Most men fear getting laughed at or humiliated by a romantic prospect while most women fear rape and death.

The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker

What’s happening in Kazakhstan?

Globally, some progress has been made on women’s rights. Kazakhstan has 83.3% of legislative frameworks that promote, enforce and monitor gender equality under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) indicator, with a focus on violence against women. Now this issue covers not only the problem of domestic violence, but also the increasing incidence of sexualized harassment, gender-based harassment, sexist and derogatory remarks, as well as discrimination against women in various sectors of the economy of Kazakhstan. Additionally, girls and women over 15 years of age spend 19.9% of their time on unpaid care and domestic work, compared to 5.9% for men.

Sexualized harassment and harassment, remaining unpunished and outside the statistics, leads to more cruel and dangerous behavior of aggressors. This results in cyberstalking, stalking, threats, attacks on stranger women in public places, burning of women’s property, kidnapping and rape by women’s ex-partners, murder, murder of women’s family members and suicide of women out of hopelessness and despair. It even gets to the point where women are forcibly placed in rehabilitation centres.

he past two years have seen horrific attacks on women by their partners:

A man set fire to the house of the woman who sheltered him in Pavlodar
In Zharkent, a guy set fire to a girl’s house because of jealousy
In Atyrau, a drunken husband set fire to a house with his wife and child
A woman and two children were killed and burned in the Almaty region
Out of jealousy, a man doused his partner with gasoline and set her on fire.

Sexism with impunity

Sexism is a complex issue that exists in many societies around the world, including Kazakhstan. Sexism means discrimination, prejudice, or bias against people based on their gender, often favoring one gender over another. Unfortunately, Kazakhstan does not provide for liability for hostile sexist statements.

SEXISM is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between women and men, which leads to discrimination and prevents women from fully advancing in society. Any action, gesture, visual representation, spoken or written word, practice or behavior based on the idea that a person or group of persons is inferior because of their gender, which occurs in the public or private sphere, whether online or offline. Sexism can be hostile, benevolent or ambivalent.

Social media comments: Sexist comments and derogatory remarks towards women are unfortunately common on social media platforms. There have been cases where public figures and ordinary people have made sexist comments towards women in Kazakhstan. These comments often spark public outrage and debate.

Public figures and politicians. Some public figures and politicians have made controversial statements that perpetuate sexist stereotypes. These remarks can reinforce gender bias and contribute to a culture of sexism.

Education and science. Sexist language and discriminatory practices can sometimes be found in educational institutions and workplaces. For example, there have been documented reports of teachers making inappropriate comments to students or employers, favoring one gender over another in hiring or promotions. One of the most resonant cases is associated with the statements of ENU professor Yerlan Suleimenov.

Women in Kazakhstan, especially those in the public eye, often face online harassment, which includes sexist language and threats. Sexism affects women in different ways, affecting different aspects of their lives: from personal to professional, from psychological to physical. Impunity breeds more serious crimes against women.

The main issues

In Kazakhstan, there is no separate law prohibiting discrimination in general, and not all forms of harassment and sexual harassment of women are prohibited under administrative or criminal legislation, or the punishment does not correspond to the danger of illegal and socially dangerous behavior, or cases simply do not reach the court, even when victims contact the police. There is no concept of stalking in the law. Accordingly, there are no statistics and no register of persons who committed these offenses is maintained. This is necessary to profile offenders and prevent more serious crimes.

At this stage, this is impossible, because even sexualized harassment is punishable as an administrative offense (petty hooliganism). This article by itself is not informative enough, so it is important to separate petty hooliganism in the form of, for example, spitting on the street and harassment. Further, it is necessary to keep records and history of incidents in the personal files of aggressors related to violence, domestic violence, hostile behavior in the workplace, etc. This is impossible without trainings and meetings with the prosecutor’s office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Kazakhstan, as well as with deputies and practicing lawyers.

Another problem is the lack of a pool of lawyers in Kazakhstan to provide high-quality legal assistance to victims of harassment and discrimination in all regions. Accordingly, women do not receive legal assistance, and cases of harassment and stalking of women and girls are rarely reported.

Our activities

The Legal Policy Research Center (LPRC) has been actively advocating for the prohibition of sexualized harassment and discrimination against women since 2020. To achieve this, the LPRC team informs the population through the media, social networks and the LPRC website, publishes analytical and informational articles, and transmits information messages through the Right to Right podcast. Our Center also emphasizes the need to prohibit harassment, stalking and discrimination against women in Kazakhstan during meetings with representatives of government agencies and international organizations.

Thus, the LPRC contributes to the creation of a platform for discussing problems not only in Kazakhstan, but also in Central Asia. Thus, our events are attended by our colleagues: representatives of NGOs from Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

One of the key results of the Center’s activities is the adoption of the first legal act that introduced the concept of harassment. This is the Order of the Minister of Information and Social Development of the Republic of Kazakhstan on the adoption of a policy on protection against harassment. The norms of the document were approved with the aim of preventing harassment within its ranks, but they go beyond the Ministry, as they prohibit harassment against third parties with whom department employees may be associated. This document is the first legal act that uses the concept of harassment, gives an appropriate definition and shows a clear position of the department regarding unethical actions.

This policy was developed based on the Policy on protection from sexual exploitation, sexual violence and sexual harassment in the workplace, which was prepared by the LPRC as part of the project named “Combating sexual harassment in the workplace and public places through law reform, responsible business conduct and raising awareness in Kazakhstan”, supported by CFLI (Canada Fund for Local Initiatives). The document is available here. More details can be found here.

We hope that in the future women will be able to receive compensation for moral damage not only from the aggressors themselves, but also from employers who have not taken sufficient measures to protect women from discrimination. We encourage our colleagues to join these events and jointly create a safe space for women.

To maintain and strengthen the achieved results in Kazakhstan and the region, we offer cooperation in advocating for women’s rights in terms of expanding joint work within the framework of:

  • collecting statistics on cases related to discrimination against women in Central Asia, a case study on harassment and discrimination against women;
  • advocating for the prohibition of discrimination in general, the adoption of specialized anti-discrimination legislation in Central Asia;
  • strengthening the pool of experts to conduct training in schools, universities, the business sector, medical institutions, transport companies in Central Asian countries;
  • creating safe spaces together with urbanists in planning cities and public spaces;
  • discussing employers’ obligations to prevent, monitor and investigate cases of discrimination against women at the legislative level;
  • creating a register of persons convicted of sexual harassment, together with the prosecutor’s office of Central Asia.

The text was prepared specifically for the LPRC website.

Author of the article: Ayazhan Oirat, international lawyer, regional director of the Legal Policy Research Center PF

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