Promoting Social Justice in Cities of Kazakhstan: Insights from ÄdilQala project

Kenzhekhan Kabdesov – PhD candidate at KIMEP university and  a former visiting fellow in Aleksanteri Institute writes about ÄdilQala (Just City,  a project supported by Friedrich Ebert Fund and Urbanforum, aimed to promote a new, humane urban development paradigm in Kazakhstan.

ÄdilQala is about a Fair-Shared/Just City and is an umbrella concept for inclusive and human-centric policies, quality decision making, and environmentally conscious planning, ultimately aiming at reaching the UN sustainable development goals on a city level. Through discussions, exchange of experience, and publications, ÄdilQala aims to create a platform for a broad public dialogue about the priority of the human dimension in urban policies and practices.

Mereilim Kalen and Adil Nurmakov – ÄdilQala project coordinators
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September 2022, ÄdilQala announced a call for papers; it was planned to create a large publication consisting of several chapters. Since my research interest is about commuting and public transportation in Almaty, I applied without hesitation. Selected authors then were invited to participate in discussions and seminars held at the end of October 2022. There was a networking session, where all interested individuals participated to collaborate and most importantly discuss the topics linked to the concept of Just City. Moreover, there was a seminar conducted by Serik Beyssembayev on writing policy papers and developing appealing topics for the articles, which was very helpful for authors.

After these sessions, authors started their research: organizing interviews with local experts and citizens, conducting surveys etc. In the meantime, we had online meetings to discuss the current status of our studies. Within my research, I conducted several interviews with experts in the field of transportation and representatives of the Almaty City Mobility Department.

Photo from ÄdilQala Networking session. Source –

From October 2022 to January 2023 authors were working on their research and in January submitted the finalized version of their papers. While the ÄdilQala team had been preparing the book, the team also organized the “Ädil Qala Women” discussion in December 2022.  Event’s participants discussed various topics, which anyways linked to the problem of insufficient representation of women’s interests in the city. Zhauken Khanshaiym opened the evening with a speech about gender issues in the urban area. Afterwards, the participants discussed the problem of harassment, the urban environment for women with disabilities, and the onomastics of Kazakhstan cities.

Photo from Ädil Qala Women event. Source –

In July 2023 ÄdilQala finally presented a book consisting of 15 articles written by 17 authors. The articles were about different aspects of social justice in cities of Kazakhstan: politics and civil society, safe city, environment, rights to education and health, inclusive city, infrastructure. All articles published in the book present unique research which contribute to the promotion of the Just City concept among citizens.

In order to present each published research ÄdilQala plans to organize series of events: ÄdilQala*ALMALY, ÄdilQala*WOMEN, ÄdilQala*QUEER, ÄdilQala*BOSTANDYQ, ÄdilQala*ALATAU, ÄdilQalaÄUEZ and events in other cities of Kazakhstan as well.

Photo from AdilQala*ALMALY book presentation event. Souce –

ÄdilQala helped me to disseminate my research via publication, video and comics. We produced the video to shed light on the problems of public transport accessibility in suburbs and rural areas of Almaty. The video shows commuters’ everyday routine: how travel time and distance affect their wellbeing and which problems they face during the commute. The video is available via the following link:

Screenshot from the video

I could never imagine I would be a character in comics and that my research could be presented in that way. Thanks to ÄdilQala and brilliant illustrator Diana (instagram account: @dianakual) this idea became reality. The comics were drawn according to the abovementioned video and available via the link:

Screenshots from the comics.

Overall, such initiatives as ÄdilQala are essential to shed light on the problems associated with social justice and cities, to provide the platform for researchers, experts and interested people to discuss and share ideas. I am grateful that I became a part of the project. I had a great opportunity to meet talented people and most importantly to share my own research!

By Kenzhekhan Kabdesov, KIMEP