Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev responded to the June events in Kyrgyzstan by highlighting his commitment to inter-ethnic unity. However, there are indications that Kazakhstan is planning to strengthen the role of the Kazakh language in the country, at the expense of Russian, the other official language. The government is developing a plan to ensure that 95 per cent of the population are able to speak Kazakh by 2020. In particular, it is intended that there will be a shift to the use of Kazakh in government offices. This will build on existing education and media policies promoting use of the language.

According to the 2009 census, however, only 64 per cent believe they have command of the Kazakh language. After Kazakhs (63 per cent of the population), Russians are the largest ethnic group (24 per cent). Only 6 per cent of ethnic Russians can read and write Kazakh, and a quarter understand spoken Kazakh. Meanwhile, 94 per cent of the population understand Russian, with 85 per cent able to read and write it. There are concerns that promotion of Kazakh may lead to discrimination against non-speakers, including Kazakhs who are not fluent in the language. Official usage of Russian in some areas is decreasing: a journalist in South Kazakhstan province states that many public employees do not speak Russian and find it difficult to communicate with ethnic Russians who do not speak Kazakh.

Because of state policy to promote the Kazakh language, several ethnic groups have reportedly been unable to officially register mosques where sermons are read in non-official languages, including Tartar, Kyrgyz and Azerbaijani. In addition, ethnic Kazakhs have been appointed imams in several Uighur mosques. The policy is particularly problematic for Azerbaijanis, many of whom are Shi'ite Muslims, unlike the majority Sunni population. Azerbaijanis are only entitled to build prayer houses, which cannot host Friday prayers or resemble mosques.

Women from minority religious groups face particular problems in Kazakhstan. Kazakh society is largely secular and most women do not wear head coverings. There is growing official resistance to the practice of wearing the hijab. A ban was introduced on 26 October 2009, and criticized by a group of parliamentarians in December that year. It is likely that the rule will be tested in the Constitutional Court against Kazakhstan's international human rights obligations. In August, the Minister of Education reiterated that the ministry is against the wearing of the hijab in academic institutions because of the precedent it would set. In November this year, a group of female students were reportedly banned from attending classes at Atyrau State University for refusing to remove their headscarves. Meanwhile, in February, a Baptist woman was fined for holding morning worship in her home with local women and children. The authorities deemed it an 'illegally functioning religious community'.

On 27 October, ethnic Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kozlov announced that he would run for president in 2012. To meet requirements, he has pledged to be fluent in Kazakh by 2012. However, his announcement caused nationalists attending the press conference to throw eggs at him, characterizing the bid as an 'insult'. One protester was fined, with another receiving a seven-day prison sentence. Analysts suggest that the reaction to the bid highlighted an undertone of chauvinistic nationalism in Kazakhstan.

The 2010 report on the United Nations (UN) Independent Expert on Minority Issues' mission to Kazakhstan stated that women are generally under-represented in Kazakh politics, and that 'minority women stressed that this is particularly the case for women from smaller ethnic groups'. Minority women are also concerned that minority girls are at a disadvantage in the education system, as parents often give priority to boys, particularly in more conservative communities.

On 1 January 2010 a new law came into force that stated that the country's migration authorities would no longer accept UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) determination of the status of asylum-seekers and would make refugee status decisions itself. This led to several ethnic Uzbeks being returned to Uzbekistan from a group of 30, of whom 17 had previously received certificates from UNHCR that they were asylum-seekers. Since April, Kazakhstan has deported hundreds of labour migrants from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The campaign intensified in October.

The 2010 Report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Kazakhstan highlighted the disadvantaged position of migrant women in Kazakhstan, pointing out that 'labour migrants are vulnerable to poverty, especially female labour migrants', due to 'poor awareness of the existence of organizations dealing with protection of the rights of migrant workers, non-observance of occupational safety rules and rights in employer-employee relations, irregular salaries and access to public health care services, which is not fully guaranteed'.

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