Kazakh women can become a catalyst for change across Central Asia 

Kazakhstan’s female entrepreneurs will contribute to the sustainable development of the economy and society as a whole, says Oxana Shokanova.  

Women’s entrepreneurship in Kazakhstan is playing an increasingly significant role in the country’s economic development.  

In recent years, women have actively engaged in entrepreneurship, creating new companies and exerting a considerable influence on economic growth. According to a report by McKinsey, women’s participation in the economy could add a nine per cent increase to the GDP of Central Asia by 2025.  

Additionally, if the share of women-owned small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in Kazakhstan reaches 50 per cent, it could result in GDP growth of 30 billion US dollars.  

According to the National Statistics Bureau of Kazakhstan, as of January 1, 2022, the proportion of women-led small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) among registered entities in the SME sector is 43.5 per cent*.  

Women entrepreneurs in Kazakhstan operate in various sectors, ranging from services to manufacturing and trade. They successfully run businesses based on their experience, knowledge, and skills, serving as examples for other women and demonstrating that entrepreneurship is a real opportunity for success and independence. 

Women’s entrepreneurship in Kazakhstan not only contributes to economic development but also has significant potential to reduce women’s financial dependence on their husbands or partners and decrease instances of domestic violence. 

However, despite significant progress, women’s entrepreneurship in Kazakhstan also faces some challenges. One of them is access to financing, which is not unique to women but affects the entire SME sector.  

Another notable challenge is the lack of necessary education and business experience among women. According to research conducted as part of the Open Economy initiative of the Soros Kazakhstan Foundation, small women-owned enterprises, particularly individual entrepreneurs, do not utilise strategic management. There is a positive correlation between strategic planning and the efficiency of entrepreneurial activities. 

Another problem is the leadership imbalance. Women are less likely to hold key positions in businesses and organisations, limiting their influence and development opportunities. Addressing this issue requires active efforts from the business community and the government to promote women’s participation in managerial positions and leadership roles within enterprises. 

I still observe that the voices of women are quiet; a woman in business needs to provide more evidence of her professionalism when compared with a man. During business meetings, male opinions, even without supporting facts and data, receive more serious attention than female opinions. 

Another challenge I have encountered is that in our society, the primary responsibility for the household and raising children falls on women. Expecting assistance from men in these matters is not customary and is sometimes even condemned. Women are expected to excel as homemakers and perfect mothers before becoming successful businesswomen.  

At times, I feel and receive messages of condemnation from women who believe that, “it would be better for me to stay at home and take care of the children while the husband works”. In addition, these “societal expectations” impose additional stress and pressure on women, both mentally and emotionally. 

In Kazakhstan, there is noticeable support for women’s entrepreneurship through state programmes, banks, and funds. According to the President of Kazakhstan Kasymzhomart Tokayev, “Supporting women’s entrepreneurship alongside the institution of family, providing assistance to mothers with multiple children, and ensuring gender balance are key priorities of state policy.” 

Overall, women’s entrepreneurship in Kazakhstan represents a significant force for economic growth and social development.  

Efforts to support women entrepreneurs must continue to create equal opportunities and a level playing field for all entrepreneurs in the country. Kazakhstani women possess tremendous potential not only within the country but may also become catalysts to reshape the whole Central Asian region, and their active involvement in entrepreneurship will contribute to the sustainable development of the economy and society as a whole. 


Oxana Shokanova is a dynamic entrepreneur and founder of multiple successful ventures. She is the driving force behind Pandaland.kz, a media platform dedicated to providing valuable resources and insights for parents on child care and nurturing. Oxana’s passion for creating a positive impact extends to her role as the founder of FreshU, an online eco market that promotes sustainable living. 

Recognized for her expertise and achievements, Oxana was invited to participate as a speaker in the second wave of She’s Next, Empowered by Visa. Her session focused on “How to start your own business,” where she shared valuable insights on selecting a niche, building a strong team, and implementing effective business strategies for sustainable growth. 

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