Producing Shadow Reports

Beijing+5 and Women's Human Rights

Links of Interest

Contacting IWRAW



    Country Reports


Initial report submitted on 26 January 2000 (CEDAW/C/KAZ/1)


Population, July 2000 estimate: 16,733,227 million

Ethnic Makeup: 46% Kazakh,  34.7% Russian,  4.9% Ukrainian, 3.1% German, 2.3% Uzbek, 1.9% Tatar, 7.1% other

Religion:  47% Muslim, 44% Russian Orthodox , 2% Protestant, 7% Other.

GDP: (ppp dollars): $54.5 billion

GDP, real growth rate, 1999 estimate: 1.7%

GDP per capita (ppp dollars, 1999 estimate): $3200

GDP composition by sector: 10%  agriculture, 30% industry,  60% services

Population growth rate, 2000 estimate: -0.05%

Infant Mortality rate, 2000 estimate: 59.39 deaths/1000 live births

Maternal Mortality rate (1998):  70/100,000 live births [ii]

Literacy: Total - 98%

              Female - 96% [iii]

              Male - 99%

Secondary Gross Enrollment Rate [iv] :  Female - 91%

(% of age group, 1998 estimate)              Male - 82%

Life Expectancy at Birth: Total - 63.19 years

                                      Female - 68.93 years

                                      Male  - 57.73 years

Political and Economic Overview

Kazakhstan is a former Soviet Union republic that gained independence in 1991. Since then, it has experienced political turbulence and economic instability. Moving towards a market economy, Kazakhstan’s principal issues have centered on the need to address fiscal constraints and growing poverty, in a context of domestic political turmoil.

The President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has been the key leader since independence. He was re-elected to a new 7-year term in January 1999. His continuing domination at the national level is facilitated through the constitution adopted in 1995, which places much of the political power in the presidential office. The 1995 constitution itself was a product of Nazarbayev’s predominant influence as at the time he had dissolved parliament, was ruling by decree, and had extended his term to the year 2000. The 1995 Constitution included measures that made it possible for Nazarbayev to hold elections early and win in 1999.

Later amendments to the Constitution further reinforced international concerns about the election. [v] Preemptive measures disqualified major opponents and prevented remaining opponents from gathering political support. International and domestic protest over the election process pointed out the weakness of democratic institutions and corruption of police authorities. The judicial system does not address political oppression, as the president’s influence is unduly felt in the judicial branch of the government. The parliament is viewed as a puppet machine run by supporters of the president. Nazarbayev’s influence is not limited to government operations, as his daughter controls the national television network, his brother-in-law is head of tax police, and his son-in-law is vice-president of the Kazakhoil Company. [vi]

Efforts to discourage debt and stimulate the domestic economy have led to massive cutbacks on social welfare policies since independence. Real wages have fallen, and unemployment has increased. Thirty five percent of households are living below the poverty level. The World Bank reports that over 60 percent of poor households receive no “public transfers”, that is, any periodic (monthly or otherwise) financial assistance. Poverty is also regionally concentrated, with two-thirds of the total poor population living in the east and south. [vii]

The economic conditions have led to outbursts of protest, which are confronted by police who have great leeway in handling public demonstrations. For example, in 1999 three women from a group of hunger strikers in Alrask were beaten when they blocked a railway to protest the non-payment of family social benefits for three years. [viii]

Mass Media

Several sources report undue influence of government, and especially of the President, on the press. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights states, “broadcast licenses, tenders for freedom and tax laws are used to control media. As a result the independent media have experienced financial problems, which often leads to closure.” Furthermore, “these types of intimidation lead to self-censorship by journalists. Media employees have no protection from reprisal or intimidation.” [ix]

Privatization of media resources has not increased the ability of the press to report truthfully or critically about the government. The 1999 Annual Report on Kazakhstan by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights describes, “the monopolization of the mass media was virtually completed. All major media outlets, including the opposition television, radio, and press corporation Caravan became the property of individuals close to the president.” [x] During the most recent elections, media attempts to cover the opposition in any favorable light led to their harassment and seizure to prevent distribution. [xi]

Kazakhstan also maintains control over incoming television and radio transmissions. The Committee to Protect Journalists states, “Kazakh authorities were also quick to suppress critical broadcasting from outside the country. Between October 16 and October 18, Kazakh authorities blocked transmissions of all the Russian television networks available in the country…The move came in retaliation for Russian television coverage of a Swiss government decision to freeze bank accounts allegedly belonging to Nazarbayev.” [xii]

