Women are challenging work place stereotypes in Kazakhstan

Date : 05 May 2017

Cultural mindsets and stereotypes remain powerful barriers to women’s equal participation in the work place across Central Asia. Even so, more and more women are overcoming these deeply rooted obstacles and making their mark in male dominated professions. They are also becoming important role models, inspiring more women and girls to follow in their footsteps. Meet ten such exceptional Kazak women.

Akmaral Serikbayeva, policewoman. Photo: Aiymgul Photo Studio
Akmaral Serikbayeva, policewoman. Photo: Aiymgul Photo Studio

Since childhood Akmaral Serikbayeva aspired to work as a police officer. After completing her first degree, she specialised in law and secured an internship with the Internal Affairs Department. She eventually worked unpaid there for 1.5 years. “At that time (2000 and 2002) few women were hired,” she recalls. “The reasons given were that they would marry and go on maternity leave, and that it was not a job for women.” But, Akmaral refused to give up: “I fought my corner.” Today she is a Senior Inspector at the Unit for Women’s Protection from Violence at the local police force of the Astana Department of Internal Affairs.

Natalia Linchenko, pilot. Photo: Air Astana
Natalia Linchenko, pilot. Photo: Air Astana

Initially, Natalia Linchenko followed her parents’ advice and studied law before embarking on a legal career. Her determination to fly never waned, though, and she soon decided to pursue a career in the male dominated field of aeronautics. Today, Natalia is an accomplished pilot and firmly believes that “women can do anything.”

Agerke Balgabekova, IT coder. Photo: Dina Mukasheva
Agerke Balgabekova, IT coder. Photo: Dina Mukasheva

According to UN Women, globally, women spend 2.5 times more on unpaid housework than men. For 28-year-old software engineer Agerke Balgabekova, having her husband share the household chores means that she can build a career in the fast-growing Information Technology industry. But even in this modern industry traditional mind-sets persist. Like many other women, she was quizzed about maternity leave during a job interview. “It made me feel very uncomfortable,” she says. While Agerke missed out on that job, she has since landed other opportunities.

Aigerim Sabralieva, football lawyer. Photo: Zarina Orumbayeva
Aigerim Sabralieva, football lawyer. Photo: Zarina Orumbayeva

Passionate about football since the age of 14, Aigerim Sabralieva’s sheer determination has enabled her to build a successful career in this male dominated field. As a football lawyer and the Secretary General of the Kazakhstan Football Union, she continues to defend the rights of women to participate on and off the field. “Football is an exclusively male field, and I have to prove my right to work here time and time again,” she says.

Zulfiya Baymuhanova, engineer. Photo: Maria Tolstova
Zulfiya Baymuhanova, engineer. Photo: Maria Tolstova

Strong family support helped 30-year old Zulfiya Baymuhanova to become a successful petroleum engineer. As a gifted mathematician, she was always interested in the mechanics of how things worked. Through initiative, hard work and a never-ending sense of curiosity, she is now a First Class Engineer, responsible for supervising a well-site research team. “My parents always believed in me,” she says. Her advice is: “Believe in your daughters.”

Aishabibi Tashkenbaeva, marine woman. Credit: Chevron
Aishabibi Tashkenbaeva, marine woman. Credit: Chevron

 “When I finished school, I wanted to work in the maritime sector, which was completely new for the country,” says Aishabibi Tashkenbaeva. “Of course, we girls were looked at with surprise on the Kazakh ships,” she recalls when thinking back to her early days in the field. Throughout her career, she has shared the same responsibilities as her male counterparts, including for example, repairing oil tanks. Since making her career choice, Aishabibi has never looked back. “You cannot conquer the sea by standing and staring at the waves,” says Aishabibi.

Begaim Kirgizbaeva,football player. Photo: Madina Shoikina
Begaim Kirgizbaeva,football player. Photo: Madina Shoikina

Few people are aware that Kazakhstan has a female football team, says Begaim Kirgizbaeva: “and they are surprised when they find out that I play football.” Her mother was initially against the idea. “She wanted me to study dance and I am still wondering how my coach managed to convince her,” Begaim recalls. She started playing football in 2002 and since then she has noticed that people around the world are increasingly embracing women’s football. Her mother is also now her biggest fan. Her advice to aspiring female players is to go for it! “I want all girls to decide their own destiny, regardless of what others think.”

Svetlana Kahn, taekwondo coach. Photo: Korean Medical Centre
Svetlana Kahn, taekwondo coach. Photo: Korean Medical Centre

Despite her family’s doubts, Svetlana Kahn pursued her passion to compete in the tough contact sport of Taekwondo. “Many people told me that martial arts are not for women,” she says. As a young woman, she would spend every spare hour in the practice hall, which eventually paid off. As she achieved increasingly impressive results, her family rallied behind her and they are now very proud of her success. Today she is a renowned instructor with the World Taekwondo Federation. “Every sport teaches you important lessons and helps you achieve your goals,” she says. For this reason, Svetlana encourages all girls to pursue sports.

Gulzhanat Chindaliyeva, border guard. Photo: Gulnaz Imamniyazova
Gulzhanat Chindaliyeva, border guard. Photo: Gulnaz Imamniyazova

Gulzhanat Chindaliyeva became a border guard by accident. As the wife of a serviceman, she was drafted into the military so that the couple could be deployed together. She embraced her newfound career in the male dominated field. “I never felt discriminated against and my family fully supported me,” she says. She encourages girls to look past stereotypes in the work place and to choose the profession that they are passionate about.

Gulzada Avkataeva, engineer. Photo: Andrey Nemchenko
Gulzada Avkataeva, engineer. Photo: Andrey Nemchenko

During her career, industrial power engineer, Gulzada Avkataeva has worked as a fitter, operator, engineer-technologist, consultant and project coordinator. “Do not be afraid of the difference between women’s and men's jobs,” she advises. “The main thing is to strive for your goal and to enjoy your work.”

These inspiring stories were among many more recently showcased in the hugely successful #YesSheCan photo exhibition, organized by UN Women's Multi Country Office in Central Asia. Exhibited across Kazakhstan’s main cities (Almaty, Astana, Shymkent and Semey) in shopping centres, universities and museums, more than 800,000 people, especially youth, learned about these exceptional Kazak women who are making their mark in traditionally male dominated professions.