This report aims to illuminate the position of the Belarusian women in the labor market, as well as gender biases and gender discrimination in the employment sector of Belarus.

Belarusian women: even the work does not save us from poverty

The Belarusian Government is confident that the labor market in Belarus does not have any noticeable gender bias. At least, Nadejda Ermakova – the senior official responsible for women’s rights, made this announcement deputy chief of the Belarusian Union of Women and ex-head of the National Bank[1].

However, in reality, such bias occurs, that is reflected primarily in a significant difference in income between men and women in Belarus. At the same time, women in comparison with men are increasingly falling into the “poverty trap” because of their social status. One of the manifestations of this social phenomenon is so-called “working poor” (people that are employed on a full-time basis job with the income level, which brings them to the brink of poverty).

Common problems of labor market in Belarus

According to the data from the Ministry of Labor of Belarus, women constitute over 50% of the unemployed in Minsk, while in small towns, regional and district centers it makes more than 60%. In doing so, the average income of female workers in Belarus is significantly lower than men’s one. There are several reasons for that, the main of which is that the percentage of women in “the public sector” – teachers, doctors (and in general health-care workers), librarians, scientists is much higher.

Nevertheless, there is a range of professions with sufficiently high levels of income that are simply banned for women by law in Belarus.

On 20 June 2017, Belarusian news agencies reported that Belarus has fallen below the “sensitive” countries that have no guarantee of protection of workers’ rights. This was stated in the rating of ITUC Global Rights Index for 2017, compiled by the International Trade Union Confederation[2]. The investigation has covered cases of 139 countries around the world[3]. 34 more countries including Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Greece, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Ukraine, Turkey, Zimbabwe, and others along with Belarus have fallen into the same group.

Among “hot spots” in terms of protection of workers’ rights in Belarus the authors of the rating point out the decree no. 3 “On the Prevention of Social dependency” [4] and possible fines for non-payment of imposed fees, decree no. 5 “On enhancing the requirements for senior and middle-ranking officials at the organizations”[5], which is severely criticized by the International Labor Organization, because it failed to comply with the Convention of ILO, ratified by Belarus, as well as causes complications in the work of independent trade unions.

Iraq, Libya, Palestine, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, and others were included in a group of countries where the situation regarding protection of workers’ rights is even worse. Poland and Russia ended up in the group of countries where regular violations of workers’ rights are detected. According to the rating, such states, as Canada, Belgium, Portugal, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, Czech Republic, and others have the best conditions in regards to workers’ rights. The Baltic countries – Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are also considered in this group of countries.

It is important to understand the principal difference of Belarusian labor market from the labor market of neighboring countries and even from all other countries both post-Soviet space, and Eastern and Central Europe. Actually, labor relations in Belarus are not governed by the laws (the Labor Code), but by presidential Decree no. 29 of 1997 [6], which gave the right to all employers to conclude short-term contracts (a period of between one to five years) with all categories of workers. Now, there is a plenty of secondary regulations that are out of the Labor Code and govern precisely this contract system. Because the article 17 of the new version of the Labor Code stipulates that conclusion of fixed-term contracts is prohibited in cases of permanent types of work[7].

Moreover, the contract system created by the decree of President Alexander Lukashenko absolutely contradicts the Labor Code of Belarus. As a result, today Belarus is the only country in the world where the absolute majority of employees – about 90% – work on short-term employment contracts, without any guarantees for the future.

Vulnerability of Belarusian women in the labor market

The Top Government Officials of Belarus say willingly and a lot about assistance to women, especially to those who bring up children. Of course, the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko has a lead here; he likes to make statements like

“I had a meeting with women’s collective in the workplace. I tell them: the first child is yours, the second is yours too. The third child is mine and a little bit yours. The fifth of one hundred percent and the next ones are mine … They are silent. Well, give births. I cannot do this for you.” [8] 

Nonetheless, in practice, such assistance is given to women for seeking to ensure the notorious gender equality. However, in this case, it is a question of combining the functions of motherhood with labor duties. This is a slightly different sphere than gender equality in labor relations and, especially, in professional opportunities.

Indeed, Belarus provides a long-term paid maternal leave for childcare (the so-called “maternity leave”). However, the level of these state guarantees, as well as the level of salaries, is very low. Only pregnant women, women with children under 3 years old and with disabled children are more or less protected by law under the contract system. Meanwhile all other women with older children – not least fall into the “poverty trap” “thanks” to the contract system. In addition, there are many examples where a woman with two or three children is simply dismissed after the expiration of the contract – and she is left destitute. The legislation does not provide any guarantees for her.

