Executive summary

This report provides an overview of the main outcomes of the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) 2019 in 12 Eurasian countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Republic of Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. The report considers gender equality in relation to women and the family, women’s physical integrity, women’s access to productive and financial resources, and women’s civic rights. Building on this assessment, the report provides a set of good practices and policy recommendations to enhance stakeholders’ efforts to deliver on gender-equality commitments and to accelerate the pace of change.

Focusing on gender norms makes economic sense for Eurasia

In addition to discriminatory formal and informal laws, discriminatory social norms and practices restrict women’s economic empowerment and thus impede sustainable development. Gender discrimination is not only costly for women, who are denied full access to economic, political and social life, but it also has a cost for their families, communities and national economies. The SIGI 2019 Report for Eurasia estimates that such discrimination induces a loss of 8% in the regional level of investment, reduces women’s average years of schooling by 16% and decreases labour force participation by 12%. As a result, at the current level of discrimination, the 2017 regional income in Eurasia is reduced by 7.5%, a loss of USD 39 billion. If gender parity in social institutions were to be achieved by 2030, it would increase regional GDP growth in Eurasia by 0.4% every year until then, representing a gain of USD 2 961 per capita.

The high cost of discriminatory social institutions affects women’s opportunities in the labour market. Despite the narrowing of gender gaps in education, Eurasia’s women still struggle to develop their economic potential. Across the region, almost two-thirds of the youth population not in education, employment or training (NEET) are young women. When women do work, they are often confined to low-paid jobs, explaining partially why they earn on average 30% less than their male counterparts. Occupational segregation and glass ceilings are pervasive: women account for only 9% of the board members of central banks, 15% of members of the governing boards of trade unions, and fewer than 15% of board members of companies registered on stock exchanges. If Eurasian women were to participate in the labour market as men do, it would add up to USD 1.1 trillion, or 23%, to the regional GDP by 2025. About 40% of this potential increase could come from shifting women into higher-productivity sectors. This would also have huge social benefits, narrowing the pension gender gap and reducing the vulnerability of older women. Yet ensuring a smooth school-to-work transition for girls, labour equity for working-age women and social justice for women of retirement age requires addressing social norms and practices that limit women’s empowerment opportunities throughout their lives.

Eurasia performs comparatively well on gender equality

The Eurasia region has a successful track record of removing legal barriers and fostering social norms favourable to gender equality. New legislation has enhanced equality and abolished discriminatory laws. All countries in the region now grant women and men equal parental authority and the same rights and responsibilities with regard to their children during marriage and after divorce, and women now benefit from equal inheritance rights. Eurasia is one of the world’s regions where women’s reproductive autonomy rights in cases of non-desired pregnancy are most secure, with abortion on demand being legal in all 12 countries. All countries in Eurasia have also adopted measures to offer paid maternity leave, while paid parental leave entitlements are available in seven countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan and Ukraine). Similarly, certain social norms that are detrimental to equality have become less prominent. For instance, social acceptance of domestic violence decreased from 27% in 2014 to 21% in 2018.

Legal reforms and the ensuing shift in social norms explain the relatively good performance of the region. The SIGI results indicate that the overall regional level of discrimination in social institutions is 24%, ranging from 21% in Eastern Europe to 27% in the Caucasus, compared with 29% at the global level. Only countries in Western, Southern and Northern Europe perform better in all SIGI dimensions. All countries of the Eurasia region but Tajikistan have low levels of discrimination. The region’s relatively good performance is reflected in all dimensions: the level of discrimination in the family (31%) is much lower than the global average (44%); guarantees on women’s physical integrity, with a level of discrimination of 20%, are relatively similar to the global average (22%); the level of discrimination against women’s access to productive and financial resources, at 26%, is similar to the global average (27%); the upsurge of support for women’s rights activism has led to substantial advances in securing women’s civil liberties, allowing Eurasia (21%) to have a lower level of discrimination than the global average (29%).

Yet legal barriers and discriminatory social norms hamper progress

Nonetheless, advances in efforts to protect women’s rights are still undermined by persistent discrimination in the legal frameworks of certain Eurasian countries. No country explicitly provides women with the same right as men to be recognised as the head of household. Turkmenistan is the only country in the region where marriage before age 18 is banned with no exceptions. In the remaining 11 countries, girls are allowed to marry below the age of 18 with parental or judicial consent. The law still restricts women’s workplace rights, with five countries1 prohibiting women from working the same night hours as men, and ten from entering certain types of jobs.2 No country has yet provided women with comprehensive legal protection from all forms of violence. The main legal loopholes reside in the non-criminalisation of sexual harassment (in ten countries3), domestic violence (in five countries4) and marital rape (in eight countries5).

