“You Must Carry Heavy Things.” Where Are Women in Kazakhstan Still Not Hired?


On October 12, 2021, the “List of jobs where the use of women’s labor is limited” was finally abolished. It was approved in December 2015 and included 287 items. It was reduced to 229 in 2018. The list of professions prohibited for women had been in effect in Kazakhstan since 1930. Professions such as gas welders, diggers,  bricklayers, bulldozer drivers, etc, were in it.

The list is discriminatory, violating women’s right to equal opportunities in employment, free choice of profession, as well as Kazakhstan’s obligations within the ratification of the UN Convention.

The merit on the list's legislative abolition belongs to human rights activists. It was an important step to ensure freedom of choice for women in Kazakhstan (information taken from “Free to Choose,” 2021).

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Almost three years have passed since the list was kiboshed. Whether discrimination against women in employment is still present is a question that remains, however.

Tatyana Chernobil commented on this. Cerhnobil is a lawyer and consultant on international human rights law and participated in the project to annul the list.

The very existence of such a list is considered discriminatory, paternalistic, and patriarchal because it denies women the ability and right to decide what is good, bad, advisable, or inadvisable for themselves.

The repeal of the list has both a practical meaning for people and a symbolic one for all women.

Not many women worked in these types of jobs or sought to work. For example, we know for sure about one case when a woman was denied the right to drive a heavy truck even though she had the license. She worked and was very pleased with her employers, but her employment was officially formalized differently (to the detriment, of course, of her salary), as the law did not allow a woman to be accepted as a driver of the vehicle that our heroine wanted and could drive,says Chernobil.
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Kazakhstan's legislation has all the necessary norms to prohibit discrimination based on gender. 

Yet, Article 6 of the Labor Code has the following provision:

Differences, exceptions, preferences, and restrictions that, by the laws of the Republic of Kazakhstan, are established for the relevant types of labor activity or are caused by the special care of the state for persons in need of increased social and legal protection” are not discrimination.

Theoretically, women can thereby be classified as persons “in need of increased social protection.”

Meanwhile, there are vacancies containing the gender of the desirable candidate. Alina (name changed - Ed.) shared how she couldn’t get a job because only men were being hired:

At my last job, the cinema manager quit. I wanted to take his place, as this work was physically easier than the one I was doing. But, only men over 18 years old were hired for this position. This was explained by the fact that men, as a rule, are better versed in electrics and will fix equipment that constantly breaks. In fact, the company simply economized on electrician services. The boss also believed that this work was unsafe for women because they had to work at night, and different clients came. The men were taken there without experience or specific knowledge, and in the work process, they trained themselves. I don’t understand why the employer thought that a woman couldn’t handle it.

Tatyana Chernobil explained that Indicating a specific gender as a requirement in a vacancy announcement violates Article 14 of the Media Law.

According to Chernobil, the law states:

It is prohibited to post information about job vacancies that contain discriminatory requirements in the world of work.

Chernobil clarified that allowing such discrimination is punishable by the Code of Administrative Offenses (Article 90) and entails a fine.

If they don’t want to hire you because of your gender, you can hold the employer accountable. But, there's a catch:

As for the employer’s discriminatory preferences, they need to be proven, and this is very difficult. But if it works out, then there is a criminal article for violating the equality of a person and a citizen, including on the basis of gender (Article 145 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan). Punishment under this article ranges from a hefty fine to arrest to 40 days.Tatiana explains.

Chernobil also says that there is another hidden form of labor discrimination - fixed-term employment contracts:

Women may not be desirable for hire due to the employer's usual idea that it is 'typical' for women to sometimes become pregnant, give birth, or take leave to care for loved ones; this is not beneficial for the employer. What do they do in such cases? Conclude fixed-term employment contracts limited to a specific period. Such an attitude deprives the worker of social and economic certainty.

Dana, who graduated from a foreign university and knows several languages, said this is why she did not receive employment:

I graduated from university at 24 years old. Graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees. I tried to get a job in Kazakhstan in the Big 4 and other companies. They didn’t hire me because employers were convinced that I would get married, have children, and generally didn’t need to work. First, during the interview, they asked about age. Next came the question of whether I had a husband. They said: “You’ll probably get married and have children. Why do you need to work?” They also said this: 'You studied abroad, your parents will help you: they will buy you an apartment, a car. Why do you need to work? Get married, have children.' They treated me like an inexperienced specialist despite my two higher education degrees and knowledge of languages. Now, I’m 26 and still hear: 'You’ll just quit, get married, and end your career there.' They asked if I was the only child in the family. When they found out that I had a brother, they also said: 'Look, your brother will help you.'

The abolition has signaled a move away from a paternalistic approach towards women and towards genuine equality across the board: their freedom to independently decide what type of activity they consider acceptable, the freedom to manage their reproductive rights, and their bodily autonomy.

The abolition is only the first step. Employers still deny employment based on gender, circumventing the law; they utilize that such discrimination is difficult to prove. Lydia's story shows how women are limited in their choice of work:

I wanted to get a job in a bar. Not even as a bartender but as a bartender's assistant. They didn’t hire me, explaining that it would require me to carry heavy things and roll beer kegs, which is hard for a woman. For that matter, many women who work in a bar may ask their male colleagues to help carry something if it is too heavy for them. I see it as unfair that my choices and actions are limited because I am a woman. 

The booklet by Aigerim Kamidola and Tatiana Chernobil, “Free to Choose,” lists the measures necessary to achieve a genuine lifting of the ban:

  • Carrying out informative work
  • Conducting extensive media campaigns 
  • Conducting a gender examination of school textbooks to change social stereotypes associated with “non-female professions”
  • Adoption of temporary special measures (for example, quotas, educational scholarships, mentoring programs for women)
  • Ensuring the special needs of female workers in the workplace related to labor safety, protection from gender-based violence, and other gender-sensitive needs
  • Collecting statistical data and monitoring the dynamics of employment of women working in these professions and labor disputes
  • Providing compensation and (or) reparations to women who worked in prohibited jobs before the adoption of the law of October 12, 2021

Women now arguably have complete freedom of choice in employment on a legal level. Nonetheless, they still face situations where they may not receive employment for physically undemanding jobs. This is due to certain beliefs and preferences of the employer. In practice, women's freedom of choice and bodily autonomy have yet to be achieved. And to change this, we must go beyond the Labor Code's amendments.

Having limited itself to legislative amendments to the Labor Code, the government believes that the work to lift the ban has been completed. In fact, the work to lift the ban and ensure equal labor rights and opportunities for women has only just begun, Tatyana Chernobil summarizes.

Original Author: Yulia Petrova

DISCLAIMER: This is a translated piece. The text has been modified, the content is the same. Please refer to the original piece in Russian for accuracy.