“The post-COVID world must not just build back better – it must build forward differently”. UN Women Deputy Executive Director and Assistant Secretary-General Anita Bhatia on her first official visit to Kazakhstan
On 1–3 June, Anita Bhatia, Assistant Secretary-General and UN Women Deputy Executive Director visited Kazakhstan to participate in the ECOJER international congress at the invitation of the Government of Kazakhstan and held meetings with representatives of the civil and financial sectors in Almaty.
Anita Bhatia launched her mission by meeting with UN Women’s country team in the capital, Nur-Sultan. She briefed the team on corporate strategic priorities in the context of COVID-19 recovery and the geo-political situation in the region. Active in Kazakhstan since 1999, UN Women (known as UNIFEM then) has worked in partnership with the government, civil society and other institutions to ensure equality of rights and opportunities for women and girls. With UN Women’s assistance, last year the list of prohibited professions for women was abolished in the country. This is a critical step towards reducing the gender pay gap. Moreover, Kazakhstan adopted the first National Action Plan 1325 to implement the UN Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security. Also, last year, the country announced its commitments to combating gender-based violence and ensuring economic justice and rights, joining the global Generation Equality Forum’s two Action Coalitions.
The Deputy Executive Director also met with Kazakhstan's Commissioner for Human Rights, Elvira Azimova, and Member of Parliament, Head of International Affairs, Defence and Security Committee, Aigul Kuspan, and Deputy Head of the National Commission for Women Affairs, Family and Demographic Policy under the President of Kazakhstan Lazzat Ramazanova to discuss strategic partnership priorities and strengthening cooperation on gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment were also raised during the meeting with the First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan Akan Rahmetullin. Ms. Bhatia thanked Kazakhstan’s government for its regional leadership in implementing the best international practices in the field of advancing gender equality as well as combating gender-based violence, and discussed launching a Centre of Excellence for Gender Equality in Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan attaches great importance to the gender agenda in the context of the country's commitments to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Sustainable Development Goals. The country aims to improve the mechanisms for promoting women’s rights and women’s empowerment, which Ms. Bhatia mentioned and thanked for governmental funding. Currently, Kazakhstan’s government is the only country in the region contributing funds towards the programmatic work of UN Women and the Spotlight Initiative Regional Programme for Central Asia and Afghanistan.
On the second day, the Deputy Executive Director participated in an expert dialogue platform on ecological issues and sustainable development as part of the second international congress ECOJER. During her speech, Ms. Bhatia emphasized that unequal labour force participation persists for women across Europe and Central Asia. Over 15 per cent of them have lost their jobs and another 40 per cent have had to reduce their working hours due to COVID-19 outcomes.
"In 2020, 45 million women worldwide left the labour market completely. According to experts, if women participated in the economy on an equal footing, then GDP growth in Eastern Europe and Central Asia could be 23 per cent or $ 1.1 trillion. UN Women's sustainable development vision includes supporting women's livelihoods, eliminating violence against women, and having women in key decision-making positions. The post-COVID world must not just build back better – it must build forward differently," said Ms. Bhatia.
The Deputy Executive Director outlined the importance of strengthening co-operation on environmental and climate security in Central Asia. This includes developing gender-responsive regional approaches addressing the disproportionate impact of climate change on women and girls.
Anita Bhatia also participated in a ceremony for private sector companies joining the Kazakhstan Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator, implemented in collaboration with the World Economic Forum. This initiative aims to create better opportunities for women, supporting them to attain leadership positions and to increase their participation in the labour force by reskilling women to be ready for re-employment in high growth sectors.
Kazakhstani largest companies joining the Closing the Gender Gap Initiative also committed to endorse and sign the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), which is a global initiative developed by UN Women and United Nations Global Compact. WEPs offer guidance to businesses on how to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community. Currently, Kazakhstan demonstrates the highest number of business signatories in the Central Asian region, 41. Two of them, Astana International Financial Centre and AIFC Tech Hub, have recently joined the WEPs family.
The Deputy Executive Director also met with the recently appointed Head of the National Commission for Women, Family and Demographic Policy of Kazakhstan under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Aida Balayeva. They discussed the opportunities for creating a Centre of Excellence for Gender Equality in Kazakhstan. Such a facility would help boost the expertise, experience and resources needed in the region to progress towards gender equality. Such a centre would also enable better analysis of perspectives about women and girls in Central Asia as well as understanding of their situation and needs.
Being one of the main strategic partners in Kazakhstan, the National Commission successfully implements a number of projects with the UN Women’s support in cooperation with the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Population, the Ministry of Information and Social Development, including the multi-sectoral pilot project, Kazakhstan without domestic violence and the opening of 17 women's entrepreneurship support centres in regions, and projects to introduce gender-responsive budgeting jointly with the Ministry of National Economy.
On the last day of her visit, Anita Bhatia travelled to Almaty where she held meetings with private businesses and civil society activists.
Eight activists working in gender equality and the empowerment of women and UN Women expert leading the work on Action Coalitions and Act for Equal Virtual Platform discussed with Deputy Executive Director the main challenges they face during the post-pandemic period and results achieved despite those challenges. Anita Bhatia thanked them for their important contribution to addressing sexual and gender-based violence in the region and encouraged them to strengthen their capacity to effectively implement their missions.
“There are debates on the criminalization of domestic violence in Kazakhstan even though it was strongly recommended by CEDAW in 2019. There is strong support of the President of Kazakhstan to eliminate violence against women and children in Kazakhstani society. UN Women will continue to support national partners in making relevant changes in legislation and ensure its proper implementation, in order to protect women and girls in Kazakhstan,” she said during the meeting with CSOs.