Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Married Women Not Allowed

Today I worked with Mirlan, a local manager, to hire some new employees. There were four males and one female under consideration and we had to decide whom to grant an individual interview. All the candidates were reasonably qualified and personable.

He said he liked two of the boys. I agreed, then suggested we interview the girl as well.

“Your team has become a bit too male,” I said. The last three staff members taken had been male. If he would take two more, the balance would be seriously skewed.

“That’s fine with me,” he said. “I look at the resume and if I see it’s a married woman, I’d rather have the man. At any time she could become pregnant and go on maternity leave. It’s more profitable for us to take men.”

I agreed that was possible, but reminded him that in our experience, local woman are more productive on average than the men and more likely to fill leadership roles.

“So, she might take off 3-12 months for maternity leave,” I said. “Then she’ll return and be an efficient and responsible worker.”

“And then she’ll be asking for time off all the time because the child is sick. A man would never take sick time off.”

“We don’t experience that problem elsewhere,” I said.

“There are other people, like relatives, who can help with small children,” Camilla said, the 21-year-old who is about to rise to a management position after a year of work. Clearly, as someone who wanted to someday get married and have children, it was uncomfortable for her to hear her boss say that he didn’t expect much from women once they got married. Her brow furrowed and she looked at the two of us debating with an embarrassed smile.

“Still, if there are two equal candidates, I’d rather take the male,” Mirlan said.

In the end, we agreed to interview all five candidates. But I felt sorry for the local women, who not only have little choice in who or when they marry, but then are penalized on the employment front afterward.

A German colleague said it was not so much different in Germany. “Of course it’s illegal,” he said. “As it’s considered discrimination. But anyone hiring a 25 or 26 year old woman will first try to make sure of her plans for the next several years.”

Today Nigora went to the Social Fund office where she signed herself up for a discount card that will give her half price off medical care at any government clinic. Everyone else in the family was already registered. Then she signed herself up for the pension fund. Even if she doesn’t work, if she contributes 135 som per month (about $3.50), she’ll be eligible for a pension in her old age.

“How much will the pension be?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I didn’t look into it in that much depth. The workers were about to go to lunch. So I just grabbed the card and paid my money.”

“What’s the name of the card?”

“I’m not sure. I didn’t read it.”

She is trying to work. She went to the market again today to try to find a place to sell dishes.

“There aren’t any places available for rent,” she said. “Only small containers available to buy. But they are expensive, $2000, $2500. I’d rather try renting first to see how it works out.”

She asked Shavkat what he thought about buying and he said he was still thinking.

“Papa thinks all the time,” Habib said. “But he never does anything.” Today Shavkat went out carousing with his friends, and probably drinking.

Nigora might be able to get a spot at the market during Orozo, or Ramadan. “Right now, with all the weddings, it’s high season,” she said. “And no one wants to leave the market. But soon it will be Orozo, then it will start getting cold. And I should be able to get a spot then.”

The weddings are really unbelievable. Last night I went to bed with the sound of an emcee yelling through a loudspeaker at a neighborhood wedding. This morning I got up at 6:30 and heard the sound of drums, trombones, and fast, upbeat music.

“No way,” I said to Nigora, as she padded in her nightgown to the outdoor stove. “These weddings go all night?”

“No, this is a different wedding. This one is on our street.”

“At 6:30 in the morning?”

“Usually the men go to work and can’t attend the festivities later in the day. So for them, they prepare a breakfast.”

This evening, there were also wedding sounds, though whether from the same one or a different one, I couldn’t tell. “It’s as though people think the world is going to end,” Nigora said. “Everyone has to get married before Orozo. And those who don’t make it will get married after Orozo. With the first days after Orozo, there will be another huge group of weddings, all the way until early winter. Everyone wants to get married while the fruits and vegetables are fresh from harvest. It’s in their interest to be able to put watermelon and honeydew on the table.”

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