8 Ideas for 8 March: Women’s Day
If you live outside the realm of the former Soviet Union, chances are you never celebrate 8 March, International Women's Day.
However, for Belarusian men this holiday brings an eternal conundrum of how to celebrate the women in their lives – colleagues, mothers, sisters, wives, daughters etc.
In Soviet times it became a very popular holiday for glorifying the deeds of Clara Zetkin, Rosa Luxemburg and other conscientious, working women. Since then the emphasis has somewhat shifted, and consequently the femininity and beauty of Belarusian women has come more into focus.
Together with the usual flowers and confectionery, there exist at least eight other things that would make any Belarusian woman happy this 8 March. Below is a sample list of ideas:
1. Close the gender pay gap
According to Belstat statistics, 85.3 per cent of women above the age of 15 in Belarus are economically active, or simply put – work. Therefore, they could all benefit from state policies geared at closing the gender pay gap. The gender pay gap in Belarus remains large: the average woman makes 25 per cent less than the average man.
Women tend to work in service-oriented spheres like education and healthcare, which also happen to have the lowest remuneration rates in Belarus. There are also fewer women among high-ranking managers, decision-makers and business owners, and there is overt discrimination of women in the labour market. As a solution some European companies choose to report their gender pay gap and together with gender equality experts seek ways to close it.
2. Introduce domestic violence legislation
Every third grave crime – and the Ministry of Interior defines only murder or assault and battery as grave crimes – takes place in a family setting in Belarus. This means that Belarusian women face fatal danger from their intimate partners. Older people – both men and women – may also face attacks from their children, who in some instances beat them up to take their meagre pensions away.
And yet Belarusian legislation has no separate law on domestic violence. Considerable progress came in 2014, when amendments to the current Criminal Code defined for the first time the notion of domestic violence, victim, and abuser, and introduced innovative measures including restraining orders. These measures are welcome but insufficient. Domestic abuse continues to go on unpunished.
3. Introduce sexual harassment legislation
Article 170 of the Criminal Code of Belarus stipulates that coercing anyone into having a sexual relationship or other sexually-motivated action against their will using blackmail, overt threats or professional power dynamics is punishable by up to three years in prison. This neither defines sexual harassment nor makes it possible for women to prove anything in the courts. This is why, according to Ministry of Interior data, the year 2015 saw zero cases investigated or prosecuted under this Article.
4. Ensure obligatory paid parental leave for fathers
Traditionally women hear a lot of nice words about their parenting skills on this day. Indeed, women continue to be the primary caregivers in the Belarusian economy for both children and the elderly. According to the Ministry of Labour, men take only 1 per cent of the total time taken off by parents to take care of a newborn. While praise is in order, women’s professional development often stalls following childbirth.
Many employers consequently view women as unreliable workers because they tend to take time off when children fall ill. This translates into lower wages and fewer growth opportunities for female workers. And this in turn feeds into the aforementioned gender pay gap. More equally distributed childcare responsibilities will eventually feed into fewer gender stereotypes for both parents. Furthermore, men will surely better appreciate women’s domestic labour if they themselves spend at least a couple of weeks taking care of children full time.
5. Promote non-traditional gender roles for men and women
Gender roles remain rigid and unforgiving, punishing those people who choose or happen to step outside of them. As a consequence, very few do so in Belarus. Men continue to be mostly breadwinners, while women take care of the house and children.
Even if both parents work outside the household, women tend to do a lot more household chores than men. According to the preliminary results of the UN and Belstat Time Use Survey, in Belarus women every weekday spend more than twice as much time on household chores – 15 per cent of their overall time versus 6 per cent for men, and consequently have only 28 minutes of free time, whereas men have 40 minutes daily.
6. Encourage women to go into STEM education and 'male' professions
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Traditionally men dominate these spheres. Girls tend to choose humanitarian disciplines, which consequently lead them into lower paying jobs. Women also tend to go into ‘service-oriented’ professions: Belstat data suggests that 83 per cent of teachers and 85 per cent of doctors in Belarus are female.
