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Kyrgyzstan: Women Migrants in the Workforce and the Generation of Children Facing Displacement

Kyrgyzstan: Women Migrants in the Workforce and the Generation of Children Facing Displacement
Kyrgyzstan: Women Migrants in the Workforce and the Generation of Children Facing Displacement (Credits: The Conversation)

Dilya-eje, a secondary school teacher residing in the border village of Samarkandek, Kyrgyzstan, frequently visits the homes in her neighborhood to document the children who will be attending school the following year.

She consistently notes the parental status in her notebook, with a significant portion identified as migrants, representing more than half of the parents.

The migration phenomenon brings about a shift in gender roles, as women assume traditional male responsibilities, particularly in agricultural labor, due to the departure of men.

Kyrgyzstan also witnessed a substantial number of female migrants, comprising about 40% of the total Kyrgyz labor migrants to Russia in 2016. These women, including divorced, married, and young graduates, often engage in the service sector in Russia.

Kyrgyzstan: Women Migrants in the Workforce and the Generation of Children Facing Displacement

Kyrgyzstan: Women Migrants in the Workforce and the Generation of Children Facing Displacement (Credits: The Conversation)

This transformation in gender roles creates a conflict between traditional notions of femininity and masculinity. Despite being crucial income providers, these women face misogynistic attitudes and violence.

The economic benefits and social consequences of labor migration present a dichotomy. A 2016 United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) survey in Kyrgyzstan highlights the deep contempt faced by migrant women upon their return.

The survey, conducted among 6,000 households, reveals that a significant percentage of respondents consider a wife’s career less important than her husband’s and that a woman’s work negatively impacts family and children.

Reintegration into the family poses challenges for women returning from labor migration, leading to the alienation of children.

Remittances sent home are predominantly spent on essential needs, with substantial savings directed towards significant purchases like homes or cars. Notably, migrants from Kyrgyzstan transferred an average annual amount equivalent to a third of the country’s GDP between 2012 and 2014.

Despite negative perceptions of women’s labor migration, it offers financial independence and experience in decision-making for many women, breaking away from traditional rural patriarchal norms. However, it also transforms gender relations in Kyrgyz society, creating tensions between Soviet-era emancipation, Islamic resurgence, and capitalist influences.

This shifting landscape is perceived as a threat by some Kyrgyz men, leading to the emergence of nationalistic groups such as “Patriots,” acting as moral police against Kyrgyz women deemed to lead an immoral lifestyle in Russia. UNFPA survey results indicate widespread support for such actions among the Kyrgyz population.

Beyond physical attacks, the core issue revolves around the public conflict regarding the expectations of a Kyrgyz woman and the definition of a Kyrgyz man, exposing a deep fracture in Kyrgyz society.

The overall prevalence of violence against women in Kyrgyzstan, combined with societal pressures, contributes to the challenges faced by migrant women and their families.

Despite a high number of registered NGOs in the country, there is a lack of specific organizations addressing the issues encountered by migrant women, who often require employment, psychological support, and medical care upon their return.

Female migration in Kyrgyzstan appears to be a persistent phenomenon, prompting Dilya-eje to term the affected children as a “lost generation.” While the government, international organizations, and NGOs do not explicitly recognize this term, an open public debate is essential to address the evolving gender dynamics and profound societal changes catalyzed by migration.

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