Globally, Gender issue is the prime concern to all over the world and Kazakhstan holds no exception. Gender remains a critically important and largely overlooked in terms to the promote of gender equality and women empowerment. Gender issues deals with all aspects of societal customs related to men and women, the way they interrelate, their differences in access and use of resources, their participation, opportunities and how they react to changes, interventions and policies. It’s been 45 years since United Nations has declared international women’s day on 8th march, marking a new wave of feminist movement. Kazakhstan has grown into an upper-middle income country from a lower-middle one in the last two decades. However, the situation of women has not changed accordingly. The government has formulated important policies on gender equality and certain progress has also been made. However it requires greater effort to realize the completion of the process given the rigid patriarchal social structure of Kazakhstan. In recent times, a new wave of feminist scholars has risen in Kazakhstan. These feminists possess Western education and are aware of all the latest trends in social development in Kazakhstan. They believe that Kazakhstan has quite a complex set of policies and attitudes towards gender equality and women’s empowerment. Empowerment on its own is seen as a process of increasing the capacity of individuals or groups to make choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcome.
Political And Economic Sphere
The disintegration of Soviet Union in 1991 resulted into a severe economic decline in Kazakhstan. Sudden economic shocks occurred, as guaranteed markets for products ceased to exist and the restructuring of state owned enterprises and collective production units brought about massive layoffs. These economic changes also led to considerable changes in social relations. The immediate impact in Kazakhstan was a rapid, sharp rise in poverty and deterioration in human development indicators. Unemployment and layoffs was massive. The transition period had adverse impact on Kazakhstani women. Scholars suggest that in the 1990s, unemployment in Kazakhstan clearly had “a female face”; women constituted up to 70 percent of the entire “jobless and poor” population. The status of women and related issues has not much improved since. Issues of gender inequality are prevalent in almost every sphere of social life. There are fewer women in the position of power vis-à-vis men. Presently, there are very few women who are represented in government sectors and political bodies. In the parliament of Kazakhstan, men still have more power than women. Women representation in the parliament in the 1990s was not even one fourth of their share in the population. It was 11.2 percent in 1999 increasing slightly to 15.9 percent in 2006. Some scholars’ records, the proportion of women in parliament remained 12.7 and 13.6 percent in 2007 and 2010 respectively. In 2016, the government committed to give 30 percent of decision making roles to the women at all levels though situation improved only little. Limited women’s participation in politics and access to power at all levels constrain the efficiency of the state and its policies. It is thus very important to give equal access to women in political, economic and educational sphere. “The republic of Kazakhstan” argues that the majority of Kazakhstani women have higher education, yet women are underrepresented among managers and leaders and overrepresented among the unemployed and those living in poverty. Gender equality is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance. The high degree of gender equality in terms of both opportunities and benefits would help the country to achieve high economic growth and better quality of life. This made a very important observation ‘gender equality is more than a goal in itself.’ The opportunities open to women and girls, especially in their early years, determines not only their individual futures but also that of wider society. Since, rural communities of women are more vulnerable and need more support. Despite successes, further progress is needed. More robust safeguards must be put in place to protect those who are most vulnerable, especially in rural areas. Education remains crucial for eradicating these issues. In 2011, Kazakhstan weekly newspaper highlighted that women are facing a problem of gender inequality in Kazakhstan. Women have fewer rights and opportunities than men in reality. Most of the women have been migrated from paid labour to household work because of the decrease in total employment during 1999-2000.
Gender violence is only one aspect of inequality which is why sexual violence is considered as a gender inequality problem rather than just a criminal offence. It’s been 27 years since UN general assembly adopted the declaration of elimination of violence against women in 1993 but, such violence is still prevalent all over the world. Although, Kazakhstan’s constitution proclaims to maintain gender equality in the country, there are many problems like human trafficking; domestic abuse and rape that impact women’s lives in society. The falling economic status also affects their participation in the public spheres, especially in the decision-making and political processes.
When women are economically empowered, they can be significant contributors to the economic growth of the country, which has the end effect of contributing to the prosperity of every woman, every man, every girl and every boy in country. In 2019, United Nations population fund (UNDP) made an observation that Gender equality and the empowerment of women is integral parts of all aspects of development. Gender equality and the empowerment of women are at the heart of the Agenda for Sustainable Development. This implies the role that many women in Kazakhstan play in areas ranging from politics to sciences and culture as well as to bridge the gender gap in the digital space. Transformative gender roles requires transforming unequal gender relations by investing in women, encouraging and bringing to reality the requisite changes in social norms, cultural values, power structures and eliminating the root causes of gender inequality and discrimination.
