On 12th October 2023, Zalina Enikeeva, a researcher on the PPIA project from the University of Central Asia, gave a presentation at the Life in Kyrgyzstan ‘LiK’ conference. The conference was organised jointly by the University of Central Asia (UCA), Kyrgyz Republic; The Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops (IGZ), Germany; International Security and Development Center (ISDC), Germany and took place at the Park Hotel in Bishkek.
As part of the Intra-Household Distribution and Female Well-Being session, Zalina’s talk titled ‘The Role of Women During COVID-19 in Three Regions of Kyrgyzstan’ focused on the preliminary results of her ongoing research.
Through a mix of desk-based research and qualitative interviews, Zalina studied three groups: women living in urban and rural areas who had businesses in March 2020 and women employed in agricultural and tourism sectors; local institutions and experts; and the national government and aiyl okmotu, in two regions of Kyrgyzstan: Osh and Issyk-Kul.
She found that it was easier for rural citizens to survive the lockdown (as they had the possibility to go outside, and harvest vegetables and fruits from their own plots) but that economic recovery was faster in urban areas. Across urban and rural areas there was an increase of violent incidents towards women and children, and they faced the increased burden of household chores, helping children with school lessons, taking care of elder people.
However, women also showed great innovation during the pandemic. Zalina’s study found that new business emerged such as catering, making boxed lunches, and online teaching. Rural women became more active on social media and were active participants in online educational programs (such as acceleration programs). Furthermore, according to some respondents in the southern shores of Issyk-Kul lake, harvesting apricots and selling them on to larger companies became the only source of income, showing the ability to adapt and be resilient to changes caused by the lockdown.
Focusing on women post-pandemic, Zalina found that women have lost faith in the government and have less desire to participate in civil life; instead preferring to start their own businesses and earn money that way. There was also a shift in what women spend their money on, spending less on festivities and more on travelling, due to a renewed realisation of life’s fragility.
Overall, while the pandemic has highlighted women’s resilience and contributions to society, it has also exposed and exacerbated gender inequalities.
The talk received a lot of positive feedback from the conference participants, and we look forward to seeing Zalina’s work develop as she gets ready for publication.