Qazaq-Oner is an artisans’ centre in Almaty. What started as an ambition of reviving the Kazakh traditional handicraft of felting turned into a women empowerment movement, helping those from vulnerable groups learn a craft and earn a living for themselves and their families.
Aigul Zhanserikova, the founder and president of Qazaq-Oner, presented the centre’s journey at the Brussels Press Club on 23 February, bringing with her the impressive works of her colleagues from Kazakhstan.
“It is symbolic that we are meeting here ahead of the international women’s day”, Guldana Zhailau, Spouse of Head of the Mission of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the EU and NATO, opened the exhibition. “Today, women entrepreneurs contribute to about 40% of Kazakhstan’s GDP and they especially prevail in education and science, where graduation and achievements exceed those of men”, she said before congratulating Zhanserikova for helping artisans coming from vulnerable groups set up their own enterprises.
1. Reviving traditional handicrafts
Zhanserikova said she was travelling across Europe and, to her surprise, she noticed people were felting. Knowing it is not a traditional craft, she asked the them why they were doing it and where they learnt it from. They said they weren’t sure, but it came from somewhere in Central Asia.
It surprised me that people in Germany, Switzerland, Italy were felting and we had forgotten about it.Aigul Zhanserikova, Founder and President of Qazaq-Oner
If people who only recently discovered the craft were excited to do it, then it was essential for Kazakhstan to rediscover its felting tradition. So she opened a centre in Almaty dedicated to the craft. “Alma in Almaty means apple, so I decided we should create a souvenir showing Almaty is the city of apples. Now, this souvenir became not only a symbol of the city, but also a symbol of the country”, Zhanserikova explained why there were felt apples among the exhibits.
2. Women empowerment
“In recent years, Kazakhstan has made great stride to empower women, one way being through traditional handicrafts. From weaving and felting to embroidery and pottery, these crafts have been passed down from generation to generation, from grandmothers to daughters and granddaughters, but they still don’t get the praise they deserve”, Zhanserikova revealed.
Through the promotion of these crafts, women are given the opportunity to become financially independent…. And it also gives them a sense of pride.Aigul Zhanserikova, Founder and President of Qazaq-Oner
Qazaq-Oner contributes to the revival and development of traditional Kazakh crafts, the continuity of generations, the patriotic education of the younger generation, the development of local production and the creation of new jobs in the city. But it is not just a handicraft workshop, the idea is that local women not only learn a craft, but through it they can earn a living to support themselves and their families.
The centre proved incredibly successful and besides felting it now offers workshops on embroidery, jewellery making and other traditional crafts. Zhanserikova is currently working on opening similar centres in every region of Kazakhstan, so they can help more and more women across the country.
Our work is no longer just one company’s work, it is a collective work of all women. We started from felt, but now it is a centre for all arts.Aigul Zhanserikova, Founder and President of Qazaq-Oner
3. Social responsibility
Besides helping women from vulnerable groups, Zhanserikova was presented the opportunity to teach crafts to women in prison. She considered the idea for a while and decided it was her social responsibility to support these women. Not only do they learn a craft, which will make their re-integration in society much easier, but they also receive the income from the items they create, which can sometimes be used to reduce the time they have to serve.
“The result was just happiness”, Zhanserikova said through tears as she thought of the time spent with the women in prison, whose lives, like many others, were forever changed thanks to her kindness and ambition.