Official Doublespeak when it Comes to Supporting Mothers Interview with Aina Shormanbayeva, president of the International Legal Initiative Foundation (Kazakhstan)

-Six months ago, Kazakhstan shortened the list of professions banned for women and removed 68 jobs from it, but another 219 specializations remain banned. Curiously, these jobs do not match bans proposed for introduction in Russia. How do employment bans impact the situation of women in Kazakhstan?

– Of course, it’s very strange that different countries somehow have different understandings of which jobs women can and cannot hold, but it’s bad that these bans exist at all. For some reason, they’re forgetting that during the most difficult times for our countries, women were involved in everything, even the most difficult jobs. Somehow, women carry all these burdens on their shoulders in the most critical moments. I believe having these lists is an unjust anachronism. If a woman wants, she can do anything, so there’s no need to stand in her path. I believe that work restrictions for women must be cancelled.

– To what extent are the lists of banned professions based on stereotypes and traditions?

– Five hundred years ago, our women were real Amazons. They were always ready for battle, but this didn’t stop them from doing household chores and bearing children, from being a woman and a protector at the same time. Now people in Kazakhstan have the idea that women need a patron, that they’re weak and can’t handle anything on their own, so someone—including the state—must determine what women can be engaged in. But times changed long ago, and many, many types of work have become easier because of machines and robots.

– The state justifies the bans as necessary to protect women’s reproductive function. What does the state do to support women, families with lots of children, and single mothers?

– It’s a paradox, really. By banning some kinds of “arduous” professions that could prevent women from bearing children, the state appears to be stimulating the birth rate. But, on the other hand, we see how mothers with many children are actually treated: they do not get the support they need, and, oddly enough, the labor of a mother with many children is the most arduous both morally and physically. So, this is where I see the doublespeak. It the government wants women to realize themselves as mothers, then conditions are needed for this. If these conditions are absent, there can’t be any restrictions on a woman working in a job that she likes.

– What was the agenda of the recent protests by mothers with many children?

– In February 2019, five children perished in a fire while their parents were at work at night. And mothers all over Kazakhstan rose up: there’s no support from the state, parents have to leave their children alone at night and work around the clock. Many families have several loans to cover their basic needs, they end up in indentured servitude and see no other way out than to work, work, work… And children are left alone during this time and grow up on their own, take care of one another. These kinds of families live in terrible conditions: in unsuitable huts, containers, without registration. They heat their stoves with toxic coal and hook up their electricity themselves—this is how fires start. So, it cannot be said that the state is promoting having many children. The state does not guarantee the right to life for these children by refusing them social support.

– Is there any hope that the situation will change?

– Of course, the authorities know about these terrible living conditions and the difficulties large families face. Our government recently resigned because of the public protests by these mothers, among other things. But there have been times when these kinds of protests were suppressed. The state must stop tying social payments to registration. These payments must be made to people regardless of whether or not they have a registration or a taxpayer ID number; the government’s goal should be to provide housing for these families.

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