“Feminita” urges to abolish the list of prohibited occupations for women

Kazakhstan Feminist Initiative “Feminita” (“Feminita”) advocates for the repeal of the list of prohibited occupations for women in Kazakhstan. As of today, many in Kazakhstan are not aware of the fact that such discriminatory provisions exist in national legislation which bar women from exercising their right to work and freely choose an occupation. Yet, it remains to be a reality for real women living and working in Kazakhstan. In 2019, following its advocacy at the CEDAW review, our team was approached by Almagul who shared her story of a heavy truck driver. This year her story has been widely covered in media

On 8 March 2020 “Feminita” launched a media campaign to complement its advocacy effort. As a part of this media and advocacy campaigns we are happy to present a fact sheet with background and up-to-date information on this existing ban. The fact sheet has been prepared in collaboration with Tatiana Chernobil, an independent consultant on international human rights law.

We invite you to support and join the campaign on the repeal of the list of prohibited occupations for women in Kazakhstan.

Fact Sheet

On the list of jobs prohibited for the use of women’s labour in the Republic of Kazakhstan from the point of view of human rights

  1. In Kazakhstan, there still exists a list of jobs, which women are banned to be employed in.
  2. This list is discriminatory in its nature as it violates the right of women to equal employment, equal choice of occupation, and as such it should be abolished.
  3. The current List of Jobs Prohibited for the Use of Women’s Labour was put in force by the Decree Nº944 of the Minister of Healthcare and Social Development of the Republic of Kazakhstan on 8 December 2015 with updates of 13 August 2018[1]. At the end of August 2020, by decrees of the Minister of Labour and Social Development and the Minister of Labour and Social Protection the title of this List was changed to: “List of Jobs Restricted for the Use of Women’s Labour, Weight Limits and Weight Carriage by Women”.
  4. Nowadays, implementation of this decree is oversought by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Republic of Kazakhstan. 
  5. As of today, the list of jobs banned for women encompasses 229 jobs, including such as “9. Gas welder and electric welder of manual welding, working in workshops and closed tanks (cisterns and boilers); working on high-rise structures of communication services (towers, masts), with climbing works at height above 10 meters”, “27. Ground man”, “29. Brick mason”, “37. Bulldozer operator”, “169. Overhead line repair electrician, engaged in climbing repair works of high voltage overhead lines”, “259. Sailors on all types of passenger and cargo vessels (except vessels with hydrofoil wing and skimming vessels, as well as vessel operating intraurban and suburban routes), dredging shovel, dredge-pump and mixed river-sea navigation vessels”, “269. Motorsleigh driver”. 
  6. The government of Kazakhstan claims that this list “protects maternity and promotes the health of women»[2].  
  7. This list was developed to advance Subpoint 4 of Point 2 of Article 26 of the Labour Code of Kazakhstan: “It shall be prohibited to employ women in hard jobs and jobs with harmful and/or hazardous conditions of work in accordance with the List of Jobs Prohibited for the Use of Women’s Labour”[3]
  8. As the government of Kazakhstan argues, this list is based on “the national scientific medical research data”[4], and is subject to updates given “the modern industrial technologies and digitalization”[5].  
  9. The government of Kazakhstan affirms that “in compliance with the Roadmap to Hard Labour Need Decrease until 2023 approved by the government in June 2019”[6] and “based on the results of analytical research and accounting for the positions of all interested bodies and organisations, the work to review the list will continue”[7]
  10. The existing ban on women’s employment in certain jobs results in a lower, in comparison to men’s, remuneration to women for their work. In Kazakhstan, women in general get payed 32.2% less than men[8], which the government explains partly by this ban on women’s employment in certain jobs, saying that “as a rule, men work in harder and dangerous conditions with high payment whereas women in the same industry tend to perform easier and lesser payed jobs”[9].  
  11. According to the Vice-Minister of Labour and Social Protection of Population of the Republic of Kazakhstan Ms. Aqmadie Sarbassova’s statement at the Universal Periodic Review of Kazakhstan by the UN Human Rights Council in November 2019, “as a resolution of the gender pay gap issue, the opportunities for access to jobs by women have been increased within the state employment programme”[10]
  12. Restrictions on women’s access to certain jobs in Kazakhstan has roots in the Soviet times. For the first time, the list of “particularly hard and dangerous jobs and professions, access to which by women shall be restricted” was adopted in the USSR in 1930 by the decree of the People’s Labour Commissar. That list was later updated in 1932, 1938, 1949, 1950, 1956, and 1960. 
