Gender Inequality in Kazakhstan

Introduction

As civilization takes root in many societies in the world, many prejudiced traditions are fast fading away. Gender equality is one of the ideas that is gaining acceptance and being entrenched in many societies. Many country through organizations such as the United nations and other Non Governmental organizations have mobilized resources to push for laws that recognize women as equal to men and that seeks to grant them opportunities through leveling the playing filed in many spheres of life1.

Traditionally in many societies, women have been relegated to the periphery of the sphere of life ranging from education, healthcare, public administration, and employment. Additionally, there are radical ideas advanced by religious extremists and conservatives that have seen women exploited sexually and physically abused.

It’s for these reasons that initiatives like the millennium development goals have been set up. The millennium declaration charter signed and ratified by 191 UN member states outlines an ambitious plan to be implemented by member states through legislative tools to ensure among others promotion of gender equality and women empowerment is achieved.

Kazakhstan is one of the countries that are party to the declaration. In the few years of independence, Kazakhstan has been able to make great progress towards gender equality and empowerment of women. It’s one of Asia’s countries whose constitution has strong structures and institutions that protect women and their rights. New thinking on the wake of independence has been the driving force behind the push for gender reforms in Kazakhstan. Government policies on gender consider gender to be an important component of democracy2.

For instance, the constitution the 1995 constitution explicitly declares the legal equality of all of the country’s citizens. The constitution also recognizes all international treaties including those that protect rights of women like Article 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all discrimination against women.

Many studies by government and NGO’s have found sufficient evidence that indicates the effectiveness of women empowerment measure put up by the Kazakhstan government. Numerous laws seeking to ensure gender equality have been enacted by the country’s legislature and the results can clearly be seen in the gender development index. While it’s premature to declare that gender issues are over in Kazakhstan, its will be incorrect to overlook the progress that has been made3.

This paper will look at the developments that have taken place in Kazakhstan as far as gender equality is concerned. The paper will pay special emphasis on the positive developments that involve mainly women and in some cases men in comparison to pre and independence time. It’s also important to state that given the universal belief that women are more disadvantaged than men, most of the gender equality developments that will be discussed will focus on women improvement. As such, the situation of men in the country is considered better than that of women. The analysis will be done through the universally accepted gender development indicators like education , labor and employment, health, public administration and measures put in place to curb social ills against women such violence and maternal mortality. But first, there will be an overview of the gender equality laws that have been put in place in the country, what the current situation is and achievements according to the GDI indicators.

The Kazakhstan laws on discrimination and gender equality

The constitution of Kazakhstan protects the rights of all its citizens. According to the law, all people in the country are equal. Since its independence two decades ago, Kazakhstan has enacted various laws that have sought to protect the rights of women especially I areas where it’s felt that they are disadvantaged4.

As said earlier, Kazakhstan is one of the handful countries in Asia that have made considerable strides in applying and complying with gender equality standards. The strategies and laws on gender equality that have been enacted are aligned along the Beijing Platform of Actions (1995) and Resolutions of the 23d Special Session of the UN General Assembly (2000). The two resolutions have in most cases acted as the guideline in Kazakhstan’s approach in formulating gender equality policies. There has been a high level compliance to laid down gender equality policies.

There was an approval by decree of the concept of the state policy on improving the status of women in the country. The decree came into being on March 1997 when it was signed by the president. Additionally, there was the establishment of the Council of Women and Family issues in the year 1998 that later transformed to the National Commission on Women and Family Affairs. The national plan of action on improving the status of women in Kazakhstan has clearly stated the opportunities that are available for women in the country.

The national commission carries out monitoring and evaluation of the national plan with annual reports to the government. It’s important to note that more than the quarters of the National Plan objectives have been met. There was also the adoption of the resolution of in 2003 that approved the government formation of the concept of gender policy in Kazakhstan5. The concept’s goals were the attainment of equal and balanced representation of both men and women in public offices , fostering economic independence through provision of equal economic opportunities and the creating conditions for balanced access to rights and responsibilities in the family as well as ensuring both men and women are safe from sex based violence. Furthermore the concept advocates for the introduction of gender education in the country, inclusion of gender based indicators into budget policies and development of plans to curb violence against women6.

There has criticism that the law is not very specific on the promotion of gender equity and equality due to its failure to clearly refer to the gender aspect, especially on women. As a result, as the year 2010 saw a new law enacted that boosted the measures put in place to enhance equality among the people of Kazakhstan. The new law Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities of Men and Women became operation in the beginning of the year having been fronted for by many gender activists and lobbyists like UNIFEM. The law criminalizes all forms of discrimination on the basis of gender through strengthening mandates of international initiatives like the Millennium Declaration and the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)7.

