Maternal Healthcare in BelarusFewer than 30 years ago, maternal health care in Belarus was not treated as a top priority in the country and the numbers show it. In 1990, 33 out of every 100,000 live births resulted in the death of the mother. By 2015, that number had decreased to four out of every 100,000.

Reasons for Bad Maternal Health Care in Belarus

The reasons for this precipitous drop are numerous, but some stand out more than others. For a long time, public health in Belarus revolved around containing the fallout from two momentous events. One was the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 that directly affected more than 2.2 million people in Belarus, half a million of whom were children. Charities, nongovernmental organizations and United Nations system organizations focused on providing emergency care to those who had been exposed to dangerous amounts of radiation.

The other event was the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), health care in Soviet-era Belarus was centered on the Semashko system. In this system, industrial workers, believed to be the source of productivity and prosperity for the Soviet Union, were essentially considered more important than the rest of the population. This resulted in addressing their immediate health needs first while overlooking larger public health concerns and it also meant that health care professionals were not as highly regarded as industrial workers. Low pay and little respect for medical workers perpetuated a cycle of subpar health care in Belarus.

Government Initiatives

Independence from Russia brought economic decline for Belarus in the short-term, but it also created an opportunity to revamp the country’s approach to public health. Maternal health care in Belarus received some overdue attention. Between 2005 and 2010, several health resolutions were initiated under the new Government of the Republic of Belarus, including a greater focus on reducing maternal mortality rates.

One such initiative was to build health facilities in rural areas, so that expectant Belarusian mothers in agricultural townships would have the same access to care as their urban counterparts. Another was to create a multileveled perinatal care system, made possible with the support of the head of state who approved the allocation of funds to improve maternal health care in Belarus. This included employing almost 2,700 obstetrician-gynecologists to treat a population of roughly 4.8 million women of fertile age. This initiative was implemented in 2005.

The Progress of Maternal Health Care in Belarus

A doctor visit at the earliest point in a known pregnancy is optimal for the health of mother and child. To ensure that expectant mothers would adhere to this guideline, a monetary allowance was given to them as an incentive for seeing a doctor within the first 12 weeks of their pregnancy. As a result of this bold initiative, prenatal visits within the first trimester increased by approximately 93.5 percent.

Paid maternity leave in Belarus lasts between 126 and 140 days, depending on the difficulty of the labor. Fathers are encouraged to play an active role in the birthing process, with maternity wards made to accommodate families. Today, maternal health care in Belarus ranks 26th in the world. Belarus is a shining example of how a country can evolve over a matter of mere decades and transcend seemingly insurmountable difficulties.

With a maternal mortality rate among the lowest in the world and a compassionate and comprehensive maternal health care system, Belarus has defied expectations across the board. The aid provided to the country during the low points in Belarusian history following the Chernobyl disaster and the fall of the Soviet Union was an important stepping stone toward a healthier and more independent Belarus. The state of maternal health care in Belarus is a magnificent reflection of that.

– Raquel Ramos

Photo: Google

Top 10 Facts about Living Conditions in BelarusThe Republic of Belarus is a landlocked nation located in Eastern Europe and a former satellite state of the Soviet Union (USSR). Despite independence and development that came after the USSR’s collapse, Belarus is one of the most repressive countries in Europe. Furthermore, democratic institutions often taken for granted in the West are mostly absent. In the article below, top 10 facts about living conditions in Belarus are presented.

