Alexander Lukashenko has governed Belarus since 1994. In a country with restricted civil liberties, gender inequality remains concerning. In 2020, women in Belarus stood at the forefront of protests for freedom and created solidarity chains that became a symbol of resistance against the regime. Several groups are working to uphold women’s rights in Belarus amid growing concerns about human rights violations.
State of Women’s Rights in Belarus
The Global Gender Gap Report is an index created by the World Economic Forum to gauge gender equality in 146 countries. The yearly reports show the general trajectory of the countries’ progress toward dissolving the disparity between men and women and gather data in four principal areas: health, education, economic participation and political empowerment. The 2022 report shows that the global gender gap globally has shrunk by 68%. Nevertheless, the World Economic Forum estimates achieving full equality will take more than 130 years. Only a few countries from the top 10 economies are close to dissolving the gender gap and Iceland stands as the only country to close more than 90% of its gender gap.
In the Global Gender Gap Index 2022 rankings, Belarus occupies 36th place. The country has never had a female head of state and women in the upper house of parliament hold only a quarter of the seats. Belarus scores 0.750 out of 1.0 for gender parity, ranks fourth globally in the economic participation and opportunity field and has obtained parity in its literacy rate. Nevertheless, it ranks 69th in the political empowerment area, showing an underrepresentation of women in politics.
Civil Society and Non-Governmental Organizations in Belarus
A U.N. Women’s report on women’s rights in Belarus shows more promising results. In 2021, women in Belarus occupied 40% of seats in the parliament and more than 60% of the legal frameworks to monitor gender equality are in place. The results show an improvement from previous years, making the efforts of civil society (CSO) and non-governmental organizations (NGO) more encouraging.
The work of CSOs and NGOs in Belarus is vital. The political climate for these organizations has not been favorable as Minsk departed from close cooperation with the European Union and adopted a new political course that damages the ability to work freely and overcome government censorship. Nonetheless, the U.N. agencies operate in Belarus and cooperate with the government, non-governmental and other international organizations.
For instance, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is a U.N. agency that covers diverse thematic areas, such as reproductive health, population and development and gender equality. The UNFPA builds on national priorities and aims to promote the right of every woman, man and child. This helps to strengthen the efforts of a few independent local CSOs and NGOs that continue their work despite the challenging political environment.
Center for Promotion of Women’s Rights – Her Rights
This Belarusian nonprofit organization was founded in February 2016 to help build a more just world for women and men. One of the vital goals is to help protect women’s rights in Belarus and promote their interest in building a more democratic society and giving women equal opportunities. More specifically, the Center for Promotion of Women’s Rights provides legal assistance for the victims of gender violence and discrimination. The nonprofit primarily focuses on the problem of domestic violence as about 70% of the appeals it receives come from women who undergo domestic violence.
Women from every region of Belarus can reach out to the organization’s legal helpline and obtain essential guidance on top of legal assistance. Despite having little publicity, this nonprofit receives calls for assistance from a minimum of 20 Belarusian females monthly. The organization has gained the trust of women, which has become one of its most significant achievements.
Repressions and political abuse of power in Belarus are now more difficult to monitor as hundreds of civil society organizations have shut down. However, the organizations still in existence are working hard to persist in their efforts to make a positive impact and establish a more just, safe and equal society.
– Nino Basaria