  13. The most extensive list of 431 jobs was enforced by the decree of the USSR State Labour Committee and the Presidium of the All-Union Central Council of Professional Unions in 1978 and was called The List of Industries, Professions, and Jobs With Hard and Hazardous Conditions of Labour, in Which Women’s Labour Shall Be Prohibited. In Kazakhstan, it was used in furtherance of Article 154[11] of Chapter XII called Women’s Labour in the Code of Labour Legislation of 1972 of the Kazakh SSR. The same Code restricted women’s labour at night[12]
  14. That Code of Labour Legislation of the Kazakh SSR (1) continued to be used in already-independent Kazakhstan until 1999, when it was substituted by (2) the Labour Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan (in use until 2008), and then by (3) the Labour Code, which in 2016 was replaced by (4) the current Labour Code.
  15. The Soviet List of Industries, Professions, and Jobs with Hard and Hazardous Conditions of Labour, in Which the Women’s Labour Shall Be Prohibited of 1978 was insignificantly updated and changed in 1987 and 1990.
  16. Since 1997, in the Republic of Kazakhstan there exists its own List of Industries, Professions, and Jobs with Hard and Hazardous Conditions of Work Banned for the Employment of Women’s Labour. This list gets endorsed by either the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of Population or the Government, and so far, it has been amended in 1999, 2005, 2007, 2011, 2015, and 2018.
  17. Published on 14 January 2020 the 6th Report called Women, Business, and the Law of the World Bank of Reconstruction and Development of the World Bank Group for 2019[13] and covering the legal situation of women in 8 spheres of life: Mobility, Workplace, Pay, Marriage, Parenthood, Entrepreneurship, Assets, and Pension in 190 world economies placed Kazakhstan among the countries with still existing restrictions on women’s access to labour force. Overall Kazakhstan has 72.5 points out of 100.
  18. Today, 90 countries of the world have at least one restriction on employment of women in this or that industry or field. Of them, in 30% of the countries women are restricted from taking jobs considered to be dangerous, hard or morally unsuitable for them; in 40% of these 90 countries women are restricted from taking jobs in just certain areas; and in 15% of the countries women may not work during the night. 
  19. In 2019, such countries, for example, as Moldova and Uzbekistan abolished their lists of banned jobs. In Uzbekistan, for instance, such list included 450 jobs banned for women. In Moldova, the list was reduced to ban only the employment of pregnant, breast-feeding women, and new mothers. Earlier similar lists were abolished in Armenia, Georgia and Ukraine. In the Russian Federation, the Ministry of Labour is planning to reduce their list, which currently incorporates 456 jobs, to 100 items by 2021. 
  20. In the Europe and Central Asia region[14], besides Kazakhstan, such lists of banned jobs for women also exist in the following countries: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Montenegro, Kyrgyzstan, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, and Turkey (a ban on one type of jobs).
  21. The existence of such list contradicts: provisions of Points d and f or Article 2; Subpoints b, c, and f of Point 1 of Article 11 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women[15]; Article 6, Points b of Article 7, and Point b of Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights[16]
  22. In October 2019, upon having considered the 5th periodic report by Kazakhstan on implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, recommended to Kazakhstan to “repeal the list of prohibited occupations for women and facilitate access for women to such occupations, and ensure that any restrictions are applied individually and not across the board to all women”[17].
    1. This recommendation is among the four recommendations Kazakhstan is supposed to provide information on to the UN CEDAW within the next two years[18]
  23. In March 2019, during the review of the 2nd periodic report by Kazakhstan on implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the UN CESCR recommended to Kazakhstan “to examine whether other forms of legal protection of women regarding occupational health and safety might not be more effective than preventing women from undertaking certain jobs”[19], in which regard the Committee also recommended to Kazakhstan “to further reduce the persistent gender wage gap, including by … improving the vocational and professional skills of women and their access to equal employment opportunities, including in non-traditional fields”[20].
  24. In November 2019, during the Universal Periodic Review of Kazakhstan at the UN Human Rights Council, with regard the list of banned jobs Kazakhstan was offered 3 recommendations: to “revoke the list of professions prohibited for women and guarantee equal access to all professions to all women and persons of all genders” (Honduras)[21]; to “eliminate any form of restriction to women’s choice of profession” (Iceland)[22]; and to “revoke prohibitions to fields of employment for women” (Canada)[23].
