The Role of Women
Like its 1993 predecessor, the constitution of 1995 defends
women's rights implicitly, if not entirely explicitly. The document
guarantees citizens the right to work and forbids discrimination
based on geographic origin, gender, race, nationality, religious
or political belief, and language.
In practice, social opinion tends to associate women in the
workplace with the abuses of the Soviet past. The early 1990s
saw the loss of more than 100,000 day-care spaces, and public
opinion strongly favors returning primary responsibility for the
rearing and educating of children to mothers. In April 1995, President
Nazarbayev said that one of the republic's goals must be to create
an economy in which a mother can work at home, raising her children.
This general opinion has been reflected in governmental appointments
and private enterprise; almost no women occupy senior positions
in the country, either in government or in business.
The declining birth rate is another issue with the potential
to become politicized because it affects the demographic "race"
between Kazaks and Russians. With demographic statistics in mind,
Kazak nationalist parties have attempted to ban abortions and
birth control for Kazak women; they have also made efforts to
reduce the number of Kazak women who have children outside marriage.
In 1988, the last year for which there are figures, 11.24 percent
of the births in the republic were to unmarried women. Such births
were slightly more common in cities (12.72 percent) than in rural
areas (9.67 percent), suggesting that such births may be more
common among Russians than among Kazaks.
Women's health issues have not been addressed effectively in
Kazakstan. Maternal mortality rates average 80 per 10,000 births
for the entire country, but they are believed to be much higher
in rural areas. Of the 4.2 million women of childbearing age,
an estimated 15 percent have borne seven or more children. Nevertheless,
in 1992 the number of abortions exceeded the number of births,
although the high percentage of early-stage abortions performed
in private clinics complicates data gathering. According to one
expert estimate, the average per woman is five abortions. Rising
abortion rates are attributable, at least in part, to the high
price or unavailability of contraceptive devices, which became
much less accessible after 1991. In 1992 an estimated 15 percent
of women were using some form of contraception.
Data as of March 1996