Women Economic Empowerment - We will change the world for better

General overview of woman entrepreneurship in Uzbekistan
At the beginning of the 1990's immediately after proclaiming independence, Uzbekistan faced a boom in entrepreneurship. Many women, both from urban and rural areas, started their business activities doing what was called "charter trade" (micro scale import / export, very active between Tashkent, Beijing and Bangkok). Many women could then open small shops and enterprises selling goods and providing services. BWA (Business Women Association), the first Uzbek women NGO, has contributed to the development of the private sector by encouraging Uzbek women initiatives.

Unfortunately, the road is long and difficult. Women still face many constraints impeding their access to self-employment. Some of these constraints are shared by both men and women, but other, like in many developing countries concern specifically woman empowerment.

The solidarity chain established by the tutorship system and the women oriented activities should ensure a multiplier effect within the country and is expected to bring to the economic empowering of women at large. Dissemination of Project outcomes should increase the knowledge of business opportunities in Uzbekistan. And encourage trans-national business partnerships between business circles of Uzbekistan and Europe.

Political constraints for the development of entrepreneurship in Uzbekistan:

From 1995 until 1998 the Government decided to restrict and control entrepreneurship to avoid chaotic and unregulated development of the private sector. The lack of adequate legislation to regulate the emerging market efficiently, led to the reinforcement of governmental control. Although the law "On state guarantees and support of the private entrepreneurship" enacted in 1999, lifted some restrictions for private entrepreneurship, independent private businesses still face many administrative constraints. A number of resolutions and decrees have been adopted, weighting down private business development. For example, it has become very difficult for an Uzbek company to open a bank account in hard currency and use foreign currencies for international trade. The lack of legal knowledge of the organisations supposed to protect the rights of small entrepreneurs impeded the full recovery of entrepreneurship initiative as well as the expression of the propositional power that NGOs could and should have.

Today, women represent 20% of high-level business structures in Uzbekistan, but they are being left aside from the privatization movement and, depending on the region, only 0 to 15% of the women have access to credit.

Specific needs and constraints for women:

Women have been disproportionately affected by the negative aspects of the current socioeconomic transition in Uzbekistan: increasing poverty, rising unemployment, reduction of the financial ability to educate both girls and boys, greater pressure to marry at younger ages, more visible domestic violence, etc. These problems are exacerbated by the fact that many Uzbek laws designed to protect and promote women's rights and gender equity are not widely known, implemented or enforced. Or if they do, they can have the opposite effect, like for example the three-year maternity leave, adopted to relieve the pressure in the labour market and protect women's rights but that created a discrepancy in the labour market by increasing women employment costs. Although Uzbek legislation recognizes the equality of men and women and prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, the reality relies more on traditions than on legislation. Uzbek traditional cultural and religious practices do not encourage women to have a public role in the society. This cultural pressure is a very strong deterrent to women empowerment, above all in the economic sector, preventing them from taking advantage of the equal opportunities encoded in the Uzbek law.

Specific barriers impeding women full-insertion in the private sector:

The effects of transitional economies have been particularly sensitive on women. One of the major social consequences of the economical transition was that women were left aside from the new economic development scheme. Out of an employed population of 9 million in 2000, women represented only 44% of the active population (Source: Statistics Division, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, ESCAP,2000). Being more vulnerable, they face specific gender sensitive barriers impeding their effective empowerment.

-   Cultural barriers: As mentioned, the traditional Uzbek society does not encourage women empowerment. The concept of gender equity is not uniformly known nor accepted. Woman entrepreneurship, above all, can be perceived as a questioning of male predominance. This barrier, though being informal, has a strong effect on women determination to undertake entrepreneurship activities. Besides, this discrepancy in the treatment of men and women is also reflected in other sectors where women have to face prejudices and employment reluctances.
-   Educational barriers: Although women are generally more present than men in the Higher Education system, their curriculum is not adapted to the new requirements of the labour market. According to the ADB RETA Project "Sub-regional cooperation in managing education reforms" (2002), Uzbek women are almost totally absent from Management, Financial and Information Technologies courses. The specific educational programs preferred by women, such as Education, Health or Culture, are not well linked to the existing demand of the labour market, and thus disadvantage female professionals. To maintain a well-developed human skills base, that is a major asset for the future development of the country; a stronger link between women's higher education preferences and labour market demands needs to be established.
-   Economical barrier: Women are mostly present in the less well-paid sectors of the economy. Their concentration in the public "non-productive" sectors of Health, Education and Culture has seen their wages fall further below the national average over the past 10 years. Despite efforts deployed towards economic empowerment of women, the majority of the active female population continues to be confined in the micro and small-scale enterprises and the informal sector (like cross-border trade, subcontracting work at home or street trading). Clearly, women's entrepreneurial potential remains untapped in transition countries, especially when compared to global trends. Like, for example in most countries of Western Europe, where the number of women entrepreneurs has rapidly increased during the last ten years, contributing to GDP growth and the creation of new jobs.
-   Financial barriers: The integration of women into the formal sector is still constrained by limited access to credit and property. This barrier, effective for many entrepreneur men and women, is even more sensitive for women. Apart from the gender prejudice limiting their access to traditional sources of funding, women are more accurately disadvantaged by their lack of; technical knowledge in the redaction of business plans, the absence of efficient high level networking (for string-pulling and guarantees). Besides, even if women are seen as more rational in their choices, they are restrained by their lack of ambitions and self-confidence.

There is, today, mounting concern that poverty is undergoing a process of feminization. It is hard to evaluate women unemployment, based only on official data. But more than unemployment, women are facing a situation of underemployment. A large part of the population is relatively highly skilled (according to the UNESCO, the literacy rate of the population in 2000 was 99.6%), nevertheless, skilled women are more and more underemployed if not unemployed. Among unemployed women, 55,6% are graduated, whereas graduated men are only 44,4% to seek employment. But it has been reported that more and more professional and skilled women are looking for unskilled labour which implies wasting of valuable human resources. A new category of poor people is emerging from the traditional educated middle class. The real decline of the wages paid to professional and skilled women, particularly in the public sector, where women are over-represented, has led to the growth of what is usually termed in CIS countries, as the "new poor". Highly trained professional women are, more and more, seeking badly paid and non-prestigious work to improve their families' material well-being.
Women Entrepreneurship
Key figures and indicators
Links to other projects in Uzbekistan
Enterprise creation in Uzbekistan

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Eric Matalon and Ariane Matalon

Eric Matalon and Ariane Matalon