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Women’s Rights in Kyrgyzstan Kyrgyzstan is often viewed as a country with vast gender inequality. Reports of “bride kidnapping,” such as in the famous 2011 Vice documentary, have painted a dispiriting picture of the place women have in Kyrgyz society. The state of women’s rights in Kyrgyzstan has seen a vast improvement over the last 15 years, however, and despite the continued prevalence of these and other instances of gender-based violations, the general picture is one of progress.

Legal Equality

As an independent nation, the Kyrgyz Republic holds a good record for promoting gender equality. The Central Asian country remains a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which it has committed to since 1996, and like most post-Soviet countries, it has enshrined gender equality in the constitution.

Gaps in legislation and inconsistent legal interpretation have precluded greater progress in the area of sex discrimination, however. For example, until recently, many divorced women could not access child support. In 2018, the country reported 40,000 cases of alimony evasion. But in 2020, partly due to the work of activists, the government helped improve women’s rights in Kyrgyzstan by passing an amendment that made alimony evaders more accountable under family law. Whereas previously fathers who failed to pay child support could get away with just a fine, since 2020, fathers must pay alimony in full.

Child Marriages

The marrying of persons under the age of 18 is illegal in Kyrgyzstan yet 13% of Kyrgyz girls are married before their 18th birthday. Failures in law enforcement in conjunction with unemployment and rural poverty have meant the persistence of traditional non-consensual child marriages. Particularly in larger families that lack the income to support numerous children, parents seek to marry their daughters off to wealthier families to alleviate economic hardship. The problem is worse in rural areas, where the poverty rate is higher than the national poverty rate.

Child marriages in Kyrgyzstan are usually the result of “bride kidnapping” or “ala kachuu,” which literally translates to “pick up and run away.” Every year, 7,000 to 9,000 Kyrgyz girls fall prey to this practice, according to government figures. The bride’s parents are often responsible, along with the other family providing the “bride money.” Both parties arrange the marriage for the daughter typically without her consent in an unofficial religious ceremony. These illegal child marriages put young brides at risk of rape and domestic violence.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has worked to reduce child marriages in Kyrgyzstan since 2016. A key example of its work is the 2018-19 Project Addressing Early Marriages, which the British Embassy funded. This project was successful at encouraging the Kyrgyz Ministry of Labour and Social Development to implement the law prohibiting underage religious marriages in a “systematic way.” It also assisted the training of religious leaders in their understanding of marital law and improved the hotline services available to affected women and girls.

Domestic Violence

As part of the global Spotlight Initiative, a multi-year program that the Kyrgyz government and the European Union supported, U.N. has been implementing sex equality training to improve women’s rights in Kyrgyzstan. Two of the main aims of this program are to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls and provide services to survivors.

Violence against women is a serious problem in Kyrgyzstan and cases have risen since the forced closures of crisis centers during the country’s COVID-19 lockdowns. The last decade has seen improvements though, both in legislation and the provision of survivor support services, such as Spotlight Initiative-funded safe spaces.

Yet despite these improvements, the majority of domestic violence survivors in Kyrgyzstan do not seek help. Family pressure, social stigma and a lack of economic opportunities compel up to 90% of women who have suffered violent treatment from their husbands to return to them, according to U.N. figures. Alternatively, many women escape to pursue unsafe employment opportunities, making them susceptible to trafficking.

Education

The state education system in Kyrgyzstan nominally treats all pupils equally regardless of sex. Girls and boys enjoy near educational parity in Kyrgyzstan at the primary level in terms of enrollment and attendance rates. At the secondary level, however, the net attendance of girls is 3% lower than boys (59% for boys compared with 56% for girls). A U.N. Working Group has found that the principal reasons for girls dropping out of school early are “forced marriage and adolescent pregnancy.” Nevertheless, the 100% adult female literacy rate in Kyrgyzstan as of 2019 should provide a solid basis for women’s future economic participation.

The government is also advancing women’s rights in Kyrgyzstan through efforts to remove negative stereotypes surrounding women in schools. In April 2022, the Kyrgyz government launched a review of all textbooks and teaching materials with the aim of removing any discriminatory content and pictures. Additionally, initiatives such as “Girls in Science,” which has already helped 3,000 girls, aim to increase the proportion of women in underrepresented sectors.

The Future

The Kyrgyz Republic has made impressive strides toward gender equality since earning its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It ranks 82nd out of 162 countries on the Gender Inequality Index in 2021. Today, the main impediments to women’s rights in Kyrgyzstan are intolerant patriarchal attitudes that perpetuate violence against women, notably the ancient practice of “bride kidnapping”, failures in law enforcement and a lack of economic opportunities for women. “Kyrgyzstan stands at a crossroads with an immense opportunity to harness the potential of women,” wrote a group of U.N. human rights experts in April 2022.

