“During the years of independence, Kazakhstan has taken a number of progressive measures in the field of combating gender inequality. Despite this, the problem of inequality is still relevant and requires further effective work,” said Ayim Saurambayeva, a lawyer in the field of international law, in an article, written specifically for CABAR.asia.
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“The purpose of girls is to give birth” or common gender stereotypes in Kazakhstani society
According to the UNDP Gender Social Norms Index, which measures how deeply ingrained beliefs in society impede the development of gender equality in various fields, 96% of Kazakhstanis still have stereotypes regarding the role of women in society.
The global coverage of this index was 80% of the total population from 75 countries. The findings indicate that about 28% of the global population agree that physical violence against a spouse is acceptable, and about 50% agree with male superiority in entrepreneurship and the likely employment of the male population in the event of a lack of jobs.
At the same time, the indicators of the index imply the existence of a “glass ceiling”, which includes well-known and widely used stereotypes regarding women in various fields, which are inherent in both men and women themselves.
It is worth noting that at present the issue of lack of equality between men and women, discrimination and sexism is often raised not only in the media, but also in social networks, with “challenges” being held within the framework of various social projects. And yet, the ingrained patriarchal foundations have not been eradicated, and in Kazakhstan the issue of gender discrimination persists and manifests itself in various aspects of life.
For example, the role of women is often associated with motherhood and marriage, in unpaid care work and domestic work. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 2018, the time contribution of the female, in such unpaid domestic labor on a global scale are three times more than male participation, which in turn, is a little over 76%. In turn, the analysis of the situation with the gender gap in the division of unpaid work in caring for the home and children is extremely important in light of its indicator of gender inequality, when household responsibilities are often perceived as purely for female.
A striking example of a stereotypical attitude towards the role of women can serve as a scandalous speech by the candidate of philological sciences, an Abayologist, Zhalel Omar, at the Nazarbayev Intellectual School in the city of Taraz, where he was invited as part of a project timed to coincide with the 175th birthday of A. Kunanbayev. J. Omar made a speech, drawing a parallel between girls and a marker, which tends to dry out, – “Girls should not become academicians, they should give birth to academicians. The purpose of girls is to give a birth ,” that was his phrase, which provoked justified criticism from both the schoolchildren, the teaching staff, and also from users of social networks.
At the same time, the question of the very necessity of expressing the personal opinion of a scholar, Abaeologist regarding the female role within the framework of a lecture on the life and work of A. Kunanbaev remains ambiguous. It is obvious that in an effort to promote the idea of equal rights and opportunities enshrined in national and international documents, open propaganda of gender inequality in an educational institution is simply unacceptable.
Remarkably, the appearance of a woman in Kazakhstan can also serve as a subject for questions and the emergence of stereotypical thinking regarding the possible type of her activities. Thus, a video that appeared on the official account of the youth resource center in Shymkent in early summer 2020 caused a wide public outcry and a storm of criticism from civil activists, human rights defenders and users of social networks.
According to the plot of the video, the heroine, dressed in a short skirt, gets into a taxi, where the driver, mistaking her for a sex worker, specifies the “cost” of her services. Further, the driver explains to the girl that, just as by the service uniform, people distinguish between police officers and doctors, and by the clothes of the heroine, he mistook her for an employee providing intimate services. The message of the authors of the video was that being a representative of the Kazakh nationality, a girl should dress and look more modest and decent.
It should be noted that the controversial video, created with the support of the Akimat (administration) of the city of Shymkent, was removed, and the negative reaction from the public was not long in coming. So, the founder of the public fund “Don’t be silent Kz”, Dina Tansari, expressed her attitude to the video and bewilderment about the fact of its state funding, noting that one should not stigmatize a person only based on the appearance.
Indeed, as in the first example, the situation with the video clip can be regarded as unacceptable, and the content of the “instructive” material not only objectively humiliates the honor and dignity of girls but can also aggravate the problems of “victim blaming” in society.
According to the 2020 Global Gender Gap Index – a study on global indicators of gender equality from the World Economic Forum – Kazakhstan is in 72nd place, which is 12 positions lower in comparison with the indicators of the 2018 index (60th place), and according to earlier data for 2013–2018, the country has lost another 28 positions. This global dimension of the gender gap between men and women is carried out in the following key areas: economic participation, education, health, and political rights. Moreover, the results of the index serve as an effective means of assessing the real situation in these areas in the context of each individual country.
According to the UNDP (Human Development Report 2019), the representation of women in the parliament of Kazakhstan was only 22.1%, and the pay gap in 2018 was 34.2%. This year, the share of women in parliament has slightly increased and amounted to 24.3% (in the Mazhilis – 27% and 18% – in the Senate).
Over the years of independence, the government of Kazakhstan has taken a number of progressive measures in the field of combating gender inequality, has also developed national legal mechanisms and ratified international documents. Despite this, the problem of inequality is still relevant and requires further effective work, starting with the improvement of the school curriculum.
Assessment and analysis of the legal mechanisms of Kazakhstan on resolving gender inequality
To begin with, it is necessary to note the Constitution as the main normative legal document of the country, containing provisions in the field of achieving gender equality and combating sexual discrimination.
In Art. 14 of the Constitution provides for the unlawfulness of discrimination on various grounds, including, but not limited to, gender. In addition, the Strategy for Gender Equality 2006-2016, (hereinafter referred to as the Strategy), adopted by the decree of Nursultan Nazarbayev in 2005, served as the fundamental document adopted in the framework of the implementation of gender policy in the country.
The Strategy reflected in nine sections important aspects for achieving equal rights and freedoms for women and men (for example, strengthening reproductive health, achieving equality in public and political life, economy, gender education, prevention of gender-based violence in society, etc.).
