2011 is going to be the year of women for the world's largest and most powerful international Muslim body. The 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has prepared an action plan to advance the status and rights of women among its member states. And the OIC's next chair-nation, Kazakhstan, is set to make that issue a priority.
The OIC is based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and is the main institutional voice for the entire Ummah, or Muslim world, of 1.2 billion people.
Kazakhstan is going to take over the chairmanship of the OIC in June and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) is already promoting a multi-point program to advance women's rights during its year in office.
First, Kazakhstan is organizing an OIC International Conference on Women Affairs in the Muslim World to be held in Astana.
Second, Kazakhstan plans to be active in launching the programs of a new International Islamic Center for Women's Affairs, Kazakh government officials told Central Asia Newswire (CAN) in late 2010. The charter creating the new institute was approved by the necessary 15 OIC member nations last year. Kazakh officials see their work with the new center as a key factor in promoting women's issues during their year in office, said officials.
Third, Kazakh officials say they hope to expand the OIC's social agenda using the OIC's new Family Affairs Department which was created to fulfill a resolution approved by OIC foreign ministers during their 2009 council meeting in Dushanbe.
Fourth, Kazakh MFA officials are lobbying other OIC states to get them to approve legislation increasing the involvement of Muslim women in their economic, cultural and political spheres. Kazakhstan is also promoting within OIC member states greater protection for women from violence and discrimination in line with Islamic values of justice as well as the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination.
Kazakhstan itself has had success in this area with more female PhDs and women running university departments and programs than any other country in Central Asia. Its non-governmental organization (NGO) sector also works with government ministries to promote legislation and enforce laws to fight domestic abuse, sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
Kazakhstan also, according to CAN sources, hopes to integrate their chairmanship of the OIC with Kazakhstan's multi-national, or "multi-vector," diplomatic strategy. This will be achieved by setting up an ongoing dialogue with the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which Kazakhstan chaired in 2010.
The OIC's full-time Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu has publicly expressed his support for an ongoing process of OIC-OSCE collaboration.
In February 2010, he told an OSCE diplomatic gathering: “I am convinced that through this process we will lay the foundation for our organization to become even closer … Regional and international cooperation is crucial to poverty reduction, to fight against terrorism and transnational crime," Ihsanoglu said.
Kazakhstan's coming chairmanship has fostered high hopes for advancing not only the OIC's women's rights agenda but other social issues and conflict resolutions, Aslan Aycecek, an expert on Central Asian issues for Turkey's Center for Strategic Studies, wrote in the Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman on February 5.
"There is no doubt that the (OIC) organization has high expectations for Kazakhstan's chairmanship in 2011, as the country has a high international reputation, a meaningful and active foreign policy and is an excellent example of an advanced and dynamically developing state," Aycecek wrote.