Financial incentivization: Providing various forms of financial benefits such as paternity leaves, direct money transfers, tax cuts, etc.
Full-time dads: Fathers who leave their jobs or stay unemployed to devote their whole schedule to child-raising
Central Asia is a dynamic region going through political, economic and social changes. Most of the countries look forward to the development not only in terms of economic growth, but also in terms of social advancement in spheres such as education, culture, etc. However, women still remain to be an underprivileged group in the region. This mainly concerns the division of labour and political participation (1). “The gender wage gap widens as women enter prime child-bearing years. This is to a large degree due to their domestic and care burdens. In fact, as many as 61 percent of Tajik women not in the labour force cite domestic responsibilities as the reason for their inactivity” (2).
The governments of Central Asian countries explicitly state that the authorities are trying to effect a change and equalize the ground for women. For instance, President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev has once said: “As of today there is not a single woman holding a position of a regional governor or mayor; there are only 3 rayon [county] governors and 5 oblast [province] vice governors… I instruct the Government in partnership with the Presidential Administration to come up with a plan to promote more women to managerial positions by 2016” (3).
Thus, the empowerment of women is contingent upon their liberation from domestic obligations. This should involve both informal and formal agenda from the authorities, which would allow women to participate in the labour market on the equal grounds.
Some families will be financially better off. In the context of Central Asia, women have higher rates of success in terms of both academic and professional education. Women in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are more likely than men to enter tertiary education (4). It follows that the employability of women is not contingent on their competencies and skills, but rather other factors such as pregnancy, traditions, stereotypes, etc: “hidden discrimination” on the labour market. Though family structures and gender roles have greatly modiﬁed of late, the traditional stereotype based on a male breadwinner is still prevalent in most countries, which has a negative impact on women and men workers who try to both work and care for their children”(5). If it is in a family’s material interest to have a working mother and a home-staying father, the government should work for providing such an opportunity.
The Central Asian countries are not financially capable of providing significant social welfare benefits to equalize such a ground. The history of the provision of childcare benefits shows that the governments usually provide less than 1 percent of average income amount per individual.
This will make gender roles in Central Asia more flexible. The social framework in the region still remains largely traditional, dividing labor along the lines of gender. Basically, men are perceived as breadwinners and women are tasked with childcare and other domestic obligations such cooking, cleaning, etc. (5) Shifting this kind of framework will enable women to equalize the ground in their societies. They will be able to occupy long-term positions as the choice to have a child will not necessarily bind them to staying home. Because this kind of change does not involve significant material losses to the families, more and more people would be willing to accept such a reform.
More than a half of female population in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, for instance, are employed on middle-class positions. However, the traditional notions about childcare still remain strong in the society. Financial benefits might not be the answer for effecting such a change. It is better to provide such material benefits to various organizations and NGOs that work for the betterment of women’s rights. For instance, some organizations promote female entrepreneurship.
This will empower men who actually want to be full-time fathers. The existing stereotypes in the region portray fathers as distant from childcare. The resulting picture is that many fathers do not participate as much in raising their children. Home-staying dads are perceived as incompetent and vulnerable as it is believed that only women should be dealing with infants. It is a slow change, but financially empowered dads will feel less pressure devoting their lives to child-raising. Financial incentives will be effective because the wealth of a family often determines their social status in Central Asia. For instance, in Uzbekistan “most households, despite their limited nancial resources, were committed to expend a great deal of money on sep-sarpo in order to keep their honour and buy decent treatment for their daughters in the groom’s family and the mahalla” (6)
It will not empower men as they will probably not receive significant material benefits. This way the stigmas of traditional gender roles will remain persistent. In case if both parents have jobs, they will be financially better off refusing such benefits and staying employed.
The traditional gender roles are deeply rooted in the mentality of Central Asians. It would be naive to think that such beliefs would easily shift with the use of financial means. Women in the West have arrived at their financial empowerment through centuries of active agenda among civil societies. Moreover, women themselves in Central Asia would have to be convinced that a home-staying dad is a better alternative in their lives.
Such a reform will not surely solve all of the problems of gender gap in Central Asia. However, it presents a significant opportunity for women who would like to continue their career and sometimes even prevent themselves from losing a job. Many companies in Central Asia are not interested in employing women for important long-term leading positions specifically due to possibility of pregnancy case.
Such a reform puts a wrong focus on childcare. Many families, especially in rural areas of Central Asia, suffer from malnourishment and limited access to the facilities necessary for childcare (7). Thus, the core issue does not stand on the fact that women are highly disadvantaged in the market, but rather it lies in the basic standards of living. The governments should then ensure that families, regardless of who is the breadwinner, have enough resources to feed and raise their children.
The idea of providing financial subsidies to full-time dads is not mutually exclusive to the provision of proper care for pregnant women and mothers with newborns. The government needs to address issues of women across the board. Both career-oriented and family-oriented women need to have equal opportunities. Equally, the government needs to provide proper facilities in rural areas for childcare, and at the same time ensure that women in cities are not forced to give up on their careers because of the domestic obligations connected to child-raising.
Family is a private matter. Instead of trying to influence the pattern of how families raise their children and divide that kind of labour, the government should focus on issues such as ‘glass-ceiling’ and basic things like proper education for girls in rural areas of Central Asia. It is high time for the governments in the region to build a strong foundation for the human development, which primarily involves the improvement of the quality of education and its accessibility.
The issue of childcare is as equally important as the issues listed above. As long as men remain to be excluded from childcare, the gender role stereotypes will not evaporate. The gender gap issues needs to be tackled in many directions.
- Saidazimova, Gulnoza, “Women & Power In Central Asia (Part 1): The Struggle For Equal Rights.” RadioFreeEurope, RadioLiberty. December, 2005 https://www.rferl.org/a/1064211.html
- Khitarishvili, Tamar. “Gender inequalities in labour markets in Central Asia.” June 2016. Gender inequalities in labour markets in Central Asia
- TengriNews, “President Nazarbayev speaks for greater access for women.” https://en.tengrinews.kz/kazakhstan_news/President-Nazarbayev-speaks-for-greater-access-for-women-to-8
- Sabzalieva, Emma. “Gender gaps in higher education across Central Asia.” 08 July 2016. University World News. http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20160707140807406
- International Labour Organization, “Gender Equality.” Eastern Europe and Central Asia. http://www.ilo.org/moscow/areas-of-work/gender-equality/lang--en/index.html
- Urinboyev, Rustam; Svensson, Måns. “Corruption in a culture of money: Understanding social norms in post-Soviet Uzbekistan.” Social and Legal norms. Lund University. http://portal.research.lu.se/ws/files/5937982/3958120.pdf
- Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, “Health in Central Asia:Successes in Maternity Clinics in Chuy and Issyk Kul Oblasts, Kyrgyzstan.” https://health.bmz.de/what_we_do/Reproductive-maternal-and-child-health/studies_and_articles/Health_in_Central_Asia/Health_in_Central_Asia__Successes_in_Maternity_Clinics.pdf