Gender Rights and Opportunities: Is There a Problem in Belarus?


The Association of European Business, the Swedish Institute and the Belarusian State University held a training workshop Gender Rights and Opportunities on November 13. The workshop participants discussed the challenges that today's men and women in Belarus face and the implementation of the National Action Plan of the Government on Gender Equality for 2011-2015.

According to Iryna Alkhouka, the chairman of the Board of Gender Perspectives, despite the article 14 of the Labour Code, which prohibits discrimination in employment, gender inequality between men and women in the labor market still remains the same: Belarusian women are more likely to accept low pay, employers do not welcome maternity leave, and the average salary of women reaches only 80% of the average salary of men.

According to the National Statistics Committee, in Belarusmale life expectancy is 67.1 years, which is on average10.5 yearsless than that of female. Society often imposes stereotyped patterns of behavior on men, which is whythey areless likely to seek help of a psychologist (a man cannot be "weak") and they tend go to the doctorat the final stage of a disease, which significantly reducestheir chances ofrecovery, says Iryna Alkhouka. According to statistics, men in Belarus are 6 times morelikely to commit suicide than women.

As for the women, their competitiveness on the labor market is affected by children: As a rule, the employer doesn’t ask men if they have children. However, women are most likely to be asked this question when applying for a job.

At the same time, according to Siargey Gancharou, a representative of British American Tobacco (member of the AEB), transnational business is more loyal to the promotion of gender equality initiatives. For example, 38% of senior positions in Minsk office of British American Tobacco are taken by women and women’s ratio in the sales department reaches 18%, which exceeds the ratios of the offices in Russia and Ukraine.

The leadership of this company actively supports women on maternity leave – financial support with bonuses given to women on maternity leave reaches up to 75% of their salary. This year, British American Tobacco also plans to launch the first international coaching program for employees who are on child care leave to maintain their level of qualification. The company encourages special benefits for working parents and finances relocation of a family when one of the spouses is transferred to a foreign or a regional office.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has created the first in Belarus "hotline" for victims of domestic violence and is now lobbying for a separate bill to fight domestic violence in accordance with international practice. According to Olga Lukashkova, the leader of the project management team for preventing domestic violence and gender equality with UNFPA, the country’s laws and regulations were analyzed for gender sensitivity last year. The experts confirmed that there are no contradictory norms and the laws are gender neutral. However, there is still a necessity to create specific mechanisms to ensure equal opportunities both for men and women.

Olga Lukashkova explained that United Nations Population Fund is planning to introduce a new feature in Belarus in the beginning of the next year – a special project to address domestic violence in the family. Currently, UNFPA is supporting opening of so-called "crisis rooms" for victims of domestic violence in the Belarusian regional centers of social services. The first successful projects have already been launched in Brest and Kobrin with the support of the regional authorities and the Belarusian Orthodox Church.

At the end, Maryna Barouka, Deputy Chairman of the AEB, emphasized the importance of gender seminars and willingness of the Association of European Businesses to organize similar workshops as a part of the AEB corporate social responsibility programs.

Download the speakers' presentations