After a recent blog post I published on Women in higher education in Central Asia, I was approached by University World News to write more about why it is that some women in Central Asia – particularly those in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – are doing so much better (better even than the world average) in getting to university than their counterparts in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
This led to some fascinating further research trying to understand more about this conundrum.
I am hugely grateful to Aksana Ismailbekova, Albina Yun and another researcher who chose to remain anonymous for their expert insights and support for this article, which I am delighted to say has now been published:
I would love to get your comments on this important issue, and ideas / practices from elsewhere in the world that might support greater gender equality in the parts of Central Asia where opportunities to enter higher education are not (yet) as accessible for women.
Happy new year / S novim godom / Soli nav muborak to you all!
Kickstarting this year’s set of posts is a report from Kyrgyzstan on steps being taken – primarily by the government and a small but growing number of local NGOs – to bring greater equality to the country.
The article can be found at https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/cristina-maza/challenging-patriarchy-in-kyrgyzstan.
The author points out the unusual situation of formerly Soviet-run countries where women’s roles have actually decreased in equality terms since the fall of the Soviet Union at the start of the 1990s. Soviet policies towards women were, like many aspects of its rule, largely economic-led (e.g. more women in the workforce = greater productivity), but had knock on social and cultural impacts that benefitted women’s status.
Christina Maza’s balanced and interesting article offers an insight into how gender roles are developing in independent Kyrgyzstan. What is most fascinating is the stark divide for women, where the haves (middle class, educated etc) take bold steps towards a greater role for women by, for example, holding high level government posts but the have nots (often rural and from poorer backgrounds) may marry young and not be able to access opportunities for educational and/or career development.
I have in the past read about initiativesthat are bringing concepts of gender equality and women’s rights to more rural areas, but much more needs to be done to give parity to women within Kyrgyzstan. Last summer, I met with senior female university managers, one of whom has since been appointed to a very high level government post. I was perhaps even more delighted to meet a female taxi driver in Bishkek, a profession in many countries predominantly held by men. These women are in their own right extraordinary people, and I hope that across Kyrgyzstan more women will be able to develop and employ their skills on at least a level pegging with their male counterparts.
UNDP has produced this eye-catching visual representation of what would otherwise be a very long statistics heavy report showing the state of education in Uzbekistan, which a focus on the differences in participation and outcome based on gender. Reproduced below (c) UNDP Uzbekistan, source http://visual.ly/women-and-men-uzbekistan-difference-education.
Infographics are an excellent way of familiarising people with what can sometimes feel like very ‘heavy’ numbers. By looking at this infographic, you would grasp a number of facts quite quickly. The most striking to me – which is not as gender specific as some of the data – is the drop in participation in higher education and the fact that only 9% of school leavers are going on to university now. Compare that to neighbouring Tajikistan (20% participation rate) and don’t even think about other neighbours Kazakhstan (41%) or Kyrgyzstan (51%) (source: World Bank, 2011).
The implications for Uzbekistan’s future human potential are deeply worrying and not even a beautiful infographic like this one can hide some serious concerns.