Uzbek Women Shunned by Bosses

Uzbek women are losing their jobs and facing unprecedented workplace discrimination.

Uzbek Women Shunned by Bosses

Uzbek women are losing their jobs and facing unprecedented workplace discrimination.

Like many of Uzbek women, high school teacher, Tatyana Gurevich, struggles to support her family. She earns $12 a month - barely enough to put food on their plates.

"I never thought that an educated women could have such a miserable life," she said. "How can I provide for my family on such a wage?"

Uzbek women once formed the backbone of the state sector, working predominantly as teachers, doctors and agricultural workers. But after independence in 1991, the economy struggled to adapt to market reforms, forcing the government to slash public service budgets. As a result, many women lost their jobs and employment conditions for those who remained deteriorated.

Most women worked in Soviet times, now just over half of them are in jobs. "The state sector has suffered the greatest job cuts, people aren't paid on time and their wages are not enough to buy anything, " said Marfua Tokhtakhodzhaeva, the head of the Women's Resource Centre.

Women on average receive 70% of men's salaries. They are not given responsible jobs and are often turned down for promotion.

In addition, women's workplace privileges are now becoming a hindrance, as the extra cost of childcare and maternity leave puts off employers in the state and private sectors.

"When top employees are not getting paid, I can understand why some companies say they cannot afford to take on the extra financial burden that comes with recruiting women," said Olga Nemirovskay, an expert at the Employment Studies Centre.

Umida Umurzakova, a US business school graduate, has decided not to have children because she fears it may harm her employment prospects. "I went for a job at a foreign company and they told me that they would prefer to employ a man. I think they were just scared that I might take maternity leave."

Retired saleswoman, Lyudmila Reshetnikova, feels nostalgic about the Soviet era when work for women was plentiful. "During Soviet times, even a cleaner was able to earn enough for her family - now we are falling into an abyss," she said.

"I am retired, but still have to work otherwise I'd starve. My daughter cannot find a job. She has been offered a tiny salary which would only cover lunch and transport costs."

In rural areas, prospects for women are worse. Half of them would quit their jobs if their husbands earned enough money, according to a recent poll by the Employment Institute. That's because they are working as long and doing as much physical work as they did under communism but for less money.

"There's far too much work to do in collective farms, really too much, " said Rano Ibragimova., a small trader at the Tashkent market. "During sowing and harvesting we have no time to get home. It is really very hard work and we are paid too little."

"The government kept us working in the cotton fields the whole summer and autumn, yet I wasn't able to buy my kid warm clothes."

Women's employment prospects have been further worsened by the revival of Islamic values in the early nineties, according to Tokhtakhodzhaeva.

"After independence, Muslim religious practices, prohibited in Soviet times, re-emerged," she explained. "Islamic values were presented as Uzbek national values and reinforced the traditional view of women as being subordinate to men."

Islamisation of Uzbek society, Tokhtakhodzhaeva believes, has reduced the horizons of Uzbek women. "Those who've backed the resurgence of religion began saying 'a women does not need employment, she's better off staying at home and looking after the kids,'" she said.

Tokhtakhodzhaeva says that economic hardships combined with the Islamic revival has undermined the status of Uzbek women." Dependent on their husbands, denied the opportunity to earn decent money, women have been left on the margins of social and economic life. Even their status within the family has fallen."

Galima Bukharbaeva is a stringer for Agence France-Presse in Tashkent.

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