Bridging the gender gap

Around the world, laws which support women’s rights are a necessary step for achieving gender equality, but they do not automatically translate into changes in practice. Kazakhstan has adopted a range of laws protecting equal rights and promoting equal opportunities for men and women, but much still needs to be done to ensure women can take their place as equals in society.

UNDP has worked closely with the Government of Kazakhstan to help write these laws and to support the broader implementation of commitments on gender equality. The business sector is one area where UNDP has made a positive contribution to promoting greater female involvement.

“I always wanted to have my own business but entrepreneurship was impossible in Soviet Kazakhstan, and my husband was never supportive of the idea,” says Shaiza Mirtina, 74, from Karaul, East Kazakhstan Region. “He didn’t want our neighbours to gossip about us and said it was a purely male affair.”

Despite the numerous challenges she faced and her husband’s active opposition, Shaiza was determined to set herself up in business. Now she serves as an inspirational figure for women who dream of becoming entrepreneurs.

At first, Shaiza was reluctant to take a risk, discouraged by the words of her husband and society’s attitudes towards women in business. Circumstances forced Shaiza into taking the big step into running her own business. Her measly pension from years of working in the post office did not even cover the costs of the medicines she needed.

When the only shop in Karaul closed in the early 1990s, Shaiza decided to take the plunge and set up her own small business to provide the village with its basic needs. Over time, with help from her family and a grant from UNDP, Shaiza expanded her little empire to include a bakery and a farm, where the Mirtina family raise cattle.

“The secret of this successful business is that I feel the support of my family, especially my children. They are ready to back any of my ideas. Their trust is an inspiration for me to do more,” says Shaiza.

Her success as a pioneering businesswoman in East Kazakhstan Region has led to her becoming a role model for others.

“Shaiza willingly shares her practical experience with budding entrepreneurs; she coaches and mentors them. Thirteen entrepreneurs visited her production facilities to receive a masterclass. As it turned out, eight out of the13 entrepreneurs registered their own businesses after her training,” says Malika Koyanbayeva, coordinator of UNDP’s Governance and Local Development  Unit

“Here in Kazakhstan, as in countries throughout the world, gender equality is about creating equal opportunities for women and men, and about making it possible for all to reach their full potential, and contribute meaningfully to society. Investing in women and girls is one of the best investments any country can make in its future,” said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark at an event on opportunities for women at the Astana Economic Forum in May 2015.

Kazakhstan has made significant progress in ensuring gender equality. Women in Kazakhstan run 41 per cent of all active, registered small and medium-sized enterprises. Challenges, however, remain, with women in Kazakhstan earning on average only 67 per cent of what men earn.

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