Over 100 women’s NGOs currently exist in Kazakhstan. [xiii] The NGOs are concerned with a broad range of issues: ecological deterioration, AIDS education, single motherhood, entrepreneurial support, and general health care education. All NGOs must register to have legal status, that is in order to engage in public organizing (for which a permit must be obtained), enter into contracts, etc. Women’s NGOs are allowed to organize and have no real difficulty obtaining registration papers, especially because of their role in providing social support services that are no longer offered through the state because of fiscal constraints. In general, women’s NGOs are not viewed as posing any political threat to President Nazarbayev. However, actions by women’s NGOs regarded as critical of the state do meet resistance. [xiv]




The Kazakhstan Constitution, Article 14 (2) states: “No one shall be subject to any discrimination for reasons of origin, social, property status, occupation, sex, race, nationality, language, attitude towards religion, convictions, place of residence or any other circumstances.” [xv]

In practice however, distinctions made on the basis of sex lead to women’s greater representation among the unemployed (and thus an increased risk of living in poverty) [xvi] , lower representation in high political office [xvii] , and the burden of household responsibilities [xviii] .




An official state policy adopted in 1997 states that constitutional prohibitions on sex discrimination must be enforced/supported by effective government measures. [xix] The president and other government members acknowledge the concept of women’s rights. Yet, in September of 1998, President Nazarbayev’s speech on the development plan to the year 2030 included explicit reference to women only in their capacities as child bearers. [xx]    To achieve parity between men and women in terms of political, social, and economic roles and benefits, the State created a department to gather information and advise the President on the status and progress of women in the country. The National Commission for Family and Women under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan was formed in December of 1998 with the intention of examining women’s issues. It has been active in promoting women’s status and does incorporate certain women’s NGOs within its initiatives. For example the Feminist League regarded the National Commission as a chief factor in establishing the integrity of the government’s first submitted CEDAW report. [xxi]  

With the creation of the UNDP-sponsored Gender in Development Office in Almaty in 1996, it was possible for Kazakhstan to hold a national conference on the topic of gender studies. One major objective was to discuss and ascertain how to implement gender into Kazakhstan’s overall development strategy. [xxii] Such discussion has led to further collaborations between UNDP and the government of Kazakhstan. For example, a project entitled “Status and economic advancement of women in Kazakhstan”, providing small loans to assist entrepreneurial women, was achieved because of UN influence and financial support. However, outside of collaborative efforts with and assistance from the UN, Kazakhstan has been slow to independently promote women’s status. Even the National Commission, a government entity, is largely funded by international resources. [xxiii]


Because of past Sovietization, women in Kazakhstan have long been accustomed to the idea of and the right to paid work. However, household work and chores have never been recognized as a shared responsibility. Women, therefore have the double burden of work outside and within the home.

Sovietization limited the impact of Islamic-based constraints on participation in public activities, such as education. [xxiv] However, as Kazakhstan is embroiled in developing a national identity there may very well be a resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism. As early as 1990, an NGO was formed on the basis of women’s Muslim identity.  The League of Muslim Women of Kazakhstan is a national NGO and receives part of its funding from Islamic countries. However, political affiliation on the basis on religion is illegal and many Muslim groups have complained of persecution from the secular state.

Certain regional traditions reinforce sex roles that inhibit women’s full participation. In southern Kazakhstan, for example, bride stealing still occurs to some extent [xxv] . In the southwestern region a cultural pattern of having large families burdens women and exacerbates conditions of severe poverty. [xxvi]

Trafficking is illegal. Some NGOs report that trafficking does take place around the country, but the government has not undertaken any significant review of the situation. [xxvii] The number of Kazakh women who are trafficked is estimated to be one percent of the total female population. [xxviii] Legal “fronts” such as model agencies and marriage bureaus are some of the ways in which Kazakh women become embroiled in trafficking. [xxix]

Other areas of the former USSR have witnessed an increase in prostitution as employment opportunities have shrunk. OSCE has already noted “several crucial ‘push factors’ in Central Asia - high levels of poverty, 80 percent female unemployment, organized criminal groups, open borders, and weak institutions as well as high levels of prostitution in certain urban areas” will contribute to the trafficking of women. [xxx] With specific reference to Kazakhstan, the International Helsinki Federation states, “little chance for employment (for every 100 unemployed men there are over 160 unemployed women), low salaries (US$15 a month) for those who have a job, and the gradual elimination of social protection services previously offered by the State are the main factors that lead to women’s migration and their increased vulnerability to trafficking.” [xxxi]

The age for voting is the same for both men and women at 18.

