Gender equality in Uzbekistan: why do I care about it?

05 Mar 2014

Blog by Ziyodullo Parpiev

This picture was taken several years ago as evidence that a UNDP project was helping a community to bring safe drinking water. In the picture you will see that the women are digging a ditch with ketmen, a traditional shovel-type instrument in Uzbekistan. What are men doing? They are standing nearby and commanding the earth-digging process.

Maybe the picture was not intended to mean it, but for me it is a symbol of gender equality in the country. Just few numbers – women constitute 45.4% of all employed (in 2012), but they are primarily employed in low-paying sectors such as health care and education (76.2% and 68.4% of total employment in those sectors, respectively). Women are greatly underrepresented in sectors with higher wage such as construction (9.2%), transport and communications (12.2%) and manufacturing (39.3%). As a result, women end up earning on average 30-40% less than men.

Very important difference between men and women is time spent on un-paid work at home: women on average spend almost 4 hours on housekeeping and other household chores, while men spend only 1 hour every day (data on time spent on different activities comes from 2005 ADB survey as reported in the Women and Men of Uzbekistan 2000-2005 publication). The uneven distribution of the household chores shows that lower labour participation of women might be “compensated” by unpaid work at home, which enforces the existing divide between male and female employment.

Education, which could have alleviated some gender inequalities, instead seems to be enforcing them. After mandatory secondary education, the higher you go, the larger is gender divide: females constitute only 36.5% of student body, 27.8% of people with kandidat nauk degree, and 18.6% of people with doctor nauk degree.

Women occupy even less top managerial positions in all branches of government – total percentage of women in public institutions is 16.9%, while women constitute 21.7% of Legislative chamber, 15% of Senate, 14.3% of judiciary and 6.5% of the Cabinet of Ministers of Uzbekistan. 

Representation of women at the managerial level of the economy is slightly better. As of January 1, 2010, 26.8% of managers in the economy were women. However, women exclusively occupy low- and medium-level managerial positions, and representation of women in the top positions is almost non-existent.

Of course, these are just numbers. Many fellow men say this is how it is supposed to be, how it has always been. It may be true that traditionally women have played secondary role in economic and political life in Uzbekistan. But it is not supposed to be that way in the 21st century. By not providing equal opportunities to all, we do not fully utilize the most important resource we have – human capital. In addition to not utilizing resources the most efficiently, gender inequality is a part of overall inequality in the society. Since we do value fairness and equity on its own, greater equality in opportunities for men and women alike should undoubtedly make us a happier nation. That is why I care about gender equality.