The opposite is true of computer science: boys outnumber girls five to one at maths and IT science schools. And as Belarus has found its place in the international IT markets, programming has become a high-paying occupation. Countries all over the world seek to attract girls and women into STEM professions by setting up mentor programmes, with women leading other women by example and guidance.
7. Encourage women to take on leadership positions
Belarus ranks well on women’s representations in parliament. Today women occupy 30.1 per cent of parliamentary seats. Yet, many would argue that parliament has no real authority and merely rubber-stamps the executive decision of the government.
In the positions of power that really matter women tend to be few. Men hold 22 ministerial positions out of 24 in Belarus. Two female ministers yet again head service-oriented ministries: Mariana Shchotkina is the Minister of Labour and Social Protection, while Liliya Ananich heads the Ministry of Information. There are no women regional governors. Women tend to occupy low and mid level management, but few reach the top management positions either in education or industry.
8. Support women's organisations advocating for real change
Over the past 15 years the number of women’s NGOs has fluctuated between 17 and 38, and has currently stabilised at 30. This accounts for 1.1 per cent of all civil society organisations active in Belarus. Such a low number may testify to two things: low self-awareness among women about their issues, or the lack of financial resources available for women’s causes, or maybe both.
Instead of conclusion
None of these things can in reality be gifted to women, but rather women will continue to work on them for themselves. However, men very much need to be part of this process. This list serves as a suggestion and by no means should be regarded as complete.
And yes, happy 8th of March, International Women's Day to you and yours!
Restrictions and Domination: Gender Imbalance in Belarusian Labour Market
In February 2016 Belarusian national air carrier Belavia announced that the first female pilot had joined its ranks since the company’s creation in 1996. Her name is Svetlana Yeryomenko, and she comes to Belarus from crisis-hit Russia, with strong family traditions in aviation.
The Belarusian labour market with its occupational segregation remains a reflection of the significant imbalance in power between male and female workers. In other words, there are still traditionally ‘male’ and ‘female’ professions in Belarus. According to Belstat data, up to 83 per cent of teachers and 85 per cent of doctors are female, whereas up till now 100 per cent of pilots were male.
Restrictions women face in the labour market
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Yeryomenko comes from a family in which both of parents have worked for the Russian aviation industry. Her husband also flies planes in St. Petersburg. Yeryomenko may very well be breaking ground, but among the small fraction of women who make it into aviation, her exceptional profile proves the rule. Because of the virtual lack of female role models, very few young women even consider this profession. Among those who do, the majority grew up with it.
In her interview, Yeryomenko remarks that modern society no longer distinguishes between ‘male’ and ‘female’ professions. One needs passion, health and proper education to fly a plane, and planes for their part do not care who flies them.
However, Belstat data does not support this claim. Stereotypes persist when choosing a career: some tend to be exclusively male, while others attract mostly women. ‘Female’ occupations happen to be among those with the lowest remuneration in the country. All these factors contribute to the 25 per cent gender wage gap.
Figure 1: Male and Female-dominated Occupations in Belarus
|Professional Occupation Sphere
|Health, Medicine and Social Services
|Hotel and Restaurant Business
|Industry (electricity, gas, water)
Self-selection among girls and boys
It may all very well start at school. Belarusian schools continue with their practice of teaching sex-segregated home education classes. Boys learn woodwork and the basics of welding, while girls engage in cooking and sewing. One can neither switch nor opt out.
Girls also outnumber boys at higher educational institutions. Many boys choose to leave after the 9th grade to pursue professional education, rather than spending two more years at school. It seems that girls can afford to get more educated, while boys need to start earning their leaving.
According to the national census of 2009, in Belarus for every 1000 people 179 men and 190 women have higher education, vocational post-secondary education – 256 and 276 respectively, and professional vocational training – 105 and 80 respectively.
