On 5 November UN/UNDP/UNFPA Resident Representative in Belarus Sanaka Samarasinha took part in the International round table "Development of the national legal mechanisms for ensuring gender equality” held by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security of the Republic of Belarus jointly with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Belarus. The round table was organized within the framework of the technical assistance project "Developing National Capacity to Counteract Domestic Violence in Belarus in the Context of Increased Gender Equality". 

On 5 November UN/UNDP/UNFPA Resident Representative in Belarus Sanaka Samarasinha took part in the International round table "Development of the national legal mechanisms for ensuring gender equality” held by the Ministry of Labour and Social Securityof the Republic of Belarus jointly with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Belarus.

The round table was organized within the framework of the technical assistance project "Developing National Capacity to Counteract Domestic Violence in Belarus in the Context of Increased Gender Equality".

Address of  Mr. Sanaka Samarasinha, UN/UNDP/UNFPA Resident Representative in Belarus

Excellencies, Colleagues and Friends,

It is a great honour for me to participate in this important event aimed at strengthening national legal mechanisms for ensuring gender equality.

The fundamental right of both men and women to have equal opportunities to achieve their full potential is now universally recognised and enshrined in a number of important international instruments including the Convention again the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), to which Belarus is a party. But despite this international normative regime and commitments by national and world leaders to gender equality from the first World Plan for Action in Mexico City in 1975 to Copenhagen, to Nairobi and onward beyond the Beijing Platform for Action, gender discrimination remains entrenched in societies around the world, manifested through cultural and social practices and enabled and legitimised by legal and institutional mechanisms.

The most recent annual global report on the progress of the MDGs noted that women remain disadvantaged in many fields, particularly in terms of access to decent employment opportunities in the formal sector, productive resources, sexual and reproductive health care and participation in political decision–making

Belarus, has historically played an important role in international efforts to fight different aspects of gender discrimination. Most notably, Belarus has led the global battle in combating the despicable crime of trafficking in women and girls.

Domestically too, Belarus has made significant gains in gender equality for instance in terms of increasing girls education, decreasing maternal mortality, narrowing the gender pay gap and increasing the number of women in Parliament. According to the OECD, Belarus is ranked 15 out of 86 countries in the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

The UN – notably UNFPA, UNDP, UNICEF, UNIFEM and UN Women have for almost two decades been working with the government and civil society to advance the national aspiration of achieving gender equality. We have done it through research, data collection, capacity building, exchange of best practice, legislative drafting, awareness raising and education etc. But while we have made impressive progress, our collective work is not yet complete.

For instance, although the gender pay gap is comparable to many European countries there remains a fairly solid glass ceiling in some work places. For instance, Belarus has more women with tertiary education than men, but there are a significant number of women at the lower and middle level management positions within the state service. For instance more than 65% of women hold such jobs as chief specialists or senior specialists but at the higher level – such as the heads of the national state bodies and their deputies – women represent less than 20%.

Quite apart from the issue of rights, such inequality doesn’t make any economic sense. A recent global study on the Output Cost of Gender Discrimination using A Model–Based Macroeconomic Estimate shows that a 50% increase in the gender wage gap leads to a decrease in income per capita of a quarter of the original output. The explanation involves two effects: a direct decrease in the female labor market participation and an indirect one through an increase in fertility.

At the same time, when looking at gender and the economy in Belarus, while life expectancy has generally risen in the population overall, there is high mortality among men in the economic active age group between 45 and 55. It is currently up to 4 times higher for men than for women resulting in 12 years difference in life expectancy between men and women, and having a direct impact on the economy.   

Minister: Thirteen years ago, your predecessor Mrs. Olga DARGEL Minister for Social Protection of the Republic of Belarus speaking at the 23rd special session of the General Assembly on "Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace” said: “Despite the measures taken by the government and civil society, women's situation in Belarus is still quite complicated. Among the obstacles impeding progress are:

• insufficient financial resources;

• strong persisting stereotypes related to the social roles played by men and women in the society;

• insufficient men's involvement in the activities ensuring gender equality.”

I believe that we have come some way in addressing these challenges, but we have not yet completely eliminated them.

Apart from these impediments, many of us gathered here have also come to recognise the need in Belarus to strengthen existing legal mechanisms that enhance equal opportunities for men and women and provide adequate protection for the most vulnerable when needed.

In order to come up with effective laws, we need targeted policies. In order to formulate targeted policies, we need accurate, reliable and disaggregated data.

Again while significant progress has been made on gender research and gender statistics, some data is missing, some data is not well analysed, some data is not harmonized and where all that exists, all the data is not always fully utilized.

A case in point is the UNDP’s global Human Development Index. Belarus did extremely well last year by being ranked 50th in the HDI out of 186 countries. But the Gender Inequality Index, which is part of the HDI calculation and reflects gender–based inequalities in three dimensions – reproductive health, empowerment, and economic activity – was not calculated for Belarus because of the lack of relevant data.

We are working with the government to address this issue through new initiatives and hope that in the future legislation – and indeed budgeting – is based on solid gender based research and data, since resource constraints mentioned 13 years ago remain a concern.

With respect to legal mechanisms in particular, several of you have been engaged in the much–needed effort to deal with the deplorable phenomenon of domestic violence in the country.  This is not a crime that is limited to Belarus of course, but like in other countries, while welcoming the government’s concerted efforts, we believe that more needs to be done to understand the causes, prevent the abuses and deal with the consequences of domestic violence.

On average some 3000 of the most severe cases of domestic violence are recorded annually around Belarus. This of course does not account for what may be several unreported cases. According to the 2008 national sociological survey on domestic violence, every 4th woman reported experiencing physical violence at least once in her life.

Belarus has no specific law that criminalizes domestic violence. At this point, the Belarusian criminal code does not differentiate between violence committed by family members and that committed by strangers. Although rape is a criminal act, spousal rape is not strictly a crime. The system of levying fines on perpetrators who end up paying from family budgets can also act as a deterrent for victims of domestic violence to report the crime.

Today we will hear from national and international experts of what worked and didn’t work elsewhere around the world. Not every piece of legislation adopted by other countries must be cut and pasted here in Belarus. At the same time, Belarus as a founding member of the UN has always stood firmly by its domestic and international obligation to uphold gender equality as measured by international standards and underpinned by universal values and principles. Clearly there are many roads to justice. It is for all of you gathered here and the rest of the people of Belarus out there to decide the most effective and expedient path to get there. And as long as you remain determined to continue that journey, I can assure you that the United Nations family stands with you and supports you every step of the way.

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