Quality of Gender Equality in Belarus
Various publicly available indexes portray Belarus as a country with high gender equality.
Belarus carried the 6th highest UNDP's Gender Development Index (GDI) value and ranked 31st in the 2014 Gender Inequality Index (GII). In comparison, GII ranks for Russian Federation and the United States are 54 and 55 respectively.
At the same time, social and political life in Belarus lacks influential women. While promoting equal employment of women, state predominantly practises selective appointment of women to high posts in politics and state owned enterprises based on their loyalty to the regime.
In addition, patriarchal thinking dominates social system in which male remains the primary authority figure central to social organisation and the central role of political leadership.
Declared Gender Equality
Measures to ensure equal opportunities for men and women have been an integral part of the social policy of the Belarusian state. Belarus ratified a number of international documents on gender equality and combating discrimination on grounds of sex.
The National Council on Gender Policy at the Council of Ministers currently implements its fourth national action plan for gender equality for 2011 – 2015. Priority in this document is given to the situation of women in the socioeconomic sphere, issues of reproductive health, development of gender education, prevention of domestic violence and others.
President Alexandr Lukashenka significantly increased the number of women in representative bodies using his almost complete control over the political system of Belarus. On 14 April 2014 Lukashenka in his address to the National Assembly and the Belarusian people said: "Women in parliament should represent no less than 30 – 40 per cent. This will make Parliament stable and calm." Today women indeed occupy 30.1 per cent of parliamentary seats. Parliament, however, has no real real authority in Belarus as it merely rubber-stamps decisions of the executive.
"Women in parliament should represent no less than 30 - 40 per cent. This will make Parliament stable and calm." Read more
Women lack representation in the highest echelons of the executive branch. While one of the deputy prime-ministers is a woman (Natallia Kačanava), out of 24 ministers, only two (8 per cent) represent females. The highest number of women ministers never exceeded three and occurred only once in the government of 2004 – 2005, when women held the posts of Minister of Labour and Social Protection, Minister of Healthcare, and Minister of Taxes and Duties.
In Belarus, a woman never served as a chair of regional executive committee, the highest executive position of one of the six administrative regions in the country.
Women in Business
The situation with women in Belarusian business is rather mixed. According to U.S. research firm Expert Market, which looked at data from the International Labour Organisation Statistical Office (ILO) 2014, Belarus ranks 6th in the world with 46.2 per cent among the countries that have a higher percentage of female CEOs than men.
Many first world countries including the U.S. are outside top 10 countries on that list. The U.S. for example ranks at number 15 with 42.7 per cent of women in managerial positions.
Women in Belarus can indeed become heads even at the higher managerial levels: Aliena Kudraviec, the present General Director of JSC “Belarus Potash Company”, one of the world's largest suppliers and exporters of potash fertilisers, is a woman.
Currently replaced by males, females managed such Belarusian giants as “Kamunarka” and “Spartak”, confectionery factory “Slodych”, and garment factory “Elema”.
The high rating of the number of female CEOs Belarus, however, only gives a general picture of who is who in business in Belarus. Belarusian National Statistical Committee does not keep records of the number of entrepreneurs by gender, but it shows that women compose around 53 per cent of population in the country. However, the list of top 300 Belarusian businessmen in 2014, annually composed by an online Belarusian newspaper Ezhednevnik, included only fourteen female names (less than 5 per cent).
Women’s presence on the board of large companies does not surprise anyone. However, the majority of female entrepreneurship in Belarus mainly develops in the form of small companies in retail and wholesale trade, catering, educational, and professional services.
Covert and Overt Interference with Gender Equality
One of the causes of selective business or political representation of women hides in patriarchal mentality of many Belarusians. The majority sticks to the installation that men should have the prerogative of making money, whereas women should adhere to household chores.
One can see a paradox in public remarks of the female Chair of the Central Election Commission of Belarus Lidzija Jarmošyna about participation of women in the post-election protests on 19 December 2010. She said
These women should sit at home and cook borsch [traditional beetroot soup – BD] instead of walking on the square. It's a shame for a woman to participate in such events. I can understand when a girl is young and foolish. But when a woman is aged, then, sorry, something is wrong with her intelligence.
All women occupying high positions only perform purely structural function ensuring the reproduction of a model, in which the head of the state – "batska" or paternal leader – acts as a guarantor of stability. As a result of merging of politics and economics, the government of Belarus with all resources in its hands, has acted as a “father” providing for the livelihood of its “family” – the people of Belarus.
International rankings and organisations recognise that Belarus has made considerable progress in aligning social status of men and women. However, regardless that women in Belarus can occupy high business and political posts, such practise is not widespread. On the one hand, Belarusian society still remains full of gender stereotypes. On the other hand, state appoints only loyal females to high posts to ensure the functioning of the government vertical.
Belaruskali: The Enterprise that Saved Belarus in 2015
Belaruskali, the world's second-largest producer of potash, fared much better in 2015 than the Belarusian economy as a whole.
