Girls Breaking Professional Gender Stereotypes In Kyrgyzstan

For more than 40 years, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan has had a list of prohibited professions for women. This list includes over 400 other professions, such as welders, woodworkers, and firefighters. Despite the fact the authorities recognize it as inappropriate, the list still exists in modern Kyrgyzstan.

In January 2022, the Kyrgyz ministry of labor, social security and migration proposed to abolish the list of jobs in which the use of female labor is prohibited. The department has submitted a draft resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers for public discussion.

Despite the ban, there are several professional colleges that train students in areas like welding, car servicing, woodworking, and other. There are few girls studying  these areas. However, even if women wanted to do those jobs, they would end up doing completely different things because of the ban and social norms. According to the National statistics, women predominate in estate transactions (96%), education (79%), health care and social services (78%). There are more men in construction (99%), mining, transport activities and storage of goods (96% each).

Other countries like Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Moldova and Uzbekistan partially reduced their lists. The reason why such lists exist is that it is believed that many professions are dangerous and harmful for women, especially for their reproductive health. But many professions can be dangerous for all people, regardless of their gender


Shahrizada’s story

Shahrizada is the only female civil engineer in Bishkek. Currently, she is on maternity leave, raising two boys. Her father was also a civil engineer. During her childhood,  Shahrizada was fearless. She was not afraid of getting hurt. In her spare time, she would climb up to the attic to read father’s books. She always dreamed of becoming a civil engineer like him.

When she was studying at the college, there were just a couple of girls.

“Mom was against my choice, because I have eczema on my hands. And my dad was always supportive,” says Shahrizada.

She initially knew it would not be easy in the profession.

“I always had to prove and win my place. Even the younger ones, or those with little experience, doubted whether I knew or could do anything,” she shares.

Shahrizada back in the college classroom sitting on the left

Shahrizada put much effort into her career in civil engineering. “Long and hard, with slow steps, I came to this point. I did not quit. I was not afraid of the cold, dirt and dust,” she admits. 


During 11 years of work, Shahrizada heard and faced different stereotypes.


She recalls, “It happened more than once that I went to large construction companies and the leaders said, ‘Well, my girl, you won’t be in the position of foreman. Come on, you will work in the office. Women have no place in construction {civil engineering}.’ ”


Despite difficulties in the industry, Shahrizada continued working as a civil engineer. She is a truly positive person.


“I will not get tired of proving them wrong  and will not get tired of fighting for justice,” she says.


Shahrizada believes any woman can do this job.


Alynai’s story


“It seems to me that girls who study in STEM  fields will be ready for everything in life, because you don’t need a man after that,” says 22-year-old Altynai.


 A year ago, she graduated from a vocational college with a degree in automotive maintenance and repair. This area was not her first choice.


 “I accidentally got there. I lacked 6 points in the English test, can you imagine?” laughs Altynai.


During her studies and a little after, she worked in a car dealership.


Today,  she does not work, because she isn’t sure what career path to choose. Altynai gained a lot of experience during her two years of studies.


“I can work in absolutely any car service and car dealership, I can work as a car mechanic. I can do the same job that a male auto mechanic does.” Altynai admits, “Everyone is surprised by my profession, both men and women. Because men are not used to seeing a girl in their field. And women say it’s not a job for girls.”


 Despite the fact Altynai doesn’t work in the field, she has big plans – to open her own car wash or car service.

Image from @manasuniv Instagram account

Tumara’s story

21-year-old Tumara has been working as a furniture designer and woodworker for almost a year at Manas college’s workshop. She has a separate office in which she designs various furniture, and  creates  products with a special machine.


“I like everything at work and it’s interesting,” she says. Just like Altynai, Tumara lacked some points in her test. “I didn’t even know that this program existed. But I don’t regret graduating from it,” shares Tumara. There are usually not many girls in such professions. Tumara says, “The name of the specialty scares many girls, if possible, I would rename it. Many don’t know that there is such a program {in the college} and what students do here.”

Tumara knows how to create furniture from start to finish, including welding. The workshop she works in is a big and noisy space. When entering you can smell wood, metal and fresh paints. There were three sections in which men were working. Tumara was very happy and excited to introduce the workshop to me. While we were talking, she proudly showed me different wood products nicely constructed by her and software tools she was using on the laptop. She would really like more girls to learn and enter this profession.


 “This job is not just for men,” she says.

Image from @manasuniv Instagram account

Aitunuk had a chance to work with wood, design and construct furniture and also design interiors of specific buildings.


 “Of course there was some work that required physical strength and male students were helping us with it. But you can’t just rely on men, if you follow work rules you’ll be able to complete everything by yourself.”


Today, many areas including those in vocational colleges can scare girls. There are still few women working in such fields as construction, woodworking, mining, auto mechanics and other. They are scared that these fields are deemed as “male work”. Although, in reality,everything is not quite so. Shahrizada, Altynai, Tumara and Aitunuk believe  in showing young women that there is no profession that women can’t do. Hopefully, more girls will be willing to take on such professions in the future.