I consider myself lucky to be part of a growing number of women who have achieved the goals they set for themselves in their professional lives. And it is encouraging to see women rise to the challenge of leading in many professional sectors across the world. My own country Moldova recently elected its first woman president – Maia Sandu – who joins the ranks of just 21 other inspiring women – elected heads of states and governments around the world.
Currently, I have the privilege of leading the World Bank teams in Central Asia. During my time here, I have met and worked with many incredible women – entrepreneurs, educators, politicians, managers, and others.
And yet, there were many instances when I found myself being the only woman at the table.
I am speaking of the numerous meetings with dignitaries across Central Asia to discuss economic development, poverty reduction, resilience, and prosperity. Although women make up half of the region’s population, they often find themselves outside the decision-making processes that concern their lives.
A more prosperous Central Asia?
Women in Central Asia are often unable to pursue their interests because they need to juggle home and work responsibilities. Meanwhile, few girls are empowered to pursue degrees in engineering, information & communication technology, construction, transportation, and extractive industries – sectors with higher wages. Women receive anywhere between 30-70% less income than their male peers, even for doing the same job.
Women head less than one third of small and medium business, and less than one fifth of large businesses. Overall, the share of working age women employed or seeking employment is lower than among men across all countries in the region.
If women are prevented from reaching their full potential, then the countries of Central Asia lose out.
Inspiring women who lead change
Across the region, there are remarkable examples of strong female trailblazers who have been pushing the boundaries for decades. For this year’s International Women’s Day, and throughout March, we decided to share some of their inspiring stories in a series of short videos.
From frontline COVID-19 responders and public servants to innovators and entrepreneurs – these women are demonstrating how empowered women are empowering our lives…
Cholpon Kasymalieva, a family doctor from the Kyrgyz Republic, was deployed as a first responder during the early days of the pandemic. Separated from her family for months, Doctor Kasymalieva looks back at those days and tries to remember moments that gave her hope. “It is truly inspiring to witness recovery, to see someone who was sick come back to full health,” she says.
Renata Ahmad, from Kazakhstan, and Saida Yusupova, from Uzbekistan, are paving the way for innovation in their respective fields. Renata heads a team of developers working on a project that helps diagnose lung diseases. This innovation contributed to the COVID-19 response efforts, helping hospitals analyze X-rays remotely. Saida, founder and CEO of Green Business Innovation, has been inspiring young people and entrepreneurs to “go green”.
Jyldyz Toktorbayeva, with the Ministry of Emergency Situations of Kyrgyzstan, and Ekaterina Gorbunova, with Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations, are effecting change from within the system, through their passion and dedication. In Tajikistan, Rano Jumaeva has dedicated her entire career to advancing opportunities for girls, including girls with disabilities and girls in rural areas.
On the private sector side, Shoira Sodiqova from Tajikistan shares her path to heading a microlending institution, and Nailya Kairbekova from Kazakhstan discusses overcoming challenges in leading an association of primarily male-headed construction companies.
Every one of these stories is a testament to the fact that we all win when both women and men lead, create, and inspire.
How did we meet these remarkable women? We have had the honor of working with them through the World Bank projects in Central Asia: from the COVID-19 response project in the Kyrgyz Republic to the Fostering Innovations project in Kazakhstan, and from the Strengthening Social Protection System project in Uzbekistan to IFC’s support to agricultural leasing businesses in Tajikistan.
Through our work, we aspire to do more for gender equality. Today, two thirds of our projects strive to bridge gender gaps. Overall, in the Europe and Central Asia region, we have managed to grow the share of such projects from just 33% in 2018 to 85% today.
For stronger societies and greater prosperity we need to invest in girls and women more than ever before.