  25. The ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations upon the review of implementation by Kazakhstan of the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (#111) in 2017, commenting[24] on compliance by Kazakhstan with its obligations under Articles 1 and 2 of this Convention, reminded that all women shall have the right to pursue freely any job or profession and that “exclusions or preferences in respect of a particular job in the context of Article 1(2) of the Convention, should be determined objectively without reliance on stereotypes and negative prejudices about men’s and women’s roles”.
    1. The Committee urged Kazakhstan “to take the necessary steps to guarantee equal opportunities and equal protection of health and safety for both men and women, and to review the current list of occupations prohibited to women with a view to ensuring that protective measures on women’s employment are limited to maternity protection in the strict sense, and are not based on stereotypes regarding women’s professional abilities and role in society and the family”. The Committee also recommended that the government of Kazakhstan should “consult workers’ and employers’ organizations in this regard”.
  26. In the beginning of August 2020, Elvira Azimova, Ombudswoman of Kazakhstan, sent an official letter[25] to President of Kazakhstan Mr. Tokayev advocating for the omission of the List from the Labour Code. At the same time, guided by the interests of protection of motherhood, fatherhood and childhood, Ms. Azimova suggested expanding the list of medical contradictions for all in the labour market.
  27. The UN CEDAW in its views on Submission 60/213 “Svetlana Medvedeva v. Russian Federation”[26] of 25 February 2016, in which the Committee was considering the issue of the denial of access to the author to a restricted job (in her case of a helmsperson), upon having affirmed the violation by the Russian Federation of the provisions of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, argued that[27]:
    1. “the refusal to employ the author on the basis of the above-mentioned legislative provisions constituted a violation of her rights to have her health and safety in working conditions ensured on equal basis with men”;
    2. “the introduction of such legislation reflects persistent stereotypes concerning the roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family and in society that have the effect of perpetuating traditional roles for women as mothers and wives and undermining women’s social status and their educational and career prospects”;
    3. “occupational health and safety legislation and laws should place obligations on employers to make workplaces safe for all employees of both sexes and should closely regulate inherently harmful or dangerous working environments with a view to protecting the health of all employees of both sexes to the greatest extent possible”;
    4. “the State party is required to provide equal protective measures to safeguard the reproductive functions of both men and women and to create safe working conditions in all industries, rather than preventing women from being employed in certain areas and leaving the creation of safe working conditions to the discretion of employers. When a State party wishes to deviate from the above approach, it must have strong medical and social evidence of the need for protection of maternity/pregnancy or other gender-specific factors”;
    5. “the adoption of a list of 456 occupations and 38 branches of industry contradicts the State party’s obligations under the Convention because it treats men and women differently, it in no way promotes the employment of women and it is based on discriminatory stereotypes”. 
  28. In its recommendations to the Russian Federation in the views on this case, the Committee suggested that the Russian Federation[28]:
    1. “Review and amend article 253 of the Labour Code and periodically revise and amend the list of restricted occupations and sectors established under Regulation No. 162 in order to ensure that restrictions applying to women are strictly limited to those aimed at protecting maternity in the strict sense and those providing special conditions for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers and do not hinder the access of women to employment and their remuneration on the basis of gender stereotypes”; and 
    2. “After the reduction of the list of restricted or prohibited occupations, promote and facilitate the entry of women into previously restricted or prohibited jobs by improving working conditions and adopting appropriate temporary special measures to encourage such recruitment”.
  29. We strongly believe that the existence in modern-days Kazakhstan of the list of jobs, employment in which is prohibited for women, is a manifestation of paternalistic treatment by the state of women exclusively as mothers, and that according to the guarantees of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, both ratified by Kazakhstan, such list must be abolished, and that women should decide independently which labour may be right for them. 


