To address obstacles preventing elimination of gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in the world of work, union women and their allies marked International Women’s Day with a public event advocating for ratification of UN International Labor Organization Convention 190 (C190).
Women in Kyrgyzstan are routinely subjected to various forms of discrimination—including unequal pay and lack of opportunities for career advancement—and harassment that includes sexual harassment, verbal abuse and even mockery, said Textile and Light Industry Trade Union Chairman Almash Zharkynbaeva.
“[GBVH] harms women’s mental health and well-being, leading to long-term emotional and psychological trauma,” says Zharkynbaeva.
The event was convened to recognize publication of a March 2 ratification motion that moved the draft law to parliament and, on March 8 International Women’s Day, opened the draft law to public comment on Kyrgyzstan’s draft law public discussion portal.
Publication of the draft law represents a three-year Solidarity Center campaign to educate government officials, labor inspectors, unions and the public on the use of C190 to end violence and harassment in the world of work. The Solidarity Center secured commitments from trade unions and parliamentarians to support the ratification process, advised on language now included in three union bargaining agreements to protect workers from violence and harassment, and coordinated a sectoral union campaign appealing to the Ministry of Labor for ratification of C190.
The convention is a powerful tool to combat discrimination and harassment in the world of work, says Eldiyar Karachalov, chair of the Republican Committee of the Trade Union of Construction and Building Materials Workers, but significant progress will require unwavering commitment from employers, workers and the government.
C190 was adopted during the ILO’s annual meeting in Geneva in 2019 following a decade-long campaign by women trade unionists and feminist activists, led by the International Trade Union Confederation, the Solidarity Center and other labor allies. Since 2019, 25 countries have ratified the convention, of which ten have begun enforcement.
Hear more about the global campaign to end GBVH in the world of work.
A new video shows the strategies unions and civil society allies in Kyrgyzstan, with Solidarity Center support, are using to advance and protect the rights of people with disabilities. Strategies include coalition-building and joint advocacy projects with national and local disability rights organizations, pro-bono legal support, data collection, legislative reform and trainings-of-trainers with disabilities.
In 2019, the Kyrgyz Republic ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which promotes the full and effective inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of society. However, discrimination against people with disabilities has persisted. A Solidarity Center research study in 2022 revealed that only 20 percent of people with disabilities surveyed in Kyrgyzstan were employed, and most were in insecure seasonal or part-time jobs.
Since 2019, the Solidarity Center has conducted a program focused on reducing discrimination in employment and promoting the labor rights of workers with disabilities, the first of its kind in Kyrgyzstan. Through a combination of legislative analysis, large-scale media campaigns, the development of a mobile application, individual legal support, educational trainings and collaboration with key organizations, the Solidarity Center is working to make real change for people with disabilities.
In 2022, the Solidarity Center raised the need for changes to the Labor Code, harmonizing regulations and mechanisms to improve laws that impact people with disabilities. Kyrgyzstan’s government has demonstrated the political will to make legislative changes that facilitate greater access to employment and education for people with disabilities, but further progress is needed to ensure legal protections are enforced in the workplace.
The digital platform share in the economy in Kyrgyzstan is growing, and with that growth, an increasing number of people are working through these platforms. Due to its growth, the vulnerability of workers in this sector has also become more apparent, especially for marginalized groups.
A study conducted by Insan-Leilek, a Kyrgyz migrant worker foundation, and the Trade Union of Migrants of the Kyrgyz Republic documents abuses suffered by many who migrate to Russia to earn their livelihoods as nannies, adult caregivers, cooks, cleaners and live-in domestic workers. An estimated 750,000 Kyrgyz people have migrated to Russia for work; official Kyrgyz government data estimates that half that number are women.
“We are invisible people,” says 34-year-old survey respondent and domestic worker Almagul. (Her last name is withheld to protect her livelihood and personal safety.)
“The Problems of Informal Domestic Workers,” reflects the experiences of 300 Kyrgyz migrant domestic workers, from whom 24 were selected for in-depth interviews by two migrant worker experts. Respondents’ jobs were in the Russian cities of Kazan, Moscow, Novosibirsk, Samara and Yekaterinburg.
