8 March 2013

Celebrating International Women's Day in Kazakhstan

Today Kazakhstan celebrates International Women’s Day.  I had not heard of this as a celebration before we came out here but it is a huge institution here with the day a designated public holiday.  The day is a combination of mother’s day and Valentine’s day but it celebrates women of all ages.

Women’s day has been celebrated since 1909 when the idea had it’s genesis in the US and it became an International day the following year after the proposal was tabled at an International Conference of Working Women.  Russia celebrated the day since 1913 and it became a popular holiday in the Soviet Union.  Today  it is an bank holiday in many countries. While it was originally a vehicle to highlight the specific problems faced by women it has morphed into a day of celebration.

The day is now an opportunity for men to show appreciation to all the women in their lives.  Because 8 March is a day off work my children’s school celebrated on 7 March.  They had various events for the day including a very sweet concert and dance display with the smallest Nursery and Reception children.  The children brought gifts in for their female teachers, these range from small tokens to quite elaborate gifts.  My husband and I had spent some time hunting out suitable presents for our children’s teachers and for his assistants.   After school the staff had a small celebration where the men put on an entertainment for the women.  It was rather amusing to watch the video – something along the lines of a Perfect Day 97 it must have taken quite some work as all the men in the school were involved, even my Husband who rarely sings.  In the evening we went to a Women’s day party at a friend’s house. 

Women's day flowers
Flowers received by one teacher at our children's school
Across the city a lot of work is put into Women’s day.  Street decorations and special flower lights are put up in the weeks leading up to the day itself and pop up stalls appear selling flowers or providing gift wrapping services and one of the big malls, the Khan Shatyr, arranged a ‘Super Mother’ contest in the main hall.
It is probably the busiest day of the year for florists shops and you see boxes and boxes of flowers being delivered from all over the world.  My local shop seeps to have a preference for flowers from Ecuador.

Astana Street Decorations
Special flower lights adorn the city.
It was so cold I could not get my fingers to focus the camera!
Special Decorations Celebrate Women's Day
Special displays are placed around the city.
Because flowers have to be imported they are very expensive and single flowers prove a very popular gift.  One florists I walked past was selling some beautiful basket arrangements – when I looked at the price tag they were retailing for Tg35,000 or about $220.  Plants are also expensive to buy, usually costing double the price of a similar plant in Europe but at least they last longer than flowers and so are quite popular as gifts.  I did laugh when I overheard one man, he had obviously decided that flowers were a mugs game and wanted to buy a plant.  He was not quite sure he had made the right decision, however, and was asking everybody in the shop if they thought the plant was pretty and wondering whether ‘she’ would like it.  I desperately wanted to tell him that ‘she’ would be very lucky to get the plant because so much thought had gone into it but my Russian is not up to that.  I just told him it was beautiful.

All the way from Ecuador to the snows of Kazakhstan
Boxes of flowers flown in from Ecuador.  There were 5 times as many round the corner.
The authorities also celebrate Women’s day.  Awards and medals are given to mothers of large families and special concerts are staged across the city.  Elderly residents are often especially celebrated.  One story that particularly stuck with me was that of a lady called Nurzhamilya Kurdybaeva who celebrated her 100th birthday on 8 March.

Click on the picture for more posts on life in Kazakhstan.

Ersatz Expat


  1. fab post as always xxx
    I love the decorations around the city.... so colourful against the snow

  2. Thanks Diplomatic Dog! I love the pictures of your life in Astana

  3. I've always thought of International Women's Day as celebrating the accomplishments of women around the world, but come to find out it is also a day of appreciation. Sort of like Mother's day for all women. Very special indeed!

    1. It is quite special - certainly everybody here enjoys the day. There is a men's day later in the year - that is also a lot of fun!

  4. an expat colleague said they do not hate this holiday because it promotes gender stereotype... I am speechless

  5. sorry. meant to say that they hate this holiday bcause it promotes gender stereotype. can anyone explain?

    1. How bizarre. I certainly never came across this attitude amongst Expats in KZ. I think before there was a men's day there could be some truth in the statement but now it is not very much different from St Valentine's day or Mothering Sunday in the UK (MOther's Day in the US).

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  7. International Women’s Day is coming up soon, when many of us look out for innovative women's day programs in our workplaces, to mark the day in a creative, positive and thoughtful manner. Here are some interesting Women's day fun activities in office!

  8. Every year International Women’s Day is held on 8 March, all around the world to celebrate the political, socioeconomic, and cultural achievements of women. We have compiled a list of ideas for women's day celebration virtually, to make your women's day office celebration memorable.