Women, Agency and Identity in Central Asia 
Baktygul Tulebaeva (Goethe University Frankfurt am Main)
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Room 212
Sunday 13 October, 9:00-10:45 (UTC+0)

Accepted papers:


Shahnoza Nozimova (George Mason University)

Paper long abstract:

Tajikistan's Imagined Women

by Shahnoza Nozimova

In contemporary Tajikistan, the onus of national identity (re-)production has been disproportionately placed on women. Decisions about female bodies, way of dress, and duties and limits of the women's roles in the public and private spaces, all serve as important differentiating markers and mobilization tools for the competing ideological forces. By integrating insights from scholarship on symbolic nation-building and gender and nationalism, this paper explores the official (government) narrative on women in Tajikistan and dissects the ideological underpinnings of its central elements in defining the roles of the women in the post-conflict Tajikistan.

This paper, based on content analysis of various primary data: official documents, government publications, official speeches and media sources, presents details of the national discourse on women as emanating from the official government standpoint. I argue that the government of Tajikistan has been increasingly defining belonging to the Tajik nation in terms of a particular code of behavior and sartorial choices of women. Thus, nationhood in Tajikistan has acquired a recognizably gendered character. Namely, in this state-promoted imagination, women encapsulate the Tajik nation by performing three major tasks that continuously reproduce and represent the nation: they bear, rear and wear the Tajik nation-state.

We live in a world where no matter the type of human interaction one looks at - social, economic, or political - fundamentally, they are all gendered. We also live in a particular historic period where the need for recognition of the gendered reality and assessment of its consequences is entering into the center of the public sphere. In the context of political science as a discipline, there also has a been a gradual shift from viewing "gender issues" as a policy matter focused on the nebulous "role of the women in the society" to exploring the gendered nature of the very institutions and phenomena that are at the heart of the field. However, far from being at the endpoint, the integration of gender into political science research agenda appears to be ever more relevant to explaining the surge of the "cultural politics" or conservative reactions to multiculturalism across the globe. The importance of gender is gaining a similar momentum in the study of the nationalism and nation-building the. Albeit, Central Asian research is noticeably lagging in incorporating theories of gender into the analysis of the nation-building processes. This paper aims to bridge that gap.


Olga Bainova (Nazarbayev University)
Ainur Almukhambetova (Nazarbayev University)
Aliya Kuzhabekova (Nazarbayev University)

Paper long abstract:

The purpose of this research is to analyze the experiences of female higher education students currently enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines in universities in Kazakhstan. More specifically, this study uses a qualitative research design to explore the experiences (i.e., challenges and opportunities) of female students in STEM in Kazakhstan and the factors related to their retention and progression. Five universities were chosen for conducting the study. Around 25 female undergraduate students were interviewed with the size determined by both representative variability and saturation point. The participants vary on several characteristics, such as year of study, disciplinary affiliation, school background (STEM school/non-STEM school), university type, etc.

One of the reasons for the underrepresentation of women in high paying STEM fields lies at higher education level. The patterns of labor market segregation in Kazakhstan in STEM industries correspond closely to the patterns of educational enrolment (ADB, 2013). Kazakhstani women tend to have lower enrolment rates in STEM disciplines at universities and also are more likely to "leak" from the STEM educational pipeline as they advance in their education. The most recent data from UNESCO Institute of Statistics (2016) suggests that engineering, manufacturing and construction disciplines in Kazakhstan are male-dominated and female students make up only 31.88% of the overall population of undergraduate students in these fields. It is important to address this disparity as Kazakhstan is striving to build qualified workforce capacity and emphasizing STEM-focused education within the framework of State Program for Education and Science development for 2016-2019.

Consistently with Western research, the factors related to young women's progression and retention in STEM in Kazakhstan fall into three major categories: individual, institutional and contextual. Although girls in Kazakhstan demonstrate high performance in STEM and are supported well at secondary education level, the HE environments seem to be less welcoming for them. On the institutional level, such factors as a lack of support and mentorship to female students and lack of female faculty, who could serve as role models, were identified as influencing the female students' retention and progression in STEM. On individual level, such factors as a lack of confidence and lack of experience in STEM are influencing the dropout of female students. Being enrolled in STEM, female students receive subtle messages that they do not fit this track and they usually choose careers outside STEM and leave STEM education as they advance.