Among the provisions of the law id the establishment of state guarantees that will ensure access to opportunities and equal rights to labour and employment, education, and family affairs. The law also guarantees access to opportunities in public administration and labour and employment. There are severe penalties for agencies and business entities that do not meet the gender criteria outlines in the act. Non compliance may lead to state control and possible jail terms in for the administrators. The law was signed in December 2009 by President Nazarbaev. Also enacted at the same time was a law that amended previous legislation on domestic violence giving law enforcement wider mandate to deal with the menace.

The above represent modifications to the original law that assures ever citizen of protection and equal treatment at all levels. An analysis of the law will help highlight the extent to which gender equality has been upheld in Kazakhstan8.

Article 14 of the 1995 Constitution of Kazakhstan clearly articulates what a family is in the Kazakhstan nation. The article is very specific on the treatment and there is not discrimination of women that is under this law. In fact, the law has provisions that have protected women when it comes to marriage and family setting. The law prohibits marriage of both men and women at 18 years. However there is a small loophole where the registry office can authorize marriage for both men and women at 16 years. Though the provision may be exploited, the requirements for fulfilling “legitimate grounds” are quite difficult to fulfill. Additionally, the law prohibits polygamy which is traditionally used by men to exploit women9.

There is the marriage and family law that clearly states that both men and women have equal roles in the family10. This technically locks out and reins in on men or women who neglect their responsibilities to their families. Given that most of the breadwinners of the typical Kazakh family are men, it grants women major relief in cases where the man displays irresponsible behavior. Furthermore, the law gives clear outlines on the way parental authority should be shared. Decisions such as children’s education are normally left to the fathers. However, this law states clearly that both parents have equal responsibility on the education decisions they, make about their children. This particular provision grants women grounds to pursue legal redress in cases where their men who may be breadwinners may want to make unilateral decisions about their children’s education. When looked at objectively, the beneficiary in this particular law has been the girl child who is traditionally less preferred to the boy. Mothers therefore are able to push for the education of the girls thanks to the shared mandate.

The family code also grants both men and women equal rights to access inheritance. Furthermore all property that a couple may acquire in marriage is under the law considered joint property and is evenly split in case of death or divorce11. The recognition of women’s rights to inheritance is another illustration that Kazakhstan has made strides on gender equality unlike similar societies in the region. Additionally the women o Kazakhstan have been granted equal ownership rights as the men by this very law.. There are provisions that allow women to possess property besides inheriting it. The land program was motivated and driven by the desire by the country’s leadership to enhance gender equality in land ownership. This was especially necessary since more than 50% of the country’s farmers are women.

In a bid to spur the economic development of women in the country the law has provisions that have lessened discrimination in the access to credit by women in Kazakhstan. Authorities have not yet reported major cases where credit was denied to women on the basis of gender.

The physical integrity accorded to Kazakhstan women can be described as modest. The law that became operational in 2010 enhances the physical integrity of women by addressing specific elements that have not been addressed by the previously existing law12. By granting an active role to the CEDAW, the law effectively compels the government to place measures that can be used to combat rape and sexual harassment against women. In Kazakhstan, there is neither forced female genital mutilation nor its presence. Women like men are allowed to choose rites of passage that are not harmful and that correspond to their respective cultures.

There is also widespread respect on the civil liberties of Kazakhstani women13. There are no known restrictions on the mode of dressing and movement for women in the country. This is necessitated by the protection that is guaranteed by the constitution. It’s a far cry from the situation present in regional neighbors such as Afghanistan under the Taliban where women had and Iran where women have little say on their mode of dressing and movement.

There are other legal proposals that seek to establish with the help of the OSCE, a national plan on gender expertise guide that will help in writing legal document drafts. Additionally, the authorities have signed a memorandum of understanding with UNIFEM to pursue the implementation of a social budget model that mainly deals with gender issues in the country14. In the model, there will be a comprehensive budget analysis in every stage of budget development process. All the programs and legal documents under the budget will be subjected to a gender analysis at all levels of governance15. The analysis is aimed at developing a gender issues expertise in the budget making processes and enable wider participation of employees and civil society.

Apart from the legal measures, the government has introduced gender education programs in the primary and secondary sections of the education system in a bid to sensitize students and young adults about gender equality issues. The government hopes to lay firm foundation in its efforts to promote gender equality in society.