[1] https://online.zakon.kz/Document/?doc_id=35844164 (rus.)

[2] Subpoint f of Point 1 of Article 11 «Employment» of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the 5th periodic report of Kazakhstan, approved by the Decree of the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan of 28 February 2018 Nº89: https:// egov.kz/cms/ru/law/list/P1800000089 (rus.)

[3] Labour Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan with amendments and updates as of 1 January 2020: https://online.zakon.kz/document/?doc_id=38910832 (rus.)

[4] Replies to the List of Issues by Kazakhstan within the 5th periodic report to the UN CEDAW. Please, see the reply to Question 18: https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW%2fC%2fKAZ%2fQ%2f5%2fAdd.1&Lang=en

[5] ibid.

[6] From 02:11 hours of live-web at http://webtv.un.org/search/kazakhstan-review-34th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/6101494599001/?term=upr%2520kazakhstan&sort=date&page=5

[7] See. 4 above.

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid.

[10] See. 6 above.

[11] Article 154 Jobs banned from occupation by women. It shall be prohibited to use women’s labour in hard jobs and the jobs with hazardous conditions of work, as well as in underground jobs with the exception of certain jobs (non-physical labour or sanitary or household jobs). The list of hard jobs and the jobs with hazardous conditions of work prohibited for the employment of women shall be compiled in the order established by legislation. It shall be prohibited to allow women to carry or move hard objects in excess of the established weight norms for women.

[12] Article 155 Restrictions on the employment of women at night hours. It shall be prohibited to employ women at night, with the exception of those fields of employment where it shall be deemed urgently necessary and be only allowed as a temporary measure.

[13] https://wbl.worldbank.org/

[14] Except for the OECD states.

[15] Ratified by the Republic of Kazakhstan on 29 June 1998, Nº248 https:// tengrinews.kz/zakon/parlament_respubliki_kazahstan/ mejdunapodnyie_otnosheniya_respubliki_kazahstan/id-Z980000248_/ (rus.)

[16] Ratified by the Republic of Kazakhstan on 21 November 2005, Nº87-III, entered into force on 24 April 2006 https://online.zakon.kz/document/?doc_id=30034296 (rus.)

[17] Recommendation 38.d of Concluding Observations to the 5th periodic report of Kazakhstan: https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW%2fC%2fKAZ%2fCO%2f5&Lang=en

[18] ibid. Recommendation 53.

[19] Recommendation 24 of Concluding Observations to the 2nd periodic report of Kazakhstan: http://docstore.ohchr.org/SelfServices/FilesHandler.ashx?enc=4slQ6QSmlBEDzFEovLCuWzkLn5QA2sHMzcgILbdGh1o%2bE7e9LVeibvxLDw2%2fH%2fjPni2eASbE%2fkqCDqg6MHosDf09Fh%2fsxpFX2J88euyqRo2oPCtKtlf1q%2fNtZJtYwSgV.

[20] ibid. Recommendation 26.

[21] Recommendation 139.139 of Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Kazakhstan: https://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/43/10

[22]  ibid. Recommendation 139.186.

[23]  ibid. Recommendation 139.209.

[24] https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:13100:0::NO::P13100_COMMENT_ID:3298729

[25] https://www.gov.kz/memleket/entities/ombudsman/press/news/details/ombudsmen-prizvala%20prezidenta-rk-uravnyat-trudovye-prava-muzhchin-i-zhenshchin?lang=ru

[26] Communication No. 60/2013 Views adopted by the Committee at its sixty-third session (15 February-4 March 2016): https://undocs.org/pdf?symbol=en/CEDAW/C/63/D/60/2013.

[27] ibid.

[28] ibid.

Reprinting, quoting and mentioning the above Fact Sheet is subject to mandatory indication of its original source and reference to Kazakhstan Feminist Initiative “Feminita”.

Information was prepared by Aigerim Kamidola

Illustration by Darya Moroz

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