On March 8, we will celebrate International Women’s Day in recognition of women’s rights and the unique challenges women continue to face around the world, including in Uzbekistan. Empowering women throughout the world is a top priority for the United States. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that finding a solution to gender inequality is a marathon, not a sprint. Closing the gender gap will take time and persistence, but we must steadfastly move towards more inclusive societies if we want peace and prosperity.
Uzbekistan should be applauded for eliminating the gender gap in primary and secondary education. Women and girls in Uzbekistan enjoy equal access to education. In 2017, girls accounted for 50% of the primary school population and 54% of secondary school students. Last year’s statistics show a growing female presence in higher education, where 40% of students are women, up from 36% in 2011. The female literacy rate is 99.98%, one of the highest rates in the world. Uzbekistan should be proud of these achievements.
In the workplace, Uzbekistan still has a gender gap and this is where greater attention is needed. In 2017, 61.5% of men were employed as opposed to just 38.5% of women in the formal sector of the economy, according to the Uzbek State Committee on Statistics. The UN reports that only 35% of Uzbekistan’s women with secondary education work, while 68% of women with higher education have jobs. Greater access to higher education is key for enhancing employment among women. More women in the workforce would mean more money for families and greater economic growth for the country.
I have been fortunate in my role at the U.S Embassy to witness first-hand the enormous energy, creativity and confidence that women bring to our work. Recently, two amazing Uzbekistani women went to the United States to participate in a leadership course as part of the International Visitors Leadership Program and returned with fresh ideas for supporting the development of civil society specifically through technology and vocational training for women. The TechWomen program is emboldening women to pursue professional and academic careers in science and technology. At a time when Uzbekistan is working so hard to encourage innovation and growth, women have a lot to offer for the nation’s development.
Politically, women’s voices are also incredibly significant and inspiring. Some of the most articulate and compelling champions of social and labor reform are women, such as Deputy Prime Minister Tanzila Narbaeva and Senator Svetlana Artykova – yet only 16% of seats in Parliament and 5% of ministerial positons are held by women. In 25 years, there has never been a female regional hokim. Uzbekistan has done a commendable job in beginning the process but as we acknowledge this important day we should also recognize that women in Uzbekistan are ready for the next phase in achieving gender equality.
A host of data from the World Bank, World Economic Forum, and OECD indicates that when women are gainfully and fully employed, societies are more stable and prosperous. I am convinced that when the women of Uzbekistan are fully integrated into business and government, all of Uzbekistan will reap the benefits. Now is the time to realize the noble goal of full gender equality.
Ultimately, it is up to the people of Uzbekistan to invest in their communities and fully utilize the talents of women. Overcoming gender inequality will not come overnight. The evolution of women’s rights in the United States has not come easy, and the process is far from complete. It is up to all of us to continue working together to make real change in the lives of women in Uzbekistan and around the world. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us consider how far we have come and how much more we can do, working together, to promote an equal and inclusive society for all.
Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Deborah Robinson, U.S. Embassy Tashkent.