The current situation

On the backdrop of the above described pro-gender legislations, the gender gap has been drastically reduced. It’s correct to say that in terms of gender equality Kazakhstan fairs well than most Asian countries. In fact Kazakhstan a is ranked ahead of some western European countries that have traditionally been viewed as role models in terms of gender parity issues. The reforms that have been implemented have seen the country move up world rankings ahead of Slovenia, France and Italy. The World Economic Forum ranks Kazakhstan 41st in the 2010 Global Gender Report16.

There is consistency in figures from all over the world that show that more women involvement in the economy leads to rapid development in any society. The country has recognized this fact and has therefore put in place policies that encourage increased women participation in the economy. The policies have created an environment where the country capitalizes women’s creative potential and business skills. The results have been satisfactory.

More women than ever before according to the report are playing a bigger role in the economic growth and development of the country17. Due to absence of restrictions on property ownership and access to credit by women, the proportion of women in small and medium enterprise businesses in Kazakhstan is almost 50%. Economic policies that encourage women participation in the economy have been put in place. For instance there has been the development of distance and freelance working arrangements that have enabled women to engage in business in contemporary ways. One of the striking features of the policies on gender equality in the country is the emphasis given to healthy living. The policies it’s hoped will promote equality in healthy living among the genders. In 2007 a government report on the economics of gender in the European economy stated that overall, the country’s labour force was made up 48% of women18. The report further added that women equally participated in many of the country’s professional sectors like healthcare, financial services and the state and judicial system.

A glaring inequality that the policies aim to address is the inequality in the life expectancy rates of both men and women. On average, women in Kazakhstan live by slightly eleven years longer than men. It’s perhaps one of the areas where men seem to be disadvantaged.

The government has aggressively set up structures dedicated to protecting women from violence. For instance there are over twenty crisis centres that cater for the women who may be victims of domestic violence19.

The government of Kazakhstan acknowledges that even with the strides made towards achieving universal gender equality, there is still a lot to be done20. They recognize the fact that women are still not yet at the level where they are supposed to be. The government as a result has developed a plan that outlines the strategy of gender equality of the republic of Kazakhstan. The plan will run from the year 2006-2016. Since its development in 2006, the three years that followed till the year 2010 were focused on mobilizing and harnessing the economic potential of women for the achievement of gender equality in the economics field. Following the plan and the enactment of pieces of legislation such as Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities of Men and Women, the strategy currently focuses on the development of the sectors of the economy that authorities consider advantageous to women. This includes the implementation of programs that increase women’s competitiveness of the labour market. For instance the government of Kazakhstan has been working on a plan that when implemented will develop the sectors of the economy traditionally considered to be women oriented21.

Another strategy that has begun bearing fruit in the pursuit of gender equality in Kazakhstan is the development of initiatives that encourage women employment in rural areas. The government has a result invested heavily in agriculture given the fact that women form almost half of the farmers in the country22.

Achievements according GDI

Women in administration and decision making levels

Due to the numerous provisions of the law as outlined in the above sections, women can now freely and equally participate with men in governance in the country’s institutions23. It’s now easier than before for women to vote and be voted to the representative bodies of governing. Various reforms that have been carried out in the electoral laws have enabled equal participation of candidates effectively enabling women to participate in equal measure in the democratic process. There has also been a steady growth of women elected to parliament. In 2003, there were 11 women deputies in the country’s national parliament. The “On Public Service” model has been in use since the year 200 and has seen women appointed to prominent positions in the government structure24. For instance there was a woman deputy prime minister in 2004 and other women ministers. There are also numerous women serving as Deputy Akims of Blasts while many more head the executive bodies in the rural areas. According to government audit reports, there has been a steady rise in the number of women in the public service of the country. For instance in January 2004 over 58% of all the administrative officials in the country were women. Additionally, through a presidential directive, all levels of administrations are required to establish reserves for women specialists in a bid to promote their participation is decision making processes of the organs of government25.

Labour and Employment

Kazakhstan has experienced phenomenal economic growth in the recent past spearheaded by agriculture, industry, construction and transport and communication. There is a clear indication that the benefits from economic growth have trickled down to the population. The contribution of different groups of people to the growth of the economy is critical to overall development. According to the government, women constituted almost half of all the participants in national economic growth. There level of participation has steadily increased from 47.6% in 2000 to 48.2 % in 2001 to 49% in 200226. The government attributes the growth to the implementation of gender equality and women empowerment initiatives in the country. As a result of the gender equality initiatives the unemployment rate has been steadily declining from 1999 to 2003. The unemployment rate in 1999 was 13.5% which went down drastically to 8.8% in 200327. Furthermore, the number of women working under unfavorable conditions has also drastically fallen since the implementation gender equality initiatives began. Also, the average monthly earnings for women in the country doubled in the period between 1999 and 2003.

