ASTANA (7 March 2018) - On the International Women's Day with the people of Kazakhstan we celebrate the unprecedented global strength and passion of the activists who work relentlessly to ensure respect for women’s rights, equality, safety and justice, lying at the very heart of human rights and the values of the UN.

“Equal rights for men and women” is a founding principle of the UN Charter. Yet, achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is still an unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world.

This year, in marking International Women’s Day, we in the UN raise the issues of transforming rural women’s lives, who account for almost a quarter of global and Kazakhstan’s population, and are very often being left behind in development.

Nowadays, due to the deep-seated gender inequalities and discrimination in the world, rural women fare worse than rural men or urban women.  Globally, women constitute just 13 per cent of agricultural land holders, and in some regions their access to land is undermined by discriminatory laws or threatened by large-scale land dispossession by international agribusiness, finance capital and foreign States. Climate change and environmental degradation are advancing at an enormous pace, having a disproportionate impact on rural women and girls.

The global pay gap between men and women stand at 23 per cent, in rural areas, it can be as high as 40 per cent. It will take 100 years to close this gap at the current rate of change. Whilst achieving gender equality is, first and foremost, a priority for promoting human rights, it can also bring enormous economic benefits for all societies across the world.

Recent research shows that if every nation invested in narrowing the gender gap, the world could add $12 trillion to annual gross domestic product in 2025. As any other country, Kazakhstan can also draw substantial benefits from such an investment. In particular, improved access to services in six areas could unlock economic opportunities for women, including rural areas: education, family planning, maternal health, financial inclusion, digital inclusion, and assistance with unpaid care work.

Already, 44.2 per cent of small and medium-sized businesses in Kazakhstan are headed by women. However, according to World Bank figures, only 4.2 per cent of large corporations are led by women. Kazakhstan has almost closed the gender gap in the area of education, but the gender pay gap stands at 33 per cent.

Today’s activism needs to change the way we listen to women and the way we look at them, recognizing that stereotypes and stigma influence how we value people. Furthermore, if women are to be empowered, they must be protected from all forms of violence, including sexual harassment in both private and public spheres. Keeping the objectives of the International Women’s Day in mind every day of the year it is critical to consider and address the unique difficulties that displaced women face.

Violence against women affects 17% of women in Kazakhstan and too often remains unreported. We welcome the proposed changes to legislation for harsher punishment for crimes committed against women and children. We support national authorities in their efforts to provide a coordinated system of multi-sectoral response to Gender based violence as well as to tackle issues of sexual harassment in the workplace and public spaces in the recently adopted Concept on Family and Gender Policy of Kazakhstan.

Transforming the promises of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals into reality, to leave no one behind, needs urgent actions in rural areas to ensure an adequate standard of living, a life free of violence and harmful practices for rural women, as well as their access productive employment, education and health, including their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

On this International Women’s Day, we call upon the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, civil society, academia, the private sector, and the people of Kazakhstan to focus also on the empowerment of rural women, recognize the challenges that exist, and pay greater attention to issues of gender equality across the country. Today’s activists must empower and include rural women and girls, to protect their rights and make sure they can realize their full potential.

We in the United Nations believe that Kazakhstan, which has already made significant progress in the field of gender equality, is fully able to achieve this global goal, namely gender equality – Planet 50-50 by 2030. From our side we are ready to render all possible assistance.