Student Leadership Academy, banned musicians return – Belarus civil society digest
Nobel laureate Alexievich opens intellectual club in Minsk. Mediakritika’s manual receives a prestigious ADAMI award. First ever online map of sexual violence against women launched. Costs of protest: info-graph (based on fines).
Budźma and SYMPA organise Fair of City Projects in Maladziečna. RADA invites for talks with youth activists. Students launch a campaign to reform the obligatory assigned placement for the first job.
This and more in the new edition of Belarus civil society digest.
Community development and local governance
Community change award. On 11 December, Office for European Expertise and Communications (OEEC) together with CityDog, 34mag.net, Imena online magazine and platform Talaka.by invites to the awards ceremony in community development Zrabili!/ Done! The award is given to the most efficient activists who could change the life in their communities and became heroes of the Belarusian media in 2016.
Fair of projects in Maladzyechna. Budźma campaign and SYMPA organised in Maladziečna, Minsk region, a discussion of 10 local projects submitted for the Fair of Projects. CSOs, initiatives, and individuals presented their vision of what should be done in the town to improve it – from the parking for bicycles to the analysis of the land amelioration effects.
Petitions.by celebrates one year. For the year, the Convenient City non-profit resource created more than 400 civil petitions, signed by 30-35 thousand people, with 60% of the issues solved. The resource aims to create an infrastructure for people to collect signatures and coordinate their efforts. Political implications and financial transparency are the two most painful topics for Belarusian officials.
School of Mayors. Organised by Budźma campaign and SYMPA, the programme aims to develop the knowledge and skills of activists from all regions of Belarus to participate effectively in the development and implementation of regional policies for sustainable development, inter-sectoral dialogue to protect and promote the public interests. Deadline for applications is 25 November.
RADA Talks. On 3 December, Belarusian National Youth Council RADA invites to the brunch to talk about the purposes, motivation and personal life of young Belarusian activists. The brunch is to be led by youth political and civic activists. The event will take place at the Minsk Gallery Ў.
Student Leadership Academy invites students to participation. Organised by the Centre for Development of Student's Initiatives, the educational 6-month program includes workshops, study visits and the project implementation. The Academy offers scholarships for 20 selected fellows and has four faculties: student rights, quality education, student self-government and public campaigns.
Students launch a campaign to reform the obligatory assigned placement for the first job. The campaign runs under Student Week, dedicated to the International Students Day. An electronic platform Zvarot.by provides an opportunity to sign a collective appeal to the Ministry of Education and the Parliament to cancel the obligatory assigned placement for the first job for graduates. The campaign runs by Studenckaja Rada youth NGO.
The first in Belarus interactive map of sexual-based violence against women launched. The online map allows any Belarusian to leave a message what street and what house are not safe because there was violence committed against a woman. The project is implemented by Radislava NGO and aimed to make visible the real extent of gender-based violence in Belarus.
Hotline line for women sums up its 6-month activity. The service works at the Centre for promotion of women's rights Her Rights. For the first 6 months the lawyers assisted to 72 women. Most frequently Belarusian women need help in family conflicts as well as issues with employers.
Legal Initiative CSO launches free online consultations. The website bylaw.pro is to help victims of human rights violations. The project aims to increase access to legal assistance for citizens in need and promote legal literacy of the population.
Authorities allow ‘Narodny Albom’ show with banned performers in the lead. The Minsk authorities issued permission to hold a concert themed on the popular project Narodny Albom in Minsk, in February 2017. Belarusian rock musicians Liavon Voĺski and Zmicier Vajciuškievič who have long been banned from giving concerts in Belarus for their critical attitude towards Lukashenka’s regime star in the show.
Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich opens intellectual club in Minsk. A year after receiving the Nobel Prize Svetlana Alexievich launches her intellectual club in Minsk. The first meeting will be held on 7 December, at TUT.BY Gallery with the Russian philologist Olga Sedakova as an invited speaker. The club meetings will be held monthly and designed to help "find the basis, which helps a thinking person to survive."
Mediakritika manual received a prestigious ADAMI award. Commissioned by an independent media watchdog Mediakritika.by, the interactive guide What is Hate Language? became the first Belarusian media product, awarded by ADAMI festival that encourages cultural diversity in Eastern Europe. The Mediakritika video guide was designed to learn Belarusians to indicate the language of hate and avoid it in everyday life.
More CSOs to have access to the state budget. Until the end of 2016, the Belarus Parliament will consider the incorporation of the state social contracting in the law on prevention of the spread of diseases dangerous to public health. This means, that CSO services funded by the state can be expanded into new areas, namely, public health and social support of persons released from prison.
Costs of protest. TUT.BY issues a rating of activists according to the number and amount of fines discharged. All data is taken from open sources, media and human rights defenders. For 1,5 years, the total fines amounted to almost $55,000; the list headed by Alieś Makajeŭ, a leader of entrepreneurs with a fine of $9,700.
Havary Praŭdu transforms into political party. On 12 November, Havary Praŭdu/Tell the Truth movement gathered over 400 supporters in Minsk to sum up the results of its "strategy of peaceful changes" and adopt a strategy 2020. The forum decided to register the movement as a political party – they need 2 years and have at least 1,000 members for this process.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.
Feminism in Belarus: present but unpopular
This year the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Belarus 30th out of 144 countries in its Global Gender Gap Index.