– Samuel Chambers
Photo: Flickr

New Initiative to Combat Poverty in Afghanistan
Afghanistan is on the brink of disaster. Immediately after the United States’ exit from Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban assumed full power, seizing the nation’s capital, Kabul. Just months later, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimated that Afghanistan’s $20 billion economy could shrink by 20%, plunging the nation further into poverty. However, the international community is not turning a blind eye. Instead, UNDP has launched a new initiative to combat poverty in Afghanistan.

UNDP Launches ABADEI

In October 2021, UNDP launched the Area-based Approach for Development Emergency Initiatives, also known as ABADEI. ABADEI is a new initiative to combat poverty in Afghanistan and is a part of a broad effort to “operationalize a basic human needs approach within the complex and fast-evolving context of Afghanistan.” UNDP explains the ABADEI strategy best, stating that ABADEI “provides an articulation of investments in basic services, livelihoods and community resilience that complement humanitarian efforts by helping households, communities and the private sector cope with the adverse effects of the crisis.”

Specifically, ABDEI has the backing of a Special Trust Fund for Afghanistan. UNDP created this special trust fund in October 2021 to provide cash assistance to Afghans in dire need, independent of a third party. Germany was the first country to financially commit to the trust fund, pledging nearly $60 million. The trust fund has since grown to more than $170 million in December 2021.

ABADEI, then, is the strategy that directs the flow of the money. Under the ABADEI initiative, program coordinators will implant funds into the community in four main ways.

4 Main Funding Channels

  1. Allotting grants to microbusinesses. A 2019 OECD report on private sector development and entrepreneurship in Afghanistan estimates that entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) account for nearly 99% of businesses in the country. The report also states that “with foreign assistance declining and the country still struggling to attract private investment from abroad, Afghan entrepreneurs and SMEs will have to be the engines for much of the needed development.” This first goal particularly seeks to assist women-owned businesses as women face disproportionate impacts of poverty during times of crisis. Under ABADEI, program coordinators will distribute cash in local currency and assess needs with the help of local community leaders. The U.N. hopes that the direct injection of cash will help keep local economies from collapsing.
  2. Cash-for-work projects. The second goal of the initiative is to provide “short-term income to the unemployed.” USAID data from November 2021 indicates that nearly 40% of Afghans endure poverty. In 2020, before the Taliban took over, unemployment stood at slightly less than 12%. Although there is no official number for the rising unemployment rate, reports indicate that people are resorting to selling their own possessions to survive.
  3. Financial support to at-risk populations. The director of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, Qu Dongyu, states that women, young children and the elderly are at risk of starvation during the winter in Afghanistan. To mitigate these impacts, ABADEI seeks to provide a “temporary basic income” to the at risk-populations of Afghanistan.
  4. Strengthening natural disaster resilience. Afghanistan is prone to natural disasters including flooding, earthquakes, landslides and droughts. ABADEI will help Afghanistan mitigate such disasters by funding the “rehabilitation of canals” and other “flood protection” strategies to safeguard farming land from the destruction of floods. By preemptively protecting farmland, ABADEI aims to reduce the risk of increasing food insecurity in the nation.

Looking Ahead

Achim Steiner, a UNDP administrator, said at a press conference that “ABADEI is a concrete contribution to the efforts of the United Nations to protect the hard-won development gains achieved over the past 20 years and prevent further deterioration of Afghanistan’s fragile local economy.” Though the future of Afghanistan is unclear and the country faces numerous challenges, ABADEI stands as a new initiative to combat poverty in Afghanistan, marking an integral first step in the international community’s efforts to safeguard the well-being of Afghans after the Taliban takeover.

– Richard Vieira
Photo: Flickr

 

Zero Waste Project in TurkeySustainable development in low-to-middle-income countries can significantly reduce poverty by increasing jobs, boosting the economy and providing better access to services. Major developments in infrastructure and policies have greatly improved poverty rates in Turkey. The relative poverty rate has been reduced from 23.4% in 2007 to 20.1% in 2017. One step in sustainable development that will result in environmental and economic benefits is the Zero Waste project in Turkey.

The Zero Waste Project

The Zero Waste project was established in Turkey by the country’s first lady, Emine Erdoğan, in 2017. The project added $2.3 billion to the Turkish economy due to a large amount of material and food saved from the reduction of waste. The goals of the Zero Waste project in Turkey are to reduce waste by recycling byproducts of agriculture activities and repurposing hazardous waste. It also works to encourage recycling among citizens by implementing separate recycling bins in cities.

In addition, the government assists farmers under the project to implement zero waste practices. As a result, this maximizes their profits and boosts the economy. Another goal of the project is to bring the recycling rate to 35% in the next two years. This will result in employment opportunities for 100,000 people in recycling and an annual income of $2.7 billion. Under the supervision of the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning, the project aims to expand across the entire country by 2023.

Education

Education is fundamental in encouraging communities to participate in recycling to improve living conditions. A Zero Waste education program was implemented in Turkey schools to educate children on the importance of waste reduction. More than 25,000 public buildings implemented the zero-waste system in 2019.

In addition to reducing waste from food and material, an initiative was created to decrease waste in the ocean and expand the recycling of wastewater. The Zero Waste Blue program launched in 2019 within the Zero Waste Project in Turkey. The program mobilizes the public to keep the water clean by discouraging waste in the seas.

