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How software can support governments to reduce discrimination against women when it comes to employment


Wanza Mwathani is a digital technology specialist at Development Pathways. This International Women’s Day, she shares how our team worked with Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Finance and UNICEF to design and develop a maternity benefit module in the Social Protection Single Registry (SPSR).

Uzbekistan’s government needed to encourage employers to hire more women. One mechanism they decided on was a state maternity benefit, which would reduce the cost of maternity leave to employers by 50%. The hope was this would help to stop employers from unfairly discriminating against women when they applied for jobs.

My role in this as a digital technology specialist? To interpret the requirements for delivering the maternity benefit into software development tasks, so that the funds would make it to qualifying women.

Rewind a year: we are just finalising the design and development of the SPSR, which is already managing child benefit and low-income benefit programmes. But before we have time to pause and reflect, the government is ready to go ahead with the integration of the maternity benefit. 

So, I set about joining the dots to understand the needs from the user side, analyse those needs, and then design the technical requirements to create a working system that ensures that all qualifying women are automatically identified, and the benefit is sent to their bank accounts.

After initial meetings on Zoom from our office in Nairobi, I pack my bags and join stakeholders for further discussions in Tashkent. Fortunately for us, the government already have the three most important assets when it comes to setting up a country-wide shift like this: they have i) the necessary data infrastructure in place, ii) the required personnel to run the programme and the system, and last but certainly not least, iii) support from the entire cabinet, right up to the prime minister’s office. 

Thanks to this support, and the data sharing agreements that are already in place, the team move forward with mapping and developing linkages across the ministry of health, ministry of finance, ministry of labour and tax committee, for automatic data exchange. 

After tireless work from all parties, and many late nights, on September 20th 2022, the government publicly announces the maternity benefit, setting aside 1.7 trillion soums (150 million USD) for 2023. 

Fast forward to now. The government has already distributed benefits for four months through the system. The lightning speed of this roll-out wouldn’t have been possible without the cooperation across ministries. And this continued collaboration is essential in order to automatically trigger applications, verify potential beneficiaries against eligibility criteria, and process payments through to the bank. 

Now that maternity benefits for women working in the private sector are automated, the process is fast and fair. The government pays women working in non-government institutions 50% of the maternity benefit for six months, while employers pay the other half. There are no forms to complete or payrolls to manually prepare, and everyone has the same chance to receive the benefit. Qualifying beneficiaries and their employers are simply notified of the maternity benefit allocation. Beneficiaries without a bank account are notified that they can collect cash from the bank. 

We are excited to support the Government of Uzbekistan to advance their social protection system. We hope that they will very soon begin to see the impact of the system on redressing the gender balance in the workplace.

World Bank (2021) Gender discrimination in hiring https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/395981632487281231/pdf/Gender-Discrimination-in-Hiring-Evidence-from-an-Audit-Experiment-in-Uzbekistan.pdf