Prominent Diplomat Madina Jarbussynova Reflects on Diplomatic Career, Kazakhstan’s Multi-Vector Policy

ASTANA—Kazakhstan marks the Day of Diplomatic Service on July 2, giving credit to thousands of unsung heroes who stand behind the scenes working towards the nation’s active presence and influential role on the global stage. One such hero is Madina Jarbussynova, a prominent Kazakh diplomat. In an interview with The Astana Times, she spoke about her journey in diplomacy, challenges, and Kazakhstan’s multi-vector foreign policy. 

Madina Jarbussynova. Photo credit: UN Women

In different years, Jarbussynova served as Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kazakhstan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, a Special Representative and Co-ordinator to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. 

Day of Diplomatic Service

The professional holiday is a tribute to the day in 1992 when a decree approving the regulations on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Embassy, and the Basic Duties and Rights of the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary was approved. It has been celebrated annually since 2009 to recognize the vital role that diplomats, including those at the dawn of Kazakhstan’s independence, play in fostering international relations, promoting national interests, and maintaining global peace and stability.

Kazakhstan’s multi-vector foreign policy 

Since its independence, Kazakhstan built on its multi-vector foreign policy, a pragmatic approach that allowed the nation to navigate the challenging circumstances of international relations in a way that fosters its national interests and goals. 

According to Jarbussynova, there are also challenges on this path, including periods of heightened geopolitical tension, balancing economic ties, diversifying trade partnerships and addressing regional security issues.

Yet, this path has been rewarding as it put Kazakhstan on a global map as a strong advocate for nuclear non-proliferation and peaceful diplomacy.
“Hosting international negotiations and peace talks, such as the Astana Process for Syrian peace, has positioned Kazakhstan as a key mediator in global conflicts,” said Jarbussynova.

One recent example is when Kazakhstan hosted the peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Almaty. 

The journey

Jarbussynova started her career at a time when women in diplomacy were a rarity, or “practically impossible,” as she recalls. 

“At best, women could be translators and, of course, teachers of foreign languages. But still, I was so much interested in languages, culture, and history of foreign countries that graduating from school with a gold medal, I surprised many with my choice, entering the Institute of Foreign Languages,” said Jarbussynova.

She did not dream of entering diplomatic service. “There was a very strong opinion in society that diplomacy was a field of activity for men,” she recalls. 

However, with Kazakhstan’s independence, new opportunities emerged, particularly for professionals who knew foreign languages. She began her work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1995. 

“Of course, I had to work a lot, practically learning along the way and mastering the knowledge and skills necessary for a career in diplomacy. I learned a lot from my senior colleagues and career diplomats who had experience working in the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its institutions,” she said. 

She mentioned that she had never looked for easy ways and was open about learning from others despite her age and position. 

“At the same time, I did not neglect my family responsibilities. I want to emphasize that family and children are not an obstacle for a successful woman who wants to become a professional in general, including diplomacy,” she added.

Women in diplomacy

Diplomacy is where one can make a tangible impact. Reflecting on women’s role in diplomacy, Jarbussynova is optimistic. 

“The landscape for women in diplomacy has evolved significantly over the past few decades globally. Today, more women hold prominent positions in international organizations and diplomatic missions than ever before. This shift is driven by greater advocacy for gender equality, improved access to education, and the recognition of the unique perspectives women bring to the table,” she noted. 

However, there is always room for improvement, and bold moves are needed to ensure that women are equally represented. 

“I believe that the capabilities of our women in diplomacy are misjudged. There are very few of them at the decision-making level in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and only two are ambassadors abroad. Therefore,  political will is needed and sustained efforts are required to ensure equal representation and opportunities for women in diplomacy,” said Jarbussynova. 

When asked about the next generation of female diplomats, she noted how inspiring it can be to see successful women diplomats and also understand the importance of diplomacy in addressing conflicts and promoting international cooperation. 

“Nowadays, many young girls are driven by the desire to contribute to global peace, security, and development. They aspire to make a difference,” she added. 

Election in the UN Committee

In June, Jarbussynova was elected into the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). She stressed that the competition for seats on the committee was “very stressful and tough.”

“I couldn’t believe my ears. It’s like I’ve broken through a wall. The competition was very stressful and tough. The state parties to the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women have nominated strong candidates. Many were running for re-election. In addition, there is no distribution of seats in CEDAW by geographical regional groups, and as a result, experts from the Western group countries receive greater support in the elections,” she said. 

Her term on the committee will commence in January 2025 and last through December 2028. Jarbussynova noted it is a “special responsibility” as she is the first representative not only of Kazakhstan but also of a broader Central Asian region. 

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