Rural women in Kazakhstan: double vulnerability, by Kamila Kovyazina (Independent Scholar)

This blog presents some of the results of the study of rural women’s economic possibilities in Kazakhstan, conducted by the Applied Economics Research Centre in April 2019. The basic method of research was a mass survey of the target group;  the number of respondents amounted to 1400 women in five mega-regions, including southern, northern, western, eastern and central parts of the country. The study used a stratified multistage territorial randomized sample, representing the target group by age and region. Additionally, in-depth interviews were held with rural women from different social groups, such as independent workers, housewives, businesswomen.

The main hypothesis of this study was that rural women are extremely limited in their economic possibilities (including labor possibilities), compared to rural men as well as to urban women. In Kazakhstan on the whole, the average woman is poorer than the average man. This is proved by the size of average salary – women are paid 38% less than men. At the same time, the rural population has less income on average than the urban population. The Committee on Statistics of the Ministry of National Economy of Kazakhstan provides the following data: in the fourth quarter of 2019, city dwellers’ had a monthly income per capita on average  67 971 tenge, while rural population received on average 47 306 tenge per capita. The difference is almost 20 000 tenge! This all brings us to a conclusion that rural women may face a double economic vulnerability, because of their gender and place of living.

The results of the above-mentioned study confirm the hypothesis. Rural women tend to be in poor economic situation and have low labor opportunities. A quarter of rural women are housewives, and around 29% of respondents have only secondary education. Half of the respondents report to have a household income per capita less than the normal living wage. There are two significant factors contributing to women’s limited economic possibilities which should be considered:  on one hand, this is associated with the narrow labor market in the countryside. On the other hand, rural women are the ones who take care of the household chores and infants or children, which predetermines their lower opportunities to get education and better job.

Economic conditions

The survey showed that half of rural women have less income per capita than the normal living wage in Kazakhstan in 2019, which was 29 698 tenge.

Graph 1. Household income per capita of respondents

Source: The study of economic possibilities of rural women, AERC, 2019

The survey also demonstrates that most rural women have a low level of purchasing power – only about 18% of them are easily able to buy durable goods, such as utilities or a TV.  Only 49% of rural women get enough income for food and clothing. Every fourth rural family faces challenges to buy clothes, including those 4% of respondents, who don’t have enough income even for food.

Table 1. Purchasing power self-assessment

                                                                              Purchasing power Share
We do not experience financial difficulties and, if necessary, we may acquire a car or apartment Higher than the average 3,2
We get enough income for everything, except very expensive acquisitions, such as a car or apartment Higher than the average 14,5
There is enough money for food and clothing, but buying durable goods is difficult Average 49,0
There is enough money for food, but buying clothes is difficult Lower than the average 22,2
Not enough money even for food Lower than the average 4,1
N/A 7,0

Source: The study of economic possibilities of rural women, AERC, 2019

Economic conditions differ according to the number of family members in a household, but one general rule applies: the bigger the family, the worse the situation. A larger family size presupposes more children, including infants, which causes forced unemployment of rural women. Because they are primarily responsible to look after children, as well as for household chores, women are limited both in work and education possibilities, which leads to durable unemployment.

Graph 2. The purchasing power of respondents, according to the size of family

Source: The study of economic possibilities of rural women, AERC, 2019

However, according to the results of the survey, rural women can not be rightly called dependents. Only 37% of rural families have a man as a main earner. This is true mostly for the previously-mentioned large-sized families. Husbands are named the main earner in families with bigger number of children. Respondents, who chose this option, are mostly Kazakh-speaking, with secondary education only. In another 21.1% of homes,  both spouses contribute equally to the total household income. In every fifth rural family, the main earner is a woman, and another 10% of families live off their wife’s allowance or pension.