Education

Goal three under the Millennium Development goals is the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women. The main aim is to do away with gender imbalance in both levels of education28. Other levels of education should achieve the target by the year 2015. According to the UNDP in Kazakhstan, this target has been achieved. As espoused in the country’s constitution, every citizen has a right to education29. According to the government, the education levels of both men and women show no steep variations. Authorities and nongovernmental organizations have touted the introduction of gender education in schools as a step in the right direction in realizing gender equality in the education system. According to the UNDP, the achievement of gender balance in the education system necessitates the introduction of new targets that generally aim at shoring up the gains made by women in the other sectors30. The UNDP identifies four targets that Kazakhstan needs to work which were identified in 2007. They include the adoption and implementation of strategies that will help in increasing the number of women representatives in the legislative and executive bodies. Enactment of measures to stamp out violence against women. And gender mainstreaming in national planning to reduce earnings’ gap between men and women31.

Healthcare

Women’s healthcare needs easily surpass those of men given their responsibilities like giving birth. Though the healthcare system is meant to serve all people, some mechanisms have to be put in place to ensure their special needs are met. Such measures will ensure women access good reproductive healthcare because of the needs outlined above32. Lack of such mechanisms will amount gender inequality. Additionally, high birth rates directly affect women in terms of career advancement and economic productivity. Implementation measures therefore like birth control are thought to be gender equality motivated. Within those measures, women are given more control on their reproductive health. The country has implemented various measures that have seen the birth rate decrease to 42.1 /1000 in 2003 from 65.3/1000 in 199933. There have been efforts to establish more obstetrical institutions in the country34. They include maternity counseling and consulting centres, fielder obstetrics offices, diagnostic policlinics, marriage and family centres and medical and genetic offices. Additionally, there are numerous obstetrical and gynecological offices that offer check up services. Such measures perhaps explain the slightly higher life expectance rate for women compared to men. There are also maternity and prenatal hospitals that help in counseling and safe delivery of children in the country35.

It’s important to note that the despite the measures given unto women, men too, access the same medical services as they may need from time. There is no big parity between them and women. Women only need the extra services due to the additional needs of their reproductive systems. The constitution of the country guarantees every citizen the right to access high quality medical health. There is no recorded discrimination of any nature in the dispensation and distribution of medical services36.

Violence against women

Violence and trafficking of women have been part of many women’s lives in Kazakhstan like it is in the rest of the world. There is a law that specifically deals with suppression of violence against women in the country. Since 2001, there has been high level coordination of state organs under whose docket violence against women falls. The government reports of marked success in these efforts. Having been passed before the year 2000, the law has been modified to include severe penalties for culprits involved in violence against women37. As a result there has been growth in the number of crisis centres to deal with victims of domestic violence most of whom are women and which is the most prevalent of all violence against women. There are also special police departments specifically charged with the responsibility of protecting women from domestic violence. They were established by a presidential decree in the in the year 1999. Furthermore, the justice department oversees a special interdepartmental commission that leads efforts n combating illegal trafficking of persons most of whom are women. Besides, there is a National Plan on combating trafficking of persons that is developed and improvised every year.

Education initiatives

The government through NGO’s and the media has have stepped up efforts to educate the public especially women on their rights are the proper channels thy can follow to address any violations38. It includes seminars conducted by the NGO’s and ministries departments. The campaign also involves the mass media where women participation in all spheres of the economy is highlighted.

Conclusion

Available information and statistics indicate high satisfactory compliance to the gender policies of the country. It’s evidenced by the numerous legislations and policy frameworks that particularly support women and men in areas where they are deemed weak. It’s therefore fair to conclude that gender equality is widely complied in Kazakhstan and the government only needs to sustain the efforts that have been put in place to make further progress.

