Kazakhstan Gender Research Guide

This guide provides background on Kazakhstan and discusses researching gender issues in the Kazakh context.


Welcome to Kazakhstan’s Gender Data Research Guide. This guide is designed to assist researchers, students, scholars, and activists in exploring the intricate landscape of gender and sexuality within the context of Kazakhstan. We recognize the importance of prioritizing locally produced knowledge and grassroots activism in understanding the complexities of this subject.

Kazakhstan, as a diverse and rapidly evolving nation in Central Asia, presents a unique intersection of cultures, histories, and identities. This guide aims to provide a curated selection of resources, databases, and research strategies that will empower you to delve into the multifaceted dimensions of gender roles, sexual identities, and social dynamics in this region. Our commitment to highlighting locally produced knowledge and grassroots activism ensures that you have access to perspectives that are rooted in the lived experiences of individuals within Kazakhstan. These perspectives, often originating from community-based organizations, independent scholars, and advocacy groups, offer insights that traditional academic literature may not fully capture.

We have carefully assembled resources that span a wide spectrum of topics, from historical perspectives and cultural norms to contemporary issues and activism. By including voices from within the country, we hope to amplify the vital contributions of local activists and researchers who are driving conversations around gender equality and LGBTQIA+ rights. Navigating the complexities of gender and sexuality in any society requires an informed and empathetic approach. As you embark on your research journey, we encourage you to explore this guide’s recommendations, engage with diverse viewpoints, and critically analyze the intricate interplay between tradition, progress, and individual expression in Kazakhstan.

Whether you are an academic researcher, a student, an activist, or simply curious about the evolving landscape of gender and sexuality in Kazakhstan, we hope that this guide, with its emphasis on locally produced knowledge and grassroots organizing, serves as a valuable compass, guiding you toward the resources and insights that will enrich your exploration of this important topic.

Historical background

Kazakhstan, a vast and diverse land located at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, boasts a complex historical tapestry shaped by various civilizations, empires, and nomadic cultures. The region’s history stretches back millennia, with evidence of human presence dating as far as the Paleolithic era. Over the centuries, Kazakhstan’s strategic location contributed to its role as a cross-cultural hub and a site of interactions between East and West.

During antiquity, various nomadic societies, such as the Saka, Scythians, and Xiongnu, inhabited the steppes of what is now Kazakhstan. These nomadic cultures engaged in trade, herding, and seasonal migrations, leaving their mark on the region’s cultural and archaeological landscape. In the Sixth century, Turkic groups moving west from present-day Mongolia established dominance in the area, and various Turkic empires and peoples played a role over the following centuries. In the Middle Ages, the Silk Road traversed through Kazakhstan, connecting it to global trade routes and fostering cultural exchange.

Islam reached the current region of Kazakhstan in the Eighth century. At the northernmost edge of Muslim expansion, the region’s inhabitants absorbed Islam to varying degrees, with southern and sedentary populations adopting more elements of “mainstream” Islam, while more northern and nomadic groups retained more of their original beliefs such as Tengrism. These nomadic groups included those identified as the origin of the ethnic Kazakhs. For a Kazakh perspective on this evolution, see “Islam in Kazakhstan”.

In the 13th century, the Mongol Empire, led by Genghis Khan and his successors, exerted influence over the region, influencing its political dynamics and demographics, primarily through the longer-lived Khanate of the Golden Horde, a Muslim Turkic stateLater, the rise of the Kazakh Khanate in the 15th century led by Kerei Khan and Janibek Khan marked the emergence of a cohesive Kazakh identity. The Kazakh Khanate’s territory covered much of present-day Kazakhstan and parts of neighboring countries, and it played a crucial role in resisting external powers while also maintaining trade connections.

Throughout history, the position and rights of women within Kazakh society and culture have evolved in response to a range of factors, including nomadic traditions, religious beliefs, external influences, and social changes. Traditionally, Kazakh society was characterized by a semi-nomadic lifestyle that necessitated shared responsibilities between men and women in various aspects of daily life, such as herding, household tasks, and child-rearing. Women held respected roles within their families and communities as caretakers, advisors, and contributors to the economic survival of their households. The influence of Islam has led to conflict and compromise with traditional norms.