According to its indicators, Belarus surpassed highly developed countries such as Canada (35) and the United States (45). However, unlike other countries at the top of the list, Belarus does not have any coherent strategy to achieve gender equality.
2016 also saw a record increase of activity at the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), where Belarus presented its 8th periodic report in October 2016. Independent NGOs and initiatives presented seven alternative, or 'shadow', reports disputing the celebratory official narrative on the state of women in Belarus.
They touched upon the issues of gender-based violence, labour rights for men and women, and reproductive health, as well as women with disabilities, and the LGBTQ community, among others. Only 1% of Belarusian NGOs advance women’s rights and among these even fewer identify themselves as ‘feminist.’
Historical and social paradoxes
The official gender equality strategy in Belarus differs from the Western European pro-feminist approach, and focuses primarily on family policies. No politician has ever openly called themselves a feminist in Belarus. Quite the contrary, while the West promotes individuality and women's rights in social, political, and economic spheres, Belarus continues to emphasise family values and maternity for women.
Feminism remains a taboo word in Belarus. Few women openly admit to being feminists, to say nothing of men or influential decision-makers. In fact, most public figures prefer to distance themselves from the feminist agenda. Neither mainstream nor oppositional political parties have a strong feminist or gender equality strategy.
Women constitute 53% of the population in Belarus. They hold about 34% of seats in parliament, live on average 74 years (11 years longer then men), are well educated, and about 70% of them work outside their household. Is it possible that Belarusian women enjoy equal rights and opportunities and therefore do not relate to the global feminist movement as the WEF indicators suggest?
Some argue that the Soviet Union liberated women in Belarus; it provided them with all the opportunities and services which feminists in the rest of the world had to fight for. Not only did women in Soviet Belarus gain access to education and prestigious professions, they also enjoyed state healthcare, access to childcare, and the right to legal abortion. Most of these rights and services carried over into modern Belarus even after the USSR was dismantled. For instance, Belarusian women continue to enjoy generous maternity benefits.
The flip side of this generous policy presented itself later. In the 1960s, the rest of the world was engaging in ‘second-wave feminism'. Women in the US and Europe started to broach the subjects of domestic violence, marital rape, and the exploitation and control of female sexuality. Meanwhile, the ‘woman question’ appeared to be solved in the USSR and Soviet Belarus. However, as women gained access to education and new professions, they also continued to bear the brunt of housework and caretaking.
Who needs feminism
According to a 2012 sociological survey carried out by the agency NewEffector, neither men nor women in Belarus need feminism. Belarus displayed the lowest level of tolerance towards feminist ideas in comparison with Ukraine and Russia.
Only 4% of women in Belarus – compared with 9% in Ukraine and 7% in Russia – characterised themselves as openly feminist. Moreover, only 6% of men in Belarus claimed to support feminist ideas – compared to 11% in Ukraine and 16% in Russia.
Therefore, feminist ideas remain marginal for both state and oppositional politics. Since early 2000, Belarus has implemented four Gender Equality Action Plans, but all four lacked any measurable indicators or allocated budgets. The outcomes remained intangible and had to be taken at face value from the Ministry’s reports.
I shied away from the word 'feminism' although I have been a feminist for most of my life Read more
Non-governmental actors face backlash if they decide to use the word 'feminist' in their agenda. Irina Solomatina, a Belarusian feminist and activist, recalls a story when certain publishing agencies refused to print their materials because they contained the word 'feminist'. 'A few years ago I attended an exhibit in Moscow entitled "Feminist Karandash." This is when I realised what tremendous pressure the curators and organisers faced for using the word. I decided to fight my inner stereotypes and use the word "feminism" more often.'
The only international body capable of holding the country accountable for women's rights issues and gender equality is the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). This is a forum where countries regularly report on their achievement in this sphere. Based on Belarus's official documents, along with shadow reports presented by NGOs and initiatives, the Committee came up with several recommendations.
This year the Committee recommended adopting comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, laws against domestic violence and gender-based violence, and comprehensive attempts to eliminate discriminatory gender stereotypes. As experience from previous years and reports has shown, Belarus adheres minimally to the recommendations, but still manages to look good and rank high in terms of gender equality.
Who are the feminists
The unfortunate reputation of the word ‘feminism’ seems to have scared many people away. But in reality everyone who believes in equal education for boys and girls, voting rights for women and men, and equal pay for equal labour should call themselves feminists, regardless of their gender or their interpretation of feminism. However, few women identify as feminists, and feminist men are almost nonexistent.
Belarusian women do not feel oppressed and men do not see how they propagate the patriarchy. While statistics show that every third woman and every fourth man in Belarus has experienced violence in their lives, no one seems to have connected this to gender inequality and discriminatory stereotypes. Few people have woken up to their oppression, either personally or politically. Abuse remains widespread and tolerated.
Meanwhile, experts point to the emergence of new types of online initiatives in Belarus focusing on gender equality which lack the status of official NGOs. They promote a feminist and gender agenda through online resources. Examples include Makeout.by and gender-route.org. Most importantly, they also embrace LGBTQ communities who remain otherwise highly marginalised in Belarus.
The WEF has calculated that at the current pace of progress, it would take the world around 170 years to close the economic gender gap universally. In Belarus, the gap remains wide. The state reinforces the role of the traditional family, and Belarusian society has not yet identified the need for more equal power distribution among its individual citizens.