Gender roles in Belarus are still largely conventional– most of the responsibilities allocated to women are firmly rooted in patriarchal tradition. While men have dominated the political arena for decades, women have been burdened with household chores and childcare. Until recently, most women did not consider uneven representation in politics to be a significant problem (Praxis, 2021). However, a group of three women realized that they must fight to help women gain representation in Belarusian politics.
With the dawn of the twenty-first century, the women's movement in Belarus and their presence in the political arena underwent a significant transformation. The movement became more organized and many successful women's groups developed, each with their own set of goals. Founded in 1994, the Hope Party elected to concentrate its efforts on the issue of women's participation in political life, while the Belarusian Organization of Working Women chose to focus on human rights and socio-economic concerns (Green European Journal, 2021). The Women's Independent Democratic Movement is one of the most notable women's organizations that not only promotes gender equality, but also works to increase all residents' political and economic competency.
Belarusian women were at the vanguard of the country's post-presidential election of the 2020 demonstrations. Women's involvement was seen as unparalleled, and sometimes referred to as a "feminist revolution with a female face." However, it was not initally intended to be a feminist effort; it was seen as a response to the widespread male protesters' arrests within the first few days of the demonstrations (Praxis, 2021).
After the 2020 election results were rigged, protesters took to the streets to express their discontent. Several women felt that President Alexander Lukashenko was elected in violation of the law. Following government abuses of human rights against incarcerated persons during the initial post-election rallies, the women's movement gained momentum. Various protests evolved, such as a women’s march that was launched on August 14th immediately after the rigged elections (Paulovich, 2021). In response to the developing events, spouses, daughters, mothers, and sisters descended into the streets, constructing solidarity chains on the city's streets to voice their fury against police violence towards male inmates in jails. Their involvement then evolved into more planned demonstrations, such as a regular Women's March every Saturday. It was previously considered rare for these types of demonstrations to occur, but by the end of 2020, they became ever prominent.
Although the August demonstrations were only getting started, the active women's engagement in the movement for change in the political sphere could already be witnessed. Three women were at the forefront of the transformation. The first of them, Svetlana Tsikhanovskaya was married to a prominent Belarusian blogger who was held captive before he could register his nomination. The second of them was Veranika Tsapkala, the spouse of a presidential candidate who fled the country to escape being arrested. The third member of the "trio" was Maryia Kalesnikava, political director for Viktar Babaryka, an imprisoned financier who had also planned to defeat Aliaksandar Lukashenka in the presidential election (Paulovich, 2021). These three women created a coalition to promote Tsikhanouskaya's presidential candidacy. When Veranika Tsapkala, Sviatlana Tsikhanouska, and Maryia Kalesnikava took up arms instead of the anticipated male presidential candidates, they were instantly referred to as "the three graces' ' and "our daughters' ' by the public (Green European Journal, 2021). One of the most common techniques used by these female demonstrators was to dress in all white and use flowers to prevent male protesters from being attacked. Unsurprisingly, they also became sexualized on social media platforms. However, this did not deter their fierceness, as they continued to campaign and boldy make their intentions known to the public.
Unfortunately, female prisoners continue to suffer danger even though just a few hundred of them are being held compared to thousands of males. They are imprisoned, intimidated, insulted, and beaten throughout their time in detention centers (Green European Journal, 2021). Women of all ages have defined their political engagement in conventional gender roles, and they have instrumentalized these roles to fight the Lukashenko government. Women have started to take on traditionally masculine responsibilities, such as political leadership and frontline work, which they have done successfully (Green European Journal, 2021). Since the demonstration, women have become more powerful than men, playing a more substantial role in society and undermining men’s power. Even though Alexander Lukashenko continues to serve as the President of Belarus, it has become clear that women in Belarus are well aware of their underrepresentation and will continue to defend their rights.
Green European Journal. (2021, January 4). Revolution in Belarus: Surprisingly female? Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://www.greeneuropeanjournal.eu/revolution-in-belarus/
Paulovich, N. (2021). How Feminist is the Belarusian Revolution? Female Agency and Participation in the 2020 Post-Election Protests. Slavic Review, 80(1), 38-44. doi:10.1017/slr.2021.22
Praxis. (2021, February 22). Women to the front: Instrumentalizing gender roles in Belarus – Praxis. sites.tufts.edu - Tufts Self-Serve Blogs and Websites. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://sites.tufts.edu/praxis/2021/02/22/women-to-the-front-instrumentalizing-gender-roles-in-belarus/