At the same time, elements of forced slave labor retain in Belarus, even today. In the current functioning contract system, the contract itself is, in fact, a short-term employment agreement. Consequently, it turns out that the contract cannot be canceled due to the employee’s own free will. Let us say in real life it happens that a person has found a better job or vice versa, that family emergency requires you to stay at home for longer – but you are not allowed to. Officially, the contract can be terminated only upon the agreement of the parties[9], i.e. if the employer is against the dismissal of an employee, then it will be difficult for him/her to be fired.

This situation has a downside – at the end of the contract, the employer does not have to extend it and explain the reasons for not extending the contract to the employee. Moreover, as practice shows, this hits women employees far harder than others. We have seen enough number of such situations – especially among teachers. The woman worked for 20 years, and then she was transferred to a contract in accordance with the President’s Decree. In addition, after one or two years the contract is not renewed – without any explanation. It turns out that a person is still without any severance pay – and everything seems to be according to the law.

On the one hand, women who return from maternity leave are legally protected. Their contracts are required to extend until the child is five years old and no one has a right to dismiss these women for various reasons (without a guilt of the woman). However, it is known that the employer is stronger in most cases and practices open, but unprovable discrimination.

Women with young children are very dependent on the employer, primarily because of the contract system. Moreover, they will not seek formal protection, for example, in the State Labor Inspectorate even in the case of an open violation of their rights, forcing them to work under worse conditions than before. A woman knows: if she complains, her contract will not be renewed in the future (in the near future).

As for the structure of women’s unemployment itself, the highest unemployment rate, first, is among young women who have just graduated and now cannot find a job in their specialty, and secondly, among women from 45 to 55 years old. These are the cases when a contract is not renewed, and after that, they are no longer hired to any qualified work. This is most pronounced in small towns, where there are great difficulties with the number of available jobs.

Many problems of women in the labor market of Belarus are related to the fact that the country does not have a separate (independent) anti-discrimination law – that is, a legislative act that prohibits discrimination in all spheres – including in the social sphere and in labor relations. According to Belarusian lawmakers, Belarusian legislation is gender-neutral, and therefore there is no need for a separate law to counteract gender-specific discrimination.

If the issue is approached from a strictly formal point of view, as they say in legalese, the Belarusian legislation can really be considered “gender-neutral.” As the structure of employment – where the male and females rates are almost equal[10]. However, in practice, there is still law enforcement and there is an actual situation in the labor market, which is not in favor of women for objective reasons.

According to the CIS Statistics Committee as of April 1, 2016, the rate of growth in the number of unemployed in Belarus during the previous 12 months was the highest in comparison with other post-Soviet states.

So, if in Belarus the number of unemployed increased by 37.1%, in Kazakhstan – by 23%, in Moldova – by 22.8%, in Armenia – by 11.5%, in Azerbaijan – by 11%, in Russia – by 6%. In Tajikistan (as of 1 March), the number of unemployed decreased by 0.6%, in Kyrgyzstan – by 2.1%, in Ukraine – by 7.7%.

Country Change in the number of unemployed for 12 months* Number of unemployed
(thousands of persons)
Belarus + 37,1 % 53,5
Kazakhstan + 23 % 69
Moldova + 22,8 % 32
Armenia + 11.5 % 81.3
Azerbaijan + 11 % 32.3
Russia + 6 % 1062
Tajikistan** – 0.6 % 54.7
Kyrgyzstan – 2.1 % 58
Ukraine – 7.7 % 457.5

* Data for 1 April 2016
** Data for 1 March 2016
Source: CIS Statistical Committee

The comparison of Belarus with other countries of the former Soviet Union in terms of the amount of the benefit that is paid to unemployed persons is very indicative. If in Azerbaijan, the unemployed receive a benefit in the amount of $ 162 per month, in Moldova – $ 69, in Ukraine – $ 59, and in Belarus – only $ 13.

According to the representatives of independent trade unions, in regions and in the Belarusian province, the most unemployed are female workers at the factories engaged in the processing of agricultural raw materials, light industry as well as employees of social services. A separate category of “newly unemployed” is schoolteachers and kindergarten teachers who remain unemployed due to the fact that their educational institutions are being closed. A diminishing density in the province, in turn, causes that.

At the same time, in the majority of cases, the state fulfills its employment obligations only formally[11].

How Belarusian women turn out to be “working poor”

With a purpose to make the situation regarding the position and role of women in the Belarusian labor market more understandable, the team of “Our House” experts considers it necessary to introduce the notion of “working poor”, that is little-used in Belarusian sociology.

