Violence Against Women in Belarus
Belarus
Click map to view larger image

Population of women: 5,132,200/9,587,900
Life expectancy of women (at birth): 76
School life expectancy for women: 15
Women's adult literacy: 100%
Women engaged in economic activity: 55%

Source: UN Statistics Division, Social Indicators, updated June 2011 

 

 

 

last updated 4 June 2009

Contributed by Xenia Kastsevich

 

Belarus gained its independence from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in August 1991. In 1994 Alyaksandr Lukashenka was elected President and he remains in power today. The Parliament (National Assembly) of the Republic is a bicameral parliament, consisting of two chambers:

  • Council of the Republic- the upper house, 56 seats, in 2008 19 women- 33.9%)
  • House of Representatives- the lower house, 110 seats, in 2008 35 women- 31.8%)

Female Suffrage was granted in 1918.

Statutory pension age: women -55, men -60.

The structure of the judicial system in Belarus is determined by the Constitution (in English) and the Code of Court Organization (in Russian). The system has 2 levels:

  • Courts of common law (the courts consist of the Supreme Court and regional, city, and district courts of general jurisdiction. An appeal against a District Court decision can be heard by the Regional Court. The Supreme Court usually examines appeals over decisions of Regional or District Courts)
  • Economic Courts (the Supreme Economic Court, Regional Economic Courts, the Economic Court of Minsk city)

The Constitutional Court (in English) exercises control over the conformity of legal instruments with the Constitution. There are four women-judges among the 12 members of the Constitutional Court.

Justice is administrated by a trial of civil disputes and criminal cases. All cases are tried by a panel that usually consists of a professional judge and two lay assessors. The judges in Belarus are appointed by the President of the Republic (in English), and the President (in Belarusian) may relieve them of their office.

Judicial reforms drafted in the mid 1990s foresaw the creation of specialized courts, including courts for family, juvenile, and other cases, but these plans have never been put into practice.

Overview of Country Legislation on Gender Equality

The Constitution of Belarus declares equality of all people before the law and their right to equal protection (Article 22) (in Belarusian). Article 32 (in Belarusian) of the Constitution guarantees equality for men and women ‘in their opportunities to receive education and vocational training, promotion in labour, socio-political, cultural and other spheres of activity, as well as in creating conditions safeguarding their labour and health’. The Constitution, however, does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on specified grounds (e.g. on the basis of sex, race, age etc).

According to Article 190 of the Criminal Code (in Russian), the acts of 'deliberate direct or indirect violation or restriction of rights and freedoms of individuals; of granting direct or indirect privileges to individuals, based on sex, race, nationality, language, ethnic origin, material or official status, their attitude to religion, on the basis of their beliefs, affiliation with public associations, if these acts have caused a significant harm to the rights, freedoms, and legally protected interests of individuals,’ they are criminal offenses and the prescribed punishment could range from a fine to corrective labour for the term up to two years or imprisonment for the same term, depending on the gravity of the offense.

The Marriage and Family code (in Russian), the Civil code (in Russian), the Labour code (in Russian), the Housing Code (in Russian), all support the goal of gender equality.  For instance, women and men are guaranteed the right to property and the right to inherit property without discrimination. According to the Marriage and Family Code (Article 23), property acquired by the spouses during marriage is considered common property irrespective of which spouse acquired the property or in whose name it was registered. Spouses have equal rights to control, use and dispose of their common property. Upon divorce, common property is to be divided equally between the spouses, without drawing any distinction on the source of the income used to acquire it.

Article 76 of the Marriage and Family Code states that the father and mother have equal rights and responsibilities with respect to their children.

The state prohibits (article 14 of the Labour Code) any discrimination in the sphere of labour relations based on gender, race, origin, language, political or religious views and beliefs, affiliation/non-affiliation with trade unions or public associations, property or official status, or disability, unless any of the above prevents the person from carrying out her/his duties at work.  However, existing legal loopholes potentially create opportunity for abuse and contribute a great deal to maintaining ‘occupational segregation’ and ‘concentration of women in low-paid sector of public employment’ (Concluding comments of the Committee – CEDAW: Belarus). It is a common practice in Belarus for such examples of abuse as discriminatory job advertisements, with explicit reference to the desirable age, gender and even physical appearance of the future jobholder (for example, http://jobs.tut.by/list_vacancy.phtml in Russian), to go unscrutinized and unpunished by the law enforcing agencies. As far as the stage of selection and recruitment is concerned, constitutional guaranties and labor law provisions are applied there in a very limited scope. Almost all recruitment agencies require their clients to provide personal information such as their age, marital status, number of children and the children’s ages in their application forms (3 random recruitment agencies: Kvadrat, Zdes’ i Sejcas, Kollekcija Otkrytij all in Russian); job interviews are usually unrecorded, the legality of questions at interviews rests solely at the discretion and depends on legal literacy of job interviewer. Women are often subject to discrimination in appointment and dismissal (in Belarusian), particularly after introduction of an amendment to the Labour Code which adopts a short-term contract form (1-5 years).

It is believed that a law on gender equality, which would include a definition of gender discrimination as well as clear definitions of direct and indirect discrimination, could help improve the situation, provided there is a shift in the public’s trust towards the judiciary and the rule of law for all. 

Articles 185, 271, and 268 of the Labour Code guarantee the right to maternity/paternity leave until a child reaches the age of three; women with three or more children or with a handicapped child, and single mothers with two or more children are given one paid day off per month. Belarusian labour legislation is based on what are considered to be women’s needs as mothers: there is a provision of reducing work quotas for pregnant women upon submission of a medical recommendation. Such women are to be transferred to easier and non-hazardous work and are to be paid the average wage they earned in the previous job. In addition, women with children between the ages of three and fourteen years (and until the age of eighteen if the child is disabled) may only be sent on a mission or appointed to work night shifts or overtime, or during state holidays and days off, with their consent.

In the market economy, however, owners of private businesses are unwilling to hire women to whom they must grant numerous privileges and additional days off. Women with young children, female graduates with no work experience, women close to retirement age, disabled women and women in occupations which, because of competition in the labour market, are male-dominated (such as engineering, technology and construction) are in the most difficult situation in the labour market (in Belarusian).

The Ministry of Labour and Social Security is in charge of executing the government’s policies on ensuring equality of women in all spheres of social, cultural, and economic life (article 6 of the Statute of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (in Russian)). However, its instructions are not binding on other government agencies.

The State intends to review existing legislation and to bring it to conformity with international standards, particularly, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (ratified by Belarus in 1981) and the Optional Protocol to the Convention, which Belarus signed in 2003. However, as per the 2006 Report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, Belarusian legislators still have much to do in order to bring Belarusian legislation to full compliance with the ILO Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (ratified by Belarus in 1961).

As was admitted by the representative of Belarus at the CEDAW meeting in 2004, ‘such factors as  the slow pace of establishing protection mechanisms, the lack of adequate resources, and enduring stereotypes of gender roles, all of these impede the improvement of the situation of women.’

Although, according to the World Economic Forum’s ‘The Global Gender Gap Report 2008’, in 2008 Belarus took 33rd place among the 130 countries in their performance of narrowing gender disparity, ‘women still carry most of the burden of unpaid domestic labour' (according to surveys, around 80% of the total amount of work done in the house is done by women.) It is the families with a single mother as the head-of-household that are more likely to fall into the category of low income families. It is men whom employers are more likely to hire, given the choice. Although they have a much higher level of education than men (55% of working women have higher education compare to 38% of men), women realize their potential in the least paid professions and spheres of economy, i.e. education and health care (in Belarusian).  Women are underrepresented at high level jobs and decision-making bodies (according to the World Economic Forum (WEF data); in 2007, only six ministerial positions were held by women as opposed to 94 by men; 29 parliament’s seats were taken by women, as opposed to 71 by men.)

It  was reported (WHO, 2004) that during the last decade, a general decline in the status of women's health, as well as a decline in women's access to health services is becoming widespread in Belarus (CEDAW report, 2004). There is also the continuing negative impact of the Chernobyl disaster on women’s health (WHO, 2006). Over two million people have suffered the consequences of the catastrophe, over one million of whom are women. Since the accident in 1986, the rate of thyroid cancer in Belarus has increased by 700 times. The psychological and emotional impact has resulted in the birth rate falling by 40 % (Press Release CEDAW, 2004). Because the theme of the Chernobyl disaster and its consequences has become a political issue during the time of President Lukashenka, Belarusian authorities prefer to deal with the issue on their own and are reluctant to accept international help.

Violence against Women

Belarus is a member of international conventions concerning equality and protection of women’s rights e.g. the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Pacts on Civil, Political, Economical, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination of Women and the optional Protocol referring to the Convention, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Beijing Platform.

The Criminal Code (in Russian) has broad provisions of criminal responsibility for offences against sexual inviolability or sexual freedom. In particular, criminal responsibility is envisaged for the following offences:

Rape (art. 166);
Violent acts of a sexual nature (art. 167);
Sexual intercourse and other acts of a sexual nature with a person under 16 years of age (art. 168);
Sexual molestation (art. 169);
Coercion into acts of a sexual nature (art. 170);

Creating or running brothels (art.171);

Compelling to or engaging in prostitution (art. 171-1).

An imprisonment term envisaged by the Code for most of the above crimes ranges from three to up to 15 years, depending on aggravating circumstances.

The Administrative Code (art. 9.1) punishes non-severe bodily harm by a fine or up to fifteen days imprisonment.

In February 2009, the law ‘On fundamental activities for crime prevention’ (in Russian), came into force, where a long overdue term ‘domestic violence’ was introduced and defined. Experts call this law a significant breakthrough in an effort to tackle the problem of crimes in domestic sphere. For the first time this ugly social problem has acquired a legal name.

The process of introducing new legal norms has been supplemented by the implementation of a range of programmes designed to raise women’s awareness of their human rights (in Belarusian), to inform them of available procedures and practices to remedy the violations, to encourage and facilitate their access to the mechanisms of protection, and to enhance their role in society and promote their advancement. During the last decade the government of Belarus has accepted and implemented three fixed-term National Plans of Action to ensure gender equality: the 1996-2000 (in English), 2001-2005 (in English), and 2008-2010 plans (in Russian). Currently, the National Council on Gender Policies works as a coordinating agency between national governmental bodies and public associations to implement the provisions of the 2008-2010 National Plan of Action.

Joint campaigns and advocacy events continue to be an effective form of joint UN Country Team efforts to promote important themes. A joint information campaign entitled “Violence Kills Family,” which rallied efforts of the members of the UN Theme Group on Gender, national governmental bodies, and businesses, was held in November–December 2008. The goal of the campaign was to draw the Belarusian public’s attention to the issue of domestic violence, to inform the general public on the forms of domestic violence, and to strengthen the capacity of the campaign audience to identify domestic violence situations.

Though Belarusian law protects the physical integrity of women to a relatively high degree, violence against women, in particular sexual violence such as rape, sexually motivated murder, sexual harassment and trafficking in women, remains a significant problem (306 cases of rape or sexual assault were reported in 2007). The Head of the Department of Crime Prevention, Mikalai Drozd said in his interview (in Russian), ‘what happens in our Belarusian families today is a reflection of the problems our society faces on a larger scale.’ For instance, from January to October 2008 in Belarus, a registered 2500 offenses (in Russian) were committed in the domestic sphere, and 72% of them were criminal offenses. This number includes 199 cases of murder and 361 cases of deliberate infliction of serious bodily harm to a family member. The telephone hotline of the Ministry of the Internal Affairs receives as many as 200 phone calls daily from victims of family abuse.  But the real number of domestic abuses is reckoned to be many.

According to the International Helsinki Federation, women fear reporting marital rape because of the perceived misunderstanding and public condemnation they would face. In addition, some traditional Belarusian cultural stereotypes result in a certain level of tolerance for violence against women. Victims are reluctant to involve police in their problems for the desire not to “wash dirty linen in public,” to preserve the family, for the fear of reprisal, and because of the victims’ dependence on their offenders. According to information provided by the Belarusian Association of Social Workers, only 4-5% of women who fall victim to violence report the case to the police; 35% of women say nothing and 52% share the experience with acquaintances. The current housing situation in Belarus is inadequate; quite often divorced couples are forced to continue to live under the same roof.

There is data (CEDAW, 2002) which reveals that 70-80% of women have experienced psychological violence both in family and public life, which indicates that this problem is more widespread in society than physical violence.

Tatiana Gaplichnik, the coordinator of the UN Programmes in Belarus, commented (in Russian), ‘the state does not have enough resources to address the problem of support, rehabilitation and reintegration of victims of domestic violence, but on the other hand if the state was willing it could, through the mechanism of a social demand, attract donors, public associations or non-governmental organisations to help it develop a network of shelters and crisis centres all round the country. It doesn’t seem to be willing, though. And as a result, Belarus has as few as 17 crisis centres for the whole of the country.’

The women’s movement in Belarus is in its incipient stage, and the current procedure of registration of public associations and non-governmental organizations, which is a rather protracted and complicated process, impinges on the public’s activism and deepens the reluctance of potential campaigners to be involved. The Regional Representative of UNCT in his report in 2006 attested to the bureaucratic difficulties and delays international NGOs encounter while registering and implementing their projects in the spheres of humanitarian aid. NGOs and political parties, depending on their loyalty to the regime, are subjected to harassment, fines, prosecution, and closure. (2008 US Dept. of State report on Human Rights practices in Belarus)

As La Strada points out, inequality, low social status and exposure to domestic violence are the main reasons that Belarusian women seek happiness and self-realization abroad and often become victims of trafficking.

Trafficking in Human Beings

Belarus is a State Party to the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of others of 1949, Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), the UN Convention against Trans-National Organized Crime and its Protocols (2000-2003).

The Government has also increased the priority put on trafficking in its fight against crime at the national level.

The Criminal Code forbids trafficking in human beings. Thus, the Code envisages criminal responsibility for traffic in persons (art. 181 in Russian), kidnapping (art. 182 in Russian), and offenses involving the recruitment of persons for exploitation, first and foremost, sexual exploitation (art. 187 in Russian). A prison term, stipulated as the penalty for such crimes, ranges from three to up to 15 years, with or without a seizure of property.

In 2005, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka issued a decree on ‘Certain Measures Aimed to Combat Trafficking in Persons,’ which among other things, regulates the process of obtaining special permits (licenses) by employment agencies to arrange foreign employment for Belarusian citizens; and establishes mechanisms of state control over the employment of Belarusian citizens by model, advertising and dating agencies abroad. It also adds additional provisions to the Criminal and Administrative Codes for the crime of trafficking and defines the status of victims and introduces measures to provide protection for victims of trafficking.

In December 2007 the President of Belarus approved the National Programme (in Belarusian) on Countering Human Trafficking, Illegal Migration and Unlawful Deeds, which addresses questions of improving legislation, international cooperation, combating trafficking, and assistance of victims. The preventive measures under the program aim to increase public awareness of the problem.

The Law on Combating Organized Crime was adopted in 2007. The legal basis for this law was the Convention against Trans-National Organized Crime.

The Law on the Rights of the Child (in Belarusian) provides for protection of a child “against all kinds of exploitation, including sexual, physical and/or emotional violence.” The law similarly prohibits “severe, rough, or offensive treatment” and sexual abuse, “whether such abuse is inflicted by parents or guardians or relatives.” Moreover, children are protected from “imposed prostitution or begging … or actions connected to the manufacture of materials or subjects of a pornographic character.

The numbers of trafficking victims have been on the decline in recent years (National statistics in Belarusian). In the period from 2000 – 2005, a three-fold increase in trafficking crimes was registered by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. But, since 2006, the crime has decreased. From 2000 to 2007 the number of trafficking-related incidents was 3,600; among three thousand victims of trafficking 306 were children; 1,115 persons were convicted, and 386 of them received prison sentences. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, Belarusian authorities investigated 84 trafficking in persons crimes in 2007. A steady decrease in trafficking from Belarus has also been confirmed by the  UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 2008. 

A number of projects, funded and developed by the EU, EUDP, e.g. project on ‘Combating Women Trafficking’ contribute to the development of trans-border cooperation between Belarus and the European Union in the areas of justice and domestic affairs. The projects aim at developing a prevention strategy through the creation of a database, the establishment of a hotline, the construction of shelter facilities, and through a series of public awareness initiatives. The National Council for Gender Policy, in conjunction with women’s associations, has pursued a range of relevant activities such as providing television coverage, publishing information pamphlets, offering regular lectures for women audiences, providing consultative services, and offering a seminar series.

The main challenge in the fight against women trafficking, however, remains to break down the “it is her own fault” stereotype. For any anti- trafficking project to be effective, it has to identify and address the root social and economic causes that drive people to leave their country in search of a better place. Thus, despite the measures the Belarusian government has taken to eliminate human exploitation, Belarus remains in Tier 2 of the human trafficking prevention ranking, according to the Department of State 2008 report.

 

Compiled from:

Report on Belarus 2008, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2009, United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

Women in Parliament 2008 report, Inter-parliamentary Union.

 Statistical Update Belarus 2008,  The Human Development Index UN Development Programme.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2008: Country Highlights and Profiles, Belarus, World Economic Forum.

Facts and figures, Belarus, World Health Organisation Country Office.

Belarus - Amnesty International Report 2008. Situation of Human Rights in Belarus.

Report of the Committee of the Experts on the Application of the Conventions and Recommendations, 2008. Report overviews Employment legislation of Belarus in regard to its compliance with the ILO Standards, in particular the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation Convention 1958.

Trafficking in Persons Report 2008 – Belarus. The review of the steps Belarusian government took in 2007 to combat trafficking in human beings, United States Department of State.

Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, 2007. Written statement submitted by the International Federation for Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), on human rights situation in Belarus, United Nations.

Optimizing the international effort to study, mitigate and minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster, General Assembly of the United Nations, 2007. The report chronicles the activities undertaken by the funds, programmes and specialized agencies of the United Nations to promote recovery from the Chernobyl disaster. Belarus presents its report on page 18.

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Human Rights in the OSCE Region: Europe, Central Asia and North America, Report 2007, annual report (Events of 2006). Belarus in chapter III. Report overviews situation of Human Rights and Liberties and instances of their violations in Belarus.

Belarus: Domestic Violence - More than a private scandal, Amnesty International report 2006.

10 health questions, 2006 Belarus, World Health Organisation, Europe.

Report on Highlights on Health in Belarus 2005. An overview of a country’s health status, describing recent data on mortality, morbidity and exposure to key risk factors along with trends over time, World Health Organization, Europe.

CEDAW, summary record of 643rd meeting 2004, reviewing 4-6th reports submitted by Belarus. Reviewing steps made by the State in compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

CEDAW, summary record of 644th meeting 2004, reviewing 4-6th reports submitted by Belarus. Reviewing steps made by the State in compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

CEDAW, concluding comments of the Committee 2004, reviewing 4-6th reports submitted by Belarus.

CEDAW, Combined fourth, fifth and sixth periodic reports of Belarus 2002. Part I of the report provides an overview of the social and economic situation in the Republic of Belarus, its demography, as well as institutional mechanisms established to implement the provisions of the Convention.

Part II describes the legislative, administrative and other measures adopted in the Republic of Belarus to give effect to the provisions of the Convention in accordance with specific articles. Part III provides an overview of the progress achieved in advancing the status of women in the Republic, as well as remaining obstacles.

Women 2000 – An investigation into the status of women, Belarus pp.63-82, International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.