Kazakhstani feminists about bras, legalizing prostitution and a female body

24 минут Кристина Никулина
Альтернативный текст


"Women get beaten, raped, killed, and nobody cares, but we do."

Karina, student-interpreter, Marxist feminist

I used to be insecure about myself, I felt that even in my own family my word weighs less, than my brother's. I superficially perceived feminism, but it still inspired me. My views finally formed, when I started reading Marxist literature.

We live in the society that was formed on the private property values. Only in the beginning of the twentieth-century women started to be actively involved in social movements, but until then they were, harshly speaking, the men's property. With the socialist's movement, a woman began to participate in the manufacturing, government decision-making, and politics.

The capitalist system exploits women much more than men, women get less for the same work after which she also has to go home and do housework.

A woman's body is a commodity used for advertising, and as a product of exchange. We can see it also when young girls get the sort of upbringing that pushes them to marry someone wealthy.

When the KazFem community was in its early development, we had a goal to show that feminism is still alive in Kazakhstan. For this purpose we organized our events and published our magazine. Women in Kazakhstan get beaten, raped, killed, and nobody cares, but we do.

I'm against the legalization of prostitution. I think we should fight for criminalizing the client. Legalization is the system of bills that not only legalizes prostitution but also pimping possession of brothels, and the whole industry itself, and in fact, unties the hands of those, who have their own benefit of it. Criminalization of client decriminalizes the actions of women involved in prostitution, thus punishing those who are actually responsible.

The KazFem is an exceptionally women's movement. We don't allow men to participate in our discussions and events. If men are feminists, it is good for them. They read books about feminism and it's fine. But when it comes to actions, men tend to interfere and think that their opinion is superior to women's. They can't comprehend a lot due to their gender. We differ from other feminist organizations because we have a different standpoint on the legalization of prostitution and the financial issues.

"During my teenage years, the society's pressure about what I should look like forced me to wear uncomfortable shoes, eat in small portions and consider the possibility of marriage."

Veronica, illustrator, radical feminist

I grew up around women. My grandmothers have given me the absolute maximum of freedom, and my mother, whom I have seldomly seen until primary school, has worked hard and always kept saying to me, that there is nothing worse than being dependent on someone.

During my teenage years, the society's pressure about what I should look like forced me to wear uncomfortable shoes, eat in small portions and consider the possibility of marriage. It felt as though I wasn't living my life, rather following someone's script and it caused long lasting apathy.

Such social standards made me want to protest. While exploring feminist theory more I understood that there is one thing that upsets me.

It is impossible to be free in the society of people who are not free themselves. In the society with prejudices and established social roles, based on gender.

A book by Naomi Wolf  "The Beauty Myth" saved me. The author is talking about a socially-constructed concept of femininity, its connection to the hierarchy of power, and the distribution of roles in the society. Being more modest, looking feminine, avoiding controversial topics, ignoring my real needs and desires, and seeing happiness and self-realization in marriage isn't something I want from life.

Naomi Wolf has returned my will to create and grow as a person. Now I can work hard and be an activist, participating in demonstrations. I can also spend a day at home eating junk food in my pyjamas.

One of the ideas of feminism is to return control over your life and body. To escape the pressure of the institutions of traditional values and spirituality.

I didn't become a radical feminist at onсe. At first, I participated in online activism in a mixed (male-female) team. But for whatever reason out of all women, only a few spoke up and even their voices were lost among dominant men's opinion. But I rather prefered to be in a team of people, where the relationships were built on mutual respect. In my personal opinion such a team could only be females-only.

KazFem was born as a platform for exploring and developing the feminist theory in Kazakhstan. It is only open for females. The most successful demonstration iniciated by KazFem was "Behind the walls" which took place on the Arbat promenade. We built a brick wall to symbolize society's reaction to domestic violence. We showed that society either ignores or justifies domestic violence and sometimes even blames the victim. This is a serious obstacle to the perception of domestic violence as a crime, not taking into account the fact that annually 500 women in Kazakhstan die as a result of domestic violence.

