On June 15-16, Minsk hosted the international conference "Ensuring Gender Equality in Social Life". The event was organized by the Department on political matters of the Council of Europe, the Democratic Governance and Gender Unit of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Council of Europe Information Point in Minsk and Belarusian State University. The conference was supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus.
|Michael Georg Link, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights|
The conference brought together experts on gender equality, representatives of the Parliament and a number of ministries, as well as academics from 7 countries. Participants of the conference discussed prospects and opportunities for ensuring gender equality in Belarus, male and female representation in modern European politics and methods of combatting gender stereotypes in European countries.
When addressing the participants of the international conference, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Michael Georg Link noted that the issues of gender equality continue to be of high priority for the OSCE/ODIHR, emphasizing that at the same time the international organization "tries new approaches" and "defines new areas of cooperation" with Belarus.
|Michael Georg Link|
"It is also a signal in our relations - between the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the Republic of Belarus – that now, at a time when new crises are unfolding in Europe, where even a war is going on in a neighboring country, it is essential that we use all of our tools in the OSCE and the Council of Europe to cooperate with each other. We have agreed with the Minister of Foreign Affairs (of Belarus – editor’s note) that we will have further cooperation, including such areas as human rights, education, etc. Human rights are not exclusively internal affairs of member countries but a shared responsibility. There are different ways to transform gender equality from the "de jure" to the "de facto". In most OSCE countries, women constitute half of the population but it is not reflected in their representation as candidates in the elections. In many OSCE member countries, women received the right to vote only in 1970, and in some countries this has happened only recently", - noted OSCE/ODIHR Director Michael Georg Link.
Participants of the conference discussed a number of key issues, including whether Belarusian legislation is compliant with international standards of gender equality, how women are represented in the Belarusian parliament, as well as the issues of equal access to social guarantees for men and women.
|Marina Artemenko, Deputy Head of the Department for Population, Gender and Family Policy at the Ministry of Labour of Belarus|
Deputy Head of the Department for Population, Gender and Family Policy at the Ministry of Labour of Belarus Marina Artemenko said during the conference that Belarus in interested in applying integrated international experience and best practices. National Council on Gender Policy at the Council of Ministers has been operating in the country, and a number of measures to combat domestic violence have been taken. Belarus has received a lot of technical aid in this area from the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Children's Fund under a joint project to combat gender-based violence. At the same time, according to Ms. Artemenko, there are some problematic issues: for example, combatting gender stereotypes in society, pay discrimination against women, etc. Marina Artemenko pointed out that, according to statistics, the majority of Belarusian population today are women (53%), and the majority of those employed in the Belarusian economy are also women – more than 54%. However, just like in many other member countries of the OSCE, Belarus still has a difference in pay for men and women. Belarusian men are also very unlikely to take paternity leave which is guaranteed by the state.
"In fact, only 2% of men today take paternity leave, while the law ensures equal rights to everyone! And not just in terms of the paternity leave but generally in the provision of all social guarantees", noted Marina Artemenko. Speaking about the difference in remuneration, she explained that Belarusian figures correlate with international statistics: "All the countries have a wage gap, and as a rule, it is about 20% - which is just what we have here. That’s not even that much, because in some countries it is much higher. Surely, this issue is being controlled: we monitor the wage gap on a quarterly basis; it is all determined by the regulators that are provided in our legislation: ensuring equal wages for similar occupations and positions."
"It’s not just about the legislation but also about our internal culture," notes Elena Shamal, Deputy Chairperson of the Standing Commission of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus on Health, Physical Culture, Family and Youth Policy. "Our society is not quite ready for men to be able to take paternity leave, raise children alone, help around the house: stereotypes are still influential, that’s what our society is like. When we improve our own culture, we will promote gender equality."
According to the Belarusian MP Elena Shamal, about 14.5% of families in Belarus today have reproductive problems, some of which are related to male health.
Belarus is one of the top 50 countries with the best reproductive health in terms of pregnancy care, said Tatsiana Mikhaliova, candidate of legal sciences, Head of the Department of Research in the Sphere of State Regulation and International Law at the National Center of Legislation and Legal Research of the Republic of Belarus. One key point of difference is the duration of maternity leave: in Belarus, it cannot be more than 3 years, while in EU countries it is no less than 14 weeks.
Representing the European Social Charter at the conference, Csilla Kollonay-Lehoczky, professor at Central European University, emphasized that democracy and human rights, social rights and the distribution of equal rights between men and women are highly interrelated.
|Csilla Kollonay-Lehoczky, Professor at Central European University (Hungary)|
In accordance with the European Social Charter, men and women are guaranteed equal pay not only for equal work but also for work of equal value. In accordance with the Charter, dismissal of an employee without cause is possible only during the probationary period or at the end of the employment contract. The European Social Charter protects the right to work and prohibits all forms of discrimination in hiring and in the workplace. The document itself is not a political declaration and is mandatory. The European Committee of Social Rights controls how employers comply with the European Social Charter.
Participants of the conference were introduced to the experience of promoting gender equality in Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to the expert of the Council of Europe Ismeta Dervoz, in the Balkans the establishment of gender equality is regional. Bosnia and Herzegovina has applied for EU membership and, as Ismeta Dervoz pointed out, the country today is aware of how important it is to keep the right balance between men and women in national politics.
|Ismeta Dervoz, Council of Europe Expert|
In the opinion of Ismeta Dervoz, views in the society in Bosnia and Herzegovina are based on tradition and are patriarchal. However, it was Bosnia and Herzegovina that initiated regional cooperation to promote gender equality by signing a regional declaration on gender mechanisms in the Western Balkans in 2005. Bosnia and Herzegovina also became the first country of the Balkan Peninsula to design a nation-wide action plan on gender equality and strategy to combat domestic violence and ensure the safety of women in rural areas.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, legislation on the media and mass communication has been brought into line with the legislation on gender equality. Press and broadcasting codes cover gender issues and the use of non-discriminatory language in the mass media. According to Ismeta Dervoz, seminars and discussions were organized on taking into account gender issues in mass communication and combatting gender stereotypes.
According to Marcin Walecki, Chief of the Democratic Governance and Gender Unit of OSCE/ODIHR, in Austria, for example, matters of unethical advertising are regulated by the local council on the media ethics: if advertising uses harmful gender stereotypes, the council may demand to stop the advertising campaign.
|Marcin Walecki, Chief of OSCE's Democratic Governance and Gender Unit|
When speaking about eradicating gender stereotypes in the mass media, Elena Yakimovich, candidate of philosophical sciences, Assistant Professor representing the Belarusian National Technical University, said that the analysis of commercial advertising in Belarus shows there is a widely-promoted "commercial image of beauty": "We see examples of sexism there, and if you analyze the Belarusian law on advertising, you can find a lot of gaps there for such images to emerge."
According to Marcin Walecki, Chief of the Democratic Governance and Gender Unit at the OSCE/ODIHR, "throughout all of the OSCE region, men spend on average 8 hours a week with their children, while the majority spend this time in front of TV". The official pointed out that "the currently existing Belarusian plan of action on gender issues for 2011-2015 is coming to an end, so, if Belarus hopes to get assistance from international donor organization in this area for 2015-2020, OSCE/ODIHR is prepared to help engage such institutes so that more could be done in this field."