International Women’s Day on March 8 is seen in much of the world as an opportunity to raise awareness about gender equality – but, as in most other former Soviet states, in Kazakhstan the holiday is more about giving flowers and chocolates and making saccharine speeches extolling the virtues of the fairer sex.
While women’s rights activists in other parts of the former Soviet Union – including neighboring Kyrgyzstan – have stepped forward to try to reclaim Women’s Day, in Kazakhstan the image of the female as either beauty idol or perfect wife remains central to the festivities.
To celebrate the rising role of women in the military – and there are over 8,500 of them, including 750 officers, according to the Defense Ministry – why not vote for Miss Military Kazakhstan? Vox Populi, a magazine, is running an online contest featuring uniformed women striking sexy poses, with readers voting for their favorite military sex bomb.
Not to be outdone, Kazakhstan’s rail industry has its own beauty queen: This year's proud Miss Railways is HR specialist Minuar Sarkynshakova, who won the beauty pageant after a stiff competition in the pages of trade magazine Kazakhstan Railroader.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has often indicated that he takes gender equality seriously: He used his state-of-the-nation address last year to single out women’s rights and mentioned combating domestic violence as a priority.
This year, in a speech to mark Women’s Day, which is a public holiday across much of the former Soviet Union, Nazarbayev hailed the rising role of women in public life. He noted that 24 percent of deputies in parliament and 55 percent of employees in Kazakhstan’s civil administration were female, and said 260 rural district mayors were female. He failed to mention that no governors or mayors of large cities are women, and that Kazakhstan’s 21-seat cabinet contains just two women.
After a nod to the working woman, Nazarbayev went on to call for classes to teach mothering skills, and to disclose that what women really want is to build a nest.
“I am not revealing a big secret if I say that in all times all women have wanted one and the same thing: love, peace and family happiness,” he stated.
Perhaps they should take classes at a new school in Almaty that trains the perfect Kazakh brides, teaching them how to cook, apply makeup and parade like models for their discerning husbands-to-be?