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.
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