Deeply entrenched social norms are the most pervasive issue in the region. In fact, across the region, women and girls face daily discrimination due to cultural and social norms. In the Caucasus, for example, the undervaluing of the girl child has led to alarmingly unbalanced sex ratios: among ages 0-4, 170 000 girls are missing in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Violence against women remains a serious issue in the region, with 17% of women becoming victims of physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner at least once in their lifetime, and up to 46% in Moldova. Across the region, women’s leadership abilities are underestimated in both the private and the public sectors, partially explaining their underrepresentation in positions of economic and political power. Indeed, 56% of the population in the region considers that men make better business executives than women do, and only 35% of managerial positions are held by women. Similarly, 62% of the population believes that men make better political leaders than women do, and women occupy only 19% of parliamentary seats. Entrenched patrilineal inheritance systems in Central Asia and the Caucasus still provide daughters and/or widows with a lower share of inheritance than sons and/or widowers.

The transition period that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 can help to explain current levels of gender asymmetry. During the transition, budgets for the provision of social services were significantly reduced in former Soviet republics.6 Consequently, low-income women saw their caring and domestic responsibilities increase, and unbalanced sex ratios started to emerge: economic and social hardships forced some families to reduce the number of children they had, or reinforced the desire to have sons to compensate for the disappearance of social safety nets. The privatisation and restitution of property and land assets also placed women in a disadvantaged position, with men mainly listed as the de facto heads of household and landholders.

The most difficult area of change is the family

Across Eurasia, laws and social norms governing the family create the most resistance to change. These laws and norms concern the roles of both men and women: social expectations prevent men from assuming equal caring responsibilities, and they confine women in their reproductive role.

  • At the regional level, 16% of the population think it is not acceptable for a woman in their family to work outside the home for pay (up to 22% in Central Asia), and 38% of respondents declare that children with working mothers will suffer (up to 54% in the Caucasus).

  • Although paid parental leave is granted in 7 of the 12 countries in this report, men are unlikely to take their paternity or parental leave entitlements. In Belarus, for example, only 1% of men take advantage of parental leave. In Armenia, 87% of men declare that they would not take paternity leave after the birth of a child (compared to 23% of women), and 48% say that they would not need to take parental leave because their spouse would attend to childcare (2% of women).

  • As a result, women continue to labour under the double burden of responsibility for nearly all domestic chores in addition to working outside the home. Women perform 2.5 times more unpaid care and domestic work than men per day on average. In Belarus, 68% of households favour a traditional family arrangement where the man works and the woman takes care of the house and children.

A whole-of-society shift is needed to reshape gender norms

Gender equality cannot be achieved without engaging all actors, including governments, development co-operation stakeholders, religious and community leaders, local civil society, foundations, the private sector, teachers, health professionals, justice and police officers, the media, men and, of course, women themselves. The variety of underlying drivers of persistent gender gaps in Eurasia calls not only for legal reforms to eradicate discriminatory provisions and close legal loopholes, but also a deep social transformation to challenge discriminatory social norms, as well as customary, traditional and religious laws and/or practices.

The multidimensional aspect of gender discrimination requires going beyond the usual mainstreaming approach by implementing an integrated multisectoral strategy. The various forms of discrimination women face in the private and public spheres, and in access to productive resources, overlap with threats to their physical integrity and their ability to control their own bodies. Gender inequalities begin even before birth and continue until old age, and exist in all spheres of society. Governments should use a multiple-points-of-entry strategy that takes account of the complexity of the political economy. For example, financial inclusion requires better access to land, which implies equal inheritance rights. Similarly, in order to narrow gender gaps in labour outcomes, including the gender pay gap, it is necessary to challenge stereotypes around girls’ education and social norms justifying child marriage and stigmatising working mothers.

Feminism in Eurasia also needs to shift its focus from considering only women to also looking at what it means to be a man. Greater incentives for men to contribute in novel ways to gender equality are indispensable, and the social contract must be reshaped to redefine masculinities.


← 1. Azerbaijan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine.

← 2. Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

← 3. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

← 4. Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

← 5. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

← 6. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

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