Women’s rights in Kazakhstan have been an uphill climb within the country. Moreover, Kazakhstan’s poverty rates appear to be linked to gender inequality. In 2020, the unemployment rate of women was 5.4%, whereas it was only 4.4% for men. This contrast shows how focusing on women’s rights could ease the country’s overall poverty rate.
Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country, with immense economic potential due to the vast mineral resources in its landscape. The country has seen widespread economic growth since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, as it is a former Soviet republic.
Kazakhstan has also managed to maintain a low poverty rate of 5.2% in 2021. However, this is a slight increase, as the poverty rate was 4.3% in 2019.
This increased poverty rate is likely a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, strengthening women’s rights in Kazakhstan has proven to enrich the country’s economy through technology and the job market.
Notably, Kazakhstan is a pacesetter for Central Asian female equality on some fronts. Kazakhstan ranked 65th in the Global Gender Gap Report 2022, with its neighboring countries, Mongolia and China, ranking 70th and 102nd. With this in mind, here are three ways women’s rights in Kazakhstan are developing, and how they are alleviating Kazakh poverty.
As of 2022, a gender wage gap of 21.7% still favors men in Kazakhstan. However, this gap has been gradually reducing. A study in 2006 revealed a wage gap of about 40%.
While there has been improvement, the persisting gender wage gap can be attributed to a societal perception that men should primarily be the household breadwinners. A 2022 Central Asia survey highlighted that two-thirds of participants held the belief that women should prioritize domestic roles over work.
The COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted the female workforce. Between 2019 and 2020, the Kazakh male labor force participation rate rose from 74.8% to 75.5%. However, the Kazakh female labor force participation rate dropped from 66% to 63.7%. Although female employment rates are increasing, a 10% disparity remains between men and women.
To tackle this, NGOs such as the Wonder Foundation operate in Kazakhstan to provide women and girls with skills to seek employment. Since 2015, the Wonder Foundation has directly impacted 406 girls.
The Foundation supports the Kumbel Training Centre, a program that focuses on girls from rural areas. Participants undergo a 10-month training to assist them in finding employment in hospitality, tourism and catering.
Gender equality has been a priority of the Kazakh government in recent decades. In 1998 the country established the National Commission on Women, Family and Demographic Policy. The commission pushes for equal economic opportunities for women, strengthening the family unit and combating violence against women.
More recently, the Concept of Family and Gender Policy until 2030 aims to increase the number of women in decision-making roles to 30% by 2030. In 2022, it was 25%.
Legislation such as this combats poverty in Kazakhstan because it aims to balance domestic responsibilities within the household. Currently, women spend three times more than men undertaking unpaid domestic roles.
In June 2023, Kazakhstan was the chair of the Dialogue of Women of Central Asia. The platform focused on female roles in technology. Events like this promote the increasing integration of Central Asian women into the labor force.
Speaker of the lower house of the Kazakh government, Yerlan Koshanow, noted: “Women in Central Asia are actively involved in the development of information and communication technologies, leaving no stone unturned in the stereotypical perception that it is not a woman’s job.”
The Womentech Network is mobilizing female ambassadors all over the globe, including Kazakhstan. Ainur Abilbayeva, Dana Aubakirova and Laura Tlepina are among the Kazakh representatives. The program aims to connect more than 100,000 women globally in their annual global conference supporting female tech spaces.
In an incredibly fast-paced and technological society, it is crucial women possess digital literacy skills. These skills provide opportunities for women within the job market, which reduces Kazakhstan’s poverty rate. Kazakhstan is making positive strides in this field, with the internet access rate for women being 84.9% in 2022. Yet, the country has an added challenge due to its varying landscapes. More rural areas have limited internet access which can hinder this progression. Women make up over half of the rural population.
The Accessible Internet National Project aims to give all Kazakhstan residents internet of at least 100 Mbit/s, covering 3,000 villages. In addition, a new 5G is going to be implemented in many cities and regional centers. In the next few years, this scheme will greatly increase Kazakh digital literacy, subsequently providing opportunities for all. This will particularly benefit the dense female populations in rural areas.
Providing Kazakh women and girls with transferable skills, alongside the support of NGOs and the government, will reduce overall poverty in Kazakhstan. Women have a greater chance of facing poverty than men due to disparities in employment and opportunities. Thus, career prospects, legislation and digital literacy for women are three ways women’s rights in Kazakhstan are tackling poverty.
– Beth Brown