Zhanar Suleimenova: Just and Fair Kazakhstan Can Never Happen When Gender Inequality Exists

Zhanar Suleimenova, an influential Kazakh public figure, prominent social activist, and independent candidate running for the Parliament of Kazakhstan on gender inequality in Kazakhstan and how women in Kazakhstan defend their rights.

Our conversation with Zhanar Suleimenova took place on March 8 at the “Lift Women Now, Elevate the Future” event held within the framework of the VII Internationa GR Forum in Washington, D.C.

Zhanar Suleimenova drew our attention by saying that over the past 100 years the Soviet government and later – its successors (post-Soviet states) turned the International Women’s Day that celebrates women’s rights movements into a traditionalist celebration of female beauty, love, spring, and motherhood losing its revolutionary underpinnings.

“It is a real problem in Kazakhstan. We have forgotten that it is not just a day off, but a day of women’s struggle for their rights, their protest against inequality, discrimination, and violence. In Kazakhstan, the problem of gender inequality and gender discrimination is alarming, much to my regret. And there’s going to be a long way to eradicate this legacy of our past that is still scarring our society”, she said.

In Kazakhstan, one of the main gender inequality problems is the gender pay gap due to gender inequality in the labor market. Furthermore, there is an unequal division of labor – childcare and housework – between men and women, which also detrimentally affects women’s chances for professional development and self-fulfillment. In addition to that, COVID-19 has greatly exacerbated the problem of domestic violence in the country.

“Kazakh women have to make more of an effort to start their own business and achieve success. I know this both from my personal experience and the experience of my fellow members from the Businesswomen Council of Kazakhstan. According to statistics, women make up more than a half (52.6%) of Kazakh entrepreneurs. However, in reality most of them run micro-enterprises that have low profitability and competitiveness. Besides, women-owned businesses face a number of barriers, such as lack of funding, education and support”, continued Zhanar.

Zhanar Suleimenova believes that parliamentary and local government elections that are to be held this March in Kazakhstan will be an important step for women in her country to assert themselves and their rights.

“Just and fair Kazakhstan can never happen without solving gender-based problems. And no one would step up except us. For example, my election program “Confidence in Tomorrow” also includes gender-based solutions. For many years I have been fighting for women’s rights and promoting women’s economic empowerment and equal participation in the workplace, as well as their representation in top positions: I have been conducting workshops and trainings on how to start their own business, giving lectures, and always supporting women’s business initiatives”, she added.

Under the leadership of Zhanar Suleimenova, “Asyl Niet” non-governmental organization advocates for gender equality, including initiatives to reform public administration and education system and support SME development elaborated in cooperation with experts.

“Margaret Thatcher was convinced that women are not the weaker sex, but the stronger one. They can do anything they set their minds to and even more. I am sure that today it depends on us, women, which development path Kazakhstan will choose and whether we will be able to realize our chance for democratic change. My visit to Washington, D.C. and meeting with leading experts and politicians of the US and other countries strengthened my conviction that today I have no right to stay aside from the changes taking place in my country”, stated Zhanar.

Every year the International GR Forum organized by IGAPA (International Government Affairs Professionals Association) brings together leading experts in the field of government relations, communications, and advocacy. The VII International GR Forum gathered government affairs professionals from all over the world, including Stephen Blank, Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute; Joe Wertz, leading PR expert; Victoria Spartz, US Congresswoman; Kendall Coffey, former US Attorney and founding member of Coffey Burlington; Mihael Cigler, Head of FIPRA (Finsbury International Policy & Regulatory Advisers) in Slovenia; Ihor Dovban, Ukrainian politician; Jan J. Campbell, Managing Partner at Manchester Global Solutions, Inc.; Natalija Dobrovic, Political Scientist from Montenegro, and others.

Editor’s Note: Right after the Forum, Zhanar Suleimenova’s registration as a candidate has been canceled by the decision of the Central Election Commission of Kazakhstan based on the alleged bureaucratic inaccuracies – 6 days before the election.