The study reveals a wide range of employment abuses among the mostly female domestic workers who were surveyed, including sexual harassment and violence, other forms of physical and emotional abuse, unpaid hours, excessive workloads, denial of time off and wage theft.
More than 80 percent of the female survey participants who provided in-depth interviews reported sexual harassment at the hands of their employers. Of this group, almost 4 percent had experienced severe sexual violence, including rape, while 25 percent were subjected to indecent touching that included unwanted touching of intimate body parts. More than 30 percent of those reporting sexual harassment and violence said they could not ask anyone for help or support and, of this number, 7 percent attempted suicide. More than 70 percent of those providing in-depth interviews said they were often beaten, allegedly for laziness, and that they can rarely go out.
Two survey participants reported having become surrogate mothers for their employers without a written agreement or fair compensation.
Almost 90 percent of the larger group surveyed (300 respondents) were working without a formal contract because they had secured their jobs through personal connections. Such workers are vulnerable to unregulated work in which hours, pay, duties and conditions are determined at the whim of the employer, some of whom are unscrupulous and exploitive.
“I worked 24 hours a day, and I looked after the children, cooked, did the laundry. Weekends were out of the question,” reports Miraida about a job she held in Russia when she was 18.
Kyrgyz domestic workers in Russia provide an average of 10 hours of work per day, a survey of the larger group of 300 found. Of these, those who live in an employers’ home are working an average of more than 12 hours per day. More than 40 percent said they perform additional services that were not agreed with the employer at the time of hiring, without adjusted compensation.
Respondents were recruited for the survey through Trade Union of Migrants of the Kyrgyz Republic WhatsApp groups and Insan-Leilek diaspora organizations and migrant communities. In-depth interviews were conducted online and over the phone.
Russia is the main destination for approximately 750,000 of Kyrgyzstan’s labor migrants. Official data on the percentage of migrant women employed in domestic work in Russia does not exist.
To promote youth civic engagement and the fair employment of women, workers with disabilities and those migrating outside the country to earn a living, the Solidarity Center’s second annual School of Young Leaders in Bishkek educated dozens of young people in mid-September about their protections under the country’s labor code, with a special focus on disability rights. Event attendees—selected from around the country based on a writing competition—included youth and mentors with disabilities.
“This is my first experience in the framework of an inclusive society—where no one divides into some groups, everyone supports each other, accepts each other equally and shares their experiences,” said Sezim Tolomusheva, organizing and socioeconomic protection lead specialist for the Union of Textile Workers of Kyrgyzstan.
During a session covering how to engage traditional and social media, local disability-rights activist and blogger Askar Turdugulov encouraged attendees to pursue their goals despite limitations, such as the spinal injury that impaired his ability to walk from age 18.
“This [event] is a bright example in the promotion of the principle of ‘equal opportunities for all’ that gives equal labor rights for all people, regardless of their origin, gender or health status,” said Turdugulov.
Participating NGOs, trade unions and government agencies also provided young attendees—many of whom work directly to aid migrant workers and some of whom may one day migrate for work—with information about common challenges for migrant workers, the protective role of the Kyrgyz Migrant Workers’ Trade Union, the importance of pre-departure trainings and information about labor laws in destination countries. Other highlights included discussion on the rights of women at work under national legislation and the International Labor Organization’s 2019 Convention: Eliminating Violence and Harassment in the World of Work (C190). NGOs contributing expertise to the event included the “Equal Opportunities” Social Center and the Public Association of Girls with Disabilities, Nazik-Kyz.
Youth un- and under-employment in Kyrgyzstan stands at 55 percent. Most young people feel forced to migrate in search of work, primarily to Russia and Kazakhstan, although also further to South Korea, Turkey or other countries. Kyrgyz migrant workers provide more than one-third of the Central Asian country’s GDP in money they send home. When workers migrate from Kyrgyzstan, they often face discrimination, exploitation and unsafe working conditions. Many are at risk of being trafficked and subjected to forced labor.
Kyrgyzstan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on February 7, 2019. The primary work needed for CRPD implementation will be expanding access for people with disabilities to education, justice and employment opportunities, physical therapy and rehabilitation services, medical and social assistance, and ensuring their free movement through promotion of universal design.
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