Figure 2: Percentage of female and male students at different levels of education
|Level of Education
|Higher Education (including universities, master and PhD programmes)
|Professional Vocational Training
Those young people who choose to enrol in universities and colleges generally face equal competition, except when they do not. At least two Belarusian educational establishments discriminate openly against girls: the Belarusian Military Academy and Police Academy. They both set enrolment quotas for girls. In the period from 2011 to 2015 the Belarusian Military Academy admitted zero women in accordance with the quota set by the Ministry of Defence. The Police Academy had a more generous 5 per cent quota for women.
In the period from 2011 to 2015 the Belarusian Military Academy admitted zero women Read more
In 2010, representatives of the Police Academy quoted care for women and need for physical strength as the justifications for setting low quotas for girls. When challenged that neighbouring countries have more female police officers in their ranks, they responded that Belarus has its own peculiarities that require male officers. That may very well be true, but it closes many doors for girls to some of the more lucrative careers in the government, where the Ministry of Interior, KGB and other ‘male’ ministries still reign.
State protection for female workers
The government continues to protect women from possible professional hazards. Up until 2014, the Cabinet of Ministers enforced a decree with a list of professions unavailable to women due either to potential hazards to their reproductive health or their lack of muscular power.
The list included 252 professional occupations, most of which seemed obsolete and unappealing to women to begin with: beamster, blacksmith,and mill operator, for example. Yet some of them raise eyebrows, such as diver, bus driver, long haul driver, and various machine operators.
At least two issues arise with having such a list: firstly, this means that men continue to be employed in these hazardous professions and the state does not seek to protect their reproductive health. And secondly, in many cases where physical vigour was previously needed to perform duties, modern computerised equipment requires no such special powers any longer. But nobody seemed responsible for either revisiting or updating the document. Thus some professions continue to be on the list despite the obvious progress in the respective areas.
A change came about after this document came under criticism during the work of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2011. The Belarusian delegation reporting to the Committee on its progress took note to reconsider the outdated document. And it indeed ceased to exist in 2014, only to be replaced by a Ministry of Labour Provision with almost exactly the same list. Only now the responsibility shifted towards the employer.
The clarification by the Ministry of Labour reads that the employer has the right to hire a woman for such one of these position if they can provide the proper conditions for her. In other words, it is the employer’s responsibility to prove to the Ministry that they are in compliance with the special requirements for women’s safety and wellbeing. Women’s chances of getting hired automatically reduce. Not only do women have to compete with men to get a job in a male dominated sphere, but also the employer has to make extra effort to gain approval for their engagement.
It seems unlikely that more women pilots will fly in Belarus in the near future. Or that more women will drive buses or long haul trucks, for that matter. Firstly, most women can’t even fathom competing with men in these areas. Some professions appear so obviously out of reach for young girls that they can’t even dream of them. Secondly, special standards for women’s safety at work mean employers need to spend extra time and effort proving compliance.
The economic crisis could actually work in women’s favour Read more
It is rarely so, but the economic crisis could actually work in women’s favour. After neighbouring Poland became part of the EU, many Polish long haul truck drivers left for more lucrative employment further west where the salaries were bigger. That created a big demand in the market, with little supply among men. Women stepped up and in 2014 there were more than 3000 female long haul truck drivers registered.
In Belarus, at least for now, women continue to steer toward traditional ‘service’-oriented professions, forgoing career opportunities and making less money compared to men. Harmful gender stereotypes enforced through the education system, restrictions imposed by the government, and low quotas for girls upheld by the traditionally ‘male’ universities all contribute to gender inequality and rigid occupational segregation in the labour market of Belarus.
In this context, Yeryomenko should be celebrated as a positive role model for young girls for whom the sky indeed is the limit. As new technologies promote brain power and do away with the need for muscular strength in workers, the state needs to step back and allow the labour market to regulate itself. The smarter worker shall win.