Kazakhstan Gender Policy: Government’s Laws and Policy
It is believed that the role of the state and its policies are critical to improve the status of women. United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE, 2011) highlighted that promoting gender equality and women’s economic empowerment has to target lasting and long-term improvements in the policy environment in order to ensure sustainable development for all. It is important to note that successful and constructive policymaking and programme implementation should be executed in a needs-responsive manner. The gaps in this sphere were pointed out in a study done by Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 2013. Which made an observation that women’s economic empowerment is critical for achieving gender equality and combating poverty, and also for harnessing women’s economic potential and contribution to the country’s economic development. The objective of any gender policy is working towards an organization which implements gender point of view as a focal point to frame its internal and external policy. The aim of gender policy can be achieved only when both the sexes have equal access to power, authority and resources which is perceptible in the goals, strategies, structure and culture of the organization. The new Strategic Plan 2018-2021 sets its priority by UN women in consultation with the Kazakh government, NGOs, civil society. This will be basically focused on ending violence against women and women’s economic empowerment for socially vulnerable groups. They are also observing budgeting, national planning in consultation with the government.
UN Women sets its priorities for the region based on its new Strategic Plan 2018-2021 in consultation with the government and civil society individuals. But overarching all of that is the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which Kazakhstan has also signed up to and this is a framework, then, for all of our work in the country. Kazakh government’s long-term strategies focusing on empowering people. United Nations (UN) observes “Gender equality is the most important element of the success of Kazakhstan in the future. If the people of Kazakhstan and the government do not dedicate sufficient resources and sufficient attention to achieving gender equality to providing all opportunities for women and girls to reach parity with men, then Kazakhstan will not achieve its goals of becoming one of the 30 most developed countries in the world.”
Greater Eurasia: New Great Game formulate abundant possibilities for Central Asia
The title “New Great Game” became the most conversed topic in the contemporary realm of global politics. The heart of the Eurasian continent, the Central Asian region, already witnessed a colonial battle between Russian and Britain. The position of Geopolitical status more fueled up the conflict. The Great Game furnished an unpleasant impact on the entire Central Asian region; it grasps by the Russian empire. Russia’s century-long predominance over the Central Asia region concluded with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. However, it nevertheless has a massive impact over the countries of Central Asian states Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Following centuries, they were preceding reappeared different New Grete Game, where the foremost global power countries have engaged. The internal scenario of central Asian states is struggling over hegemonic power. Subsequently, the central Asian nations are well equipped with natural resources like oil, gas like Kazakhstan’s largest uranium producer, that attracts all major countries to penetrate in Central Asia.
The New Great Game impacted both as constraint and opportunity in Central Asia. The central Asian states are adopted the multi-vector approach to the foreign policy due to landlocked country. So, the developed countries are offered various development schemes in the region. Currently, three major powers are Russia, US and China compete with each other to become a prominent player in Central Asia. Every nation is looking for their interest through the region. Nowadays, Washington mostly engaged in the New Great Game, after the US entered in Afghanistan, and it required Central Asian states cooperation to expand the authority of NATO in Eurasian land. Although, following the attack on 9/11, the US mostly keep eyes on terrorism activities and central Asian states are becoming significant for security purpose. Moscow always indeed to the presence in Central Asian internal politics and seems to maintain its status quo. Russia always considered the Central Asian states as his campaign, with the significant military, economic and political influence. Moscow consistently rated Central Asian nations as “soft underbelly”. Russian culture, music, food highly incorporated with Central Asian states, but Moscow seems fallen the economic competition with Beijing. China is somewhat successful in pushing Russian influence in Central Asia.
China expands its control over in the pecuniary sector, Dragon becoming larger trade partner and investor in that region. China’s visionary project ‘Belt and Road initiative’ and China’s strategy to influence and grow its economic power over the Eurasian continent required Central Asian states linear involvement. China shared more than 3000 k.m of the direct border with CA, this is an opportunity for China to enhance its strength and became more dominant rather than other countries. Central Asia is a crucial component in the Geopolitical puzzle. The abundant of natural resource in CA is the primary purpose behind for more intense of New Great Game. The Caspian Sea contains a large amount of natural resource. The superpower countries followed up the pathway of the dependency model, and they create opportunity with precisely inside their acquisition. The new Great Game change the notion of Geopolitics on a broader level. China is steadily expanding its influence over the Eurasian mainland with hegemonic expansion over the south china sea. There is an appearance of another cold war (economic domain) between China and the US; both countries headed for intense competition for global supremacy. That’s why central Asia states played an essential function to determine immense superiority over the Eurasian landmass. All these countries participated in New Great Game implemented the soft power and made an effort to pull Central Asian nations through proffering opportunities. The central Asian States compensated relishes the possibility, although faced reluctance from significant players. The potential development of the Central Asian Region endures the growth of the Eurasian continent.
