Gender equality – calls for a “state of balance” - from Hollywood to Kazakhstan


Fast forward 111 years since the New York equality march, the call for equal pay is louder than ever before. Where do we stand globally and in Kazakhstan?


111 years ago on 8 March 1908, a women’s equality march was held in New York demanding the right to vote, shorter working hours and equal pay to men.

8 March now marks International Women’s Day. In many countries around the world, this is a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. This year, the strapline reads #BalanceforBetter.

So where do we stand globally?

  • Right to vote 

The Vatican City is now the only place in the world where women are not allowed to vote. Only cardinals can vote for a new pope. Women are not allowed to be cardinals.

  • Working hours
    Most countries have rules in place to regulate working hours, rest periods and compensation for overtime pay. Many organisations are adopting and /or promoting flexible working solutions (flexible working hours, job sharing, remote working, etc) to recruit and retain diverse talent, increase employee engagement and satisfaction in the workplace.
  • Equal pay

On the global level, the gender pay issue is mounting to an unprecedented level. The topic is a burning fire, fueled by public scandals.

Hollywood is no exception to this – last year, high-profile celebrities revealed that they had not received equal pay to their male counterparts. An open letter signed by more than 3,000 denounced “egregious” wage inequalities and demanded equal pay.

In PwC’s Global Gender Pay Compass (an interactive tool highlighting the status of gender pay laws in 88 countries), 34% of countries surveyed do not have specific laws or sanctions relating to gender equality, 43% have some form of gender equality laws without sanctions. Only 23% (including Kazakhstan) have gender pay laws with sanctions for non-compliance.

Whilst legislation can provide a framework for action, it is leaders who have the power to make meaningful change happen in an impactful way. PwC is witnessing a growing trend in companies choosing to communicate their commitment to equal pay and equal opportunities to employees and society through certification by the not-for-profit, independent EQUAL-SALARY Foundation.

Where does Kazakhstan stand locally?

Women in Kazakhstan received the right to vote in 1917 and local laws regulate working time of employees.

Legally, the Constitution of Kazakhstan prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. A series of strategies and laws have been adopted in the past 14 years – from the gender equality strategy (2006-2016), to the “Law of State Guarantees of Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities of Men and Women” (the equal rights law) in 2009. In 2016, the “Concept of Gender and Family Policy of Kazakhstan” in 2016.On overall gender equality, we turned to the country’s scores in The World Economic Forum’s global gender gap reports. These assess a country’s progress on gender equality based on four indicators –educational attainment, health and survival, economic participation and political empowerment.

Between 2013-2018 (see chart below), women in Kazakhstan achieved gender parity on “educational attainment” (assessed in terms of literacy rate and enrolment in education). Women rank nearly equal to males on “health and survival” scores (in terms of sex at birth and healthy life expectancy).

A notable gap appears in the “economic participation and opportunity” indicator, showing a score of 0.74 (out of a full parity score of 1). The “political empowerment” indicator reveals the most significant gap, with an overall score of 0.13, taking into account the proportion of women in politics.

Source: World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Reports (2013-2018)

What’s interesting is that the scores on each of these indicators have been fairly constant between 2013-2018, despite the plethora of laws, strategies and plans introduced to promote the equality. Apart from “educational attainment” which reached full parity in 2018, the other three indicators show a slight decline in 2018 compared to 2013.

Previous gender studies conducted point towards a disconnect between the existing legal framework and actual reality. They indicate that there is still some way to go for gender stereotypes and engrained social norms to be overcome in a patriarchal society. It seems that a cultural and societal change needs to occur to instil equality for women and men in political, economic and social sectors. Perhaps this also calls for more female representation in politics to align the legal framework and plans with desired reality.

As stated by Tatyana Tsoy, People and Organisation Director, PwC Kazakhstan: “From the pay perspective, there is a substantial gender pay gap (average female pay/average male pay expressed as a percentage) in Kazakhstan. The average gender pay gap varies across industries, from 29% in the banking sector to 45% in agriculture. The country average is 33%, higher than in the USA and UK, where the gap is around 28% and 18% respectively (Sources: World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Reports (2018), House of Commons. Gender Pay Gap Report (2018)).

Clearly, Kazakhstan still has work to do to improve the gender pay gap. In particular, the various pay gap reforms and changing expectations of society have intensified the challenge for company leaders in Kazakhstan to bridge the gap. However, for the time being, the solution and approach are not as clear as many companies would hope”.

Where do we go from here?

Overall, it remains to be seen whether the new initiatives will be sufficient to close the gap in Kazakhstan.  In the meantime, what holds true for Kazakhstan as well as the rest of the world is this:

Legislation and plans alone are not sufficient to bring about gender equality. What makes it happen is society at large living it, led from the top, from the hearts and minds of country leaders, politicians, company leaders. Ironically, high-profile scandals serve to bring greater awareness of inequity to light to trigger calls for balance.

Ultimately, the “struggle for equality” will only turn into a “state of equality” when the passion and fuel for equality achieves a state of critical mass, inspiring meaningful and sustainable changes to happen.

Hopefully, it will not take another 111 years before the gender gap is closed and balance is achieved.

Christina Yap, PwC Senior Manager

David Szollosi, PwC Manager, People & Organisation

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