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28 February 2024

Women’s March in Kazakhstan: Feminists vs the Mayor of Almaty

Kazakhstani women refuse to be silenced by the government, standing as a quintessential definition of the International Women’s Day.

Women’s March in Kazakhstan: Feminists vs the Mayor of Almaty

Image: Vladimir Tretyakov/Shutterstock

The annual women’s rally in Almaty, Kazakhstan, might not happen on this year’s International Women’s Day. Despite numerous attempts by feminist groups in the city to get the mayor’s office’s approval, they all have been refused. According to the post on the feminist march’s Instagram page, by 15 February, they had received a total of ten refusals. However, feminists and activists are not willing to stay idle. Instead, one after another, they’ve been coming out to the streets of Almaty on single pickets, demanding their right to have a peaceful march or rally on International Women’s Day.

Women’s Rights Marches and Rallies in Almaty

In 2017, the first Women’s Rights March in Almaty was organized by KazFem, one of the leading feminist initiatives in the country. Then, twenty people marched together through the main pedestrian street in Almaty Arbat, holding a five-meter-long banner. However, because it wasn’t sanctioned, the next day, KazFem’s co-founder Veronica Fonova received a call to come to the mayor’s office, where she was told that the next time, they would need to send the request for the march.

Nevertheless, the government didn’t sanction the march for the next two years. Only in 2019 did they finally allow the rally to be held on March 8. 

In 2020, the government refused the march yet again, which didn’t stop the women in Almaty from attending the unsanctioned march. Although the number of participants was over one hundred, two activists, Fariza Ospan and Arina Osinovskaya, were fined for attending the march. 

Finally, in 2021, the government, for the first (and as of now the only) time, allowed the feminist march in Almaty. It was the biggest march in the country's history, and at the time, it seemed that Kazakhstan was finally moving in the direction of gender equality by respecting its citizens' rights for peaceful protests, rallies, and marches. However, in the years after, even though the rallies were approved by the officials, according to feminists, it was hard to get them approved.

“In 2021, we thought that this was our legal right [because] we showed that there are many of us and it is peaceful without incidents,” Fonova said in last year’s interview with the Caspian Post, adding that based on how hard it was to get rallies authorized in 2022 and 2023, she wasn’t sure if anything would be possible this year. 

As of now, neither the march nor the rally have been approved by the mayor’s office. 

The Mayor’s Response

The Mayor of Almaty, Yerbolat Dosayev, when asked why the authorities have not given permission for this year’s march, gave a vague explanation. He started by saying that “a lot has changed after 2021” and that feminists didn’t apply for a rally, only for a march, Masa Media reports.

 “In accordance with the law, there are appropriate answers in the prescribed manner. The right to hold a march remains with the city. All arguments given by the Department of Community Development remain the same and without changes. If other applications are submitted in a different format, we will consider them as expected,” said Dosayev. 

In response to these claims, the organizers of the women’s march explained that “Dosayev showed obvious ignorance about the work of his own department and himself,” Radio Azattyq reports. They further argued that there were four applications for marches in the form of demonstrations and rallies. Since March 2023, there have been around ten applications and notifications, all of which were rejected. 

February: Wave of the Feminists’ Single Pickets

Kazakhstani feminists’ refusal to give up on their right to have peaceful marches and demonstrations is inspiring more and more activists and local residents to come out to the streets with their single pickets in support of the women’s march this year.

Below are the events that have taken place in Almaty this February in solidarity with the women’s march:

  • • 1 February: a group of leading feminists held a press conference to express their position and share the government’s refusal to allow the march.
  • • 2 February: Lia Bergen, an activist, held a single picket at the Republic Square. 
  • • 3 February: Veronica Fonova held a single picket in the city center, during which she got attacked by two males.
  • • 6 February: Veronica Fonova held another single picket in front of the Kazakh National Opera and Ballet Theatre.
  • • 9 February: Temirlan Yensebek, an activist from the Oyan, Qazaqstan! civil rights movement held a single picket in support of the women’s march at the Republic Square.
  • • 10 February: Aqtorkyn Aqkenzhebalasy, an activist from the Feminita feminist initiative, held a single picket in front of the monument “Tauelsizdik Tany” (Kazakh: The dawn of independence). A few days later, activists from the December 1986 protest were “cleansing” this place of homosexuals. 
  • • 14 February: two activists, Zhanar Sekerbayeva and Kamila Yensegen, held single pickets in different locations in Almaty.
  • • 16 February: Diana Timofeeva, a local resident, held a single picket next to the Globus shopping center.
  • • 17 February: Zhanar Sekerbayeva’s second picket of the month and two pickets held by activist Gulbaqyt Otebaeva. 
  • • 19 February: Diana Jumagulova-Matweewa, a journalist, held a single picket in front of the Kazakh National Opera and Ballet Theatre.
  • • 24 February: Arina Osinovskaya, an activist, held a single picket on Panfilov Street and Alua Nurasheva, a journalist and student, held a single picket at Gandhi Park.
  • • 25 February: Shamshat, an eco- and fem-activist, held a single picket in the KazakhFilm area. 
  • • 27 February: Aisulu Toishibek, a journalist, held a single picket at the Zhibek-Zholy metro station. 

With a week left before International Women’s Day, we are yet to find out whether Almaty’s mayor will let the women express their right to celebrate Women’s Day the way they want.