The 18th and 19th centuries saw the expansion of the Russian Empire into Central Asia, including Kazakhstan. Russian colonization led to significant demographic shifts, cultural assimilation, and land dispossession among the Kazakh population. Russian settlers were provided land, primarily in the north of the country, eventually forming up to 15% of the population. The region became a key source of raw materials and labor for the expanding empire. As in other colonial polities, ethnic Kazakhs were in a subject position, with advancement tied to Russian assimilation and a sharp dichotomy between “modern”, Russian-dominated spheres and “traditional” spheres where Kazakh language and culture existed.

Kazakhstan’s fate remained intertwined with larger geopolitical events, especially during the tumultuous early 20th century. It experienced revolutionary upheaval, including participation in the Russian Civil War and eventual incorporation into the Soviet Union in 1920. Soviet rule brought about significant changes to the region’s economy, society, and culture, with forced collectivization, industrialization, and state-imposed cultural policies, such as the conversion from the previous Arabic-derived script to one based on Cyrillic, shaping the lives of its inhabitants.

Under the guise of promoting modernization and proletarian equality, the Soviet regime imposed its centralizing policies on Kazakhstan. These policies included forced collectivization of agriculture under Stalin, as in Ukraine leading to widespread famines (the larger of which is known as Asharshylyk/Ашаршылық or the Goloshchyokin genocide) and the displacement of nomadic communities. It is estimated that approximately 40 percent of ethnic Kazakhs died during this period. Additionally, the Soviet government conducted large-scale deportations, notably targeting Kazakh intellectuals and ethnic groups, to suppress dissent and further integrate the region into the Soviet framework.

Soviet industrialization efforts exacerbated ecological degradation and disrupted local economies, reshaping the demographic fabric of the region. The establishment of nuclear test sites, including the infamous Semipalatinsk Polygon, left a lasting environmental and health crisis. Simultaneously, the Soviet narrative sought to homogenize cultures and languages, suppressing indigenous identities in favor of a Russian-centric ideology. As a result of the aforementioned famines, Krushchev’s “Virgin Lands” program which brought more settlement to Kazakhstan’s north, and industrialization, ethnic Russians made up 42.8% of the population in 1970, with ethnic Kazakhs at 32.4%.

During the Soviet Union’s reign over Kazakhstan, the landscape of women’s rights and societal roles underwent a multifaceted transformation. On one hand, Soviet policies sought to elevate women’s participation in education and the workforce, providing them with increased access to educational institutions and economic sectors. This engendered a notable surge in female employment and political involvement, often surpassing the levels seen in many Western countries at the time. However, this veneer of gender equality often concealed underlying issues, as women’s professional pursuits often carried the additional weight of maintaining domestic responsibilities, fostering a duality that impacted their overall well-being.

Soviet policies confronted deeply rooted cultural practices, often disregarding local customs and imposing a homogenized framework of gender relations. The Soviet regime, while ostensibly advocating for gender equality, often employed a top-down approach that failed to recognize the intricacies of local culture and history. The push for women’s participation in the workforce, education, and politics employed a “civilizing mission," framing Soviet ideals as superior and traditional Kazakh values as primitive.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 marked a pivotal moment in Kazakhstan’s history, as it gained independence and embarked on the path of nation-building, including greater emphasis on Kazakh language and identity. Outmigration of ethnic Russians and Kazakh growth have led to ethnic Kazakhs being 70.4% of the population as of 2021, with ethnic Russians at 15.5% and other ethnicities also in decline. The complex relationship of Kazakh and Russian culture must be seen against this long and tangled historic background. Today, Kazakhstan continues to navigate its unique identity as a multicultural, multiethnic, and geopolitically significant nation, balancing its historical legacies with contemporary challenges and opportunities on the global stage.

Women’s Rights in Kazakhstan

Women in independent Kazakhstan have made notable strides in various fields, including education, employment, and political representation. The country has made significant gains in gender parity in education and has seen an increase in the number of women in the workforce, including leadership positions. However, traditional gender roles and societal expectations continue to influence many aspects of women’s lives, particularly in rural areas.

Despite legal provisions for gender equality, issues such as domestic violence, human trafficking, and child marriage persist. Activists and NGOs have been working to raise awareness and address these challenges, pushing for stronger legal enforcement and support systems for women.

LGBTQIA+ Rights in Kazakhstan

The LGBTQIA+ community in Kazakhstan has faced significant societal challenges due to prevailing conservative attitudes and limited legal protections. Same-sex relationships are not recognized, and there is no legal recognition of same-sex marriage or civil partnerships.

