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Women's Summit Opens In Astana

The second Eurasian Women's Summit opened in Astana on June 25, bringing together more than 400 women from social, political, and business organizations to discuss strategies for women's empowerment.

The theme of this year's summit is "Progress Through Interaction." Representatives at the summit come from Russia, the United States, Germany, Britain, Latvia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, among other countries. The event, first held in Astana in 2006, is sponsored largely by the Kazakh Culture and Information Ministry.

Munavara Paltasheva, the executive director of Kazakhstan's Businesswomen Forum, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that the summit could help women in the region to project a new image of their role in society. "I think that this summit will show -- and we can say with pride -- that the status of women in Kazakhstan is very high," Paltasheva said. "They are capable, they are active. They are not only good mothers and wives, but they can also be good leaders."

Paltasheva added that although Kazakhstan is a Muslim country, Kazakh women do not fit some international stereotypes of Muslim women, such as wearing conservative head-to-toe coverings.

There is, however, only one female minister in the Kazakh government -- Justice Minister Zagipa Balieva -- and only 17 of the 107 seats in the lower house of parliament are currently held by women, about 15 percent of the total.

One theme to be addressed at the summit is the current difficult economic situation many families are facing.

Raushan Sarsembaeva, the president of the Association of Businesswoman of Kazakhstan, said that women in business have untapped economic opportunities because they "have alternative sources of attracting capital, and they could capitalize on this."

Yevgeniya Kozyreva, the president of the Feminist League in Almaty, echoed Sarsembaeva's comments, but noted that the number of women in the business community is still low. "Right now [times are] difficult for everyone, and for businesswomen they are also difficult," she said. "But honestly, it is always more difficult for women because we do not have large businesses. Businesses operating with large budgets are mainly men's businesses. Women's businesses are not even medium-sized, but small or very small businesses."

Representatives at the summit will examine how women can get ahead in the business world and play a greater role in shaping policies in their communities and at a national scale.

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report