Top 10 Facts about Living Conditions in Belarus

  1. Belarus’ economy remains largely state-controlled. According to the Heritage Foundation, 70 percent of the state’s economy is managed by the government. A lack of private ownership inhibits innovation and contributes to government inefficiency.
  2. An aspect of Belarus’ economy that has made its citizens relatively well off is the country’s oil reserves and capacity for refinement. It exports refined petroleum, mainly to Russia, in return for inexpensive natural gas. Trade in fossil fuels contributes to Belarussians having a GDP per capita of $18,100, ranking it 66th out of 214 nations.
  3. Despite Belarus having an above average standard of living, its people are far from free. The country is run by authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko, the man that is in power since 1994. Widely regarded as the “last dictator in Europe,” his crackdown on dissidents, along with widespread human rights violations, are condemned by the West. A particularly appalling fact about Belarus is the lack of press freedom. Reporters Without Borders ranks Belarus 155th out of 180 in this category, and this is partially due to the imprisonment of 100 journalists in 2017.
  4. Belarus performs reasonably well in major public health indicators. For example, over 99 percent of the country has access to improved drinking water, 94 percent to improved sanitation and its infant mortality rate is a mere 3.6 deaths per 1,000 births. In comparison, the United States has an infant mortality rate of 5.7 per 1,000 births.
  5. A major public health crisis represents disparity between male and female life expectancy. Male life expectancy sits at 66.5, compared to the female rate of 78. Public health experts cite alcohol abuse as a major factor of low life expectancy for Belarussian men. The average man drinks 27.5 liters per year, compared with the worldwide average of 6.2.
  6. Unlike some of its post-Soviet counterparts, such as the Baltic States, Belarus is not closely aligned with the European Union (EU). This isolation has a noticeable impact on Belarus’ economy. EU members have access to one of the largest common markets in the world. Furthermore, citizens of EU member states are generally free to live and work throughout the bloc. Millions of people are taking this advantage and bettering themselves, an option Belarussians do not have.
  7. Overall, the population of Belarus appears to be adequately educated. Adult literacy rates are nearly 100 percent and students spend an average of 15 years in the educational system.
  8. Belarus’ economy is recovering after years of decline. It experienced 2.9 percent annual GDP growth in 2017, with this trend expected to continue through the decade. However, for sustained growth to occur, experts argue that structural reforms must be implemented. These include reducing the debt to GDP ratio and efficiently allocating Belarus’ rich reserves of capital, both physical and human.
  9. Belarus’ leader quells dissent by intimidating and censoring the media. Recently, he has been receiving help from Russia, in the form of state-sponsored propaganda dominating Belarus’ airwaves. The goal of Russia’s campaign, according to World Policy magazine, is to mobilize Belarus’ sizeable Russian population against anti-Russian, pro-Belarussian nationalism. As the Baltic States and unoccupied Ukraine are unequivocally pro-democracy, Russia wants to maintain a friendly neighbor in a region increasingly allied with the West.
  10. The Human Development Index (HDI) ranks nations based on an aggregation of quality of life statistics, including life expectancy, per capita income and education. Based on the quality of these indicators, a country is awarded a score from 0-1. Belarus’ HDI score stands at 0.80, which places the country in 53rd place worldwide. Despite their lack of political freedom, Belarussians have a standard of living well above the world average.

The top 10 facts about living conditions in Belarus presented above show a clear dependence of the country on both European Union and Russia, both economically and politically. Despite having autocratic government and being one of the most repressive countries in Europe, the country has seen an increase in economic development that benefited all citizens of the country.

– Joseph Banish
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Poverty in BelarusBelarus is a country in Eastern Europe bordering Russia and Ukraine. Instead of integrating with the rest of the region, the country, known popularly as “White Russia”, is the last dictatorship in Europe. In the text below, top 10 facts about poverty in Belarus are presented.