Radical feminism is surrounded by speculations not only outside of the feminist community but even inside of it The movement was born in the 70s in the United States under a «personal is political» slogan. Radical feminists see patriarchy as a main problem since it forms the basis of unequal social, racial and economic hierarchies in communities. Political inequalities towards women are called women's personal problems. However these problems can only be solved on political level - there is no liberal way to do it.

Olesya, graphic designer, anarcho-feminist

I became a feminist through anarchism, this is why I'm an anarcho-feminist. In post-Soviet Union countries, anarchism is viewed as a bunch of angry teenagers who only drink and protest. In fact, anarchism is a serious political and philosophical study, that originated at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Only in the last decade it began to be associated with punk-rock.


Not a single other subculture is that closely linked with politics, like punk-rock.

Anarchism, as Marxism, aims for non-governmental, classless society and equality. Some theorists think that if there are no classes, government, and properties, the gender equality will triumph. Feminists think that women can have a better life even in the capitalistic society. If we just sit and wait for equality to triumph on its own terms, it might never happen. These ideas complete anarcho-feminism.

There aren't a lot of anarcho-feminists in Kazakhstan, but the movement is widespread in Russia and Ukraine.

I'm not a liberal feminist because it only considers the issues of middle and higher class women, not taking into account women from third world countries and women of working class. The liberal feminism has achieved a lot at the legislative level, but the system remains patriarchal in a long term.


To understand anarcho-feminism one needs to start from the basics of anarchism and Marxism. You definitely need to read Angels, Kropotkin, Bakunin, Emma Goldman and Spanish anarchists of the civil war period. I would suggest to read Maria Rahmaninova, her articles, and the book "Woman as a body".

When we are considering gender issues, we need to understand that their basis is the economy. And social relationships are of additional matter.

In Kazakhstan, the economical state of women in suburbs is saddening. Economic dependency on men can be the reason for assaults, psychological dependency, and injustice. The legislation of women's rights is poorly developed. There is a law on domestic violence, but it does not work. There are no centers with shelters, and women have nowhere to come in times of crisis. There are a few women working in state institutions and there isn't enough of sexual education etc.



A lot of people try and put dirt on the concept of feminism, claiming that it is all about not shaving. That's because some "lost" people call themselves feminists too. The same way The Soviet Union called itself communist, not having anything similar with communist ideas. Popular culture and mainstream media are ready to get only the surface of some concepts, to make a scandalous headline, that will sell well, and discard the original idea along the way.




"You don't have to wear a bra"

Aliya Kadyrova, journalist, liberal feminist

The concept of feminism is extremely simple. Anyone who thinks that people should have equal rights and opportunities, no matter the gender, is a feminist.

 A word "feminism" has always had negative connotations, that's why so many people don't approve it. But the truth is, if you want equal rights for both genders, you are a feminist or pro-feminism.

"You don't have to wear a bra"  is how I named my recent YouTube video, that caused a lot of controversy amongst Kazakhstani internet users.

Not long ago, I realized that there is an interest to sexism, homophobia, and gender studies in our society. I have created a YouTube channel which I called "Films, books, feminism" because I have a lot to say about it. I decided to start filming a series of videos about how sexism affects our daily life. Of course, I could have recorded serious videos with quotes of Simone De Beauvoir and Judith Butler, but my aim was to engage as many people as I could into the discussion about sexism, and for that, the content should have been entertaining.

For me, the absence of a bra is the symbol of comfort and convenience. The video caused a negative reaction. Kazakhstani internet users apparently consider bras as an instrument of patriarchal oppression. Some people argued that not wearing bras is immoral, while others said that women breasts simply lose their attractiveness without it. Both of these allegations are sexist. The argumentation of ideas about woman's attractiveness and the opinion that everything a woman does is meant to please men and not herself is a sexist statement too. 