Its essence is that in the overwhelming majority of the countries of the world (and certainly in all countries of Europe without exception), if a person has a sufficiently high qualification and a permanent job, then his/her level and quality of life far exceed the minimum subsistence level identified in the country. However, this pattern is not applicable to Belarus – what, in fact, possesses to talk about the phenomenon of “working poor”.

The statistics show that almost half of the country’s citizens – 48.8% of the population – had a monthly income of no more than 350 rubles in the first quarter of 2017 – that is equivalent to $ 180[12].

As reported by the National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus, only 12.4% of citizens have a monthly income of 600 rubles ($ 310) for the first quarter of this year[13].

According to the assessment of the experts of independent trade unions, the term “poor” can be rewarded to two-thirds of the population of Belarus. The phenomenon of “working poor” is that the vast majority of these people go to work every day and spend full time up there. Belarusian “working poor” are teachers and doctors, engineers and university lecturers. They are partly lowest-level employees at the public and community-level institutions. While these people determine the future of the country, its technical and scientific progress, the health of the nation, the quality of execution of state decisions on the ground. In addition, females constitute the majority in this category.

As can be seen, even without considering gender disparities, the situation on the labor market in Belarus is, to put it mildly, regrettable. Now let us try to understand why women are being hit hard the most by this situation.

On June 20, 2017, First Deputy Minister of Finance Maxim Ermolovich, during his report to the parliament, said that the state does not have the opportunity to raise the wages of the public sector employees and the current wage gap (approximately 20-25% lower than in the formal sector) can only be attempted to deter [14]. This is also confirmed by the latest report of the Ministry of Finance, which shows that under the current state budget, doctors, teachers and other categories paid from the budget should not expect the growth of their incomes [15].

The share of public sector employees in the Belarusian economy is abnormally high, as evidenced by the following infographics:

Meanwhile, in Belarus, females make up the majority of representatives of “budgetary” professions. A classic example here is the education system (the table demonstrates the percentage distribution):

Teacher’s sex Secondary School College, Vocational School University
females 88% 77% 55%
males 12% 23% 45%

Almost the same situation takes place in health care: 85.3% of females and only 14.7% of males are employed there.

The fact that the educational attainment of female workers in Belarus is higher than of male workers should also be taken into account. 64% of the total number of working women has higher and specialized secondary education, while the same figure for men equals to 44.7% [16]

A breakdown of the number of budgetary
Institutions employees by age groups
(At the end of 2014, as a percentage of the total)


At the same time, the average gross wage of women in Belarus is about 76% of men’s one. On the other hand, among the citizens of Belarus with incomes below the subsistence level, men are 15% more than women are. That is, women tend to be less likely to reach outright poverty, although their incomes are, on average, lower.

However, this diagram illustrates that in the first half of 2017, “female” professions are predominant in terms of the number of laid-off workers, while “male” occupations are higher in terms of the number of recruited employees. Net recruitment and dismissal (-) by type of economic activity in April 2017, persons.

Prohibited professions for women in Belarus

Against the background of all the information on the prevalence of women among representatives of low-paid budgetary professions, the existence of a special list of forbidden occupations for women in Belarus remains a controversial issue. The attitude towards the existence of such a list is ambiguous, including among women, activists of the gender and trade union movements.

On the one hand, many professions included in the list of “prohibited ones” are highly paid. That is, women occupied in such professions would be able to considerably raise their level of well-being. However, on the other hand, women themselves are often inclined to perceive the existence of such a list as a manifestation of state concern. Moreover, the maintenance of this list occurred within the framework of the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention on the prohibition of certain types of female labor.

Now, the Decree of the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection No. 35 of 25 July 2014, “On the establishment of the list of arduous work and jobs entailing harmful and (or) dangerous working conditions, for which women may not be employed “[17]. Based on the third part of Article 262 of the Labor Code of the Republic of Belarus [18] and other regulatory documents, the Ministry of Labor has established a list of 186 arduous work and jobs entailing harmful and (or) dangerous working conditions, for which women may not be employed.

In particular, women in Belarus are forbidden to operate railway vehicles intended for the carriage of passengers, cargo, and baggage. Women are not allowed to be hired for collecting apples and other non-timber products with a rise to a height of more than 1.3 meters. A woman also cannot be a driver of a hoist, an excavator and a drilling machine, a stonecutter, an ore crusher, a tobacco aromatizer, concrete products carver, a crane operator, a metal smelter and even a carpenter, a skins handler.

