- Introduction. “Invisible” female repressions
- Chapter 1. Basic statistics of repressions against socially and politically active women, journalists and human rights defenders in January-October 2017
- Chapter 2. The examples of persecution of active women through the removal of children or the threat of doing that
- Chapter 3. Blatant cases of persecution of women
- Chapter 4. The removal of children from politically and socially active men or the threat of doing that in Belarus
- Chapter 5. What is the difference between repressions against women and repression against men in Belarus?
- Chapter 6. The main challenges in human rights assistance to repressed women in Belarus
The term “invisible women’s labor” has already become a kind of meme for the women’s human rights movement, feminists, human rights defenders, peace builders, mediators, political activists etc. “Invisible” means that it is not seen, is perceived as a duty, as an obedience, as something that a woman must necessarily do because she is a “woman”, “this is a female fate”, “this is women’s happiness,” etc.
In Belarus, unfortunately, it is necessary to speak not only about “invisible women’s labor “, but also” invisible repression of the state against women “. “Invisible” does not mean small. On the contrary, most often, these are severe repressions that are blighting not only the woman as a person but also her family, depriving her of work, pushing her to suicides or violent actions. But society perceives such repression in the way of “the fool has herself to blame”, preferring to blame the victim, not the repressor. And that is right, she is guilty? Why did you write a critical article against Aleksandr Lukashenko or against anyone from his team? You should not have written that nothing would happen to you. Why did you fight against corruption in school or for improving the quality of school meals? Why did you go to the protest rally, protesting against Russian-Belarusian exercises or extrajudicial executions of soldiers in the Belarusian army?
Chapter 1. Basic statistics of repressions against socially and politically active women, journalists and human rights defenders in January-October 2017:
It is known that over the period from the year 2017 till now, the number of women detentions reached 258 cases. Some women were detained several times.
Socially and politically active women are at risk number 1 by the number of repressions against them. Women were detained 214 times for participation in various protests within 10 months – from the protest against Decree No. 3, which introduced the unemployment tax, to protest actions against rising utility bills, Russian-Belarusian exercises, and hazing in the Belarusian army.
The second group of detention is journalists or women performing journalistic work (bloggers, photographers, women who write posts in social networks, etc.) Such women were detained 44 times. The number of women journalists and women who are engaged in journalistic work and who have been subjected to repression constitutes 17% of the known total number of repressed women.
85 women were released after being detained; no reports or examination records were produced at this point.
The present fate of 163 more women for whom police reports were produced is unknown to us.
|During the spring protests-2017||After spring protests (until October 2017)|
|Detained women||188 women||70 women|
|Imprisoned women||27 female protestors were imprisoned. The combined jail time these women had to spend serving a sentence was 305 days||9 female activists were imprisoned. The combined jail time these women had to spend serving a sentence was 85 days|
|Large fines for women||30 women were fined for their participation in the protest. Combined, they had to pay the equivalent to 6.820 USD for their political activity or journalistic work.||29 women were fined for their activities or journalists work. Combined, they had to pay the equivalent to 9.230 USD for their political activity or journalistic work.|
|Journalists women||The number of female journalists detained/arrested solely for covering the protests was 23.||The number of female journalists detained was 21.|
|Loss of job||1 woman||1 woman|
|Loss of university||1 woman||–|
|Physical assault during the arrest||1 woman||1 woman|
Repressions and ‘Pacification’ Strategies
In order to prevent women from future participation in protests, and to punish them for their political or journalists activity, the following strategies were employed:
- Detention/ arrest in a particularly threatening way, without providing any information and leaving the woman in a situation of uncertainty about her future (214 times);
- Detention under false accusations and fabricated grounds (2 persons);
- Threats of and confiscation of their property (1 person has her laptop confiscated, 4 women were threatened by confiscation of their houses);
- Threat of termination of motherhood rights and treats to remove children from families (47 persons);
- Expulsion from the university (1 person);
- Loss of job (2 person);
- Illegal placement into a mental institution (1 person);
- Imprisonment (36 persons). The combined jail time these women had to spend serving a sentence was 390 days – more than one year and one month for one person.;
- Large fines (59 persons, often these are mothers with children under 14 years old). Combined, they had to pay the equivalent to 050 USD for their political activity or journalistic work.