Top 10 Facts about Poverty in Belarus

  1. In the 1990s, Belarus was one of the poorest countries in Europe due to the collapse of the USSR socialist system. Around 50 percent of the population lived below the poverty line at the time. It concerned the population so much that the campaign slogan of Belarus politician Aliaksandr Lukashenka in 1994 was to “take people away from the abyss”. He was a presidential candidate and he won the election that year.
  2. The proportion of people living in poverty fell from 60 percent in 2000 to less than 1 percent in 2013. This decrease in poverty headcount outpaced the general rate in Europe and Central Asia that started with 47 percent of people living in poverty in 2000 and decreased to 14 percent in 2013.
  3. The highest rate of economic growth that Belarus underwent was during the 2006-2011 period when many countries in Europe experienced the effects of the financial crisis. The bottom 40 percent of the people in most of the European countries saw their incomes fall massively, but in Belarus, the expenditures amongst the bottom 40 percent actually increased.
  4. The main causes of economic growth have been Russia’s favorable pricing of energy as well as economic growth that country’s nearby trading partners achieved. This fact heavily stimulated the agricultural and mining industries.
  5. Not everyone has reaped the benefits of this so-called “inclusive” growth. Recently, the distribution of wealth has begun to favor the already rich people with the poorest people still remaining economically immobile. In 2010, 20 percent of the richest Belarusians owned 36.7 percent of the total wealth. In 2016, this figure has jumped to 38.8 percent.
  6. Unemployment is a major problem in Belarus especially considering that less than 10 percent of unemployed people are not receiving welfare benefits. The benefits themselves are meager in real terms, ranging between $12 to $24, according to economist Aliksandr Chubrik.
  7. There is also a widening gap in the incomes between those who live in Minsk, the capital city of the country, and the outlying regions. According to the data released by the government, the poor constitute only 1.4 percent of the population in Minsk whereas they constitute 5.9 percent of those in the Homiel Region.
  8. In 2017, plans were announced to introduce a “social parasite tax” for the unemployed to discourage them from being work-shy and to instill discipline in those without jobs. It was first signed into law in 2015, then known as “freeloaders tax” that proposed a fine for people who went 6 months without a job. If one failed to pay the levy or find a job within 6 months, that person would be jailed.
  9. Belarus also faces challenges in containing tuberculosis (TB) and HIV/AIDS crises. Fortunately, the UNDP is providing health care assistance to those affected in the country. The government has recently received grants from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS and the Ministry of Health in Belarus.
  10. Human trafficking in Belarus has been in the constant decrease. This has been achieved by collaboration between the World Bank and the Government of Belarus and by creating the Country Partnership Strategy. This strategy was designed to increase employment in the energy, transport, forestry and public finance management sectors to attract more people into those that risk their lives in trafficking.

Despite the reforms and efforts that have been achieved, Belarus is in desperate need of internal and external reform. It needs to create a stable social security system that will allow social mobility rather than punishing people for being poor and reaching a more equitable society for all.

– Maneesha Khalae

Photo: Flickr

BelarusAlthough much of Europe has changed since the end of the Cold War, Belarus certainly has not. The leadership of this tiny-landlocked country of more than 9.5 million people has forcefully held onto its Soviet-style economy. So much so that Belarus is often described as Europe’s last dictatorship. Despite this, U.S. foreign aid to Belarus could help foster a new economy and a new partnership.

Belarus Holding Russian Standards

Belarus is a relatively new country, gaining independence from The Soviet Union in 1991. In 1994, Belarus’ first president, Alexander Lukashenko, was elected and has subsequently been the nation’s only president so far. His reign has seen a steady consolidation of power and a weakening of a democratic institution. Because of this, the West has experienced tense relations in regards to aiding and working with the Belarusian government.

Moreover, the state’s economy is comparable to the Soviet model of a centralized economy. Around 50 percent of Belarus’ workforce is employed by state-owned entities, which make up 75 percent of the country’s GDP. This has produced an extremely rigid economic structure that is not rational in a highly globalized world.

While poverty had fallen from 60 percent in 2001 to around 1 percent in 2013, Belarus was still not on steady ground. It was able to reduce poverty rapidly because of favorable energy pricing and productivity growth with its largest trading partner, Russia.

Belarus in Crisis

However, these factors are no longer in play for the benefit of Belarus. Productivity in Russia has dropped while energy prices have increased alongside the accumulation of debt to Russia. Hit by a recession in 2014-2016, the economy’s fragile structure was exposed when poverty increased by 3 percent in Belarus overall with 6 percent in rural areas.

On top of this, the Belarusian state has been unable to adapt to national and transnational health and safety issues. First, Belarus is currently experiencing an epidemic of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). The U.N. Development Program reports that 89 percent of all deaths in the country are due to NCDs.

Second, human trafficking has become such a significant problem that The U.S. Dept. of State labeled Belarus as a tier 3 country when it comes to trafficking (the worst tier attainable). Here, Belarus serves as an important ‘gate-keeper’ that buffers The E.U. from, or exposes it to, the spread of human and drug trafficking.

What can be done about this situation? E.U., U.N. and U.S. foreign aid to Belarus have begun to answer this question.

