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Kazakhstan passes law that criminalizes domestic violence, a victory for human dignity

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On April 15, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed a law on Ensuring Women’s Rights and Children’s Safety amending penalties for violence against women and children. It is a victory for human dignity in the region and a monumental advance in human rights - writes Aigul Kuspan, Chairwoman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security in the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan has positioned itself as a leader in the region not only in promoting a safer, more equitable society for all citizens but in fighting for citizens’ rights against all forms of discrimination. This is not mere rhetoric, but a substantial legal and punitive development, a genuine change from within.

At its most basic level, lawmakers of Kazakhstan have tirelessly sought ways to make victims of gender-based and domestic violence feel safe, believed, and protected. As a state official, I commend and stand in awe of this effort. I stand in awe of Kazakhstan’s desire to listen to and protect its survivors.

The law addresses a spectrum of new issues, including domestic violence, sexual violence, bullying, and harassment, applying criminal liability to any intentional infliction of harm to another person.

The significance of this development for Kazakhstan cannot be overstated as a milestone for the country and government of Kazakhstan. Henceforward, the government will push a holistic campaign aimed at challenging societal norms that perpetuate domestic violence against women and children, and at promoting gender equality, respectful relationships, and zero tolerance for violence within the family.

Not only does the law safeguard the rights and safety of women and children. But the way we treat offenders will be radically updated. Criminalizing domestic violence and signifying a firm
commitment to combatting cruelty in all its forms takes the crucial step of ensuring accountability for offenders. And it’s approach to doing so is multifaceted.

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It relies on a cultural promotion of respect for women’s rights and human dignity, and in one fell swoop, gives a voice to victims of violence who have a newfound right to seek legal protection and support for their woes.

This law is a reflection of the country and government of Kazakhstan, undergirding that Kazakhstan has, at the present day, the lowest levels of bias in the region, as found by the UNDP Gender Social Norms Index. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2023 showcased significant progress in women’s empowerment in Kazakhstan, as the country jumped 18 positions to 62ⁿᵈ place globally in the last year—particularly through eliminating gender gaps in education levels and increasing political and economic participation. It also signals President Tokayev’s fervent support of these developments in the initiation of the Central Asian Regional Knowledge Platform for sharing gender empowerment, violence prevention, and response expertise.

International responses have been overwhelmingly positive. They have praised Kazakhstan’s
democratic values. And they have praised the leadership’s cultural sensitivity. From the United
States, “We welcome Kazakhstan’s adoption of new laws strengthening protections against domestic violence. The prevalence of domestic violence leaves no country, society, or socioeconomic group unscathed.

We stand with Kazakh society in saying: that domestic violence is a criminal act."
Peter Stano, Lead Spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy, has
likewise praised the legislature. UNDP Kazakhstan commends legislative
initiatives protecting women’s and children’s rights, “a crucial step toward
equality, justice, and safety for all citizens.” These changes, it says, enhance
protection for vulnerable groups and lay a critical foundation for a stable,
prosperous society.

The Council of Europe speaks in unison, saying: “We encourage Kazakhstan to
adhere to the principles of inclusivity and equality for all, which correlate with
the values of the Council of Europe.”

This reform is operative on at least three levels: legal, political, and cultural.
While punitive measures are an essential component of the law, they are
complemented by and initiate a whole range of cultural reforms, including
inclusivity and gender equality, as well as lively democratic politics.

In practical terms, greater cultural respect and sensitivity toward women and children will,
I wager, serves as a preventative measure down the line. The law reflects our
commitment to upholding democratic values, promoting gender equality, and
strengthening family structures. Those governmental agencies will be forced to
address the root causes of violence, and together, provide comprehensive support to
affected individuals will strengthen the very body of our nation from the inside.

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