Forum Empowers ‘Soft Power’ of Female Entrepreneurs

ASTANA – The International Women’s Forum organised by the Kazakh Association of Business Women (ABW) was held May 21 as part of the Astana Economic Forum. The session, titled “Nurly Zhol – new opportunities,” included a business training workshop and three-hour discussion divided into two parts with panellists and delegates.

04_IMG_4237Speaking at the official opening of the forum, ABW President Raushan Sarsembayeva explained that the title was dedicated to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’sdevelopment programme. She acted as the moderator of the first part of the discussion session.

“The Nurly Zhol programme is a roadmap to improving the quality of life,” she said. “The President’s address highlights the role of small and medium-sized enterprises and the support they need. It’s no secret that SMEs in Kazakhstan have a woman’s face. Every other entrepreneur is a woman. This can be called a silent revolution. Women who have the opportunity to be employed or work for themselves more often choose the latter.”

Active efforts in gender equality allow for social stability, according to Sarsembayeva.

“Meetings, sharing of experience, motivating each other and raising standards increase women’s soft power,” said the head of AWB. “Harvard Professor Joseph Nye calls soft power the spiritual and cultural currencies of social actors. The President gives importance to maternity and women’s employment. Countries with gender equality are more competitive.”

Sarsembayeva ended her speech with a statement that received resonance and ovations from the gathered audience.

“If soft power takes charge of the silent revolution, we will reach the goal of becoming among the 30 top competitive countries at an even faster rate,” she said.

The first panellist to speak was Secretary of State Gulshara Abdykalikova, who talked about women’s special mission in the development of society.

“The President set a task to attract women to government and business. Every year the issues they deal with are broadening,” she said.

Abdykalikova cited the figures of the Global Competitiveness Index of 2014, where Kazakhstan is in 25th place in the share of working women.

Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), also spoke as a member of the panel. She served three consecutive terms as Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1999 to 2008.

“The issue of women’s leadership is very close to my heart, having been prime minister and 27 years in the parliament. Delighted to see a woman state secretary,” she said.

Speaking of the numbers of women in decision-making bodies, Clark cited the example of Rwanda, where 64 percent of the parliamentarians are women. They raise issues that are important to mothers and working women.

“With the Nurly Zhol programme, I fully expect that women entrepreneurs and women seeking employment in Kazakhstan are going to see more opportunities,” she added.

Tavankul Karman, Yemeni laureate of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, made a passionate speech on the role of women in a male-dominated society. Speaking of the situation before the revolution in Yemen that year, Karman said that women were doubly oppressed: first by the ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh, who she felt feared the power of women, and second by the men in their community.

“When women were begging for small things, people treated them like beggars. When the revolution was in full swing and women started asserting their demands, that’s when they were beginning to be treated like people,” she said.

The second part of the discussion session was moderated by Zhanat Berdalina, a member of the board of directors at Samruk Kazyna Sovereign Wealth Fund and Baiterek Holding.

The session was specifically dedicated to the economic benefits of gender equality in Central Asia and Afghanistan. Speakers included Lyazad Ibragimova from the Damu Entrepreneurship Development Fund, Executive Director of KazAgro Holding Liliya Musina, human rights ombudsman in Russia’s Sverdlovskaya Oblast Tatyana Merzlyakova, Israeli business consultant Natasha Mazor, and other officials.