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)

The first focus of USAID is strengthening the private sector. USAID has implemented numerous projects over the years that have been tasked with helping build a stronger Belarusian economy. One project, called TechMinsk, is a technical and business boot camp for young entrepreneurs and start-ups. As of 2017, $7 million has been invested in 200 entrepreneurs and 90 start-ups newly introduced to Belarus’ economy. Through educational training and international programs, more than 6,000 enterprises have been strengthened and/or created.

The second focus of USAID is to create a stronger civil society in order for a freer form of government to flourish. Civil society organizations (CSOs) are an essential part of this plan. CSOs are meant to increase the involvement of the general public in policy-making decisions. As of 2016, 140 CSOS had been trained and funded, totaling more than 8,000 hours. Each year, more than 60 Belarusian professionals from different sectors (business, law, education, government and civil society) are selected for exchange programs in The U.S. These professionals are exposed to the innovations of U.S. nongovernmental organizations and how to apply these innovations in Belarus.

United Nations Development Program & the European Union

The U.N. has been at the forefront of engaging Belarus with the rest of the world. While free-market businesses only form about 30 percent of the Belarusian economy, the government has invited The U.N. to provide aid and expertise in expanding this percentage. Although Belarus ranks poorly for its control of human trafficking, its government has joined The U.N. Group of Friends United against Human Trafficking. Here, the Belarusian government will receive foreign aid and advice on how to best stop the surge of trafficking through Eastern Europe

The E.U. and Belarus have continued trade relations, although, relations have been strained. However, in 2014, Belarus and The E.U. initiated a new relationship. After years of tense relations and sanctions, 2014 saw the renewed interest on both sides for important talks regarding visa liberalization.

Belarus Working Toward a Better Tomorrow

While Belarus hasn’t let go of its tightly controlled government and economy, foreign aid is changing the narrative. These national and international bodies listed above have all taken steps to open Belarus up to the greater world and expose its people to ideas of different societies and freer economies.

Here, interests overlap on both sides. On the West’s side, it has a vested interest in stopping the spread of human trafficking throughout Europe and The U.S. In comparison, Belarus needs a counterbalance against its dependency on the Russian government and economy. Foreign aid has slowly opened up Belarus to build a sturdier and freer nation. However, more U.S. foreign aid to Belarus will be needed in order to create a strong, new ally in Eastern Europe.

Tanner Helem

Photo: Flickr

BelarusThe Republic of Belarus is an Eastern European nation that boasts a free and universal education system, required for ages 6-14. Belarusian youth attend primary school from ages 6-9 and secondary school from 10-14, most remaining an additional 1.4 years until graduation. In Belarus, education is as accessible to girls as it is to boys.

Gender Discrimination in Society

Despite its accessibility, girls’ education in Belarus does not guarantee that girls will have the same opportunities as boys in adulthood. In 2016, the National Statistics Committee of the Republic of Belarus reported that women earned only 76.2 percent of the salary of men. In addition, many of the nation’s most profitable professions, namely in manufacturing, experience horizontal segregation with a majority of leadership positions being held by men regardless of female employees’ qualifications. This encourages high-skilled women to enter into low-wage public service jobs like education and health care, which are occupied almost exclusively by women.

The Anti-Discrimination Centre (ADC) and the Office for European Expertise and Communications (OEEC) attribute gender discrimination in Belarus to traditional, patriarchal notions that are ubiquitous throughout Belarusian society. These notions portray childbirth and motherhood as women’s greatest value and devalue the importance of their professional success.

The media, aspects of the compulsory education system, politicians and other government officials all contribute to the perpetuation of gender stereotypes. In a 2014 analysis, the OEEC describes the media in Belarus as “gender non-sensitive” and lacks an understanding of ideas concerning gender issues that they put out into their society. The ADC echoed these concerns in its 2016 report, pointing out that media outlets often refuse to acknowledge misbehavior when criticized for producing gender-biased content.

