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On the occasion of International Women's Day “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World,” 15 female professionals and activists share stories of courage and resilience during the pandemic

Almaty, Kazakhstan, 10 March, 2021 - The United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) photo-exhibition “Women on the front-line of the response to COVID-19” organized by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) with support from the Office of UN Resident Coordinator in Kazakhstan, is now on display at the Palace of the Republic in Almaty. The exhibition, showcasing a gallery of photographs and videos about Kazakhstan’s female doctors, volunteers, lawyers, human rights defenders and activists, will be presented at the Palace before it moves to the Metro and “Mega” shopping mall. Exhibition materials show the selfless public assistance of these women to others during one of the deadliest pandemics in recent history.

The project was inspired by Ainur Ilyasova, an actress, activist and founder of the Public Fund “Fund for the Modernization of the Institute of Family and Marriage “Bope”. The creative team of the project includes photographer Baurjan Bismildin, videographer and director Vanya Abramov and journalist Oksana Vasilenko.

“This year’s International Women’s Day is an opportunity to acknowledge the efforts of women across the world who make up the majority of front-line workers engaged in fighting the pandemic. From doctors and lawyers to volunteers and key workers, this photo exhibition provides a window into the lives of some of them, and highlights their stories of courage, resilience and sacrifice in the face of a global crisis. The pandemic has reminded us of what humanity can achieve when we all work together. Let's use this day to also remind ourselves what can be achieved when women, so often under-represented in decision-making roles, are given an equal opportunity to contribute at every level of society,” said UNFPA Representative for Kazakhstan and Country Director for Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan Giulia Vallese.

"This year's International Women's Day focuses on the transformative power of women's equal participation. In the fight against COVID-19, we need women at the table where decisions are made. We need women to prevent the worst scenarios, such as a second spike in infections, labour shortages and even social unrest. We need women to fight the pandemic. We need women on the frontline", said Michaela Friberg-Story, UN Resident Coordinator in Kazakhstan.

“I have been working in the “red zone” since March. And I am surprised when they tell me that I am a hero. Yes, there were those among us who got scared and left, but for me to leave meant betraying the doctor's oath, leaving the people and the country who needed it to their own devices!" - said an infectious disease doctor and virologist Karlygash Abdiyeva. Since July 2020, she has been working at the COVID-19 PCR Diagnostics Department.

As soon as the pandemic was declared all over the world and quarantine began, the well-known psychologist and president of the Organization for the Development of Transactional Analysis in Kazakhstan Zauresh Sapabekova realized that people would need help, and therefore invited her colleagues to create a project, which she called "Support to the people of Kazakhstan during the coronavirus pandemic”.

“We suspected that when people were trapped in their homes, domestic violence would double. And so it was. Because our women are used to living in an adaptive, humiliated, dependent state. If she gave birth to three children, stayed at home for 10-15 years, then it is clear that she has no profession, no job. And the man often uses it to his advantage, he knows that the woman won’t go anywhere and that she will sit quietly, and he will beat, mock, physically punish the children. And nothing will happen to him, his wife will not leave with the children, because she has nowhere to go,” said Zauresh Sapabekova.

“Despite the fact that we are presenting only 15 stories, we realize that the number of women with stories of extraordinary courage could be endless. So many of these stories moved us to tears. I think that the main take-away for me personally was that the exhibition is a seed of kindness. Behind every photograph of a woman there is a story of inspiration and of commitment, there is work that they all did to save and support other people” – said actress, activist and inspirer of the project Ainur Ilyasova.

The 15 photographs and documentary-styled interviews as well as short essays about the women’s contribution to resolving the COVID19-related crisis can be found on the website  and are printed with support from the UN Resident Coordinator’s office. They will be on display at the Republic Palace on 10 March and later at the metro station and Mega shopping mall. Details of this will be provided later.

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