More than 1 billion people, or 16 percent of the world’s population, experience a significant disability, and 80 percent to 90 percent of working age people with disabilities are unemployed in developing countries. People with disabilities are more likely to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes than those without disabilities, such as under education, a higher drop-out rate, lower levels of professional integration and higher poverty levels.

In Central Asia, the Solidarity Center partners with disability rights groups to promote inclusive employment, including through inclusive education. Zakhira Begalieva and Gulmira Kazakunova, disability rights activists who head Kazakhstan’s I Teach Me and Kyrgyzstan’s Ravenstvo, respectively, last month joined more than 1,000 people from 100 countries in Vienna for the UN’s 2024 Project Zero Conference to learn more about Inclusive education and information and communication technology (ICT), and to explore regional and global alliance-building opportunities.

“Here you feel some kind of freedom and you feel that opportunities are not limited,” said Kazakunova.

In Kazakhstan, I Teach Me provides online training for youth with disabilities to prepare them for future employment and, in Kyrgyzstan, Ravenstvo educates women with disabilities to help them secure jobs and advocates for inclusive education to help increase job market participation for women with disabilities.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which aims to create conditions for persons with disabilities to participate in society on an equal basis with others and free from discrimination, was ratified by Kazakhstan in 2015 and Kyrgyzstan in 2019.  However, discrimination against people with disabilities has persisted.

In Kazakhstan, the UN Development Program (UNDP) reports that the country’s more than 750,000 people with disabilities every day, “face obstacles on the way to gaining equal access to education, health and employment.” The Solidarity Center in Kazakhstan is supporting partners who, after years of advocating for inclusivity, are now focused on implementation of new legislative measures and a legal framework adopted to ensure implementation of CRPD. Starting this year, more than 34,000 workers with disabilities were covered by measures to promote employment.

In Kyrgyzstan, the Solidarity Center is supporting a program focused on reducing discrimination in employment and promoting the labor rights of workers with disabilities—the first of its kind in the country. A 2022 Solidarity Center study revealed that only 20 percent of people with disabilities surveyed in Kyrgyzstan were employed, most in insecure seasonal or part-time jobs. 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 Kyrgyzstan, including efforts to harmonize regulations and mechanisms in the country’s labor code to improve laws impacting people with disabilities. 

Unions and other worker associations can be especially effective advocates for disability rights. The International Labor Organization (ILO) reports that unions are the  strongest voices advocating for the rights of people with disabilities at work around the world. Public-sector unions, where survey data shows workers with disabilities experience higher levels of union representation, are natural organizers around rights issues because of their position at the nexus of governance and work.

Learn more about strategies that civil society allies in Kyrgyzstan, with Solidarity Center support, are using to advance and protect the rights of people with disabilities—including 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. [Video in Russian]

Pandemic a ‘Cruel Joke’ Say Migrant Kyrgyz Women Working in Russia

Pandemic a ‘Cruel Joke’ Say Migrant Kyrgyz Women Working in Russia

Women and workers from marginalized communities suffered disproportionately from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and a new survey details the effects on Kyrgyz migrant workers in Russia.

The survey of almost 300 Kyrgyz women who are dependent on precarious, low-wage jobs in Russia finds that the pandemic exacerbated migrant workers’ vulnerability to economic precarity and that women migrant workers reported brutal conditions on the job, including sexual violence. Almost half a million Kyrgyz women were working in Russia in 2021.

The survey compiled data from Kyrgyz women working in Russia in caregiving, catering, domestic and janitorial work and garment manufacturing and retail sectors in 19 Russian cities, including Moscow, Novosibirsk and Yekaterinburg. The survey was conducted by local non-governmental organization Insan-Leilek Public Foundation, a long-time partner of the Solidarity Center in advocating for the rights of migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan.

“The pandemic played such a cruel joke on us,” said a survey respondent. (For their protection, respondents are quoted anonymously.) “They start with migrants; they are the first to be fired.”

Respondents reported increased health precarity during the pandemic due to limited non-resident medical services and higher virus exposure while working service jobs, as well as increased financial precarity following mass service-sector and retail layoffs. Without formal written work agreements—common for migrant workers and a violation of their rights under Russian labor law—many lost their incomes without compensation, which increased their food insecurity and other economic hardships.