Women cannot be employed to work with vibro- and pneumatic tools, they are prohibited from working in closed containers and sewage wells. In addition, women cannot produce paint and insulating work in tight compartments and work towards the production of technical products at the meat products production. Women may also not charge and repair acid and alkaline batteries, be a diver, a coppersmith, a bricklayer[19].

There are 181 positions in the current list of arduous work and jobs entailing harmful and (or) dangerous working conditions, for which women may not be employed. The edition of this list of 252 positions for 2000 was operating until 25 July 2014, in Belarus[20]. The reduction in the number of “prohibited” occupations for women in the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is explained by the fact that now working conditions of the employee are determined not by the name of his/her profession or position, but the technological process, equipment and work organization at a particular workplace. The updated list takes into account the changed working conditions for separate proceedings (types of work, professions) and updated requirements of labor legislation, as well as changes in working conditions caused by the improvement of technological processes, the introduction of new technology, the application of new forms of work organization. There was also a unification of professions (changing their name, some labor functions). The jobs entailing harmful and (or) dangerous working conditions, for which women may not be employed, were grouped according to a common feature and clustered into four groups. In doing so, the officials of the Ministry of Labor acknowledge: the reduction in the number of positions on the list of women-banned jobs contributed not only to expanding the opportunities for women’s employment but also to their salaries increase. Additionally, according to the state statistical reports for early 2017, the compensations for working with harmful working conditions were established for almost 325 thousand women.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) proposes to Belarus to review the list of women-banned professions. This list is considered in the international legal framework as discriminating since this situation affects the woman’s right of free choice. The right to work includes the right to free choice of employment, and in the case of restrictions on the choice of the profession, the decision is made on behalf of a woman. We do not say that everyone will go to work in the mine. However, we insist that the woman should have right of free choice.

Examples of changes in the list of prohibited professions:

Professions List of 2014
Removed Concrete worker, bunker (except for blast furnaces), wood-cutter, cupola melter, outrider of blast furnace, grinder man, ditcher, leafleter, train driver (!), porter, stereotyper, etc.
Added Test driver of military and special vehicles, fitter, test inspector of military and special vehicles.

The list of women-banned professions leads its history in the territory of the countries of the former USSR since 1932, when it was first adopted. Throughout its existence, a list of arduous work and jobs entailing harmful and (or) dangerous working conditions, for which women may not be employed, was repeatedly changed and supplemented “in order to improve the work of women employed in the national economy and protect their health.”

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the list of women-banned professions came to the Belarusian reality in 2000, when the Council of Ministers approved a decree according to which 252 professions became unavailable to women. Professions from the list, as a rule, belonged to chemical, mining, leather and heavy industries. According to this list, Belarusian women were forbidden to drive the train, work as firewomen, divers, smiths, drivers of international passengers’ buses and large trucks.

There is one point about this list that is often not taken into account in the discussion. Through a list of arduous work, the society protects both women themselves and employers, to whom in the future women could make claims regarding work-related injuries and diseases (including those related to the limited fertility).

Now, Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Russian Federation also intends to review the list of positions that cannot employ women. The functioning current list of restrictions in Russia includes over 450 specialties, mainly associated with the use of physical labor and increased concentration. However, based on this case, it is not necessary to say that in Russia labor discrimination against women is even more marked. Simply, many professions that exist in Russia and are forbidden to women are not available in Belarus at all. An engineer for fueling space rockets or a packager of missile warheads are good examples of this.

Are prohibited in Belarus and in Russia Diver, gas rescuer, sulfate loader, grubber, bricklayer, stonecutter, cathode, oil and gas drilling rigs operator, skins handler, lead plumber, etc.
Are prohibited only in Belarus Test driver of military and special vehicles, fitter, test inspector of military and special vehicles, speed regulator of wagons, the controller of freight trains.
Are prohibited only in Russia Cupola melter, casting welder, metal and alloys smelter, nozzle man, bailer, crane man (working in the sea), skydiver (smoke-jumper), polygraphic equipment adjuster, scavenger and scraper of pianos and grand pianos cast-iron frames, etc.

In Russia, employers have the right to independently decide on the employment of women in jobs (occupations, positions) included in the “restrictive” list, if they create safe working conditions, confirmed by the results of the workplaces certification, with a positive conclusion of the state examination of working conditions and national epidemiological inspectorate analyses. That is, the limitation in Russia is more flexible than the direct ban practiced in Belarus.

In general, women-banned occupations are distributed evenly in the regions of Belarus, since the regional concentration of any specific industries in the country is rare. The exception here is the city of Soligorsk and Soligorsk district, where the underground mining of potassium chloride – the main mineral in the country is concentrated .

