By Maira Zeinilova, PhD researcher, Dublin City University
Opening the annual conference on gender policy in Kazakhstan, Ms Gulshara Abdykalikova, the head of the Commission on Women and Family Demographic Affairs, emphasised the role of women in Kazakh society referring to women’s active participation in the implementation of the national Strategy Kazakhstan-2050, gender policies and SDGs. This would be a great tribute to women’s achievements, if this speech had not been repeated every year before, without leading to any tangible change.. Speaking about gender equality in the country, each year, she lists the same achievements. Referencing international documents  such as the Beijing Platform for action or the CEDAW, have become standard in these speeches, despite no progress being made. The whole rhetoric smacks of a nearly soviet propaganda of the “Zhenotdel” – the Communist Party’s specialised committee on women affairs (1919-1930), aimed at bringing women into the public domain.
At the time of the Soviet Union, the Bolsheviks used gender rhetoric to push the women’s agenda into areas which were of high importance to the regime at a certain period of time, such as to the heavy labour force, which was crucial to accelerate massive industrialisation, or child-bearing and child-caring so to boost demographics. From the late 2000s, there is a gradual shift towards promoting patriarchy. This trend was clearly reflected in the new gender strategy year-2030, which put forward family priorities at the expense of the women’s participation and involvement in the public sphere. The reasoning behind such a regression in policies is explained by the necessity to change gender relations in society, so to change dynamics in the family and promote family life. Even though the aim of these actions look perfectly reasonable, the image of what “equal relations” should look and feel like, are turned upside down. In fact, the activities of the Commission focus on promoting family values from the perspective of the “ideal family” with clearly defined and different gender roles for men and women. For example, from 2013, the Commission conducts a yearly nation-wide competition called “Happy Family” which honours the families with many children, thus awarding women who stay at home and look after the children. Needless to say, women who have ten or more children have very little time or possibility to invest on a professional carriers.
The state has introduced gender courses into the official curriculum, which promote women’s docility and obedience as the vital prerequisite to guarantee men’s masculinity and their dominant role as decisions makers/active social and political actors. This sort of gender relations are associated to the Kazakh traditional way of life, and are placed well within a discourse of revival of national roots. A variety of lecturers promoting women’s moral upbringing and, in particular, Kazakh women, are held regularly at universities, organised and supported by the local administration.
State institutions ignore emerging feminist movements and either keep away from -or oppose- discussions on critical gender related issues. This is demonstrated by the gender stereotyping and promotion of the State of deeply patriarchal relationships. It is interesting to observe the resistance of certain part of the society to these imposed models of gender relations, which exclude single mothers, LGBT community, childless couples, single people, etc. This parallel movement against the Uyatmen phenomenon (literally is translated from the Kazakh language as “shame”, uniting the adepts of traditionalism in gender roles) occurs in non-traditional areas of conducting politics, such as social media, since it has become the common way to express disagreements and to call for protest in authoritarian contexts. The most recent incidents of such protests include detention of the LGBT activists who tried to raise an issue of shame related to the female body and functions, and the condemnation and bullying of a young girl who posed topless in the traditional costume. These and similar incidents clearly present a clash between the gender policy promoted by the state and that of a younger educated generation influenced by western feminist principles.
https://informburo.kz/stati/v-kazgoszhenpu-devushek-uchat-byt-horoshey-kelin-chto-ob-etom-govoryat-prepodavateli-i-studentki.html; https://yvision.kz/post/782895, https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=8&v=x5O_fJ3yVkw