Harnessing the power of data in Turkmenistan

As many other ethnic Uzbek women who live in rural areas of Dashoguz province in Turkmenistan, Zulfiya Orazova, 63, is engaged in household chores

Zulfiya and her husband Hudayar raised four sons who now support the parents’ farming business. They harvest organic vegetables and fruits all year round to supply local markets.

“We have a big family. Our four sons are married, and we have six grandchildren. We all live together in this house. Our tradition is to get together at a large table for a meal,” says Zulfiya.

Zulfiya is also known as one of the best silkworm farmers. She has received a regional award for recognition of her hard work and achievements. Now Zulfiya spends most of her time with grandchildren and she is keen to learn how to use internet.

Zulfiya Orazova at her daily routine, Dashoguz province, 2019, Turkmenistan

“Bostan” gengeshlik (set of several villages) where Zulfiya lives is one of the forty-four gengeshliks in Dashoguz region where the State Statistics Committee of Turkmenistan has recently collected data as part of a new round of the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS).  Zulfiya’s village has only four streets, a school and a kindergarten, as well as one primary health care centre.  

“I was young and used to rely on my mother’s advice when treating my children from flu or if I could not properly breastfeed. Medical facilities were too far to reach and most of the time we stayed home. Now, life has changed: we refer to doctor’s professional opinion only; a family physician or a nurse regularly visits us. Children do not need to walk long distances to schools, as there are schools and kindergartens in each village,” proclaims Zulfiya.

The previous MICS figures (2016) showed that fathers’ engagement in activities with children age 3-4 that promoted learning and school readiness during the three days preceding the survey scored only 14 percent. To address the low rates of fathers’ engagement, UNICEF and the Government of Turkmenistan launched a four-year campaign in 2017 on early childhood development and the positive role of fathers in bonding with their children in the first thousand days of life. The previous MICS also revealed that in Turkmenistan, only less than half of children attended pre-primary education. It also indicated disparities between urban (70 percent) and rural (29 percent) areas, laying the foundation of debates about how to reach universal pre-primary education for all children, as the 2030 agenda requires.

Rustam Bazarbayev and his wife Meryem, both 64, were also interviewed during the recent MICS fieldwork. They both are teachers in the same gengeshlik. They are parents to two children and six grandchildren. As many people in Turkmenistan, their family members access internet through mobile subscription.  

“Our hope is that our grandchildren will study in universities. We understand that the fast-coming future will require highly educated professionals. I see how children are eager to know more. They start learning from early years either in the kindergarten or at home,” says Rustam.

In 2016 MICS survey, Turkmenistan was the first in the region to use tablets for collecting data. In this round, Turkmenistan is the first country globally to collect data on NEET (neither in education nor in training) among young women.

“We visited nearly 800 households in our region selected through random sampling. I witness significant changes in people’s responses. They now seek for qualified advice, they want their children to be educated, and they openly share their concerns,” says Gozel Omarova, MICS Team Supervisor and Chief of the Department at Dashoguz province division of the State Statistical Committee.

MICS team visits Bostan gengeshlik of Dashoguz province, 2019, Turkmenistan

With temperatures going beyond 40 Celsius degrees during most of the fieldwork, the interviewers visited more than 6,000 households to collect critical information on child-related indicators, such as early childhood development, breastfeeding and dietary intake, child functioning, foundational learning, social protection and anthropometry. The State Statistics Committee and UNICEF brought together the MICS interviewers in late August to share experiences, tap on the rich qualitative information that they have collected over the course of the fieldwork and brainstorm about how future surveys can be improved.

Turkmenistan is yet to generate more evidence on social and economic development. Reliable and internationally comparable data are crucial for the country’s inclusive and sustainable growth, as well as for establishing baselines for monitoring SDG indicators, both at the national and disaggregated levels. Families who participated in the 2019 MICS were told that their responses will help the country to aggregate key data on children and women which will ultimately help to inform policy decisions. 

Written by
Mahri Eyeberdiyeva
Programme Communications and Advocacy Officer
Mahri Eyeberdiyeva
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Children’s Fund