Territorial Disputes in Central Asia: Myths and Reality
One of the focal points of any state foreign policy is the issue of territorial disputes, irrespective of its geographical size, economic opportunities or geopolitical ambitions. At the same time, in the modern world, the scenario of the use of force as a possible option for China to resolve territorial disputes in Central Asia is hardly probable. None of the parties, including neighboring countries, are interested in intensifying territorial claims and initiating a real conflict. Despite the apparent advantages, a guaranteed response from the international community jeopardizes all benefits for the potential aggressor (for example, Beijing) from possible territorial acquisitions. In addition, the system of control and monitoring has been formed in the region with the direct participation of Russia. The guarantors of the system are, in particular, the SCO and the CSTO; the latter one has a sufficiently deterrent effect on the capacity of regional players to demonstrate invasive intentions.
Meanwhile, the international community developed a civilized way to resolve territorial disputes through diplomatic means such as long-term leasing of land, the creation of joint jurisdictions, etc. China has experience of transferring territories, for example, the 99-year lease of Hong Kong by the United Kingdom or the recognition of Macao as “Chinese territory under Portuguese administration” followed by the signing of the joint Declaration on the question of Macao. Since China became a successful economic power, Beijing has preferred to resolve territorial disputes through diplomatic instruments, rather than from a position of strength.
It should be pointed out that implementing its Belt and Road Initiative, China has never presented it as a charity project. Moreover, the initial goal was the development of the Central and Western regions of China. All foreign countries participating in the initiative expressed their desire to join it on the terms of mutually beneficial development. By accepting China’s offers and agreeing to its loans and investment projects, any of the countries had the opportunity to assess the risks and not participate in them, or to make a choice and develop their own economy on the terms of other financial institutions, such as Western ones. In this case, China acts in the Central Asian region like most major powers interested in strengthening their positions and promoting their political, economic and humanitarian agenda.
Possible allegations of Beijing concluding economic contracts on bonded terms should also be addressed to officials of the “affected” countries who agreed to these proposals from the Chinese side. At the same time, if it appears that one of the parties has not acted in its national interests, this is more a problem of the internal state structure of a particular country and its attitude to the work of its own officials, and to a much lesser extent – a claim to the development of bilateral relations with China.
It is also necessary to distinguish the official position of the state from the statements of individuals who often act in their own interests. For example, an article with the title “Why Kazakhstan seeks to return to China,” which is given as an example in the publication “Land leases and territorial claims of China in Central Asia and the South Caucasus,” was written by an anonymous blogger with just over 80 thousand subscribers (insignificant number according to the Chinese standards). An analysis of how the news was spread geographically by international media, as well as the contents of official statements, confirms the opinion of experts-sinologists that it was an attempt to gain popularity and “collect likes,” and has nothing in common with the official position of Beijing.
Another example of using the foreign policy agenda in the internal political struggle is the statement of the leader of the opposition party of Tajikistan, R. Zoirov, who accused China of moving the borderline 20 kilometers deeper into the territory of Tajikistan.
On the eve of the presidential elections in 2013, Tajikistan’s opposition once again tried to “accuse authorities of surrendering land to China” in the framework of the 2002 border demarcation agreement. China claimed 28 thousand square kilometers of Tajikistan’s territory, but as a result of the negotiations, it received just over 1 thousand square kilometers of high-altitude land unsuitable for life, without proven volumes of large deposits. The results of negotiations can be evaluated in different ways, but each country has the right to seek convenient forms of dispute resolution and debt repayment. In addition, this agreement was ratified by the government of Tajikistan only in 2011. The official representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan described the statement of the opposition as a provocation, due to the fact that the author acts in his own interest. Later, it was revealed that Zoirov’s statement refers to 2011 and was “made two years ago and published just now.” According to R. Zoirov, he determined the distance to the border based on the statements of local residents. The official authorities of Tajikistan, China, Russia and other regional powers ignored information about China’s occupation of Tajikistan’s territory as unreliable.
Recognizing the high public sensitivity of transferring land from one state to repay credit obligations to another, it is necessary to proceed from the analysis of the contents of specific international agreements, the motives for signing them by current authorities, and the national interests of the parties involved. Otherwise, one is likely to discover a distorted interpretation of key events in line with the populist rhetoric of an unknown blogger or to be the recipient of information propaganda carried out by major powers competing for regional influence.
From our partner RIAC
From Central Asia to the Black Sea
In early June, China unveiled a new transportation corridor when a rail cargo of 230 tons of electrical appliances worth some $2,6 million arrived in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent. Though distant from the South Caucasus, the development nevertheless has a direct impact on the geopolitics of the South Caucasus energy and transport corridor.
For centuries, Central Asia has been notorious for the lack of connectivity. Highways, railroads and pipelines were solely directed northwards towards Russian heartland. Geography also constrained the development of alternatives, but the problem is that other routes were also purposefully neglected during the Soviet times. Therefore, nowadays breaking these geographical boundaries equals to decreasing Russian influence in Central Asia.
