Belarus, located in Eastern Europe, finds itself ranked among other third world countries. People can identify many different issues about Belarus but one major problem that the country recognizes and is fighting to change is the autonomy of women. In many third world countries, women are at many more disadvantages in men. With the help of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the successes of women in Belarus are growing to transform the country.
The Gender Gap in Belarus
Women in Belarus did not always have the upper hand when it came to running businesses and having their foot in the working world. As for gender gaps, Belarus was never the worst country on the list. As of 2017, the latest Global Gender Gap Index ranked the country 26 out of 144 countries. This means that there is quite a high level of gender equality in Belarus.
Almost 100 percent of girls attend school because primary and secondary education is compulsory in the country. Women also face barriers in the labor market, so they strive to get more education, which causes them to have higher tertiary enrollment compared to men. Although this is true, women in Belarus still tend to face more discrimination in the labor market than men. Women are approximately 2.5 times less likely to receive a managerial position. Seventeen percent of women and 41 percent of men tend to hold top hierarchical positions. Employers also pay women less than men with the wage gap at 25 percent as of 2017.
USAID in Belarus
USAID noticed an issue with discrimination and wage gaps and decided to step in and transform the business and social landscapes for women in Belarus. Belarus Country Office Director Victoria Mitchell Avdiu spoke on a panel about women’s representation in entrepreneurship. Over 100 women were in attendance, wanting to know how to build confidence, where to find mentors and how to pursue meaningful professional partnerships.
USAID’s objective is to empower women and girls. In doing this, it created the Community Connections Exchange Program. As of 2018, the participants were 60 percent women, and in the last 10 years, 400 women have benefited from this program. The program entails people from Belarus participating in a short-term exchange to the United States. While in the United States, participants learn about practices in a variety of professional fields, participate in entrepreneurship programs, teach business to youth and empower women to resolve community issues.
The Karat Coalition
USAID is not the only organization working to develop pathways for women. The Karat Coalition works to advance legal protections of women’s human rights in Belarus through the adoption of the law on gender equality. Beginning on February 1, 2014, the coalition began a project called Advancing Gender Equality in Belarus. There were three main objectives of this project:
- To develop a draft law on gender equality.
- To create a strategy for advocacy for the adoption of the law on gender equality.
- To empower and mobilize women’s human rights defenders.
The Karat Coalition completed this project on June 20, 2014. It managed to:
- Strengthen the capacity of the Belarusian experts’ group to create the draft law.
- Strengthen the capacity of Belarusian experts to advocate for the implementation of gender equality laws and standards.
- Develop materials to share with the women’s rights advocates community which encompasses information on formulating effective law on gender equality.
With the work of organizations like USAID and the Karat Coalition, women are able to make milestones and be their own person in their own countries. Three women have stood out after taking advantage of opportunities in Belarus.
- Margarita Lazarenkova: People know Lazarenkova for her development of creative industries in Belarus. She has developed NGO Creative Belarus that began in response to a worldwide growing trend.
- Ludmila Antonauskaya: Antonauskaya has decided to defy the stereotype that women and business do not go together by creating a small company that competes with international giants. In the Top 100 Successful Businesspeople in Belarus, Antonauskaya falls at number 65, the first among women. She created her business, Polimaster, to improve people’s health and save their lives.
- Evgeniya Dubeshhuk: Dubeshhuk is the head of the youth exchange organization, Fialta. Fialta helps young people develop critical thinking, broaden their horizons and take on an active role in society.
With the help of organizations creating law and advocating for women to have basic rights in their own country, Belarus is at the start of its transformation. Women in Belarus are beginning to have more opportunities and take control of their own lives.
– Lari’onna Green