While women have become actively involved in NGO activity, their representation within the higher ranks of government office has been negligible. Women only make up about 11 percent of the Legislature and 3 percent of the Cabinet. [xxxii]

Current numbers may be contrasted with the situation of Soviet times. “Allocation of a certain number of seats for women in the Supreme Soviets of the USSR and union republics created an outward show of equal participation in state government. The activity of women leaders in district committees and city committees of the Communist Party, as well as in executive committees, was quite noticeable.” [xxxiii] However, during the Soviet period, women did not occupy top positions within the party. [xxxiv]


The literacy rate is high at 98 percent for the whole population. Education is mandatory through the eleventh grade. There are no legal restrictions on women attaining higher education. At every level of education women’s representation is higher than men’s. (Primary: women-98 percent, men-97 percent, secondary: women-91 percent, men-82 percent, Tertiary: women-36 percent, men-28 percent) [xxxv]

Despite high educational achievement, women are underrepresented in high administrative positions, decision-making roles and offices both within the government and in the private sector. According to one source, “a traditional gender pyramid has developed - the higher the level of authority, the fewer the women.” [xxxvi]

Currently, the female labor force represents 47 percent of the total employed in Kazakhstan, which is similar to the rest of Europe and Central Asia (46 percent). [xxxvii] Since the breakup of the USSR, however, women have increasingly been forced to leave the formal sector. According to the 1995 UNDP Human Development Report for Kazakhstan, from 1990 to 1993 women’s employment fell by 500,000. [xxxviii] A similar pattern of women’s vulnerability to unemployment since then has been noted as “women are the last to be hired and the first to be fired.” [xxxix] In 1997, women made up 63.2 percent of the unemployed. [xl] The 1999 report by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights indicates that in the southern regions, women made up between 70 and 80 percent of the unemployed. [xli]


The fertility rate is 2.03 children per woman, the birthrate is 16.78 per 1000 population, while the infant mortality rate is 59.39 per 1000 live births. [xlii]    These statistics indicate that women in Kazakhstan have higher rates than that of other women in Europe and Central Asia (fertility rate 1.6, birthrate is 12 per 1000, infant mortality rate 22 per 1000 live births 1998 estimates). [xliii]

 Women’s life expectancy is higher than that of men by more than 10 years (men’s = 57.73, women = 68.93). With the fiscal tightening many social services that had been universal were severely cut in the in the mid 1990s. Kazakhstan is also dealing with nuclear waste and endangerment from former Soviet defense sites of radioactive or toxic chemicals. Currently, environmental degradation and pollution endanger the health of many if not most Kazakhstanis. The fact that women live substantially longer than men and that the social safety net has been severely downgraded means that women are at more risk to live a poorer quality of life at the end of their lives.


Employed women are entitled to family benefits paid for by the employer. Furthermore, the law prohibits the dismissal of women based upon their status as mothers of children under three years of age or pregnancy. These factors have a negative effect on women’s employment prospects, as employers consider women to be a risky and expensive category of employee. [xliv]


Kazakhstan is lacking adequate social support for women in rural areas. Those living in the east and the southern regions are in the most difficult position as they compose two-thirds of the total poor. [xlv]   These areas are the farthest from the current and former capital cities of Astana and Almaty, which are modernized and have more economic opportunities. Rural women not only must face a situation of fewer possibilities for generating income but also, tend to have larger families and encounter more rigid cultural constraints.


Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence is a major problem in Kazakhstan. The President has addressed the need to tackle this societal issue in a speech made in September 1998. Murat Batalov, head of the Interior Ministry’s Department on Prevention of Violence Against Women, stated in a November 16, 2000 article, “the most frequent type of violence against women is systematic battering and humiliation.” [xlvi]

The law distinguishes between domestic violence and “crimes” against women. Police are authorized to deal only with physical violence, so “women…have nowhere to turn in cases of economic and sexual violence in the family.” [xlvii]

Kazakhstan has taken preliminary steps to address the problem (gathering data, creation of the Commission for Family and Women under the President), but without stronger legislation and additional funding for immediate enforcement, the pervasive problem of domestic violence will continue.


Rape is considered a “grave” crime, the second most severe crime classification in the Criminal Code. The penalty is a maximum of five to six years’ imprisonment. However, a sentence may be revoked if the perpetrator “reconciles” with the victim.

Prosecution of rape is very problematic under the Criminal Code Practice of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Rape charges are to be pursued through “private” and “private-public” prosecution.

In “private” prosecution, the initiative and financial burden of pursuing the trial is on the victim. A “private-public” prosecution is required if the rape occurred with aggravating circumstances, but public prosecutors may refuse to pursue the case. This in effect, transforms the process into that of a “private” prosecution, with a heavy responsibility upon the victim to ensure that justice is served.[xlviii]


[i] All statistics in box taken from The World Factbook unless otherwise noted, available at <www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/kz.html>, accessed 9 September 2000.

[ii] World Bank Group, Genderstats, available at <www.genderstats.worldbank.org/S…ichRpt=country&Ctry=KAZ,Kazakhstan> accessed 27 October 2000.

[iii] United Nations Development Program, available at <www.undp.uz/gid/eng/KYRGYZSTAN/NGO/dir_kz.html>, accessed 27 October 2000

[iv] World Bank,  Genderstats.

