Eurasian countries are committed to promoting gender equality and to the empowerment of women, notably through the ratification of the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which most of the 12 countries in the region have ratified. Moreover, many countries in Eurasia have a long history of including gender equality in their national strategies, notably through the Soviet legacy. However, attention to discriminatory legal and social institutions has been limited. As this report demonstrates, putting the reform of discriminatory laws, social norms and practices at the core of gender strategies in the Eurasia region will open new opportunities for the achievement of Agenda 2030.

Discriminatory social institutions define what it is legally and socially acceptable to think, do or say, and how it is acceptable to act in relation to gender. As such, they closely link individual sets of rights and opportunities to a person’s gender. More precisely, discriminatory social institutions are defined as formal and informal laws, social norms and practices that restrict or exclude women and girls, consequently curtailing their access to rights, justice, empowerment opportunities and resources.

These laws and norms impede sustainable and inclusive development by preventing women and girls from realising their political, economic and social rights. Discriminatory social institutions also limit the potential for the achievement of the development objectives set in the Sustainable Development Agenda: sustained and inclusive economic growth (SDG 1, 8 and 10), well-being for all (SDG 3), healthy lives (SDG 3), quality education (SDG 4) and full and productive employment (SDG 8). Indeed, such discrimination induces a loss of 8% in the regional level of investment, reduces women’s average years of schooling by 16% and their labour force participation by 12%. As a result, the current levels of discrimination, as measured by the SIGI, reduce Eurasia’s income by 7.5%, which is the equivalent of a loss of USD 39 billion (Chapter 2).

Despite political commitments, standard gender policies have not been sufficient to narrow all gender gaps in the region. Eurasia performs relatively well compared to the global average: gender gaps in education have been narrowed and women participate in large numbers in the labour force. Labour force participation in the region stands at 53% for women and 71% for men, compared to global averages of 48% for women and 75% for men. However, gender inequalities in labour market outcomes persist and have even widened in some countries. The gender wage gap is around 30% in the region (World Bank, 2019[1]), compared to 16% at the global level (ILO, n.d.[2]). In Ukraine, the gender gap in labour participation has increased by five percentage points in the last 20 years (OECD, 2019[3]). Occupational segregation and glass ceilings are also pervasive: women account for only 9% of members of the boards of central banks, 15% of members of the governing boards of trade unions, and less than 15% of board members of companies registered on the stock exchanges (OECD, 2019[3]). Almost two thirds of the youth population not in education, employment or training (NEET) are girls (ILO, 2018[4]).

Unless a deep social transformation occurs to reshape gender norms, it will take almost 100 years to achieve gender equality in the region. The last three SIGI reports, conducted over the past decade, have consistently shown that governments in Eurasia need to pay more attention to discriminatory laws, social norms and practices if they want to achieve gender equality and further promote women’s empowerment, in line with Agenda 2030. This requires not only to further legal reforms aiming to eradicate discriminatory provisions and close legal loopholes, but to also undertake measures that could foster a deep social transformation to challenge discriminatory social norms and customary, traditional and religious laws and practices (Figure 1). Indeed, in all countries of the region, individual and collective beliefs are still influenced by patriarchal norms that confine women in their caring and reproductive roles and underestimate their potential contribution to economic and political life. In the Caucasus, for example, undervaluing of girls has led to unbalanced sex ratios. In Central Asia, widow’s inheritance rights are still denied by discriminatory customary, traditional and/or religious practices.

Addressing gender inequality requires a rethink on the role of men in the region. While feminism mainly focuses on promoting women’s empowerment and redefining social expectations about the role of women, this report calls for greater attention to the issue of masculinities.1 Across Eurasia, hegemonic masculinities expressed through violence and resistance to caring responsibilities or paternity leave appear to be socially expected and accepted. Greater incentives are needed for men to be fully included in efforts to address gender inequality and to nudge them to be drivers of change. A major rethinking of the social contract and what is expected regarding masculinities would thus represent a quantum leap for gender equality in the region.

Figure 1. SIGI approach
Figure 1. SIGI approach


[4] ILO (2018), ILOSTAT Database, (accessed on 1 March 2019).

[2] ILO (n.d.), ILOSTAT, International Labour Organisation, Geneva, (accessed on 18 March 2019).

[3] OECD (2019), Promoting Gender Equality in Eurasia: Better Policies for Women’s Economic Empowerment, OECD Publishing, Paris, (accessed on 23 March 2019).

[1] World Bank (2019), Gender Equality in Europe and Central Asia, World Bank Group, Washington, (accessed on 23 March 2019).


← 1. The term relates to perceived notions and ideals about how men should or are expected to behave in a given setting (UNICEF, 2005)

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