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Footnotes

  1. Sahanov, N. Political Processes and Civil Society in Kazakhstan. Analytical report. International Training and Research Center. INTRAC. 2004. P. 6.
  2. Republic Of Kazakhstan. The second periodical report of the Republic of Kazakhstan «On implementing the UN Convention on Eliminating All Forms of Discrimination Against Women». Draft. September 2004. P. 14.
  3. Zaicev, Y. et al. Women’s Participation in Decision Making in Kazakhstan. 2004. P. 16.
  4. Zaicev, Y. et al. Monitoring of the implementation of recommendations of the Women’s Status Committee to the primary national report of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Alternative (second) report on CEDAW.
  5. ILO. Application of international labour standards 2008 (II). International Labour Office, (2008), Page 23
  6. Republic of Kazakhstan. The second periodic report of the Republic of Kazakhstan «On implementation of the UN Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women». Draft. September 2004. P. 10.
  7. Sarsembayeva, B.R. Gender Aspects of Systemic Socio-Economic Reforms in Kazakhstan: sociological analysis. Abstract of the doctoral dissertation, 2005. P. 10.
  8. Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Article 1, P. 1.
  9. UNDP. Education for All: The Key Goal for a New Millennium. 2004 National Human Development Report. UNDP., 2004. pp. 56.
  10. UNDP. Poverty in Kazakhstan: Causes and Cures. UNDP. 2004, pp. 32.
  11. ROK. Gender Equality Strategy in Kazakhstan for 2005-2015. Draft. 2005. P. 31.
  12. UNDP. 2000 National Human Development Report. UNDP Kazakhstan. 2001. P.24.
  13. AOS. Preliminary 2004 data of the Agency on Statistics of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Agency on Statistic, 2004,pp. 78.
  14. Taylor, D. and Thio, A. Social Problems. Routledge, (2011), p. 88.
  15. Baker , P.D. et al.Gender, equality and education from international and comparative Statistics. Springer, (2009), p. 271.
  16. Living Standards and Poverty in Kazakhstan. Statistical Monitoring. Agency on Statistics of the Republic of Kazakhstan, UN TG on Poverty Alleviation. 2004. P. 5.
  17. Najmabadi, A. and Joseph, S. Encyclopedia of Women & Islamic Cultures: Family, body, sexuality. (2005), NY: Infobase Publishers Pp. 50.
  18. World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Global Monitoring Report 2007: Confronting the Challenges of Gender Inequality. World Bank and IMF, Pp. 138-145.
  19. OECDDC. Atlas of gender and development: how social norms affect gender Equality. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Development Centre, (2006), P. 72.
  20. Groen, C. et al. Taking action: achieving gender equality and empowering women. (2005), pp. 57.
  21. UN. Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific. United Nations, (2008), p.40.
  22. Walker, C and Tatic ,S. Countries at the crossroads: a survey of democratic governance. University of Illinois. (2006), Pp. 24.
  23. Nysanbayev, A. Kazakhstan: cultural inheritance and social transformation. Springer, (2004), p. 128.
  24. Watson, N. Women 2000: an investigation into the status of women’s rights in Kazakhstan. International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, (2000), pp. 28-46.
  25. United Nations. Economic and social survey of Asia and the Pacific. United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. 2008, pp.64.
  26. ADB et al. Kazakhstan: country gender assessment. Asian Development Bank, Asian Development Bank. East and Central Asia Regional Dept, Asian Development Bank. Regional and Sustainable Development Dept, (2006), pp. 23-48.
  27. AOS. Preliminary 2004 data of the Agency on Statistics of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Agency on Statistic, 2004,pp. 78.
  28. ILO. Gender equality at the heart of decent work: sixth item on the agenda International Labour Office. (2009), p. 134.
  29. Ruxton, S. Gender equality and men: learning from practice. Oxfam GB, (2000), p. 17.
  30. Wang, G. Women’s Reproductive Health and Gender Equality. NY: Routledge. (2007), Page 171.
  31. Mathu, A. Gender and development in India: the Indian scenario. Springer India (2008). P. 203.
  32. United Nations. Resolutions and Decisions Adopted by the General Assembly. United Nations General Assembly. (2006) p. 333.
  33. LHD. Index to Proceedings of the General Assembly 2006-2007: Subject Index. United Nations Publications. p. 221.
  34. Ember, M and Ember, R. Encyclopedia of sex and gender: men and women in the world’s cultures: Volume 1. Sage Publications. Page. (2003), p. 578.
  35. Department for Work and Pension. The Gender Impact of Pension Reform. Great Britain Department for work and Pension, (2005), p. 35.
  36. Hunter, S. and Malik, H. Modernization, democracy, and Islam – Center for Strategic and International Studies (Washington, D.C.), (2005), P. 101.
  37. CIS. IIS index to international statistics. Congressional Information Service. (2008), Volume 25, Issues 7-9. pp. 23-37.
  38. IMF. Republic of Kazakhstan: statistical appendix International Monetary Fund, (2005), p. 3.
  39. LoBue, H. Kazakhstan‘s Soviet past, globalized present, and “emancipated. The University of Iowa, (2007), p. 218.