Gender Discrimination in Education

Belarusian schools, private and public, are at the will of the state and considered political bodies. The Education Code of the Republic of Belarus requires instruction in “the role and purpose of men and women in contemporary society.” Boys and girls attend separate classes to teach them their respective roles in society, reinforcing stereotypes rather than promoting individual development. Girls are instructed in matters of homemaking and boys are taught activities such as woodworking and carpentry.

In 2009, Deputy Education Minister Tatsiana Kavalyova highlighted the importance of ideology in schools, calling it “the backbone” of Belarusian education. According to Kavalyova, every educational institution in the country has an ideology department. As of 2009, the government has continued banning teachers and democratic activists in opposition to the government.

Government agencies have failed to enforce anti-discrimination legislation despite having signed the United Nations Millennium Declaration, among other U.N. documents that commit the country to working toward gender equality. As of 2012, 68 percent of government officials and politicians in control of these policies are men.

The OEEC found in 2014 that 86.6 percent of the general public viewed women’s lack of representation in politics as either the natural order of things or as a necessary consequence of their primary roles as wives and mothers. Some men in government have publicly expressed the same sentiment, claiming that “gender equality is perverting society,” that women are “apolitical by nature” or that they should “sit at home and make borscht, not roam around squares.” Yet, in the face of these challenges, there is promise that more progress will be made.

Hope for Girls’ Education in Belarus

The data that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has published paints girls’ education in Belarus in a favorable light. In the organization’s most recent statistics, Belarusian girls have consistently, if only slightly, come to surpass Belarusian boys in academia:

  • In 2015 and 2016, Belarusian girls had higher net enrollment rates in primary and secondary education. Rates for both girls and boys have steadily climbed from the low to high nineties since 2008, and the difference between boys and girls is less than one percentage point.
  • The 2015 transition rate from primary to secondary education was 0.34 percent higher for girls at 98.25 percent.
  • As of 2009, girls 15-24 years old have a 99.85 percent literacy rate, compared to the boys’ rate of 99.8 percent.
  • In 2016, 6,747 girls and 7,654 boys were out of school. Although these numbers fluctuate, there have been more boys out of school each year since 2010.
  • According to ADC’s 2016 report, 56.1 percent of women, compared to 43.9 percent of men, had a higher education.

With girls’ education in Belarus set firmly in place, NGOs have been able to focus on gaining gender equality in other ways. These organizations are able to focus their efforts on both preventing domestic violence and human trafficking and helping victims. Their work has also led to the National Scientific Research Institute of Labor’s development of a concept of gender equality and a gender assessment of current legislation by the National Center of Legislation and Legal Research.

One such NGO is Gender Perspectives, established in 2010. Gender Perspectives offers social, psychological and legal help to victims of domestic violence in Belarus, either directly or by referring them to other organizations and institutions. The organization created a hotline for victims in 2012, which responded to over four thousand calls in 2012 and 2013 and provided 117 with direct assistance.

In 2012, 54 women were selected for the National Assembly in 2012, which consists of 174 total delegates. Although they comprise only 32 percent and their admission was a result of a quota, women’s presence in the government offers hope that the state, with the help of NGOs, will establish gender equality that reaches beyond the sphere of education.

– Ashley Wagner
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in BelarusBelarus, located in Eastern Europe, is one of the world’s worst offenders of human trafficking. Belarus is a 3rd tier country, meaning it requires severe interference in addressing this issue and exploitation of its citizens. While human trafficking in Belarus has decreased since 2006, it still remains a big problem.

  • Human trafficking violations in Belarus have dropped from 555 in 2004 to 184 in 2016. While crimes are declining, there is still a great need within the Government of Belarus to create legislation that will eliminate human trafficking.
  • Belarusian women are most likely to be exported to countries of Western Europe but also to Russia and the Middle East.
  • Women are victims of trafficking more than men.
  • There were more than 20,000 sex workers in 2016.
  • In the 2018 Trafficking in Person report, Belarus did not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.
  • Vulnerable unemployed families find informal ads and notices guaranteeing them a steady job with high wages. Human trafficking offenders design these ads to lure in women, men and children and force them to work in dangerous, low-paying jobs.

