So close, and yet so different. However, many great initiatives and forces striving towards a more gender equal Belarus – for example initiatives by UNFPA in Belarus. There is a strong common strive for a sustainable cooperation between the government, the civil society, international organisations and NGO:s.
I want to share some highlights from the ParentSmart Companies participation in the International Conference ”Strategies to Achieve Gender Equality in Belarus”. The project was implemented by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of Belarus, with financial support of SIDA. There are several interesting focus points I want to remember and continue discussing with contacts I got in Minsk, like UNFPA in Belarus and also with UN Women in Moldavia.
The conference focused on gender equality mechanisms and international experience in societies and companies, and on the big critical issue of domestic violence in Belarus.
To start with the violence issue, since it affected me a lot: as many as 77% of Belarus inhabitants say they have been violated in different ways in their relationship, and it is a central issue in gender equality efforts in the country. Among the challenges to get a change is of course the high level of alcoholism, but also the fact that violations are seldom reported. There is a fear that the children may be taken away, as they will if there is violence at home, and mothers sometimes hear that “what mother are you if you send the father of your children to prison?” There is now a powerful and important anti-domestic-violence campaign going on, with the famous Belarus hockey player Alexei Kalyuzhny acting role model in a video spread on a national level.
To read more about the “Bedroom without violence” campaign:
Regarding gender equality and balancing work with family life there are today many laws, mechanisms and support systems ready to be used for both mothers and fathers in Belarus, and the support is continuously developing further. This was presented initially at the conference by Mr Alexander Rumak, the Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Protection in Belarus. He was however seriously worried about the lack of use of the support offered. We had an interesting dialogue during a coffee break, and I later also discussed on stage during my lecture the important fact we talked about: there may be all possible laws in place, but you cannot legislate about an attitude change. The only way to get a real change in action too is to start showing WHY. With the help of strong role models breaking norms.
There ARE of course amazing role models in Belarus, like in all countries and cultures. Not least among female entrepreneurs. But they are not visible enough. And if presented they are often described as successful “despite her family and children”. The opposite message would start making a difference, showing how parenthood added to the success. And as always, there are proofs needed. Parenthood is a universal concrete example of competence needed in successful companies – no matter where in the world.
Another thing that I reflected about during the day was the importance to talk about “employers” when discussing parenthood value according to the ParentSmart Companies idea. It is not only a value for private sector companies, with profitability goals, but crucial for all employers wanting to attract and keep the competence they need.
Like in Japan fathers in Belarus now have the challenge to balance between the traditional and modern image of being a father, when considering taking paternity leave or not. There are no shortcuts to make more fathers take parental leave. They need to find their free will and make an active choice. Starting with finding a WHY. And a why that not only connects to the joy and importance of being with your child – but also a why regarding the value for the employer.
In the final conference summary of Mr Rumak, the Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Protection:
“Implementing the social programs for a more gender equal Belarus is a joint effort in cooperation between state authorities, NGO:s and international organisations and institutions. Now we will also start inviting and involving companies in the efforts. The ParentSmart Companies idea about company value can be another important building block creating a strong and healthy country.”
Even though there often is a distance between words and action these final words made me thankful for the dialogues we had during the day, for choosing to make efforts to do research and adapt my lecture for Minsk – and most of all hopeful regarding the continued development in the fantastic country I had the honor to visit.