[v] Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, The Republic of Kazakhstan Presidential Election 10 January 1999 Assessment Mission,  5 February 1999, available at <www.osce.org/odihr/election/kazak1-2.htm>,  accessed 11 November 2000.

[vi] Freedom in the World Report, available at <www.freedomhouse.org/survey99/country/kazakh.html>,  accessed 4 October 2000.

[vii] World Bank Group,  Living Standards During Transition Report, available at <www.worldbank.org.kz/content/esw6_eng.html>, accessed 2 September 2000.

[viii] US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor,  1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Kazakhstan, released 25 February 2000.

[ix] Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, The Republic of Kazakhstan Presidential Election 10 January 1999 Assessment Mission, available at <www.osce.org/odihr/election/kazak1-2.htm>,  accessed 11 November  2000.

[x] International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, 1999 Annual Report: Kazakhstan, available at <www.ihf-hr.org/reports/ar99/ar99kaz.htm> accessed 11 November 2000.

[xi] Committee to Protect Journalists, Kazakhstan, available at  <www.cpj.org./attacks99/europe99/kazakhstan.html>,  accessed 20 November 2000.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Galiya Khassanova, “On the Way to Democracy: Women’s Activism in Kazakhstan,”  Demokratizatsiya, vol. 8, I3 (Summer 2000): 385.

[xiv] E-mail from Yevgeniya Kozyreva dated 9 December 2000.

[xv] The Constitution Of The Republic Of Kazakhstan, available at  <www.zoo.co.uk/~kazakhstan/constttn.html>, accessed 11 November 2000.

[xvi] International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Annual Report 1999: Kazakhstan.

[xvii] Naomi Neft and Ann D. Levine,  Where Women Stand. (New York:  Random House, 1997).

[xviii] United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Human Development Report 1995: Kazakhstan: The Challenge of Transitionavailable at <www.undp.org/rbec/nhdr/kazakstan/>, accessed 27 October 2000.

[xix] US Department of State.

[xx] Message of the President of the country to the people of Kazakhstan: “Kazakhstan – 2030: Prosperity, Security And Ever Growing Welfare Of All The Kazakhstanis,”  available at <www.zoo.co.uk/~kazakhstan/2030eng.html>, accessed 11 November 2000.

[xxi] Feminist League, Feminist League Commentary to the National Report, e-mailed report.

[xxii] Statement by H.E. Ms. Akmaral Kh. Arystanbekova Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the UN, available at <www.un.int/kazakhstan/sa_10168.htm>,  accessed 11 November 2000

[xxiii] E-mail from Yevgeniya Kozyreva dated 9 December 2000.

[xxiv] United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report 1995.

[xxv] “The Extra Wife,”  Economist, 29 November 1997,  vol. 345, no.8045, 44.

[xxvi] United Nations Development Program. Human Development Report 1995.

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] Guldan Tlegenova and Nazym Shedenova, “The Problems of Trafficking Kazakhstan Women: Risk Factors and Prevention.,  In  “Kazakhstan,” The Times of Central Asia, 19 November 2000, vol. 2, no. 37 (80) as of 14 September, available at <www.times.kg/2000/N37/rev-01.shtml>, accessed 18 November 2000.

[xxix] Ibid.

[xxx] Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, “Trafficking in Human Bodies; The Implications for OSCE,” ODIHR Background Paper 1999/3, Review Conference (September 1999), available at <www.osce.org/odihr/docs/i3_index.htm>, accessed 16 November 2000.

[xxxi] International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights IHFHR Report on Trafficking in Women: “A Form of Slavery,” available at <www.ihf-hr.org/appeals/000619.htm>,  accessed 17 November 2000.

[xxxii] Naomi Neft and Ann D. Levine.

[xxxiii] Galiya Khassanova, 385.

[xxxiv] Ibid.

[xxxv] World Bank Group, Genderstats.

[xxxvi] Galiya Khassanova, 385.

[xxxvii] World Bank Group, Genderstats.

[xxxviii] UNDP, Human Development Report 1995.

[xxxix] “The Extra wife,” Economist.

[xl] Galiya Khassanova, 385.

[xli] International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights,  Annual Report 1999.

[xlii] CIA, World Factbook, available at <www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/kz.html>, accessed 9 September 2000.

[xliii] World Bank Group, Genderstats.

[xliv]  The Feminist League, The Feminist League Commentary to the National Report, e-mailed report.

[xlv] World Bank Group, Living Standards During Transition Report.

[xlvi] “Violence Against Women in Kazakhstan,” The Times of Central Asia, Thursday, 16 November 2000,  vol. 1, no 26.

[xlvii] Ibid.

[xlviii] The Feminist League, The Feminist League Commentary to the National Report, e-mailed report.






© COPYRIGHT 2003 All materials on this web site copyright of International Women's Rights Action Watch, Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, USA.