Gulshara Abdykalikova, State Secretary of the Republic of Kazakhstan charts the country’s challenging journey on the road to gender equality
Following the sad passing of former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, we should remember his wise counsel, ‘gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.’
Kazakhstan is working hard to address these challenges. As an outward facing, aspirational nation at the heart of Central Asia, our government is committed to improving the lives of women at every level of society.
The opportunities open to women and girls, especially in their early years, determines not only their individual futures but also that of wider society. It is with this belief in mind that we continue to build upon advances made over recent decades so that Kazakh woman and girls can reach their full potential.
President Nazarbayev has set the ambitious goal for Kazakhstan to enter the ranks of the top 30 most developed countries by 2050. This goal is unachievable without drawing on the skills, knowledge and expertise of all our citizens, women and men alike.
Of course, words and policies are not enough, investment is vital. The government recently allocated $56 million to support female entrepreneurship. In 2017, female-led SMEs created one-third of all jobs and with this recent investment, this figure is set to grow substantially.
The private sector too must continue to play a leading role in reducing barriers to access and support its female workforce. In many sectors such as finance, insurance and pharmaceuticals, women leaders are commonplace, but other industries such as extractives, transport and logistics must do more to support their female employees, especially in more rural communities.
For its part, the government will continue to support and encourage equality in the workplace and hold private companies to account by calling on them to sign up to the Women’s Empowerment Principles.
Despite successes, we recognise that further progress is needed. More robust safeguards must be put in place to protect those who are most vulnerable, especially in rural areas.
In partnership with local and international NGOs and Kazakh enforcement agencies, we are conducting an uncompromising fight against domestic violence. Our government has strengthened legal safeguards to help protect victims of domestic violence and to effectively prosecute the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. Thanks in part to these efforts, the level of household crime has decreased 40% since 2010.
The Concept of Family and Gender Policy of Kazakhstan until 2030 is also helping to dispel myths and challenge historic misconceptions, so that current and future generations of Kazakh citizens will not uphold gender biases and will challenge such preconceptions wherever they are found.
Sadly, instances of discrimination are still present in Kazakhstan, as seen by some derogatory comments on social media aimed at women’s rights activists. The Family and Gender Policy, which builds on international best practice, is focused on eliminating such discrimination and will ensure that discussions around the critical topics of sexual health, reproduction and gender bias are no longer considered taboo.
While Kazakhstan has made notable progress over the last three decades, many countries in the region have not been so fortunate. For many girls, post-primary education remains a luxury, not a right, and in wide areas of Afghanistan, women regularly face violent persecution in their pursuit of careers.
Kazakhstan has provided significant support to Afghanistan, including a $50 million scholarship programme to educate 1,000 Afghan students. Discussions on how Afghan women can be further supported by the international community will also be a central theme at the upcoming ‘Conference for the Empowerment of Women in Afghanistan’ which is being held in Astana in early September.
Elsewhere, human trafficking across the Central Asian region remains a persistent concern. A national plan to combat trafficking, first introduced in 2009, has helped to deliver a significant increase in prosecutions. The government is working closely with domestic civil society organisations to coordinate assistance for trafficked victims.
Education remains crucial to eradicating this issue. All Kazakh students at high school and college level now receive training on trafficking awareness so that they can identify and alert authorities should they encounter potential instances of trafficking.
Kazakhstan’s goals are ambitious, especially considering the complex challenges facing the wider region. However, our government is firm in its commitment to protecting the rights of women and girls and eradicating gender discrimination at every level of society.
Educating Kazakhstan’s citizens will play an important role in regard, so too will concrete policies which have been put in place to protect women in the workplace, home and in the communities. While basic protections are important, we must go further, reducing barriers to entry so that women are empowered to compete with men for all jobs at every level.
If Kazakhstan is truly committed to entering the ranks of the top 30 developed countries by 2050, meaningful equality will be crucial to our success.
State Secretary of the Republic of Kazakhstan