INTERVIEW | Women’s rights in Kazakhstan: progress is being made, but much remains to be done

ИНТЕРВЬЮ | Права женщин в Казахстане: успехи есть, но многое еще предстоит сделать

Chief Advisor to UN Women in Kazakhstan. INTERVIEW | Women’s rights in Kazakhstan: progress is being made, but much remains to be done Women

To achieve gender equality, it is not enough to change the legislation, it is necessary to educate children in this spirit – both girls and boys. So says Madina Dzharbusynova, chief adviser to UN Women in Kazakhstan. Nargis Shekinskaya from the UN News Service spoke with her on the sidelines of the 68th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which is taking place these days in New York.

NS: You have a very impressive track record. You have been working on the problems of women, including women in Central Asia, including Kazakhstan, for a very long time. Can you say that the situation has changed over the years?

MD: Currently, according to the World Economic Forum, Kazakhstan ranks 62nd among countries in the world in terms of gender equality. Our previous position was 68th. That is, we rise along this scale.

Of course, we are not satisfied with this, because there are still problems. There are still a lot of difficulties, especially when we talk about the situation of women and girls in rural areas. Many positions allow us to proudly talk about progress, but we do not take into account that many of these achievements were laid down under the previous (Soviet) system. For example, we have more educated women in the country than men. And we have a lot of women with advanced degrees. And this is due to the fact that the foundations were laid under the Soviet system. Of course, we are now making efforts to get more girls into technical education. This is especially true for girls from rural areas.

NS: The fact is that girls themselves don’t want to do this. And here we come to the issue of consciousness in society, the issue of mentality. After all, this factor also plays a huge role.

MD: It’s just that a girl who graduates from a rural school will not be interested in new technologies if it is not promoted and the corresponding work is not carried out at school. We attach great importance to this. We have already achieved good results in this matter. We have created the “IT-Aiel” Program (“ael” means “woman” in Kazakh). As part of the program, girls take courses in digital technologies.

It’s just that a girl who graduates from a rural school will not be interested in new technologies if this is not will be promoted

We held a side event here last week as part of the current session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which demonstrated that those adopted at the state level, social protection measures and the involvement of women in the study of new technologies contribute to the improvement of the situation of women. Water does not flow under a lying stone, and therefore we need to work in this direction. And it’s good that this direction is one of the priorities for the state today.

NS: But along with these successes, if we talk about mentality, the problem of domestic violence remains. What measures are being taken in this direction?

MD: Our laws provided penalties for violence that resulted in moderate to severe bodily harm. This article was in the Criminal Code. And in 2017, domestic violence was decriminalized, because it was mainly representatives of law enforcement agencies who insisted on it. There were, of course, representatives of civil society who believed that this issue could be translated into administrative legislation, punishing domestic violence not within the framework of the Criminal Code, but fining rapists and carrying out appropriate work with them. But, unfortunately, this did not contribute to the fact that there was less violence. , noted our president, who instructed law enforcement agencies and parliament to study the possibilities of the existing situation and make the necessary changes to legislation in order to truly reduce such violence. Ideally, we could talk about eliminating violence against women, but, alas, no country can boast that violence against women has been completely eliminated. Now the Mazhilis, the lower house of parliament, has developed and adopted changes to the law to return to the criminalization of domestic violence. The document is now being considered in the Senate. And I think that in the near future the law will be passed on further.

NS: I will not say in which country this incident occurred, in one of the countries in our region, so to speak. Neighbors hear her husband beating a woman, hear cries for help and call the police. The police come, knock on the door, the woman herself opens it and says: “Nothing happened, everything is fine.” And the police express dissatisfaction with those who called it.

MD:Alas, this is not a rare case. These are just relics. Some people think that talking publicly about what is happening in the family is shameful. Even if you hear screams and neighbors express concern and try to help. It even happens that the woman herself calls the police, and then reconciliation occurs and she withdraws her statement. Because even with administrative punishment, it is expensive for the family budget if the husband is fined. And if he is detained to clarify the circumstances for a short period, he will not be at home, he will not work. Again, a loss to the family. In addition, the woman is afraid that, having returned, he may then take revenge on her and punish her for trying to protect herself and her children. This is not a rare case. When discussing changes to legislation, this was all taken into account. Of course, it is necessary to work to overcome these remnants and stereotypes.

I was beaten, and you have to be patient. Nothing, he is the father of your children, he is the breadwinner of the family…

In the Central Asian region, it may be considered shameful for a woman to complain about her husband. And after all, many are still trying to raise girls and young women according to some canons of house-building, calling on them to be submissive and patient. Mom can, for example, say: “They beat me, and you have to be patient. Nothing, he is the father of your children, he is the breadwinner of the family. Try not to do anything in the future that could cause him irritation and aggression.” This, of course, must be fought against. And we must start from the family and from school, raising boys and girls so that they understand that girls and boys have equal rights and human dignity must be respected.

NS: To what extent do you consider the economic dependence of women to be an important factor in the situation we just talked about? Here we come to the topic that is the main one at today’s session of the Commission on the Status of Women – economic opportunities.

MD: Naturally, economic dependence has an impact. And I have already said that we are trying to pay special attention to improving the situation of women in rural areas, because it is in rural areas that many women are housewives. This is a huge amount of work, but it is not noticed or paid. Therefore, in our programs we raise the issue of solving the problem of unpaid work of women in rural areas, when women are forced to care for a sick child or an elderly family member. Therefore, the issue of social benefits is being raised and gradually being resolved. Last year in Kazakhstan they increased the payment period for child care benefits to one and a half years. And at the same time, there are different gradations, the amount of the benefit depends on the number of children, and for children with disabilities a woman receives a larger benefit.

As part of the Generation Equality program, Kazakhstan eliminated the list of professions where female labor was prohibited. This does not mean that we are advocating for women to go down into the mines. But if she wants, she should have such a right.

NS: By the way, there were these lists in the Soviet Union.

MD: We just inherited it from the Soviet Union. Now he’s gone. There are no specialties closed to women. This is also a step forward. And we pay attention to ensuring that women are independent not only economically, but also have equal political rights at the decision-making level, so that more women are elected as deputies, and for this a quota of 30 percent has been introduced. Many were very opposed to this, they believed that this was even some kind of discrimination for women, this was a derogation of women’s rights. But without this, it was impossible to overcome male chauvinism, when men believed that women’s business is family, children, and solving state issues is the prerogative of men. But look at the states that are headed by women. After all, many social issues are effectively resolved in them. And most importantly, just as a woman strives to maintain peace and tranquility in the family, so in society, as a leader, she strives for peace, interaction and a balance of interests. It seems to me that the more women there are in politics, the more, perhaps, we will be able to resolve issues without saber rattling, and this is now very important in our world.


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