Good News

  • Belarus has cooperated with human trafficking organizations to set billboards across the region that highlight the dangers of trafficking and provide a hotline number for victims.
  • Belarus is working with other Western countries to set foreign policies that will downgrade human trafficking crimes across the globe.
  • Non-governmental organizations received more than $11,000 from Government to provide victims of human trafficking with psychological and medical assistance.
  • IomX is a campaign that encourages safe migration and put an end to exploitation and human trafficking. The organization teaches journalists how to effectively report trafficking in a way that would not only raise public awareness but offer treatment for victims as well.
  • Belarus continues to host international conferences that define human trafficking as a concern and outline actions for combatting these problems in Belarus and overseas. At the first forum on human trafficking, 20 international organizations and over 100 non-governmental organizations came to speak against the trafficking crimes.

Solutions

  • Belarusians migrate to Russia in hopes of finding work, only to fall victim to forced labor and severe exploitation. Before the Government of Belarus investigates issues in other countries, they must fix the state-sponsored labor. Forced labor of soldiers and prisoners violates workers rights and allows the corruption to take place inside the country. Not only does the Government needs to open more jobs in Belarus, but there should also be regulations of the labor force to prevent exploitation of workers.
  • There are limited treatment centers and mental health support for victims of human trafficking. To ensure these victims receive substantial care, services need to be accessible to all victims and treatment centers should focus on specific needs to combat further mental trauma.
  • In 2014, no trafficking offenders were convicted. The Government of Belarus needs to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes and investigate offenders on their knowledge of other human trafficking sites.

While Belarus is still a 3rd Tier country, measures taken from the Government of Belarus and NGO’s will ensure a steady decline of human trafficking crimes for the years to come.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline is a national, toll-free hotline, available for calls, texts, and live chats from anywhere in the United States, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in more than 200 languages. If you are in need of assistance, call 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233722).

– Lilly Hershey-Webb
Photo: Google

Poverty in BelarusThe prevalence of poverty in Belarus has made a significant shift in the past decades, for the better. The number of people living in poverty dropped from 60 percent in 2000 to less than 1 percent in 2013. This dramatic change was largely due to an economic boom in Belarus. Fast forward a few years later to a period of less economic growth and one in which poverty is a problem once more. The following is a look at the progress made in addressing poverty in Belarus once more.

Current Economy in Belarus

Great economic growth has allowed Belarus to preserve high levels of employment and good wages for workers. A recent recession, however, has contributed to rates of poverty climbing once again. The economies of the Vitsiebsk region declined by 3.2 percent during the first half of 2017 and the Mahiliou region’s declined by 2.6 percent. In 2014, the average Belarus citizen made $7,500 annually but now the average Belarusan makes $4,000.

According to the World Bank, there are four major factors that contribute to poverty:

  • living in rural areas
  • youth
  • unemployment
  • lack of education

Unemployment and Current Poverty Crisis

In Belarus, unemployment is the most prevalent factor that affects poverty. Many complain that Belarus does not have an adequate social protection program for the unemployed. Additionally, the World Bank deduced in 2012 that the reported employment rate in Belarus, 0.5 percent, was actually seven times higherMany Belarusians opt to not register as unemployed precisely because of the lack of government benefits. It is due to this that the World Bank reported the unemployment numbers as so skewed.

In the winter of 2017, around 20,000 Belarusians gathered to march against their government’s tax on the unemployed. The law required people who work less than 183 days out of the year to pay the government $250 each year. Thanks to the protests, however, the Belarusian government opted not to require citizens to pay that year. Unemployment is clearly still contributing to poverty levels, as can be seen from the number of people who protested the unemployment tax. Those living below the poverty line were not being provided for by their government.

Thankfully, the unemployment tax was officially canceled in January of this year. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka canceled the tax, announcing that instead, unemployed citizens will have to pay in full for government services and they will not receive subsidies.

A Focus on the Positive

Belarus would benefit substantially from alleviating the issue of poverty in the nation. With poverty comes a higher rate of disease and a perpetual cycle that locks families into low-income statuses for generations. Although poverty in Belarus has ameliorated significantly, the country is not entirely out of the dark. The good news, however, is that conditions in Belarus are significantly better than the 1990s when poverty levels were much higher.