- Home search (3 persons);
- ‘Preventive’ conversations by male police officers at women’s homes (2 persons);
- Police assault on cars of women, forced extraction of women from their cars (6 women);
- Physical assault during the arrest (presently we are aware of 2 persons, however analysing the photographs of the arrested women we suspect there were more of those who was beaten but never reported it or sought for help);
- Restriction of the freedom of movement to prevent their participation in the protest rallies (3 persons);
- Threat of deportation of women-citizens of other countries (4 persons);
Withdrawal of information about the detained women from their relatives (we do not know the exact number, but this complain often re-emerged in the accounts of the detained women and of their relatives and friends).
Chapter 2. The examples of persecution of active women through the removal of children or the threat of doing that.
- Galina Lazareva from Bobruisk, the mother of four children and the member of independent trade union.
- On October 31, Galina Lazareva was called by the employee of the social protection service who began to ask questions about the financial situation, about the participation of women in the upbringing of her children, about the children’s academic performance, etc. The social protection service warned that the next day they would come for the inspection to the apartment of the trade union activist. When Galina Lazareva reminded that she had already had a planned inspection, the interlocutor did not explain openly the purpose of the visit but said: “This is something completely different.” Also, the social protection service did not even informed about the estimated time of the proposed visit but said only that they will come on November 1. This case is not recorded in the monitoring of other human rights organizations.
- Human rights defender Tatyana Mironova’s child was taken away from her because she demanded the cessation of school corruption, in school number 127, in Minsk, and refused to bribe the school administration.  This case is not recorded in the monitoring of other human rights organizations.
- Larissa Shchirakova was threatened to take the child from her because of being employed as a journalist at Belsat. This case is not recorded in the monitoring of other human rights organizations.
- The 9-years-old Vlad Polhovsky was at the risk of being taken away from his mother for the fact that a police officer mistakenly beat him. The police officer’s son stained his clothes and was so afraid of being punished by his father that he lied that Vlad beat him. The police officer beat up a 9-year-old boy so that he needed hospitalization, and then executive committee tried to take Vlad to the orphanage because the mother began to write complaints with the demand to punish the police officer. Only the intervention of “Our House” halted repression against the child.  This case is not recorded in the monitoring of other human rights organizations.
- The children of a woman entrepreneur Daria Opushkina, who moved from Minsk to the village, were at the risk of being taken away from her for not having a TV at home and not using alcohol (i.e., they are not like everyone else).  Such cases are not recorded in the monitoring of other human rights organizations.
- The removal of children for debts for utility bills has become habitual. The children of widow Elena Mikulich were taken away due to the utility bills debts.  Such cases are not recorded in the monitoring of other human rights organizations.
- Removal of children from women, who are victims of domestic violence and seek help from law enforcement, has also become habitual. Natalia Mikhadyuk from Orsha lost her children when she asked the police for the help in the situation of domestic violence and beating by her husband.  Such cases are not recorded in the monitoring of other human rights organizations.
- Galina Lazareva, the mother of four children from Bobruisk, was interrogated by lieutenant-colonel of police Sergei Rudko late at night in the hospital where the woman was with her one-year-old son. He drew up a report there for her participation in the picket (the woman stood with a poster “First salary – then a rent”). What is an urgent need for a police colonel to go to the hospital at night to the women with children?  The second activist, Galina Smirnova came to the hospital and tried to present at the interrogation of her friend. As a result, a police colonel drew up a report because of “unauthorized action” (picketing) at the hospital. This case is not recorded in the monitoring of other human rights organizations.
- In order to be able to take the child from the family of the activist Tatyana Mironova, the chair of the commission on juvenile affairs Anzhelika Zakharevskaya called the ambulance and deceived the ambulance that Tatyana was going to throw her daughter Elvira out of the window. At court, she denied in any way that she made the call. According to the Investigative Committee, a call to the ambulance was made from a mobile phone that belongs to Zakharevskaya. If there are legitimate reasons to take a child away from the family, then why to lie? If it comes to lie, it means that there were no true reasons?  This case is not recorded in the monitoring of other human rights organizations.
- Mocking photoshoots comparing the appearance of Larisa Shchirakova with a state journalist and with the inscription “Belsat kills”. During the year, more than 10 protocols were compiled on Larisa for her journalistic activities. As a result, this pressure made Larisa refuse to prepare news stories for Belsat. The persecution of Larissa Shchirakova has been recorded in the monitoring of other human rights organizations only partially, for about 50%.