Public LGBTQIA+ events and demonstrations have often faced opposition or been restricted by authorities. Discrimination, harassment, and violence against LGBTQIA+ individuals have been reported, and social stigma remains a barrier to open expression of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Efforts by LGBTQIA+ activists to promote awareness, education, and acceptance have met with resistance from some segments of society. However, despite these challenges, there have been pockets of progress as advocacy groups continue to work towards greater visibility, understanding, and protection for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Methodology note

The data gathering methodology employed a comprehensive and multifaceted approach, utilizing a diverse array of sources to compile gendered data pertaining to Kazakhstan. The process involved a systematic exploration of open-source information, encompassing data from state institutions, social media platforms, international and regional non-governmental organizations (INGOs), local NGOs, and a spectrum of media outlets, ranging from independent sources to those affiliated with the state. Each source underwent meticulous evaluation to ensure its relevance and reliability in terms of containing data related to gender and sexuality. This inclusive approach enabled a holistic view of Kazakhstan’s gender landscape, encompassing a broad range of perspectives and transcending official narratives. This methodological strategy facilitates a comprehensive understanding of gender dynamics within the country, leveraging the diversity of sources to enhance the collected data and contribute to a well-rounded analytical framework.

Statement on social media and digital ethnographies

In the realm of Central Asian studies, the emergence of social media has brought forth a dynamic and invaluable resource for researchers seeking to comprehend the region’s cultural, social, and political landscape. Social media platforms offer an unfiltered window into the lives, opinions, and interactions of individuals across Central Asia, transcending geographical boundaries and providing a real-time connection to the region’s contemporary realities. Through platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, and YouTube, researchers can gain access to a diverse array of voices, including local activists, artists, scholars, and ordinary citizens, who share their perspectives on everything from cultural traditions to current events. This digital ethnography enriches our understanding of regional identities, societal shifts, and emerging grassroots movements. By harnessing the power of social media as a research tool, researchers are empowered to capture the nuances and complexities of Central Asian societies in ways that traditional academic sources may struggle to capture, thus fostering a more comprehensive and authentic portrayal of the region.

Statement on LGBTQIA+ issues in Kazakhstan

Gathering data on LGBTQIA+ communities in Kazakhstan is a nuanced and intricate process, reflective of the challenges these communities face in a society where issues of sexuality and gender identity often remain sensitive or stigmatized. The compiled data, while providing valuable insights, may not capture the complete scope of LGBTQIA+ experiences due to the vulnerability and limited visibility that these communities navigate. Discrimination, social stigma, and legal barriers contribute to a hesitancy among LGBTQIA+ individuals to openly share their identities and experiences, leading to underrepresentation in many data sources. Consequently, the available data should be interpreted with the understanding that it might not fully reflect the diversity and complexities of LGBTQIA+ communities in Kazakhstan. Acknowledging these limitations is essential for a nuanced appreciation of the challenges and aspirations of these communities, fostering a more empathetic and informed discourse around LGBTQIA+ rights and well-being in the country.


  1. National Archive of the Republic of Kazakhstan: The National Archive is a central repository for historical documents in Kazakhstan. It likely contains a variety of materials related to women’s history, including official documents, photographs, and records of women’s organizations.
  2. Kazakh Research Institute of Culture: This institute may have documents, publications, and research related to cultural aspects of women’s history in Kazakhstan.
  3. Kazakh National University Libraries: University libraries, such as those at Al-Farabi Kazakh National University or other academic institutions, may hold collections related to women’s studies, gender studies, and social history.
  4. Central State Museum of Kazakhstan: This museum may house exhibits and archival materials related to the history of Kazakhstan, which could include information about women’s roles and contributions.

Academic journals

Here are some notable journals that have published research on gender and sexuality in Central Asia:

  1. Central Asian Survey: This journal covers a wide range of topics related to Central Asia, including gender and social issues. It often features articles that explore gender dynamics, women’s roles, and cultural aspects of the region.
  2. Central Asian Affairs: This journal covers political, economic, and social issues in Central Asia, including articles that touch on gender and social dynamics in the region.
  3. Inner Asia: While broader in scope, this journal occasionally publishes articles that delve into gender and sexuality issues in Inner Asia, which includes parts of Central Asia.
  4. Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography: Although not exclusive to Central Asia, this journal publishes research on gender, place, and culture from a feminist perspective, and some articles may address gender issues in the region.
  5. Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe: This journal covers a range of topics related to the region, including gender and sexuality. It might feature articles that discuss gender dynamics and societal changes in Central Asia.

Created 2023-10-15, updated 2023-11-02

Last modified 2023.11.02: guides revised (2f559a5)