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January 12, 2023

WAGE Regional Conference on Women’s Entrepreneurship Agenda in Central Asia

Post-Event Press Release

The Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) regional conference “Women’s Entrepreneurship Agenda in Central Asia” was held in Almaty, Kazakhstan on December 9-10, 2022. The event was attended by 140 delegates, including government representatives from all Central Asian countries: Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The WAGE Consortium held the regional conference in partnership with the US Department of Commerce’s Commercial Law Development Program (CLDP) as part of the WAGE program “National Women’s Business Agendas in Central Asia”. The key objectives of the conference were to strengthen the dialogue between the women’s business community and government and to share best practices in the development and promotion of National Women’s Business Agendas (NWBA), an advocacy tool developed by the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) that supports women in the business community and civil society to advocate for market-oriented reforms through collective action. The conference also highlighted the achievements of the WAGE Coalitions in Central Asia and presented the NWBAs of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
Since April 2021, the WAGE Consortium has implemented the regional program “National Women’s Business Agendas in Central Asia,” which works with women’s business associations and civil society organizations to jointly identify and reduce the legal and social barriers preventing women from participating in Central Asian economies. As part of the program, WAGE established coalitions in 2022 in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, uniting more than 100 organizations, including local women’s business associations, women’s civil society organizations, and women entrepreneurs from across the region. Following their formation, the WAGE Coalitions, supported by CIPE, held consultative meetings with over two thousand women entrepreneurs from different economic sectors to identify barriers to female entrepreneurship. More than 120 interviews were also conducted by CIPE with key people involved in women’s entrepreneurship development in the four Central Asian countries, the results of which formed the basis for the development of NWBAs in each of the Central Asian countries.
Since its inception, the program has also increased cooperation with government agencies, the local business community, and stakeholders in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan to promote the National Women’s Business Agenda. For example, the Coalition for the Development of Women Entrepreneurship and Reduction of Gender-Based Violence against Women Entrepreneurs in Kyrgyzstan became a member of the Investment Council under the Cabinet of Ministers of the Kyrgyz Republic, while the WAGE Organizations Network on Women’s Economic Empowerment and Reducing Gender Based Violence in Tajikistan became a member of the Permanent Working Group on Enhancing Women and Youth Entrepreneurship and People with Disabilities under the State Committee on Investment and State Property Management of the Republic of Tajikistan. In addition, the WAGE Council of Experts in Uzbekistan works with the British Management University and Tashkent State University of Law, both of which have memoranda of cooperation in the implementation of the WAGE program.
The conference provided a space to share these results, but also to further discuss the barriers and opportunities for women’s economic empowerment in Central Asia.
“Fifty-two percent of Kazakhstan's population are women, according to statistics. The percentage of businesses run by women in 2021 is 42 percent, and according to the National Statistics Bureau, women make up more than half - 52.6 percent of Kazakhstani individual entrepreneurs,” said Elena Tarasenko, deputy chairman of the National Commission on Women, Family and Demographic Policy under the President of Kazakhstan.
She also spoke on the issue of wages. “There is no doubt that there are many personal barriers, including the gender pay gap. I would like to point out that in Kazakhstan, according to the results of 2017 to date, we have seen a reduction in the wage gap between men and women, which is 23 percent,” says Elena Tarasenko.
“Women in Central Asia are quite active in the SME sector. However, the legislation of the countries of the region does not have a fixed concept of “women’s entrepreneurship”. For this reason, it is more difficult for them to scale projects, explore areas considered “truly male”, and combine running a business with the traditional role of wife and mother. Whereas the introduction of the concept of “women’s entrepreneurship” into state programmes will facilitate women’s access to state business support programmes and collateral loans,” said Meruert Kazbekova, Chairperson of the Coalition in Kazakhstan.
Ainur Usenbekova, Deputy Minister of Economy and Commerce of the Kyrgyz Republic, noted that they had developed a state programme to develop women’s entrepreneurship.
“There is a concept of women’s entrepreneurship specified in strategic documents, but there is no conceptual framework in the legislative part, and this is what we are working on now. We’ve had a constitutional reform, and now the basic law on supporting entrepreneurship is being changed to include women’s entrepreneurship,” says Ainur Usenbekova.
According to Ainur Usenbekova, concessional financing is provided under certain conditions - collateral-free solutions, the business idea, skills and potential of the women themselves are considered first. “It is very problematic to provide collateral, especially for women living in the regions,” notes the Deputy Minister of Economy and Commerce of the Kyrgyz Republic.