The amount of people living in poverty in Belarus is now 10 times less than it was in the 1990s. The country has come a long way but must continue to do everything in its power to keep poverty levels low. The government is a powerful tool in this fight, and they have the ability to create instant change such as amending laws surrounding the benefits unemployed people receive.

With a lack of government assistance, those unemployed in Belarus will have no ability to mobilize themselves out of poverty. An amendment to the program provided for the unemployed in Belarus could considerably contribute to progress against poverty. This is just one of many steps to be taken that would positively influence poverty rates in Belarus.

– Amelia Merchant
Photo: Flickr

credit access in BelarusFor emerging economies, ensuring as many people as possible have access to credit is an important step in promoting economic activity. Improved credit access in Belarus will encourage economic growth as more people are able to start businesses. It will also give people greater confidence in the economy and encourage them to spend more money.

The Belarus economy struggles primarily with financial inclusion. This means that although the Belarusian economy has the financial infrastructure in place to offer people financial products, many people do not take advantage of them. Surveys have indicated that this is primarily due to low levels of financial literacy in Belarus, as well as the financial system’s inability to reach people in rural areas as easily as their urban counterparts. However, some of the results have indicated that Belarusian banks just do not lend liberally enough to ensure full credit access in Belarus.

International Involvement

This is where the international community can and does step in. Belarus is a country that stands to benefit from greater access to microloans, which are often provided by international actors such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the European Union.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) is currently contemplating a major contribution to improving credit access in Belarus. The EIB is considering providing the equivalent of a $100 million credit line for small and medium-sized enterprises. This line of credit will be used in conjunction with loans provided by Belarusian banks. The EIB funds are to be used to provide half of the financing requested by borrowers, with the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, or local banks covering the rest. The EIB loans also come with a five year grace period during which no payments are due on the principal of the loan.

Making this financing available will greatly improve credit access in Belarus for would-be business owners and will enable many more people to start their own businesses. This project is notable because it will prioritize making capital available to those wishing to use it for projects that will promote broader economic development.

Financial History

Steps are also being taken to improve financial literacy along with credit access in Belarus. USAID is working with local nonprofits who provide microloans to organize training for borrowers to ensure that they understand the terms of their loans and are able to pay them back.

Additionally, the Belarusian credit registry has recently moved to give all Belarusians access to their credit report via the internet. Previously, this information was only available to customers of one particular bank. Now, any Belarusian is entitled to view their credit report once a year free of charge. People can view their report additional times for a nominal fee.

Giving people greater access to their credit history is a major accomplishment and has the potential to promote greater credit access in Belarus. It can encourage more people to engage with the financial system and give them a clearer picture of where they stand, enabling them to make informed decisions about their finances. With increased financial knowledge, people could potentially be encouraged to take out loans they previously would not have thought themselves eligible for. All of this, in turn, will generate more economic activity.

Belarus is an emerging market that will benefit greatly from improved credit access. Ensuring full credit access is an easy way to promote economic development and improve quality of life. Thanks to both local and international actors, Belarus is making major strides in this area.

– Michaela Downey
Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Agriculture in Belarus
Sustainable agriculture in Belarus may not be the first thing that comes to one’s mind when thinking about the region, but in reality the issue is of utmost importance. Although Belarus is a country with nearly 43 percent of the land being conducive to agriculture, it is also plagued by past nuclear fallout, and by a lack of resources for sustaining an agricultural economy.

Numerous nonprofits and government organizations are currently trying to make moves towards building up sustainable agriculture in Belarus, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the REALS project and the Foundation of Realization group. These organizations are not only exploring organic farming, but are also working to clean up the land and make it habitable again.

1. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, or the FAO, recently signed a four-year cooperation agreement with Belarus to improve sustainable agriculture and development in the area. According to their website, they won’t solely be focusing on agricultural growth, but they will also be looking at how product from Belarus can be pushed in the international trade markets, effectively growing product and making a more competitive production market inside the country.

Some of their other foci include preventing climate change through the growth of resource conservation, and promoting jobs in the agriculture industry in the region.