Table 2. Sources of income

                                                                              Share, %
Husband’s earnings, income (works in the countryside) 25,6
Husband’s earnings, income (works in the nearby town/city) 11,2
Equally, my husband’s earnings and my earnings 21,1
My earnings, income (work in the countryside) 15,6
My earnings, income (work in the nearby town/city) 4,3
Husband’s pension, social benefits 1,7
My pension, social benefits 9,8
We are financially helped by relatives, adult children 3,5
The main income comes from our farm, etc. 3,2
Parents’ earnings 1,1
Other 1,9
Difficult to answer 1,0

Source: The study of economic possibilities of rural women, AERC, 2019

Rural women may serve as a main earner before getting married for their natal families and/or before the birth of their first children, usually, after getting education in the city. Respondents at the age of 18-24, who have higher education, and are usually bilingual, more frequently report that their earnings are the main source of income for their household. Respondents at the age of 35-44, who are bilingual and who have a higher education, tend to earn at an equal level with their husbands. After their children got old enough to take care of themselves, educated women get a chance for self-realization later in life.

Lower labor possibilities

According to the survey, two key features of rural women’s employment can be distinguished. Firstly, the proportion of those who are not part of the workforce is high: a full quarter of the respondents are housewives, and 12,4% are retired. Secondly, women tend to work in a limited number of spheres; wage employment prevails in organizations funded from the state budget (23% – state employees, 5% – civil servants). These are mostly schools, medical institutions, or akimats of rural districts.

Graph 3. Type of employment

Source: The study of economic possibilities of rural women, AERC, 2019

The leading sphere of employment of rural women is, apparently, education (27% of respondents work as tutors, or teachers, 5% of rural women are preschool workers). Around 30% of employed rural women, on the whole, earn their money providing services (financial, cleaning, social, beauty services and other).Another popular sphere for the employment of rural women is trade and warehousing; 16% of respondents are engaged there. In traditionally agricultural spheres only about 6% of the women surveyed are employed: 5,3% of respondents are engaged in growing seasonal crops, 0,9% – are raising sheep, cattle, pigs and rabbits. This is the sign of crucial changes in rural economy, which becomes, on one hand, more complex, on the other – more urban-like.

Table 3. Field of activity

  Share, %
Tutoring, education 27,2
Wholesale and retail trade, warehousing 16,0
Financial services, consulting, marketing 7,0
Cleaning services (room cleaning) 6,0
Medicine (traditional and non-traditional) 5,6
Government worker 5,5
Growing seasonal crops – vegetables, fruits, gourds 5,3
Preschool worker 5,1
Production of bakery and confectionery products 3,9
Beauty industry (cosmetology, hairdressing, manicure, etc.) 3,0
Tailoring 2,7
Private carriage – taxi and cargo delivery services 2,7
Social services (caring for children, the elderly, sick people, etc.) 2,0
Construction, repair of premises, interior design 1,3
Self Employed Entrepreneur 0,9
Livestock – breeding sheep, cattle, pigs, rabbits 0,8
Unemployed, temporarily not working, maternity leave 0,8
Photographers, artists 0,7
Repair of clothes, shoes 0,4
Other 2,9
No answer 0,1
Difficult to answer 0,1

Source: The study of economic possibilities of rural women, AERC, 2019

Taking into account that in 15% of rural families either husband or wife earn money outside their village (see Table 2), the countryside provides an extremely narrowed labor market.

Opportunities for education

As mentioned above, women can participate in the workforce and serve as income earners when they are educated enough. However, rural women assess their education possibilities as being quite low. Answering the question on how much time they may spend on education, almost every second woman says she has no time at all. What’s more, the less educated women are, the more rarely they are ready to spend time on this type of activity.

During in-depth interviews rural women also exposed the problem of a poor education infrastructure in villages. While in villages with the status of district centers there are several schools, colleges and even development centers, in remote smaller villages there are no school and colleges at all, not to mention development centers.

Graph 4. How much time per day can you devote to yourself?

Source: The study of economic possibilities of rural women, AERC, 2019

 One of the barriers for rural women’s higher education and training and, as a consequence, worse labor possibilities, is their basic level of education. Almost, a third of them obtained only secondary education, and around 40% have vocational education.

Graph 5. The level of education

Source: The study of economic possibilities of rural women, AERC, 2019

According to the study, trend is changing. Among younger rural women the share of respondents with higher education is 20% bigger, than among the elder ones.

