Kasachstan: Irina Unzhakova

Having united and shown our political will, we are able not just to pray for help in the quietness of our apartments, but to really create the life that is worthy for us and our children!

— Irina Unzhakova

Since 1999, Irina Unzhakova has lobbied and worked to support women in the political and socio-economic sphere. As president of the Status Women's Federation of Eastern Kazakhstan and regional coordinator of a national advocacy program, she has lobbied for bills on self-government, the environment, election reforms, the communal system and has influenced the opening of the mass media. A well-known leader of the women's movement in Kazakhstan, she has fought for women's participation and influence at local and national levels. She has also designed and carried out advocacy campaigns.

Born 1964 in the small Siberian town of Ust-Kut in Eastern Kazakhstan, Irina Unzhakova lost her mother at the age of ten and grew up quickly, playing both nurse and mother to a younger brother. As a student, Irina became involved in student activities, and during the years of the Communist Party’s authoritarian policy (around 1986), she openly made public speeches against national policy. After 1997, Irina worked as a journalist and news editor for a TV station, as well as press secretary for the head of the local administration of the city of Ust-Kamenogor. But her desire to serve was overpowering and – leaving her career in government – she went to work in the non-governmental sector. Since 1999, Irina and her team have worked for and expanded the influence of women at local and national levels. Through extensive educational activities among the women of Eastern Kazakhstan and through regular informative meetings and seminars both in the cities and districts around the region, she explains to women the patriarchal character and injustice of traditional models of behavior in men and women and the possibilities of overcoming them. She talks about women and success and about being women on their way to self-recognition and self-realization. Irina is also involved in monitoring governmental and judicial bodies, deputy elections, lobbying of truce envoys, and the development of budget transparency. In 2002, the “Different and Equal” weekly initiative started under her guidance. Step by step, her team at the Status Women’s Federation of Eastern Kazakhstan is changing attitudes towards women in politics and society.

Status Women's Federation of Eastern Kazakhstan