According to the studies based on the results of the implementation of this Strategy, certain achievements are noted, such as the growth of female entrepreneurship in the country, an increase in the representation of women in the political vector. Moreover, there has been an increase in the amount of published material in the media aimed at eradicating gender bias in society.
However, for all the apparent effectiveness of the document, the Strategy still has a number of shortcomings: it does not consider the process of sectoral monitoring on the implementation of the strategy programs. No budget is envisaged, the role of women is often associated with childbirth and the family, despite the consolidation of their rights and representation in the socio-political and economic life of the country.
According to the results of the country gender assessment of the Asian Development Bank (2018) on the implementation of the provisions of the Strategy in Kazakhstan, activities in the field of gender education have not been implemented and introduced into the school curriculum, and the full range of reproductive health services is not provided everywhere.
The Concept of Family and Gender Policy until 2030 (hereinafter the Concept), adopted at the end of 2016, is a continuation of the gender policy pursued by the state. The document enshrines the concepts of gender education, the protection of the reproductive health of men and women, the prevention of various forms of domestic violence against women and children. Unlike the previous Strategy, the Concept, in addition to the problem of gender inequality itself, focuses on family issues. Activities aimed at achieving equality in the family, in turn, help to eradicate gender stereotypes and achieve gender balance in general.
Furthermore, the “Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan on state guarantees of equal rights and equal opportunities for men and women” dated December 8, 2009 (hereinafter the Law) establishes principles and norms on creating the necessary conditions for achieving equality in all spheres of life and is the next step of the state in the field of gender policy. At the same time, it is worth noting some norms that require further refinement and specification.
In this vein, in paragraph 2 of Art. 10 of the Law stipulates that “the employer is not entitled to demand the submission of documents not provided for by labor legislation”. However, this interpretation is superficial and does not touch upon the real situations that women may face during the period of employment. Namely, questions from potential employers regarding personal life and upcoming plans for marriage and childbearing are not uncommon and often lead to confusion when the decision of the employer about hiring or possible refusal may depend on the “correctness” and / or “incorrectness” of the answer.
For comparison, in the legislation of Kyrgyzstan with the same title “on state guarantees of equal rights and equal opportunities for men and women” from 2008 in Art. 18 prohibits the employer “… to put forward different conditions, demand from persons who get a job, information about their personal life, plans for the birth of children.”
The national document also lacks guarantees for ensuring gender equality in domestic work, in the field of social and economic legal relations, which represents the Law not as a full-fledged instrument, but rather as a “foundation” that requires further elaboration and the introduction of necessary changes and additions that will be effective for the implementation of gender politics in the country.
Example of Estonian legal regulation in the field of achieving gender equality
According to the World Economic Forum: Global Gender Gap Report 2020, Estonia is ranked 26th out of 153 countries with an indicator of 0.751. Despite the fact that Estonia ranks only 18th among the 28 countries of the European Union, its progress towards gender equality is proceeding faster than in other EU member states, whose indicators have improved by three positions compared to 2017.
With regard to national legislative mechanisms in the field of achieving gender equality, here, first of all, it is necessary to note the country’s constitution as the main source of legal regulation. Article 12 of this document proclaims the equality of all before the law and non-discrimination for various reasons, including gender.
Furthermore, the Estonian law on gender equality, adopted in 2004 (hereinafter referred to as the law), provides for such significant concepts as direct and indirect discrimination, sexual harassment and gender-based harassment .
Direct means discrimination against person (s) due to his / her marital status, pregnancy, parental status, and other conditions determined by the gender characteristics of the individual.
Moreover, the definition of direct discrimination also includes negative attitudes towards a person that is associated with “gender-based harassment, sexual harassment and less favorable treatment of a person because of resistance or submission to the harassment”.
With regard to indirect discrimination, in this context it is meant a situation in which neutral legal acts (NLA) create a worse position for representatives of one sex in comparison with representatives of the other.
It is obvious that the introduction of the above-mentioned definitions into legislation, as well as the imposition of the obligation to prove the absence of violation of the principles of equal treatment on the person who allegedly committed discrimination, is a progressive step towards achieving equal rights and opportunities both for men and women.
Conclusions and recommendations
As mentioned above, since independence, the government of Kazakhstan has taken significant steps to combat gender bias in society and gender inequality in general. Such measures include the development of national mechanisms, the ratification of international instruments, including accession to the UN SDGs in 2015, 12 of which are recognized as gender sensitive.
However, at the moment, there is no need to talk about the complete elimination of such inequality and the results of the effectiveness of some documents, in particular, the Concept of Gender and Family Policy until 2030, is still too early to reason, and the legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan “on state guarantees of equal rights and opportunities for men and women” requires further improvement.
It can be mentioned with confidence that the adoption of only one regulatory and legal framework for achieving gender equality is not enough, awareness of society as a whole and of each of its individuals is necessary, in particular when the ideas of equal rights and opportunities, as well as the inadmissibility of gender discrimination, should be instilled in a person starting from early school years.
The mentioned examples of gender discrimination, as it was in the NIS of the city of Taraz, as well as the “instructive” video created with the support of the Shymkent city administration, clearly demonstrate how, with all the commitment to the idea of equality and non-discrimination, enshrined in national and international sources, the problem of the existence of various prejudices about the role of women in society still exist and require further effective government action in this direction. In this context, it makes sense to analyze the experience of domestic and foreign policy of countries that have achieved high indicators in terms of gender equality, in order to adopt positive experience, considering national peculiarities.
This material has been prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial board or the donor.
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