Kazakh Partner Trains Youth, Civil Society, and Elected Officials Throughout 2013 Despite Rising Repression and Extremism


In 2013, WLP Kazakhstan/Shymkent Women’s Resource Center (SWRC) continued their fight for gender equality in the face of deteriorating human rights in Kazakhstan. SWRC held a number of successful trainings, strengthened ties to other Kazakh and regional advocacy groups, and continued to advocate for critical legislative reform. The deepening human rights challenges in Kazakhstan include growing religious extremism, increasing government restrictions and persecution (including the alleged torture of human rights activists), and attempts to pass legislation that mirrors Russia’s anti-“homosexual propaganda” law. The practice of “bride kidnapping” is also on the rise, with an estimated 3000 – 12,000 women being forced into marriage in 2013.

Working to combat these and other challenges, SWRC held 12 grassroots workshops between July and December of 2013, training 202 youth, teachers, civil servants, and students to strengthen skills in leadership and political participation. Of those who participated, just over ten percent were men or boys and over half were under the age of 30. Participants came from both urban and rural areas and a diverse set of professional backgrounds, including unemployed young women, who constitute one of the most vulnurable sections of the population. As a result of two trainings specifically for school-aged youth, held July 17 and August 15, 2013, young people pledged to create an “Equal Peer” organization in their school, intended to begin formally meeting in 2014.

Roughly half of 2013 workshops’ participants were university professors, graduate students, and undergraduate students. Graduate and undergraduate students were especially encouraged to attend, as students are often on the leading edge of social and political reform/activism. As many of the students would soon be starting families, a special emphasis was placed domestic violence prevention and raising awareness of women's maternal rights. Trainings also aimed to give students the skills needed to create activist groups in their colleges and universities to combat sexual harassment of female students and defend their rights. Academics from Shymkent, Astana, and Pavload were also targeted because of their ability to share their training with young people. In follow-up studies SWRC found that academics regularly and effectively share knowledge gained with students and colleagues.

Thirty local civil and elected officials also participated in trainings in 2013. Due to SWRC’s strong relationship with state organizations involved with women and children’s issues, SWRC events regularly receive a high turnout of government workers and civil servants. At the trainings, participants from civil service, including police and first responders, were given a deeper understanding of women’s issues and legislation involving women’s rights. A large majority of those participants claimed they had a better sense of their own leadership potential after the training, with many of them saying they would immediately apply knowledge gained in their personal and professional lives. One participant said:

“I was inspired by the stories about successful organizations, the work experience of leaders from three continents who formed the common vision of the problems and tasks of women’s leadership…the various points of view were for me of vital importance – understandable, clear, effective, and realistic.”

In addition to increasing SWRC’s local and national credibility, the ongoing trainings also allowed SWRC to broaden their network, build new partnerships, and strengthen existing ones. Through these trainings SWRC cultivated relationships with educational institutions and government agencies, and began to collaborate more closely with other civil society organizations (CSOs) in Astana and Pavlodar, and SWRC is providing those organizations with advice, technical assistance, and support for their programs and activities.

From April 7-10, 2013 in Shymkent, SWRC hosted the Second Central Asia Regional Training of Trainers (RTOT) Institute on Women’s Leadership and Political Participation. The RTOT was facilitated by Asma Khader of WLP Jordan/Sisterhood Is Global Institute and Tolekan Ismailova of WLP Kyrgizstan/Bir Duino. The RTOT’s twenty-eight participants, hailing from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, discussed issues surrounding women’s empowerment, human rights, democracy, and government transparency. Participants especially enjoyed developing new case studies relevant to their specific contexts, meant to complement the existing WLP case studies.

There was also a very popular social media and citizen journalism capacity building session led by citizen journalist Maria Kolesnikova, who is also a volunteer with Bir Duino. After the session Kolesnikova said,“Women leaders from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan inspired me. They showed me there is nothing to be afraid of.” By the end of the session participants had created a Facebook page that updates several times a week, and several became actively involved in WLP’s ABAN Online Learning Portal. The RTOT was covered by Shymkent’s two leading Russian-language newspapers, which interviewed the RTOT’s participants and profiled SWRC founder Gulnara Karakulova.

SWRC also held a training to build local prosecutors’ knowledge and capacity regarding the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The training engaged several local prosecutors on issues surrounding the enforcement of CEDAW, to which Kazakhstan has been committed since 1998, in addition to the enforcement and protection of Kazakh women’s constitutional rights. Two new laws were also discussed, one concerning the prevention of domestic violence, and the other concerning state guarantees of equal rights for women and men. 

During this period, SWRC also joined the growing movement demanding the repeal of a new law that cuts women’s maternity benefits. Passed February 17, 2013, the law puts a cap on the amount women can receive for lost earnings, severely reducing the four-month maternity benefit, and triggering concerns of employment discrimination against women. SWRC joined other NGOs and a group called Fair Maternity Leave in signing a letter demanding the law’s repeal.

S:SSO to Sakai