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Astana, Kazakhstan • 14 March 2022

To Gift or Not to Gift: Kazakh Chemist in Sweden About March 8

A fresh take on International Women’s Day from a Nur-Sultan couple abroad

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Qazaqstan Monitor: To Gift or Not to Gift: Kazakh Chemist in Sweden About March 8

International Women’s Day (IWD) has always been an important holiday in Kazakhstan. This day is for every girl and woman to get a bouquet of roses, chocolate, expensive gifts, and the sweetest compliments. Aigerim Karina, 26, who is living in Sweden, shares her opinion on the holiday, reserved Swedes, and women in science.

Aigerim received her master’s degree from Eurasian National University and decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry at Stockholm University. In 2019, @aigerim_karina and her husband, Duman Beisembayev, @doomskey, moved to Sweden and experienced many cultural differences, including the lack of the 8th of March celebration. The couple says their attitude towards the holiday has changed since then.

No flowers and cakes

Since Kazakhstan does not have official holidays, like Valentine's Day or Mother's Day, March 8th became a sort of all-in-one package deal. It has been for decades.

“For me, there are two variations of this holiday: March 8 as it is celebrated in Kazakhstan and International Women's Day with its historical meaning. I abandoned the former probably last year, and Duman agreed with me. This day originally appeared to show solidarity for the struggle for women's rights and emancipation. The current way we celebrate the holiday is stripped of all that.”

Aigerim says

She notes that her Swedish colleagues and friends do not celebrate IWD officially and are rather reserved about Mother’s Day (Sweden does not observe either day as a national holiday). A small gift, an assortment of fresh flowers, help with daily chores, and heartfelt letters are the only things you need to make a mom happy on the last Sunday of May. ‘Lagom är bäst’, as the Swedes say, which means ‘just the right amount is best’.

Duman adds: “I would not say that they do not celebrate at all; there is a different understanding of this day that is not so familiar to us. In Sweden, it is more of a political holiday when everyone raises the issue of equality between men and women. As far as I know, on this day, it is not customary to give gifts.”

“The only time something similar was ‘celebrated’ was when we were congratulated at work on Women's Day in Science (Feb. 11). But it was not about flowers and cakes. We held a webinar where everyone was free to participate in a discussion on stereotypes about women in science and the everyday and social difficulties for women building a career.”

Aigerim says

Don't wait for the right day

Aigerim admits that she felt more sentimental about IWD when she was 19 – the time when the couple started dating. Even last year, Duman did not hesitate to make a romantic gesture, bringing her a bouquet despite the 8th of March being a regular workday in Sweden.

She also expresses fair criticism of questionable ‘gifts’ some men give:

“If there is only one Women's Day a year, what about the other days? One shouldn’t, for example, wash dishes for mothers or wives and clean the house, and make breakfast as a gift only once a year. These are all responsibilities that should always be shared among family members. That is my view. I think it's very difficult for men too when the holiday is dedicated to half of the planet! They are expected to give something to colleagues, groupmates, neighbors as well – the list never ends! There is so much more sense in holidays, like Mother's Day or Valentine’s Day.”

Love sent across thousands of miles

Even though the couple puts more emphasis on the historic importance of the day, there is still a place for festivity and congratulations. Aigerim also receives messages on this special day. “I congratulate my female relatives in Nur-Sultan, especially my mother, grandmother, mother-in-law. This holiday is important to them. It is something like Mother's Day among other things. I congratulate my friends on the day of women's solidarity."

"My relatives and friends know about my views. I often mention the real meaning of this day on my Instagram. When everyone sends me their wishes, most often they try to do so without the overused ‘stay beautiful’ and ‘wish you woman’s happiness’ banalities. They wish me personal and career growth. I feel very pleased about it. I think it should be normal to congratulate someone or celebrate without all the pompous gifts, as it makes the day somehow lose its meaning.”

Close to 3500 kilometers (more than 2000 miles) of distance does not stop the couple from sending gifts and flowers to their loved ones.

Duman concludes: “I will congratulate our mothers, sisters, and grandmothers. For the second year in a row, we send them flowers and gifts, and we are already thinking about what to give them this year since it is an important day for them.”

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