Rampant Worker Rights Violations, Including GBVH
  • Many respondents reported health and safety violations and loss of dignity at work due to migrant status, unregulated use of chemicals and rampant sexual or other gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) by employers, supervisors and customers.
  • Sexual violence was common. Fourteen percent of those surveyed reported rape; two were victims of gang rape in their workplaces.
  • Sexual harassment was widely reported. Forty percent of participants said they were subject at work to comments about their bodies, obscene jokes and sexually suggestive gestures. Twenty percent reported violation of their personal boundaries, such as men touching their waist, breasts, buttocks and other parts of the body.
  • More than half of the respondents were working without contracts, leaving them without legal protection and vulnerable to the whims of employers—many of whom reportedly refused to sign employment contracts at the time of hiring.
  • More than two thirds of the women reported encountered discrimination at the workplace. Of that number, two thirds attributed it to their migrant status; half said it was because of their gender.
  • Many respondents reported wage and working conditions in violation of Russia’s labor code, including a quarter of respondents who suffered wage payment delays, half who did not receive overtime pay and four-fifths who were denied paid sick and holiday leave.
  • Half of respondents reporting rights violations did not know where to turn for help or were afraid to talk about it.

“I don’t want to seek help and it’s impossible to seek help,” said a survey respondent who reported being touched sexually at work but feared deportation if she reported the abuse.

Based on survey findings, Insan-Leilek made recommendations to the governments of Kyrgyzstan and Russia to better protect migrant Kyrgyz women, including a greater role for the Trade Union of Migrants of the Kyrgyz Republic, pre-departure worker rights training for those migrating to Russia for work and the creation of migrant crisis centers to provide emergency shelter as well as legal, medical and psychological aid. To address GBVH suffered by women Kyrgyz migrants in the world of work, union women are demanding ratification of UN International Labor Organization Convention 190 (C190).

Many Kyrgyz citizens are forced to move to other countries to earn their livelihoods because of limited economic opportunities in Kyrgyzstan, where a third of the population lives below the national poverty line and migrant remittances in 2022 represented 30 percent of the country’s GDP. 




Solidarity Center
Solidarity Center


Recognizing that increased numbers help unions better advocate for worker rights and negotiate wages and working conditions with Kyrgyzstan’s employers and government, 28 union activists joined the Solidarity Center’s Organizing School, a four-part program that began in March. The school drew participants from  construction, informal trading, public service, taxi and textile sectors, many of whom are already successfully putting their new skills into practice.

“By emphasizing practical skills, fostering authentic communication and providing ongoing support, this initiative is contributing to a stronger labor movement and empowered organizers who can bring about positive change in their workplaces and communities,” says Solidarity Center Program Officer Elena Rubtsova.

Early successes of the program include establishment of a union savings’ program, “Zymyryk-Invest,” by the union representing construction workers, which has already attracted dozens of new members, and expansion of the taxi drivers’ union, Kabylan, into Kyrgyzstan’s fourth largest city, Karakol, through use of a new, dedicated WhatsApp chat group. Although Kyrgyzstan’s labor law does not specifically protect the rights of workers on digital platforms, it allows self-employed taxi drivers to unite within pre-existing trade unions.

Between training sessions, organizing school participants practiced their new skills, including strategic communications, and benefited from group and Solidarity Center support.

“This training helped me understand  that speaking from the heart and using our own words resonates more effectively with others,” says Kabylan President Ulan Cholponbaev.



Solidarity Center
Solidarity Center


A milestone convening in Tashkent last week brought together stakeholders from Kazakhstan,  Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan government ministries and agencies, non-governmental and civil society sectors, and international organizations as a first step in developing a joint action plan to combat forced labor and advance worker rights in the region. Worldwide, 28 million people were reportedly trapped in forced labor in 2021.