Indeed, over the past 30 years, crucial changes have taken place where newly developed east-west transport links (from China to Central Asia, then South Caucasus) allow the region to be more integrated with the outside world. The primary motivator for this is China. The country strives to involve itself into the region’s economics and politics and, specifically, build ties with arguably the region’s most important geopolitical player – Uzbekistan. Beijing has already taken several important steps. For instance, China has become Uzbekistan’s top economic partner through growing trade and direct investment. Take the most recent example, Beijing-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) will lend $100 million to Uzbekistan to help deal with the coronavirus pandemic and future public health disasters.
The new China-Uzbekistan corridor is some 295 km shorter and cuts five days off the standard 15 days-corridor which goes through Kazakhstan and Russia to reach Europe. As different forecasts indicate, the Kazakhstan-Russia corridor could lose some 10-15% of Chinese freight per year to the new China-Uzbekistan route – a significant number considering the massive amount of goods that move between between Europe and China.
What is crucial here is that the only viable route to ship freight to Europe from Uzbekistan is across the Caspian to Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Black Sea. Another possibility would be sending goods via the Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, then Iran and Turkey. However general insecurity along this route makes the Caspian option more promising.
These infrastructure changes in distant Central Asia as well as steady growth of shipments from China will further boost the fragile South Caucasus transport and energy corridor, which struggles to compete with enormous trade routes which go through Russia and elsewhere.
What makes the Caspian routes more interesting is the progress made in port development in Azerbaijan and Georgia. The ports of Baku and a small city of Alat have notably improved their infrastructure over the past several years. Located to the south of Baku, Alat is particularly promising as an estimated transshipment of the new port complex is potentially up to 25 million tons of cargo and 1 million TEU per year.
Similar trends of improving infrastructure take place along the rest of the South Caucasus corridor. In March, the Georgian government granted the APM Terminals a permit to start the expansion of Potin port. Essentially the project, which will add more than 1000 local jobs, involves the construction of a separate new deep-water multifunctional port (officially still a part of Poti port).
The project consists of two major phases: first stage of $250 million will take nearly 2-2,5 years to complete and will involve the development of a 1 700-meter-long breakwater and a quay with a depth of 13.5 meters. A 400-meter-long multifunctional quay for processing dry bulk cargo and further 150 000 TEUs will be added; the second stage envisages a 300-meter-long container quay. If all goes as planned, 1 million TEU yearly container capacity could be expected. What is more important for the infrastructure of the eastern Black Sea region and the geopolitics of transcontinental transshipment, the expanded Poti port would have the capacity to receive Panamax vessels.
Expansion of Poti will have regional implications. The port already enjoys the role of the largest gateway in the country and a major outlet for Azerbaijan’s and Armenia’s trade with Europe. For instance, liquids, passenger ferries, dry bulk and container traffic go through Poti. Moreover, Poti port also serves as an alternative route for exporting wheat from Central Asia to the Black Sea and elsewhere.
As the work on the Poti expansion speeds up similar developments are taking place in Batumi. In 2019 Wondernet Express, Trammo and the government of Georgia announced plans to build a new terminal with total investment cap of 17,5 million euros. More importantly, the new facility will store up to 60 000 tons of mineral fertilizers coming from Central Asia through Azerbaijan.
From a wider geopolitical perspective, both port expansions enjoy US government support as American business interests are deeply intertwined. PACE terminals, a company which operates in the port of Poti for almost 30 years, is partially owned by a US-based company. This connection raises a possible longer-term vision of Poti’s and Batumi’s development as gateways not only for Georgia, but generally for the South Caucasus and Central Asia.
Overall, these connectivity trends will reinvigorate Trans-Caspian shipping. Moreover, though considered by many as unrealistic, the dormant Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP), could gain traction. There is more to the story. I have mentioned the US support for the Georgian ports. Europe and Turkey share an identical position. All parties are interested in breaking Russia’s grip on gas export routes from Central Asia. Support for the east-west corridor across the South Caucasus has been present since the break-up of the Soviet Union, but rarely there have been such promising trends as there are now: steadily increasing China-Europe shipping; Chinese Belt and Road Initiative’s expansion into Central Asia; gradually improving rail-road and ports infrastructure in Georgia and Azerbaijan.
On a negative side, much still remains to be done. For instance, in Kyrgyzstan, through which the new China-Uzbekistan route goes, Chinese cargo has to be shipped by road which complicates shipment operations. Nearly the entire 400 km of the Kyrgyz section of the railway still needs to be built. So far, no solution is in sight as difficult mountainous landscape and Russian opposition complicate the issue. But the overall picture, nevertheless, is clear. Central Asia is gradually opening up, shipment across the Caspian increases and the expansion of the Georgian ports takes place creating a line of connectivity.
Author’s note: first published in Caucasuswatch
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