I am not afraid of criticism, I think that both positive and negative feedback is important when we are having gender-based and feminist discussions. It may sound utopic, but if there is more information that provokes sexist people, there is a bigger chance they may realize something one day. Whilst reading the comments, even the simplest ones, I have found some trendy opinion and analyzed the points of view I never thought even existed.


In my subjective opinion, the feminist movement isn't developing in Kazakhstan because of the post-colonial syndrome.

A lot of post-colonies tend to find their own identity and preserve their national culture. However, it happens not by exploring literature and history, but by preserving some hoax myths. In our case, unfortunately, it is all about bigotry. People don't want to forget the traditions of ancestors, even if these traditions are myths or norms, that were once useful and now have lost their importance and stand as an obstacle to the development of our society.

In Kazakhstan, sexism occurs and affects the lives of people as the domestic violence, blaming the rape victims and a wage gap based on the gender. Because of this sexism, most of the crimes that happen to women aren't considered to be ones. For example, the bride kidnapping, that in most cases lead to rape, and by some is considered to be the following of traditions.

A lot of people don't know about the existence of the marital rape, and that sex without consent is still considered to be rape regardless the fact that the couple may be married.


Sexual objectification is an obstacle in women's careers. At work, women are often perceived as temporary employees that only work to kill time before marriage, or wives, that only work because they want to do something and don't need promotions and high income.

Girls and boys also have different upbringings. It is common, that boys are taught to be strong and brave, but girls - to be sociable and tender. It isn't surprising that there aren't many female politicians and boss figures.



"All decent people are feminists"

Ayaulym Shalkar, model, designer 

A perfect woman in my understanding doesn't try to be perfect. In post-soviet countries society has this standard - you either have to be perfect or not at all. As if, "imperfect" doesn't have a right to have a voice and existence. Everyone is too busy comparing themselves to others. 

I post pictures in my underwear on Instagram and get a lot of criticism. But who are the ones who criticize me and why do they do that? People tend to see something sinful in nudity. I post this type of pictures not as a protest, but because I consider them to be beautiful. I live my life how I want to, I love my body. We are all naked under the clothes. I think a truly spiritual person will never see dirt around them. As they say,

Everything you see in me is yours. And what I see in you, is mine.

My collection of bodice has a message to all Kazakhstani women, who have to deal with disrespect and discrimination. There were three designs, and the sayings on the bodice said: "Jok", "100% Perishte" and "Hanshayim" in Kazakh language. All of these phrases mean something relevant to the topic of feminism. "Jok" means "no". The second issue is judgment. That's a very broad topic of discussion, that starts from slut shaming and ends with victim-blaming. This is where "100% Perishte" comes from, it is an irony.


Hanshayim is all about self-love, and how important it is to appreciate and accept yourself, no matter what the society dictates.


I used to go to a very strict Kazakh school, so when I moved to Europe I had some challenges during my studies.

When I only started studying in France (I obviously wore whatever I wanted), I used to feel bad for my looks, or if I'm late, or if a lecturer somehow criticizes me (not my clothes, of course). I knew that it was stupid and that nobody was going to degrade me for my red lips. But that's how it had always been, so it took a while for this feeling to go away.

I strongly dislike it when women start their stories from "I'm not a feminist, but..."

It shows that many simply don't understand the concept of feminism. All decent people are feminists. Feminism isn't about hating men or not shaving. Isn't the fact that the phrase "women's rights" still exists in our times, not enough?

I'm not going to say that I would want to be a guy, but I have dealt with a lot of injustice based on my gender. I won't tell you about the school where it happened every single day because that will take too much time.

At 18 I really liked working as a DJ. One day I met one man. When he came to know that I'm a DJ at "Vzletnaya" and I would want to continue to work in the industry he laughed in my face and said that the only way of prospering in this industry for a woman is to have big breasts. I'm not a DJ anymore but it has nothing to do with his words. However, this phrase is still in my mind and it actually works as a great motivator to work and to break these stupid stereotypes.



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