The infringement of the rights of Belarusian women does not stop for a minute. After the 2020 elections, hundreds of Belarusian women were dismissed for political reasons, unfairly fined and convicted, women’s non-governmental organizations were closed. Belarusians who went through violence and wanted equality (or at least that no one violated their rights) will leave without the support and protection – the state perceives women exclusively as an attachment to a man. This week, “Our House” continues to talk about how an illegitimate dictator mocks Belarusian women.
The other day, Lukashenka gave an interview to the BBC TV channel, in which he stated about the destruction of 270 non-governmental organizations: “We will cut out all the scoundrels that you financed. Ah, you took care that we destroyed your structures. NGOs and others that you have funded.” Lukashenka tactfully kept silent about the fact that these organizations performed the functions of the state. Among the closed NGOs were those that united women and helped them in solving issues. Last week we started talking about the destruction of associations that fought against domestic violence. This week we will continue to talk about the closure of NGOs dealing with women’s issues.
On June 25, 2021, the Supreme Court of Belarus decided to liquidate the Belarusian Association of Women Lawyers. The Ministry of Justice applied for the liquidation of the organization. As the press service of the department commented, the public association did not submit to the Ministry of Justice information on the continuation of its activities and other information provided for in part six of Article 24 of the law “On Public Associations” for three consecutive years (in 2019, 2020 and 2021). The organization worked in Brest, it was founded in 1998. The goals of the public association include strengthening the progress of human rights development in Belarus, assistance to socially vulnerable citizens (women and the disabled), and human rights education. The chairman of the Belarusian Association of Women Lawyers was Galina Drebezova. Galina was also a member of the expert group of the international anti-corruption network Transparency International. In 2012, Galina Drebezova said in an interview with “Vecherniy Brest” that authorities and public associations should be more open to people. She also criticized Lukashenka’s anti-corruption program.
The public association, “CLEO Women’s Club”, has been working in Minsk since 1998. The decision to liquidate it was made on July 21, 2021, by the Minsk City Court. The organization was engaged in methods of social adjustment of women development, a psychological adaptation in modern socio-economic conditions and increasing gender identity. The description of the association said that it was a meeting place for women of a big city, a secular club of women’s interests that helps women find live communication, sort out their problems or have a good time. “The club functions as a psychological meeting group. Only good news is shared here. Positive thinking creates and maintains a good mood and an atmosphere in which everyone feels comfortable. A positive attitude and the consciousness that you have support in the Club help you in everyday life, at work, at home, in relationships with loved ones,” the founders of the organization said. According to them, the Club helped women solve various issues – from creative to legal and psychological. And artists, writers, composers and other creative personalities participated in the meetings of the Club.
In July 2021, the Grodno “Women’s Personal Development Center”, registered in 2010, was liquidated. Over the years, the centre has conducted several hundred private consultations on legal and social issues, as well as dozens of mini-seminars for women. Thanks to the centre, information on actions to do in case of domestic violence appeared on the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus website. In addition, there are addresses and contacts of non-profit organizations that work in this field and can give independent advice. Banners with phones of the round-the-clock domestic violence hotline have appeared in Grodno. The Center for Women’s Personal Development participated in the creation and development of the National Gender Platform.
Another liquidated organization that defended women’s rights is the Centre for the Promotion of Women’s Rights “Her Rights”. The Centre has been operating in Belarus since 2016. The mission is to strengthen women and girls potential through gender discrimination elimination and their rights and interests promoting. “Her Rights” provided free and confidential assistance to girls and women faced with the violation of their rights, assisted in drafting statements of claim and petitions. The organization also monitored and analyzed the current legislation for compliance with the norms of non-discrimination against women. “Her Rights” investigated the situation of women in Belarus and organized leadership courses to strengthen the potential of women and girls in Belarus. Employees of “Her rights” sent studies concerning discrimination against women to the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection. After the 2020 elections, the organization was collecting material about the torture of women at protests. This year, “Her Rights” began a month against the list of prohibited professions. The organization gathered heroines on its Internet sites who worked as divers, truckers, blacksmiths, sailors and boat masters. And besides, “Her Rights” covered the trials of Belarusians and told what our women were going through in prisons.
The Women’s Independent Democratic Movement public organization was liquidated on September 28, 2021, after 27 years of existence. It was the first women’s organization in the country. Activists participated in opposition marches, dealt with pressing issues like the closure of companies, women’s poverty. The organization had a small enterprise, “Pyalestak”, which gave work to women. Also, employees taught unemployed Belarusian women to open and run their businesses, and since then, support for women’s entrepreneurship has become central to the association.
In 1994, activists held first in Belarus international women’s forum “Women, Family and Society”. Women from more than ten countries, members of parliaments, representatives of the Council of Europe attended it. The Women’s Independent Democratic Movement has participated in many international conferences. We have already visited Beijing at the last UN World Conference on the Status of Women, participated in other international forums. Another important program was the “School of Women’s Political Leadership”. Thanks to the organization, Nadezhda Tsyrkun, a psychologist, head of the psychology department of the Pedagogical University, entered the Belarusian parliament in 2001. However, Nadezhda Tsyrkun was not elected for the next term in 2004 – then parliamentary elections ceased to be free, and only women loyal to the government got there.
In 2005, the public association chairman, Lyudmila Petina, met with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. During a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Vilnius, Rice called Lukashenka the last dictator of Europe, and the American ambassador to Belarus organized a meeting of the US Secretary of State with representatives of civil society of our country. After that, pressure began on the “Women’s Independent Democratic Movement”: detentions, searches, refusals in office premises and events. But at the same time, the association was able to develop a National Gender Platform and set itself the task of consolidating other public organizations around it, at least women’s ones. More than 20 NGOs signed this document. In 2018, the movement fought for the law against domestic violence introduction in Belarus, but Lukashenka opposed it.
After speaking at the National Council on Gender Policy in October 2020, Lyudmila Petina had to leave the country – the authorities did not appreciate her demand to release female political prisoners. At the same time, Lyudmila realized that her organization did not have long left. She received a letter from the Ministry of Justice. They warned her and required her to provide data of all members.
On October 29, 2021, it was decided to liquidate the Borisov organization “Province”, which had worked for 22 years. Its head Elena Avtushko faced domestic violence at a young age. After that, she decided to create an organization to help the same women. The first thing the “Province” did was launch a crisis telephone line for women affected by violence. Women got psychological and legal assistance. The “Province” collaborated a lot with the Borisov institution for men “Incentive to Success”, which worked with aggressors, and the initiative “Papa-School”. In May 2020, the Province opened a shelter in Borisov for women affected by domestic violence. After the 2020 elections, the organization’s activities were underground. In September 2020, Elena Avtushko got detained at a rally. On November 15, 2020, she was arrested at the “square of Changes” in Minsk and given 25 days. After that, pressure on Elena continued: searches, searches, calls to the prosecutor’s office. And the liquidation of the organization was not surprising for her. “I am sure that we would have been liquidated, anyway, because we cooperated with several international funds, with the International Organization for Migration. And we had projects that helped many people. That is, we were quite a prominent and influential organization in the region,” Elena said in an interview to Reform.by media.
There is no one else to protect women’s rights, support them and train them – the illegitimate state will not do this. But Belarusians do not despair and believe in the best. We want to thank women’s organizations for their work and assistance over the years. And we know for sure that they will all return as soon as it becomes possible.