Experts are not confident that 30% quota for women and youth will significantly change the political agenda of Kazakhstan. In their opinion, it will function only nominally.
Follow us on LinkedIn
Since 1999, after creation of the Parliament of Kazakhstan, the representation of women and youth in the country’s politics has been minimal. During the formation of the Parliament of the first convocation, the Upper Chamber (Senate) consisted of 4 women and 36 men, and the Lower Chamber (Mazhilis) consisted of 9 women and 58 men.
In the sixth convocation of the Parliament, which was formed in 2016, there were 1% more women in the Senate; in the Mazhilis, this figure doubled: 29 women and 78 men.
On May 22, the Senate approved amendments to the Constitutional Law “On Elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan”, according to which 30% quota for women and youth (up to 29 years old) in the election party lists is introduced. Three days later, the President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed the document.
During the years of independence of Kazakhstan, the most of members of the Parliament belong to the age group 40-59 years.
The average age of members of the Parliament of the III-VI convocations is 54 years.
The women and youth were always represented the least in the politics of Kazakhstan, which means there is no one to discuss their problems and bring them to the agenda. According to the Kazakh expert on gender equality issues Leyla Makhmudova, any group that remains in the minority does not risk to promote their own issues.
“To maintain their status and privileges, on the contrary, they either remain silent or support everything that is happening; this is what we are witnessing. Women represented in Parliament can be misogynous in their statements or completely insensitive to various vulnerable groups. This confirms that the minority will never promote their ideas. Considering the fact that women remain a minority, their participation in the Parliament is only nominal,” Makhmudova says.
The Director of the Alternativa Center for Current Research Andrey Chebotarev holds a similar opinion, noting that this situation is related to the patriarchal structure, which suggests the dominance of men over women and the latter’s subordinate role with minimal influence on the country’s politics. In addition, this is reflected in the legislative activities of the Parliament.
For example, there are no female akims of cities of regional significance in Kazakhstan. In 2020, a woman was appointed as akim of the region for the first time in the history of independent Kazakhstan (Gulshara Abdykalikova, akim of the Kyzylorda region – Ed.).
According to official data, there are only 772 women or 22.2% among the deputies of representative bodies of power at all levels. They are mostly represented in the districts’ maslikhats (local representative bodies – Ed.).
In total, more than 50 thousand women work in the system of state authorities in Kazakhstan. However, only about 20% of them hold leading positions.
Gender inequality can also be observed in political parties’ activity, notes Chebotarev.
“In each of the six political parties in Kazakhstan, women are not holding leading positions at the level of top leaders or their deputies. During the last parliamentary elections in 2016, women were mostly represented in the election list of the Nur Otan party (29 women out of 127 candidates for Mazhilis deputies). The rest of the parties introduced up to six female participants,” says Chebotarev.
As for youth, according to Dinara Sadvakasova, Chairman of the republican United Children and Youth Organization “Zhas Ulan”, there are platforms for young people where they can express their opinions.
“These are the Councils for youth affairs at the akimats or at the Parliament, but such platforms are more constitutional and advisory. Sure, young people have the right to speak out, but their proposals are processed and implemented very rarely,” said Sadvakasova.
I was repeatedly told that I was young or that being a woman I had to obey the man’s words.
Former member of the Senate of the second convocation of Parliament and current President of “Public Fund for Development of Parliamentarism in Kazakhstan” Zauresh Battalova believes that gender and age are not important in politics, the problems and proposed solutions are much more important.
During her career, she worked both at the local administration level and at the Parliament; she believes that “neither a skirt nor pants solve problems, but a smart head”.
“I was repeatedly told that I was young or that being a woman I had to obey the man’s words. I do not accept this in politics, because the gender, age, professional background and interests are not important. It is the opinions that you express. To participate in politics is to influence the decisions. It does not matter to me who makes these decisions, it is important how they are made and how they will improve the lives of Kazakh people,” says Battalova.
What About Quotas?
Experts say that 30% quota introduction is, for sure, a positive measure that will increase the representation of women and youth as members of Parliament and maslikhats at all levels.
However, the percentage of both categories in the party lists will entirely depend on its leadership. Moreover, their presence on party lists does not guarantee that even half of women and youth candidates will be given deputy mandates.
Zauresh Battalova believes that quotas will function nominally, since elections to the Lower Chamber of Parliament are held according to party lists, but to the Senate indirectly. The president appoints about a third of the deputies of the Upper Chamber, and the deputies of maslikhats vote for the rest.
Andrey Chebotarev believes that, most likely, in the 2021 parliamentary and local elections, Nur Otan party will demonstrate the maximum 30% quota in their party lists. Its Chairman, the first President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev initiated the quota’s introduction. In addition, this party has the necessary personnel from among women and youth representatives. The remaining parties have a staff shortage in this regard.
“Although, probably, some of them will carry out the necessary work soon in order to replenish their ranks. However, as a rule, they introduce a small number of candidates for deputies of the Mazhilis and maslikhats, in contrast to the ruling party. Keeping this in mind, significant changes in favor of women and youth cannot be expected during the upcoming elections,” the expert explains.
According to Leyla Makhmudova, everything is much simpler: it is the influence of international reports.
“We, as a state, sign various international agreements on equal rights and opportunities for women. According to them, the women’s participation in leadership, especially in politics, is obligatory. Some new steps are always taken for the reports, such as 30% quota for youth and women, which does not change the gender composition in fact,” the expert notes.
However, Gulzada Serzhan, Co-Founder of the Kazakhstan Feminist Initiative “Feminita”, does not make forecasts, as previously there were no quotas for women or youth in Kazakhstan.
“We cannot assess the influence of the non-existent bills or laws. There was a strategy until 2016 and there is a concept until 2030 that suggest the 30% share of women in Parliament by 2030. Now, the amendment on quotas for women and youth in party lists was adopted. That is all that we have,” says Serzhan.
In her opinion, the number of women in politics and government by 2030 will not change significantly and will be less than 30%. Unless, some kind of systemic change occurs and other documents are adopted that guarantee the protection of women from discrimination in politics and at decision-making levels. The only hope is for the women themselves who are aware of this injustice and will begin to unlock their potential, says Serzhan.
Experience of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan
30% quota for women has been legally adopted in Kyrgyzstan since 2007, but the composition of the country’s Parliament has never reached this percentage.
On June 27, 2019, the President Sooronbay Jeenbekov signed a law according to which a similar 30% quota for women is introduced for local elected bodies. However, in Saruu village of Issyk-Kul Region, men considered this as “violation of the rights of Dzhigits” (literally: skillful and brave equestrian, or a brave person in general. – Tr.) and addressed the President with a collective complaint.
In Uzbekistan, 30% quota has been adopted in the election legislation of the republic since 2003. This means that at least a third of the nominated candidates of each party must be women.
In August 2019, the Law “On Guarantees of Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men” was adopted in the country. Article 16 (“Ensuring equal rights for women and men in the field of public service”) states that this measure may be cancelled when a “balanced share” of women and men in state bodies is achieved – still, it is not.
Main photo: gatewaychamber.com