Soligorsk is the richest city in the country, where wages are 7-10% (in different periods and in different ways) higher than in the capital city. In 2017, the average wage in the mining industry equaled to 1.293.2 rubles ($ 665). However, wages in Soligorsk are much higher. According to PA “Belaruskali”, the average salary is $ 500-700. In this case, miners who work directly at the coalface earn about $ 1200 or more.

“Of course, women do not work in mines on “Belaruskali”. Such questions have already arisen. Because, there are highly paid professions in this mining business such as miner-sinker, as well as secondary ones associated, for example, with the fixation of ore, – explains Elena Eskova. – And there was an idea about attracting women to these positions because the salaries there were relatively small and men did not want to work there.”

Indeed, restrictions on the use of women’s labor in a number of the mining industry works (related to training and internships in the underground parts of the organization, geological exploration, works related to the receipt, storage and delivery of explosives and fuels and lubricants , maintenance of stationary mechanisms with automatic control, and other not physically demanding jobs) were lifted in the edition of the Belarusian list for 2014. That means, that now there are more opportunities for women to work at the enterprises of the concern “Belaruskali” in Soligorsk, but it should be stressed that there is a significant gap in wages between “female” and “male” occupations in the mining industry, although both women and men have the same risk under the ground.

The critical point is that in addition to the mining management, there are also a number of ore processing plants in Soligorsk. In addition, they have much fewer restrictions for women (although there are still some). However, the salary at the processing plants is not much less than that of the miners. That to some extent neutralizes the general discrimination of women in the mining industry.

However, the employment situation in the social sphere of Soligorsk, where the majority of women are employed, is the same as in all of Belarus. Salaries of public sector employees over there do not differ from the national average salary. At the same time, there are no enterprises in Soligorsk, where typical “female” professions (such as sewing production) would be in demand. Only trade sector, where employed women receive salaries for 500-700 rubles ($ 250-$ 350), is relatively developed.

Differences in salaries for “typically male” and “typically female” occupations:

Miner (male) 2000 rubles
Locksmith (male) 350-400 rubles
Locomotive driver (male) 1600 rubles
Secondary school teacher (female) 400 rubles
Seamstress (female) 350 rubles
Nurse (female) 300 rubles

Particular situation: gender in Belarusian IT

The field of information technologies is rightfully considered throughout the world as the most modern, and in many respects, free from gender prejudices. However, surprisingly, in Belarus, gender discrimination is expressed quite strongly in the IT segment.

In Belarus, the topic of gender inequality in the IT industry is not publicized. Maybe the whole point is that there is no such a problem? It exists. To be convinced of this, it is enough just to analyze the results of the annual research of the Belarusian IT industry, where have participated more than 1,400 IT related people in autumn 2015. At that time, the proportion of female respondents exceeded the 20 percent threshold for the first time[21].

It is worth noting that, in frames of the overall trend to reduce the number of QA professionals (i.e. software testers) per developer team, the number of female developers has exceeded the number of female-testers for the first time in seven years. This is certainly a positive sign on the way to destroying the myth that the place of women in the Belarusian IT is almost exclusively recruiting and testing.

If we compare the share of women in each of the specialties, then QA (the share of women is 38.1%) and business analysts (37.8%) are leading. Only one in ten developers (i.e. the programmers) is a representative of a fair sex.

The same is true about the salaries. In 2015, the attention was attracted by the minimal salary superiority of the female developers over the male developers in the position of the junior: $ 575 vs. $ 540. However, on the middle- and senior levels “everything falls into place”: the median salary of males dominates with an advantage of $ 300 and $ 350, respectively.

Approximately the same difference in favor of males is maintained among the testers. On the positions of the team leader and the project manager, the imbalance grows to $ 500 and $ 800, respectively. It turns out that the only specialty in the Belarusian IT, where the reward of women is not inferior to men’s is business analysis.

The results of a similar study for 2016 showed that the problem of gender imbalance in the Belarusian IT is growing worse[22].

The rift in the median salaries of male and female team leaders is already $ 1,000 and in case of developers – almost $ 600. It is logical that the smallest difference in the job evaluation falls on those positions where the proportion of women is higher: technical writers, sales, HR, QA. However, even among HR managers, where women make over 96%, men get $ 300 more. The same difference with sales specialists, where more than half are the fair sex representatives. Salary imbalance among developers of different sexes is growing depending on experience: among juniors, it is $ 100, among seniors – already $ 600 (in favor of men).

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