Table 4. Level of education, by age

Secondary education Vocational education Higher education Not finished higher education N/A  Total
Aged 18-24 20,8% 34,0% 31,9% 12,5% 0,7% 100,0%
Aged 25-34 17,2% 36,6% 42,5% 1,9% 1,9% 100,0%
Aged 35-44 31,4% 36,7% 29,3% 0,8% 1,9% 100,0%
Aged 45-54 32,3% 39,8% 25,2% 1,6% 1,2% 100,0%
Aged 55-65+ 42,4% 44,3% 12,9% 0,4% 100,0%

Source: The study of economic possibilities of rural women, AERC, 2019

However, their style of life doesn’t seem to give them a chance to self-develop and build new opportunities, which creates a new level of problems, as outlined here below.

Awareness and effectiveness of state programs

In recent years Kazakhstan’s government has created a number of labor programs, one of the main target groups of which was the country’s rural population. Most of these programs were merged into one complex State Program “Enbek” (2017-2021), which included program for relocation citizens from labor-deficient to labor-surplus regions, business development, providing micro-loans, and other measures.

However, the survey shows that these measures don’t have any effect on rural women for three primary reasons. First, all of the state measures require spare time and full involvement, which rural women don’t have.  Second, most of the rural women were not informed about the availability of these programs, due to a narrow circle of information sources. Almost every second respondent had never even heard of state employment measures. Though the target groups of employment programs are unemployed and self-employed people, the level of awareness about these programs among such women is even lower than among other groups of rural women. Third, even those who participated in state programs were not sure about their purpose or effectiveness. Among the 4-9% of respondents who participated in some of state programs, only half of them think they were useful. In-depth interviews show that most of the trainings were designed for people with higher qualifications. Rural women simply didn’t understand some of the themes they were taught.

Graph 6. Did you participate in the following measures to improve employment?

Source: The study of economic possibilities of rural women, AERC, 2019

One of the key directions for governmental programs, the implementation of which is expected to improve employment in rural areas, is the development of entrepreneurship. In this area, it is planned by State Bodies to educate those who wish to do the basics of business and to provide microloans. However, as rural women report during in-depth interviews, business start-up trainings, conducted by employment centers, are not adapted to their needs. Recall that almost 30% of rural women have only secondary education!

As for loans for opening or developing a business, 40% of rural women are interested in them, but only 13% of them believe that they would actually be able to obtain a loan.  Over a quarter – 27% – believe that these opportunities are very small or that they do not exist at all.The more educated and wealthier are respondents the higher they assessed their chances to get a business-loan. The main reason why banks are most likely not to give them a loan, in respondents’ perception, is that women have low income and In this regard, self-employed and unemployed rural women, who have the highest demand for a loan for business development, are less likely to get one.

Graph 7.  Self-assessment of their chances to get a business-loan

Source: The study of economic possibilities of rural women, AERC, 2019

Conclusions

The study conducted by the Applied Economics Research Centre in 2019 demonstrates that rural women, on the one hand, are very poor. On the other hand, they are extremely limited in terms of opportunities for education and employment, although they show a high willingness to work.

However, in my opinion, women can become a new driver for development of rural area, and this perspective is supported by several factors from the data.  The study shows the inevitable changes in gender roles and primary earners for households. There are many cases in which a man ceases to be the main earner in the family; he plays such a role only when a woman is busy caring for young children and doing domestic labor. As soon as a woman is freed from these obligations, she often seeks to find a paid job. Additionally, in the countryside there is a changing perception of the value of education, a change which led to the fact that among younger respondents the share of respondents with higher education was larger. This is one of the main factors, which affects the labor opportunities of respondents, their earning potential, and the perception of their chances to get a loan for the business.

Rural women also demonstrate their ability to adapt to the changes in rural economy:  around 30% of employed respondents work in service sphere, including financial, beauty, social services. Thus, rural women need to be considered as one of target groups for  labor programs, which presupposes a more specialized and narrow approach when creating state measures. Further research is required for understanding the business-potential of rural women in each region and for developing such employment and business measures, which would correspond to their needs.

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