2. The Resilient and Ecological Approaches for Living Sustainably Project

The Resilient and Ecological Approaches for Living Sustainably (REALS) project is a nonprofit organization focused on organic farming in the Belarus region, along with socio-economic development in eastern Europe. REALS concluded in August 2016, but according to the website, the group focused on growing local empowerment through bottom-up interactions, encouraging groups of existing local initiatives to increase agricultural development in their own towns.

The project also participated in regrowing ecosystems through regenerating fertile soil and ensuring that clean water is available to local communities. REALS had a large impact on the Belarus population, and encouraged ground-up participation in sustainable agriculture in Belarus.

3. The Foundation of Realization

The Foundation of Realization is an eco-group in Belarus that attempts to encourage and grow organic farming in the area. The Baltic region is still affected by the aftermath from the 1986 nuclear fallout at Chernobyl, and the Foundation of Realization is calling for the government of Belarus to be more accountable for the lack of organic farming resources actually being distributed in the region. In addition, the group does extensive research in the areas of regeneration of land and the effects of Chernobyl on the Belarusian community.

There are plenty of movements within Belarus, and there are also groups that are working to help provide for the many who are still affected by agriculture infertility in the area. Sustainable agriculture in Belarus is a long-term project, but it is one that is being thoroughly pursued.  

– Molly Atchison

Photo: Flickr

Despite the widespread desire for greater women’s empowerment around the world, sometimes actually taking concrete steps to provide greater rights to women can seem like an impossible task. Women’s empowerment in Belarus is no exception. The country struggles in particular with a deeply-entrenched patriarchal culture that serves to prevent substantial change in the area of gender relations.

That being said, all is not lost. There are some relatively straightforward fixes that are currently being applied, and the international community is making a renewed effort to empower civil society groups fighting for women’s empowerment in Belarus.

The two main issues standing in the way of greater women’s empowerment in Belarus are the country’s high rates of domestic violence and the blatant legal restrictions imposed on women’s employment. Violence against women in Belarus is a significant problem, and one that was incorporated into the most recent set of main goals of the U.N. Development Program’s (UNDP) mission to Belarus. The UNDP makes a point of centering violence against women in its work in Belarus and organizes regular awareness campaigns to promote understanding of the severity of this issue.

The second issue essentially amounts to state-mandated employment discrimination against women. In Belarus, there is a list of 181 occupations that are, by law, reserved exclusively for men. Prior to 2014, this list was twice its current length. It was created, and is defended, on the basis of what can be described as “benevolent sexism.”

Benevolent sexism is the belief that women are fragile or otherwise physically or emotionally incapable of performing certain tasks, and so should be prohibited from doing so for their protection. Also at work is the deeply-entrenched cultural belief that women are needed for the tasks of homemaking and child-rearing in order to maintain a high native population and cultivate a strong nation.

Because of these cultural norms, getting the laws changed is no easy task. There are no legal or institutional barriers to women’s political participation in Belarus, which is encouraging, but there are significant cultural obstacles standing in the way. That being said, the UNDP notes that women in Belarus are comparatively highly educated, which bodes well for future successes.

In October 2017, Deputy Resident Representative for the UNDP in Belarus, Zachary Taylor, noted that Belarusian women are poised to play a leadership role in meeting the country’s sustainable development goals. The U.N. is currently focusing on reducing rates of domestic violence in Belarus and on providing capital to female entrepreneurs wishing to start their own businesses. These two actions alone could potentially make a huge difference for women’s empowerment in Belarus in the long run.

Efforts are also being made to support civil society organizations and improve the capacity of women’s human rights organizations to mobilize and advocate for change. In 2014, the Karat Coalition spent time collaborating with and advising the Belarusian Public Association “Women’s Independent Democratic Movement” with financial and technical support provided by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Poland, drafting legislation to reduce restrictions on women’s employment. This collaboration also served as a valuable networking opportunity for Belarusian women’s rights advocates to learn from the experiences of international allies and gain valuable support.

Although women’s empowerment in Belarus is still battling against antiquated societal norms and discriminatory legislation, it is clear that the nation is making great strides forward in achieving gender equality. With continued support from the U.N. and other organizations, women in Belarus will achieve the same rights as men in the near future.

– Michaela Downey

Photo: Flickr