Additional Successes

In 2021, first lady Emine Ergoğan was presented with the first Sustainable Development Goals Action Award of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Turkey. The Zero Waste project received the award because it achieved the goal of “Responsible Consumption and Production.” This focuses on success in sustainable development through programs to improve waste reduction and recycling. “Responsible Consumption and Production” is one of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. This goal aims to reduce waste generation significantly by 2030. The Zero Waste project in Turkey continues to produce environmental changes that will result in economic growth in the next nine years.

Recycled material boosts the economy by requiring less money to produce products and creates new job opportunities. Reduction of food waste also improves food insecurity and scarcity. With continued action, poverty rates in Turkey can continue to decrease.

– Simone Riggins
Photo: Flickr

Manufacturing in Ethiopia
Ethiopia has cultivated a substantial amount of progress in transforming its economy in the last decade due to a sharp focus on government policies and development strategies to advance its budding manufacturing industry. The country notes a thriving working-age population (workers aged 15 to 29) and a large portion of these eager workers are women.

As the country’s priorities shift from agriculture to industry as its most dominant source of employment and profit, the role of women and manufacturing has become fundamental to actualizing Ethiopia’s goal of becoming a middle-income country by 2025.

Women take up about 80-90% of jobs created in manufacturing, and as much of a progressive hurdle that is for Ethiopia’s labor force, there is still much work that needs to occur to make the manufacturing industry all-inclusive. Addressing these issues is crucial to achieving sustainable growth and transformation in Ethiopia and government leaders are beginning to recognize faults and mobilize toward ensuring the representation of women in the workplace.

The Role of Women in an Expanding Industry

On average, around 62% of women have migrated from rural regions to work in the manufacturing industry. With women being the core reason why industrialization in Ethiopia has boosted the economy, there comes a question as to why women are dominating the scene in jobs such as agro-processing, textile and apparel, and leather goods sub-sectors. An improving economy is a relevant reason why women are seeking more work, but another factor is that the majority of women working in the industry have less education, are younger and are working with lower pay than men. This widens the faction of who can work and is a cheaper asset for industries.

Companies also tend to prefer women over men because they perceive them as more quality-oriented, dependable, committed, stable and obedient to leadership. For 89% of women, these industry jobs provide them with a steady income for the first time in their lives. A reported 78% said that their income has improved and 63% stated that their family’s standard of living has also improved since working in the manufacturing industry. As positive as this sounds, there is data that contradicts these points. On average, about 40% of workers’ wages go to housing payments and data shows that earnings are barely covering basic living costs.

Continual Challenges Women Endure at Work

The Ethiopian Constitution (1995), Labor Proclamation No.377 (2003) and other laws have provided protections for female workers’ rights. However, the lack of enforcement of these laws delays any real progress.

In the manufacturing workplace, women are experiencing discrimination and harassment as well as oppressive risks when traveling to and from work. A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report stated that women are only earning 77% of what men make even with proper education and experience. Opportunities to earn higher wages prove to be scarce due to gender segregation in the Ethiopian industry. This stems from a gross misconception that women are incapable of working in high-level positions, resulting in women having a difficult time obtaining leadership positions, with 60% of women in the garment production cutting stage, 95% in the sewing stage and only 15% in the finishing stages.

When women do reach managerial or ownership positions, they frequently face restrictions on resources, markets, materials and general information that is critical for a profitable business.

Breaking Barriers to Manifest an Economic Dream

Women and manufacturing in Ethiopia are two dynamic elements that have the potential to generate a level of economic prosperity that Ethiopia has dreamed of. But, in order to fulfill these goals, major improvements need to occur on the ground level as well as the policy level to make labor in the industry more gender-inclusive. The Government of Ethiopia, in cooperation with development partners, has already launched proposals that target the standing issues.

For instance, the Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC) has worked in partnership with the Department for International Development’s (DFID) Enterprise Partners Programme in establishing and delivering gender relations training packages for women workers and their, often male, managers in the industry. The training for women focuses on reproductive health, personal and menstrual hygiene, nutrition, sexual harassment, communications skills and confidence-building.

The Ministry of Industry (MoI) is also contributing to strategies and objectives for women and manufacturing in Ethiopia by setting up a gender coordination unit at each industrial park, especially at factories with more than 1,000 women workers. A 30% minimum quota is also in development for women in leadership and high-skill job employment that focuses on recruitment and promotions with annual rewards to those who perform best.

Visualizing an End to a Misogynistic System

The recognition of a woman’s value in the workplace is emanant, especially the role of women and manufacturing in Ethiopia. Although there is still much that Ethiopia needs to do, the country is making strides in ensuring women receive representation and equal treatment. On a political level, Prime Minister Abiy has appointed more women leaders in government, giving them as equal an opportunity as men. If businesses follow by example, Ethiopia will reach an economic transformation that could inspire other countries to do the same.

– Alyssa McGrail
Photo: Flickr