The May 22 conference highlighted labor inspectorates’ role in protecting worker rights and combating forced labor in the region. Solidarity Center supported the event, which was organized in collaboration with “Partnership in  Action,” an international NGO network of more than 30 Central Asian organizations, Kyrgyzstan’s Migrant Workers Union’s partner organization “Insan-Leylek” and Uzbekistan’s Istiqbolli Avlod.

“There is a crucial need for regional cooperation in labor inspections, because migration patterns are constantly changing,” says “Insan-Leylek” leader Gulnara Derbisheva.  

Recognizing the importance of collective action, the conference hosts provided a forum for representatives of  labor inspectorates from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to share their expertise and experiences within their respective countries. Government representatives from each of those countries reiterated their commitment to labor inspectorates working cooperatively with one another and with the region’s worker rights defenders to fight labor exploitation and promote safer working environments and dignified work for all.

Topics included international standards related to the work of inspectorates, issues surrounding forced labor in Central Asia and the importance of labor inspections given the region’s unique challenges. Participants identified a severe shortage of labor inspectors—Solidarity Center research finds that 250 labor inspectors oversee 280,000 legal entities employing 6.5 million people in Kazakhstan, 30 inspectors oversee thousands of enterprises in Kyrgyzstan and 315 inspectors oversee 578,000 registered entities in Uzbekistan—and discussed restrictions on inspectorates’ effectiveness. Although the International Labor Organization (ILO) standards specify that inspections be conducted without prior notification, all three countries require prior consent and advance notice for inspections and exclude small businesses from inspection mandates. Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are currently considering legislative changes to rectify such loopholes.

“The outcomes of the conference have the potential to transform labor protection, ensuring safer and fairer working conditions for everyone in the region,” says Solidarity Center Europe and Central Asia Regional Program Director Rudy Porter. 

According to ILO data, some 2.3 million women and men around the world succumb to work-related accidents or diseases every year, including 340 million victims of occupational accidents and 160 million victims of work-related illnesses. The ILO reports 11,0000 fatal occupational accidents annually in the 12-member states comprising the Commonwealth of Independent States—Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan—but points to “gross underreporting” of occupational accidents and diseases in the region.

Multi-Stakeholder Partnership Yields Safety Successes for Kyrgyzstan’s Workers

Multi-Stakeholder Partnership Yields Safety Successes for Kyrgyzstan’s Workers

To raise awareness of the Kyrgyzstan’s responsibility to improve workplace safety and strengthen workplace inspections,  the Solidarity Center last year launched a program to increase the visibility of the country’s Labor Inspectorate among workers and employers through education seminars and other consultative fora.  

Significant progress has been made. Kyrgyzstan’s Labor Inspectorate is reporting that in 2022, as compared to the year prior:

  • The number of identified violations increased from 18 to 1,402
  • The value of fines imposed on employers increased from $598 to $13,126
  • The amount of compensation paid to workers killed or injured in workplace accidents increased from $176,723 to $380,501
  • The value of wages collected by sickened or injured workers increased from $4,023 to $103,039
  • The number of employers trained on Kyrgyzstan’s safety standards increased from none to 74.

The right to a safe and healthy work environment place is a fundamental right of every worker. Developing partnership between Kyrgyzstan’s unions, government and employers is yielding results by better capturing and addressing safety violations, and ensuring compensation and wages to those who are sickened or injured on the job.

“The tripartite platform proved to be an exceedingly effective tool in ensuring that the voices of workers were heard by both employers and the government,” says Trade Union of Construction and Building Materials Workers Republican Committee Chair Eldiyar Karachalov.

To mark April 28, World Day for Safety and Health at Work, and in collaboration with unions, the Labor Inspectorate conducted a high-profile campaign to educate the public about issues surrounding safety at work and publicize the Labor Inspectorate’s new website and online form for reporting worker rights violations. Unions, with Solidarity Center support, contributed success stories, including on video for state television and social network distribution.  

“[The Labor Inspectorate] helped me get the pay I was owed,” reports primary school teacher N.A. Usubalieva.   

At its 110th Session in June 2022, the International Labor Conference decided to amend paragraph two of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work  (1998) to include “a safe and healthy working environment” as a fundamental principle and right at work, and to make consequential amendments to the ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization  (2008) and the Global Jobs Pact  (2009). 


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