On the way to gender equality in Belarus

March 8, 2021

Gender inequality is one of the most – or, perhaps, the most – persistent form of inequality in the world. It is one of the greatest barriers to human development that affects half the world’s population. According to the Human Development Report 2020, Belarus looses 6.3% of its human development due to inequality. It appears in health, education, in the labour market and in many other fields.

UNDP in Belarus supports and supplement national efforts in building a gender equitable society. Gender quality is one of four accelerators for achieving the SDGs in Belarus. Gender equality and women’s empowerment ran like a golden threat through UNDP’s country programme and the National Gender Equality Plan for the previous five years and will remain one of the key focuses for the next five-year circle.

Everything starts from defining the challenge and how to measure progress in addressing it. UNDP relies on gender analysis and sex-disaggregated data to pursue integrated solutions and assists the Belarus in building an evidence-base around gender equality in the country. In 2018, UNDP in partnership with UNICEF and the National Statistical Committee developed the National Platform for Reporting Indicators of SDGs to improve the tracking of Belarus’ progress on the way to achieve SDG5 and other goals. We still have a lot to learn on gender disparities in Belarusian society and their effects on SDGs and human development progress. But by improving collection and analysis of data we can timely identify a challenge and assist national partners in preparedness and response.

Gender inequalities are behind unequal distribution of human development progress across economic development in Belarus. The gender pay gap persists at 27% and women often face glass ceiling in employment and business. As women progress from employee to employer, and from employer to industry leader, the gender gap widens. In Belarus, women play a key role in the management of 28.3% of micro companies, 19.4% of small enterprises and 18.9% of medium-sized companies.

In 2016-2020, UNDP focused its work on attracting investments, supporting innovation, development of SMEs and promoting inclusive gender-balanced employment. UNDP strengthened women’s role in and contribution to the economy with equal opportunities and wages and expanded their participation in decision-making. UNDP implemented 243 initiatives led by area-based development practitioners to support inclusive local development. More than 18 000 women across Belarusian regions benefitted from increased opportunities at the local level and more than 6 000 women built capacity in entrepreneurship, shared knowledge and innovations and established professional networks across UNDP projects and initiatives aimed at supporting local and economic development.

Women were hit harder by economic impacts caused by COVID-19. They are more often engaged in unsecure employment and lead micro- and small-businesses that are particularly at risk during economic downturns. 64% of women entrepreneurs indicated that the pandemic had significant adverse impact on their business according to the latest UNDP research on COVID-19 impact on SMEs in Belarus. UNDP’s COVID-19 response focused on supporting women in adapting their businesses to meet emerging market demand and trends of the “new reality” to ensure their access to sustainable livelihoods under crisis circumstances.

As new generation of inequalities in human development emerge, UNDP resorts to innovative solutions to address them. In 2018-2019, UNDP with expert support of the Behavioural Insights Team explored the barriers affecting women’s success in the workplace and women’s ability to set up and grow their own businesses in Belarus and devised 16 prospective behavioural solutions to overcome these barriers. One of these solutions is now being tested through one of the first randomized controlled trials in Belarus.

Economic effects of gender inequality are multiplied by gender disparities in health. One of the pitfalls on the Belarus’ path to gender equality is a massive gender longevity gap. A Belarusian girl born in 2019 can expect to live 9.9 years longer than a boy (79.6 and 69.7 years). This is much attributed to non-communicable diseases and unhealthy lifestyle. In 2018-2019, UNDP promoted active lifestyle and longevity for men aged 45+ and engaged more than 3,500 men aged 35+ in activities to increase loyalty to the early diagnosis of cardiovascular diseases. More than 5 million people in Belarus learned about the basic principles of preventing non-communicable diseases and maintaining healthy lifestyles though UNDP advocacy campaigns.

Women’s human development requires access to health services, social protection and care services. In Belarus, UNDP supported national partners to expand women’s access to healthcare services though applying digital solutions. In the framework of the BELMED project, a digital screening program for breast cancer was developed and piloted to implement population-based screening of the disease throughout the country.

Across the globe gender inequality in economy, health and other fields is associated with persistent discriminatory social norms prescribing social roles and relations. Only 14% of women and 10% of men worldwide have no gender social norms biases. Belarus is no different: women always face strong expectations to be caregivers for both children and the elderly and men are pressured to be breadwinners. Even though today women are most qualified in history, social norms translate into upbringing and education pathways. Certain disciplines are typically associated with feminine or masculine characteristics.

UNDP combines efforts in education and raising awareness to help people get read of their gender biases. Through its projects and programmes, UNDP promotes women’s representation in the position of leaders and experts – from local activists and innovators to experts assisting Belarus in WTO accession – to profile successful role models. It is crucial to engage both men and women in addressing their own gender-related vulnerabilities that often are unrecognized. For example, UNDP’s engagement of women in combating climate change, ecological monitoring, sustainable city planning will enhance the sustainability and effectiveness of policies and institutions.

In 2021, UNDP starts its new development programme for Belarus. UNDP will build on its past achievements in the field of gender equality and will continue its work with partners from the Government, civil society organizations, academia and the private sector on reducing inequality and discrimination against women, strengthening the role of women in non-traditional sectors, expanding women’s economic opportunities and promoting women’s participation in decision-making levels in the private sector.