гибели Бурулай. Невест Воруют Как и Раньше.” Kaktakto?!, 27 May 2019, kaktakto.com/istorii/god-posle-gibeli-burulaj-nevest-voruyut-kak-i-ranshe/

8.Время, Настоящее “‘Будет Учиться – Станет Проституткой’. Как Выдают Замуж Девочек-Подростков в Центральной Азии.” Настоящее Время, Новости, Видео и Репортажи Из России, Украины, Стран Азии – Настоящее Время, 29 Jan. 2020, www.currenttime.tv/a/child-marriage/29991983.html 

9.Replication-Receiver. “Central Asian Governments Call for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls: UNDP in Europe and Central Asia.” UNDP, UNDP, 4 Dec. 2018, www.eurasia.undp.org/content/rbec/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2018/central-asian-governments-call-for-the-elimination-of-violence-a.html 

10.“Kazakhstan: From Flower Power to Girl Power.” Eurasianet, eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-from-flower-power-to-girl-power?fbclid=IwAR0mTxQZarDqd0c98p4LZpgTitOm9eY5kzCsTOpwGQjbHAWidLvPUxe9qwY  

11.Rakhmankulov, Kasym (Рахманкулов, Касым) “Последствия Женского Марша: Феминистки Обратились За Защитой.” Радио Азаттык (Кыргызская Служба Радио Свободная Европа/Радио Свобода), Радио Азаттык, 12 Mar. 2019, rus.azattyk.org/a/kyrgyzstan_marsh_feminists_nationalists/29817327.html  

12.Rferl. “Masked Men Attack Women’s Day Demonstration In Kyrgyzstan.” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, 8 Mar. 2020, www.rferl.org/a/hooligans-attack-women-s-day-demonstration-in-kyrgyzstan/30475849.html?fbclid=IwAR0V3onOwIrlaQx_DNkFz7r8HYrp9bw2XzqC77u1pgZ_SuTaIi8p8ZOIoK4 

13.Nazik, Imabekova “ВБ: Смешанный прогресс в обеспечении экономических возможностей для женщин в Центральной Азии за 10 лет”, CAAN – Central Asia Analytical Network 11 сентября, 2019 

14.Toma, Aizada. “Sexual Harassment in Kyrgyzstan: Impunity and Reprehension of Victims (Infographics).” CABAR.asia, 18 Dec. 2019, cabar.asia/en/sexual-harassment-in-kyrgyzstan-impunity-and-reprehension-of-victims-infographics/