“Because you are a woman”: What do people in Central Asia think about gender inequality and is healthy partnership possible in families? Research findings.

Иллюстрация создана при помощи нейросети Midjourney

In Central Asia, women and girls face the threat of abduction, forced marriages, violence, and discrimination, as well as bearing a significant responsibility for domestic duties. This inequality is a result of existing norms, traditions, and discrimination, as well as the insufficiency of fair laws and political measures.

According to the Gender Inequality Index (GII) by UNDP, Kyrgyzstan ranks last among the countries in Central Asia due to high maternal mortality (60 cases per 100,000 live births), high teenage pregnancy (32.8 births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19), low representation of women in positions of power (parliamentary seats at 19.2%), and in the labor market.

In 2022, an international solidarity movement for gender equality called HeForShe was launched in Central Asia by the UN Women. Its goal is to engage men in our region as advocates for women in the journey towards building a more just and secure world for all the people.

In the same year, the team conducted a study to examine the attitudes, beliefs, and ideas held by men in five Central Asian countries regarding concepts of masculinity and femininity, gender equality, parenting, and the role of women in society. To achieve this, online surveys, focus groups, in-depth interviews with experts, and over 1200 individuals from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan were surveyed.

We will tell what men and women think about some common gender unjust beliefs.

Education and Domestic Violence

In Kyrgyzstan, according to the results of conducted research, a significant portion of men, accounting for 60.1%, believe that university education holds greater significance for men, while considering it less important for women. However, this opinion is not exclusive to men alone, as between 25% and almost half of women (48.2%) share this viewpoint.

Additionally, the research revealed that over one-third of young people aged 15 to 19 (24%) in Kyrgyzstan believe that a husband has the right to use violence against his wife, at least under certain circumstances.

The more frequently a man engages in physical violence towards his partner, the higher the likelihood that he will also perpetrate physical violence against his children, and that his partner will also engage in physical violence towards their children. High levels of violence against women, as well as a tolerant attitude towards aggressive behavior in society, are contributing factors to violence against both women and children.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 18 out of 100 women in Central Asia have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. In Kyrgyzstan, this figure stands at 17% of women and girls, while in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, it is 19% and 6%, respectively.

Women who have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from their partners.

Household Chores and Childcare

In the Central Asian region, there is not a single country where men and women spend an equal amount of time on unpaid work related to childcare and household chores.

In Kyrgyzstan, the vast majority of men (87%) and women (82%) hold the belief that it is best when men focus on earning a living while women take care of the home and children.

According to the #HeForShe research, only 50% of fathers in Kyrgyzstan attended prenatal consultations, and only 10% are involved in early child development and care.

Fathers participating in childbirth and early child development.

In Kyrgyzstan, women who are employed full-time and work more than 40 hours per week often work over 61 hours per week. This means that they spend twice as much time on work compared to men who perform a similar amount of work. Additionally, economically active women have fewer days off compared to working men.

This inequality is linked to the fact that women are forced to spend a significant amount of additional time on unpaid work, fulfilling their "household duties" in the "second shift." On average, women spend 247 minutes per day on such tasks, while men spend only 146 minutes per day.

The Patriarchal Paradox

Research indicates that in Kazakhstan, 20% of men experience periodic depression, while 33% experience stress. Many men in Turkmenistan are reluctant to acknowledge their personal problems and seek help due to stigma and gender norms.

In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the majority of men are greatly or significantly concerned about job loss (Kazakhstan 67.6%, Kyrgyzstan 77%) and the inability to provide their children with a good education (Kazakhstan 67.6%, Kyrgyzstan 86.9%). In Tajikistan, almost half of men are concerned about these issues.

Thus, gender inequality also negatively affects men's lives. Men's identity and their role as fathers are linked to their ability to provide for their families, and this can lead to feelings of shame if they do not meet societal expectations. Patriarchal society grants men access to power but, at the same time, expects them to achieve socially recognized masculinity, control their behavior, and suppress "weak" emotions such as sadness, vulnerability, and fear. This is known as the patriarchal paradox. Due to these norms, men often face health issues, are more prone to violence, and have shorter lifespans due to the prevailing masculine norms that promote violence, alcohol, and tobacco consumption.

The other side that gives hope

Despite the statistics, there are people who defy stereotypes and challenge unfair gender norms. Ecology_Bish (Instagram) has collected stories of men supporting the #HeForShe Central Asia movement. Joining the campaign on the importance of gender equality, it is men who are sharing their stories with other men, breaking from tradition.

Research shows that men and boys who witness their own fathers engaging in household chores are more likely to take part in domestic tasks themselves. For instance, Ernest Omorov learned to cook and clean from an early age due to the upbringing provided by his father.

"He always said that there is no such thing as 'men's work' or 'women's work,' a man should be capable of doing everything," shares Ernest.

In his family, male figures actively participate in their child's life, which has had an impact on raising his daughter. Despite ridicule from colleagues, he took paternity leave when she was one and a half years old. The thing is, such cases are very rare, and in society, it is believed that only women can take maternity leave. The legislation of the Kyrgyz Republic also does not contain specific provisions regarding leave for fatherhood.

Another example is Zhaparbek, a retiree who gladly helps his daughter with her business. He sews eco-friendly pads and is not ashamed of this work.

"With the development of society, relationships also change. In our family, household duties are not divided. My son washes pans, cleans the floors, and washes the dishes in the dishwasher. As society changes, the difference in tasks disappears," says Zhaparbek.

Nurdin Sultanbaev believes that family life is a partnership. If there are disagreements within the family, he and his spouse seek a middle ground. Together, they simply sit down in the evening, have tea, and discuss these issues. They also approach the upbringing of their children with mutual understanding.

"In our family, we have three children, and we raise them to be more tolerant and understanding. When I have conversations with them, we try to build them on mutual understanding and respect. I don't act as a tyrant or a boss; I strive to be a consultant," shares Nurdin.


If you want to support the HeForShe Central Asia movement, follow these Central Asian accounts:

@heforshecentralasia @heforshekazakhstan @heforshekyrgyzstan @heforshetajikistan @heforsheuzbekistan. 

You can also join and share your own posts on social media using the following hashtags: