28 April 2013

Elimination of discriminatory practice in employment and on the labour market and contributing to women’s economic empowerment is one of the objectives set by the third Millennium Development Goal to promote gender equality and empower women.

According to the Millennium Declaration (2000) Belarus along with 192 other UN member states committed itself to achieving this goal by 2015. We will analyze the economic situation with an expert.

During the last 10 years women have dominated (52.6%) the structure of the gainfully employed population* of the Republic of Belarus. The reason for this fact is not only that female population prevails in number; this is also explained by the high level of women’s economic activity (86.7%) as compared to men’s (74.6%). Among employed women 54.6% have attained a tertiary or post-secondary education, while the same rate for men is 37.1%. A higher level of education theoretically makes women more competitive on the labour market, but women fulfil their potential in less well-paid occupational categories and spheres of economic activity.

Table. Proportions of women and men at various stages of attaining education

  2000 2005 2010
Ratio of girls and boys in primary education 0.94 0.95 0.95
Ratio of girls and boys in secondary education 1.29 1.23 1.17
Ratio of girls and boys in tertiary education 1.29 1.33 1.34

Source: National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus, www.belstat.gov.by

While women have a higher level of education (60.4%) they realize it in the lowest-paying occupational categories and spheres of economic activity.

Irina Chutkova, Head of the UN Gender Thematic Group/Deputy UNICEF Representative in Belarus, remarks that no special measures are implemented now in Belarus to popularize the academic and labour spheres where men currently prevail.

“No system-based or consistent policy aiming to diversify men’s and women’s employment is pursued in Belarus. At the same time special projects and programmes aiming, for instance, to involve women into the sphere of information and communication technology are extensively implemented in developed countries.

The expert comments, “While making their occupational choices girls seeking professional self-actualization take into account a job’s status value, its competitiveness on the labour market, and undoubtedly the level of compensation, which, as you know, is higher in the industries where predominantly men work.

One of the main reasons why men and women are not equally represented in various spheres of economy is that women permanently try to find a balance between work and family. The traditional image of a woman and a mother implying the role of a housewife and a member of the family responsible for childcare makes it difficult to fulfil professional duties. Whereas for a man, due to the same traditional outlook of the society, paternity and household duties remain out of focus, and success in the society is measured by professional achievements.

The creation of the image of positive fatherhood and involving men into the sphere of upbringing children will drastically change the relationships in a family, which will have a positive effect on the achievements of both men and women in the society.

Irina Chutkova states that more emphasis has been recently put on the topics of fatherhood and men’s responsibility for the socialization of children; and this is a ‘win-win’ situation.

“Spiritual affinity and friendly relationships between fathers and children favourably affect children’s nature and their entire future life. According to Belarusian researchers modern fathers have been spending more time upbringing their children and taking care of them. One of the reasons for that is implementation of specialized projects on establishing dad schools, creation of conscious parenting, equal and shared responsibility of mothers and fathers for the upbringing of children and taking care of them.

The expert remarks that this work has not become systematic yet. A serious “retuning of the public opinion is required, as well as the cultivation of motherhood and fatherhood as the most important social functions of an individual by the state.
“Unfortunately, the likelihood of a present-day student to be taught at school by a male teacher is extremely low. Women prevail in the educational system especially at the pre-school and school level. And if earlier male teachers were still coming to schools in Belarus, today this sphere of activity is not very appealing for them due to the low prestige of the teaching profession and the inadequate pay level. Many researchers note a number of negative aspects related to the feminization of education, and in this context there is a necessity that we develop and implement measures to involve men into this sphere of activity.

The generally accepted idea that a woman must do housework plays an important part in decreasing the prosperity of a woman, but is supported by the majority of the country’s population. According to the research performed within the last ten years most Belarusians are sure that a man must earn money, and a woman must do housework.

Women in many cases look for work longer, need job retraining after a maternity leave and rely more on remote and flexible forms of work. By combining 2-3 low-paying jobs or working at home women are far behind men in compensation of labour. Such difference undermines women’s social status and hinders their right for an equal participation in economic life.

According to a recent survey, an average salary of a Belarusian woman amounted to 73.7% of a man’s salary by the end of 2011, and this figure is close to an average global rate. This being said, household chores that women more often do are not paid at all.

We observe feminization** of such industries in the republic as the textile and food industries, trade, education and culture. Researchers note that as early as mid-‘90s there was an equal level of employment between men and women in the different sectors of the Belarusian economy. Although the level of women’s participation in the labour market is still high, they find themselves in a worse situation when compared to men. It is more likely that after losing their job at a state-run enterprise women would either work in a low-paying industry or become housewives.

There are forms of employment in Belarus contributing to the establishment of a balance between family and work. Irina Chutkova mentions that the Belarusian labour market is moving in the same direction as the employment markets of most developed countries, but with a bit of delay.
“First of all, the best opportunities for an optimum combination of professional and family responsibilities are provided by the professions where qualified people work for themselves, at their own risk, without being hired by an employer. The word ‘freelancer’ has firmly taken root in the modern vocabulary. Independent can be non-staff journalists, translators not permanently employed by a certain company, as well as lawyers, architects, accountants, designers, programmers, consultants, auditors, notaries, insurance agents, writers, artists, etc.

Elaboration of laws including flexible forms of work outside the office is a promising trend for the country.
“A second developing trend is remote work or telecommuting where an employee is situated outside a fixed workplace and the connection between the employer and the employee is maintained through information and telecommunication networks in general use, including Internet. Unfortunately, the growing opportunities for such types of employment in Belarus outpace the employers’ desire not to keep employees at an office and on a strict schedule. Besides, the labour laws are not really ready for such forms of work.

According to the expert, traditional employment forms can also facilitate combining professional and family roles, but only on condition of working part-time during a day, a week, part-time employment, and if there is a flexible adjustment of the arrangement of working time, periods of work and rest.
“Institutions providing families with various childcare, educational services and services to ensure all-round child’s development are of great value for a well-balanced combination of professional and family roles. And it is very important – apart from availability of pre-school facilities – that such services develop due to introducing new forms of childcare and education, better adjusted to the present-day situation and better meeting parents’ needs. These might be playgrounds, family day care facilities, mothers’ and fathers’ schools, early socialization studios, public nurseries, certified nurses and child minders caring for children at home.

Apart from traditional employment the women of Belarus work in the private sector. Women are very active in Belarusian entrepreneurship. Women account for about 60% of individual entrepreneurs. (A.V. Orlova Women entrepreneurs in Belarus: a research of organizational forms of functioning, 2011).

Considering the gender situation in which Belarusian women live and work nowadays it is necessary to take a number of meaningful measures to advance the realization of their rights in the economic domain.

Irina Chutkova remarks that the effectiveness of shaping gender policy depends on the correct assessment of the existing situation, a balanced estimation of the actually existing gender issues and a justified elaboration of social mechanisms enabling achievement of the goals with due regard to the lessons learned by the most advanced countries in the area.

The expert believes that it is possible to change the situation in order to prevent gender inequality in employment, and to foster women’s economic empowerment by implementing measures aiming to:

  • restore women’s competitiveness after periods of absence from the labour market due to giving birth and caring for a child; this also relates to men who took upon the responsibilities of caring for a child until it is three years old;
  • encourage shifting role-specific functions to a more even sharing of household chores between men and women, increase the status and prestige value of childcare;
  • raise employers’ awareness of gender equality aiming to change their social notions (the effect that ideas about social and professional roles of men and women have on the decisions of appointing to positions and promotion);
  • establish mechanisms of finding facts of sex discrimination and processing such complaints;
  • develop measures to reduce sector-specific and professional gender segregation, and elimination of gender asymmetry in wages;
  • develop flexible forms of employment;
  • facilitate gender research of theoretical and practical value for the implementation of gender policy.

Ensuring gender equality is important not only as a goal, it is also instrumental in achieving other results of great significance for the country. For example, according to research, the advancement of women in the social and economic spheres brings about an increase in birth rate.

In developed countries where much emphasis is put on gender issues the tendency for reducing birth rate has been successfully reversed. For example, the birth rate in the following countries has grown and amounts to 2.06 in the USA, 1.76 in the Netherlands, 1.83 in Finland, 1.90 in Sweden, 1.88 in Norway. (Source: Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS), 2013). This is another good reason why the system of measures aiming to ensure and protect women’s rights on the labour market must develop and improve.

*Labour force or gainfully occupied population is a total number of people working (employed) or able to work and seeking work (unemployed) at any given moment. The total occupied population comprises workers receiving salaries and emoluments (hired employees), self-employed workers and assistants (non-paid workers) of persons working at a family-owned business.

 Unemployed population includes all people of working age, who during the recent short reference period were unemployed, can be hired now and are seeking employment. In 2006 women accounted for 40% of the global workforce (according to the International Labour Organisation, 2007).