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Home » UN Women’s Deputy Regional Director: Digitalization Can Advance Gender Equality in Central Asia

UN Women’s Deputy Regional Director: Digitalization Can Advance Gender Equality in Central Asia

by Cody Doyle
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ASTANA — Digitalization and innovation have a transformative power in shaping the lives of women and girls in Central Asia, said Deputy Regional Director of United Nations (UN) Women for Europe and Central Asia Elisa Fernandez Saenz during her address at the Dialogue of Women of Central Asia on June 19 where Kazakhstan assumed chairpersonship. The Astana Times spoke to Fernandez Saenz about the expectations from Kazakhstan’s chairpersonship, the country’s efforts in addressing the gender pay gap, and Central Asia’s role in facilitating women’s rights in Afghanistan.

According to the UN Women Regional Office, just over 60 million women in Europe and Central Asia need access to mobile Internet. They miss out on opportunities for learning and economic growth more frequently than men. 

Kazakhstan’s goals in taking over the chairpersonship of the Dialogue of Women of Central Asia include digitization to engage a diverse range of women in socioeconomic relations. 

“The strength of the Dialogue of Women of Central Asia lies in its high-level leadership, its dedication to the women’s rights agenda, and in the strong support of its UN partners. With participants recognized as important decision-makers in their home countries, the dialogue, under Kazakhstan’s chairpersonship, is uniquely positioned to serve as role models for women’s empowerment,” Fernandez Saenz said. 

The dialogue platform, launched in December 2020, is an informal forum to discuss critical concerns and foster collaboration among women in the region. The United Nations Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy in Central Asia (UNRCCA), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and UN Women support the dialogue.

Fernandez Saenz expressed hope that under Kazakhstan’s leadership, the dialogue will continue to be a platform for sharing ideas and solutions to solve critical objectives for Central Asian women and girls, as well as the development of gender equality in the region. 

She said women’s presence in Central Asian parliaments has more than doubled in the last two decades, rising from an average of 9% in 2000 to roughly 25% today. 

Addressing Kazakhstan’s progress in closing the gender wage gap, Fernandez Saenz noted that despite significant efforts, a gender imbalance still exists. 

As of 2021, the gender pay gap was 21.7%, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. But Kazakhstan has a strong record of spearheading the promotion of the UN’s initiative of Women’s Empowerment Principles initiative among Central Asian companies and businesses. 

“This UN global initiative is a set of principles that guides businesses on advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment. This includes ensuring equal pay for work of equal value for all employees,” she said. 

She said that Kazakhstan’s decision two years ago to cancel the list of prohibited professions for women helped to decrease the pay gap.

 “We welcome this decision and hope the government will continue to support the private sector to strengthen gender-responsive practices, including at the regional level, to create equal opportunities for all and achieve gender equality,” Fernandez Saenz said. 

Another issue that contributes to gender equality and the overall health of the economy is education. According to Fernandez Saenz, Central Asian countries have been successful in providing universal elementary and secondary education. 

“Decades of research show that educating women and girls leads to quicker poverty reduction, improved maternal health, lower infant mortality, more HIV prevention, and less violence. We commend countries in the region for their commitment to girls’ education,” she said. 

However, there is a significant gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM ) fields in Central Asia, Fernandez Saenz noted. 

“In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, a considerable number of female students are concentrated in STEM subjects, such as the natural sciences, mathematics and statistics. However, the proportion of female graduates in STEM at the tertiary level accounts for no more than 30% in these two countries,” she said. 

According to Fernandez Saenz, efficient access to information and communication technology, as well as digital literacy and skills, have become key ways to provide equal access to public services, education, and online learning, as well as to promote economic activities and entrepreneurship development. 

With the critical state of women’s and girls’ rights in Afghanistan, Fernandez Saenz emphasized the importance of the region in assisting Afghan women and girls in strengthening collective advocacy for the protection of their human rights, including in peace-related processes and platforms, bringing their needs and priorities to the forefront.

“Central Asian partners can support to provide a safe space to build solidarity for Afghan women’s rights and to share innovative solutions on joint peace-building,” she said. 

According to Fernandez Saenz, partners in Central Asia can facilitate women’s meaningful participation in all stakeholder engagement in Afghanistan, including in any delegations meeting with Taliban officials. 

“This would send a clear sign to Afghan women – and the Taliban – that women’s voices and perspectives matter and must have a place in public decision-making. We can jointly call donors to continue advocating for restoring, protecting, and promoting the full spectrum of women’s and girls’ rights and creating spaces for Afghan women themselves to advocate for their right to live free and equal lives,” she said. 

In closing, Fernandez Saenz emphasized the need to address the ongoing issue of physical, sexual, and psychological violence against women, adding that gender equality is not a women’s issue but a human rights issue.  

“We must strengthen legal frameworks, their coordinated multi-sectoral implementation, enhance support services and promote a culture of zero tolerance for gender-based violence. Women must feel safe and secure in their homes, workplaces, and public spaces,” she said. 

The Central Asian Alliance to End Gender-Based Violence Initiative (GBVI), which will launch next week in Almaty to exchange experiences, knowledge, and best practices to prevent and address gender-based violence in Central Asia, is one of the joint projects addressing the issue.

“Its establishment would be a key result of the Spotlight Regional Initiative for Central Asia and Afghanistan, which the UN implements in strategic partnership with the European Union and with its financial support,” she concluded.  

Source : Astana Times

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