In spite of weak commodity markets, the state-owned company's annual export revenues are likely to be roughly the same as in 2014. Were it not for Belaruskali, the recent slump in the Belarusian economy would be even worse.
Belaruskali made headlines in July 2013 when it dissolved its joint venture with the Russian potash giant Uralkali, heralding the end of the Belarus-Russia "potash cartel."
So far, the Belarusian authorities seem satisfied with the breakup. Belaruskali has successfully rebuilt after the split and surprised its competitors by winning contracts through a combination of low prices, increased production, and successful marketing.
The Most Valuable Enterprise in Belarus
Like oil refiners, Belaruskali's fertiliser producers generate much-needed revenue for Belarus's small economy. But unlike the oil industry, the potash business became fully independent from Russia following Belaruskali's split from Uralkali two-and-a-half years ago.
Before the split, the Russian-led cartel took advantage of the heavily concentrated potash market (the only other major producers are Canada and China), forcing up prices by limiting supplies.
As a member of the cartel, Belaruskali was bound by this "price-over-volume" cartel strategy. As a result, it failed to generate enough sales to plug deficits in the Belarusian state budget. Before long, Belaruskali and Uralkali started to cheat each other. The escalating conflict led to the arrest of Uralkali's CEO Vladislav Baumgertner in Belarus, and eventually to the split between the cartel partners.
Contrary to expectations, Belaruskali's revenue increased following the split. In 2014, exports of Belarusian potash fertilisers amounted to about $3 billion, or 6% of Belarus’s total export revenue.
In 2015, the amount may be slightly lower because of the decline in global potash prices, but still approximate $3 billion. Belaruskali is also helping the government to balance its books — according to the Ministry of Taxes and Duties, Belaruskali paid almost half of the budget of Minsk region in 2015.
The success of the Belarusian potash giant enables Belarus to subsidise dozens of inefficient, loss-making "zombie" companies, such as Belarusian machine building enterprises.
In the first half of 2015, Belaruskali was the country's most profitable company, earning eight times more revenue than Minsk Automobile Plant, the country's most indebted company. Without Belaruskali, many Belarusian companies would already have closed down.
Moreover, Belaruskali confers international prestige on Belarus. The company remains Belarus's only truly global business, and is a mainstay in the foreign business media. Its success also demonstrates that a state-run Belarusian enterprise can succeed even when in conflict with a Russian competitor.
What Belaruskali Accomplished in 2015
Belarus may not have made many new friends in the international arena over the past year, but it certainly has been a boon to farmers around the world, who are benefiting from low potash fertiliser prices. Belaruskali's strategy of selling large volumes at low cost has helped it to increase market share and conquer new markets.
In March 2015, Belaruskali made a deal with a consortium of Chinese buyers at $315 per ton, about $15-25 below the price offered by its competitors Uralkali and Canpotex, the North American potash cartel.
On 8 December, Belarusian Potash Company, a trader of Belaruskali, signed a memorandum of understanding to supply Vietnamese companies with fertilisers in 2016-2018. Belaruskali has also made headway in South America, India and even the United States, where it faces protectionist policies.
At the beginning of 2015, Alena Kudravets, the director of the Belarusian Potash Company, stated that "every fifth tonne of potash fertilisers in the world comes from Belarus." She deserves credit for much of the success of the Belarusian potash giant. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka sang her praises in September 2015, calling her "a small girl from Salihorsk who saved everybody."
After the split of Belaruskali and Uralkali, Kudravets became chairwoman of the Belarusian Potash Company. Nobody expected a state-owned Belarusian company, where salaries are capped by the government, to retain top executives in competition with the private-owned Uralkali. But as Aliaksandr Autushka-Sikorski, an analyst at the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, told Belarus Digest, Belarusian Potash Company has defied the odds.
Will Saving the Economy Threaten Belaruskali?
Belaruskali's "volume-over-price" strategy did much to keep the Belarusian economy afloat in 2014 and 2015. According to Autushka-Sikorski, the strategy made sense because it preserved market share by undercutting competitors.
However, the strategy of maximising output threatens the long-term existence of Salihorsk, the town where Belaruskali is based. Salihorsk residents are afraid that at the current rate of production, potash deposits are being depleted, and in 15 to 20 years there will be nothing left.
A few years ago, one miner told me that “everything is great in Salihorsk, but what will we do when the salt runs out?" In 2011, Belaruskali officials estimated Belarus's potash resources to last up to 40 years, according to Bielarusy i rynok (Belarusians and market). Yet at the current pace of production, the minerals may run out sooner. Indeed, the current strategy of favouring volume over price threatens Belaruskali's own existence in the long term.
This year, Autushka-Sikorski says, the trends of 2015 are likely to continue, with supply outpacing demand. The price will drop further, forcing Belaruskali to exhaust yet more of Belarus's precious resources in order to generate sufficient revenue for a teetering economy.