Meruert Kazbekova, Chairperson of the Coalition in Kazakhstan, encouraged the importance of supporting women in the regions. “We are engaged in the promotion of women in the regions, today it is important to develop and help business development, to teach leadership skills, to promote the participation in politics of women living in the regions. Why is this important? A strong region means a strong country.  The Coalition for Women’s Entrepreneurship and Gender Equality focuses on working with non-governmental sectors, business associations in the regions,” says the Coalition Chairperson.
The Coalition for Women’s Entrepreneurship and Gender Equality in Kazakhstan shared initial results from the WAGE program. For example, the Social Entrepreneurship Working Group and “Social- Entrepreneurial Corporation “Astana” Joint Stock Company have developed rules for the provision of own and communal property for social projects in Astana. Also, with the help of the Coalition, “DAMU Entrepreneurship Development Fund” JSC will provide loans at a subsidized rate of 5% to social entrepreneurs from January 1, 2023.
Small private businesses, including those led by women, account for more than half of the country’s GDP in Uzbekistan. Entrepreneurship development is included as a priority objective in the New Uzbekistan Development Strategy 2022-2026.
In her speech, the Chairperson of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis Committee on Women and Gender Equality, M. Kadirkhanova, noted that comprehensive support for women and girls is one of the priorities of Uzbekistan’s state policy. Nowadays, women are involved in all spheres of life: economic, social, and public. The state provides women and men with equal rights and opportunities in entrepreneurial activity and is ready for dialogue with business in this direction.
The national coordinator of the WAGE program in Uzbekistan notes that in order to develop women’s entrepreneurship in Uzbekistan, the expert council recommended that gender sensitivity in entrepreneurship legislation be strengthened, and that special attention be given to providing benefits to vulnerable categories of women to start and expand their businesses, increasing the knowledge and skills of women entrepreneurs and involving women in high-tech areas.
Numon Abdugafforzoda, Head of the Secretariat of the Consultative Council on Improving the Investment Climate under the President of Tajikistan, noted in his speech that supporting women entrepreneurship is a strategic policy priority of the country, and by order of the President, Tajikistan is currently developing a National Programme for the Development of Women Entrepreneurship for 2023-2030, which also aims to create a favorable business climate for women entrepreneurs, and the key recommendations of the National Women’s Entrepreneurship Agenda, developed by the Tajikistan Network for Economic Empowerment of Women and Reduction of Gender-based Violence, have been reviewed and integrated into this program to ensure that they are implemented implementation by the responsible authorities and agencies.
Markhabo Olimi, Chief Adviser of the Chairman of the Committee on Women and Family Affairs under the President of Tajikistan, in her speech noted the high political will of the Head of State and cited a number of mechanisms of state support to women in entrepreneurship, one of which is the Presidential grants for women entrepreneurs, which will increase from next 2023, due to the popularity and effectiveness of this measure. Also, Ms. Olimi pointed out that there is a scale of special tax benefits for women entrepreneurs who are on maternity and parental leave.
At the conference, members of the WAGE Coalition also presented their National Women’s Business Agendas. The NWBAs will strengthen collaboration between women entrepreneurs from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Overall, the conference highlighted the need for continued cooperation between the public and private sectors in order to improve the business environment for women entrepreneurs.
Following the Regional Conference on Women's Entrepreneurship Agenda in Central Asia a Memorandum of Cooperation was signed between the Coalition for the Development of Women’s Entrepreneurship and Gender Equality in Kazakhstan, the Coalition for the Development of Women’s Entrepreneurship and Reduction of Gender-based Violence “Demilgeluu Aiymdar” in the Kyrgyz Republic, the Tajikistan Network for the Economic Strengthening of Women and Reduction of Gender-based Violence and the Expert Council for the Development of Women Entrepreneurship in Uzbekistan and women entrepreneurs in Turkmenistan. The objective of the Memorandum is to develop and strengthen long-term, effective, and mutually beneficial cooperation between the parties in the field of women’s entrepreneurship development, as well as economic, trade and technological relations.

Published on January 13, 2023

*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Government. 
Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) is a global consortium to advance the status of women and girls, led by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) in close partnership with the Center for International Private Enterprise, Grameen Foundation, and Search for Common Ground. WAGE works to strengthen the capacity of private sector organizations (PSOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) in target countries to improve the prevention of and response to gender-based violence (GBV); advance the women, peace, and security (WPS) agenda; and support women’s economic empowerment (WEE). In this context, WAGE provides direct assistance to women and girls, including information, resources, and services they need to succeed as active and equal participants in the global economy. WAGE also engages in collaborative research and learning to build a body of evidence on relevant promising practices in these thematic areas. To account for the deeply interconnected nature of women’s and girls’ experiences, WAGE’s initiatives employ approaches that are highly collaborative, integrated, and inclusive. WAGE is funded by the U.S. Department of State Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.

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