- Threats of deportation of a husband and eviction from the dormitory because she requires bringing doctors to justice. Doctors mistakenly removed the uterus of the young woman, Anzhelika Kalatozishvili . Anzhelika’s attempt to bring the doctors to justice for negligence led to repression against the woman. This case is not recorded in the monitoring of other human rights organizations.
- Personnel of the Commission on Juvenile Affairs together with the chairman Anzhelika Zakharevskaya illegally entered Inna Sabiryanova’s apartment in the absence of lodgers and conducted an unlawful search without presence of Inna and her son Kolya. This case is not recorded in the monitoring of other human rights organizations. 
- Irina Schastnaya, a politically active woman, was dismissed for the post of “Pogonyi(Chase)” (the historical coat of arms of Belarus) in social networks. This case is not recorded in the monitoring of other human rights organizations.
- Alina Nagornaya from Slutsk was detained and got a fine of $ 250 for conducting an interactive lesson of history about the “Slutsk uprising” on the street.  This case was recorded by other human rights organizations.
- The Director of school Elena Podlubnaya called mother Tatyana Mironova to the commission to the school number 127 in Minsk. When the woman came to the commission together with the human rights activist of “Our House” Valery Shchukin, the police have already been waiting for her. They arrested Tatyana and drove her to the Regional Department of Internal Affairs. As a result, Tatiana spent the night in the police cell without water, sleep and food, she got a fine of $ 100. This is the revenge of the school director for the fact that the mother at first, refused to finance school corruption, and then, when the director took the child from her, she began to fight to get the child back.  This case is not recorded in the monitoring of other human rights organizations.
- Journalist Natalia Goryachko-Basalygo got a 10-day term of arrest for doing video shooting in the corridor of the court. The court refused to admit the witnesses who were present at the scene, as a result, only police officers “testified” against Natalia. According to the Belarusian legislation, video shooting in the corridor of the court is not prohibited, but, nevertheless, Natalia has been in the cell for 10 days. This case is not recorded in the monitoring of other human rights organizations.
Chapter 4. The removal of children from politically and socially active men or the threat of doing that in Belarus.
As we assumed, the worst is beginning to come true. Having running-in strategies on women in the regions, the authorities are starting to spread these strategies against men.
- The daughter of activist Ruslan Huseynov, from Pinsk – Milana was removed by the authorities, for his active participation in protests against the unemployment tax and Decree No. 3. The daughter was returned after the intervention of “Our House”. This case is not recorded in the monitoring of other human rights organizations.
- An activist Ales Pushkin, from Bobr, was summoned to the commission on juvenile affairs to examine a charge against the failure to fulfill parental responsibilities due to the fact that the artist took his 13-year-old son to the interactive lesson of history in Slutsk. The commission closed the case because the examination time was expired. But the case is very exemplary as Ales Pushkin’s child could be placed in SDS (socially dangerous situation) and be removed as other children.
Chapter 5. What is the difference between repressions against women and repression against men in Belarus?
- “Invisibility” of repressions against women for human rights organizations of Belarus. Out of 20 cases of blatant persecution of socially and politically active women or children of male activists listed in this article, only 3 cases are recorded by other human rights organizations. Repressions against women in Belarus is not recorded, they are obscured or ignored even by human rights organizations.
- Repressions psychologically destroy the woman more if they are directed at what the woman, in force of the patriarchal nature of the society, considers traditionally her “place of power”, i.e. house and family. The frequent cases of house searches, the blocking of women activists at their homes (when the police or men without identification signs keep watch in front of their building entrance), as well as cases of the removal of children from the family, connected directly with the fact of repression, cause not only a psychological trauma of a woman , but also a great feeling of shame and guilt that she “failed”, “she is guilty”, that her views and civic position caused repression and the pressure of the authorities. Most of the women reported that after searches of police or KGB (Committee for State Security) officers at their house, they felt “dirty”, “raped”. During such search procedures, male security officers usually delve into very personal women’s things: hygiene pads, underwear, personal photos. The suffering of women from the fact that strangers touch her private life is invisible, but this does not mean that they do not affect. It should be noted that all these stories about the intrusion of male security officers into the houses were described with tears in their eyes – almost all women cry, while talking about their experience of repression, and note that it was quite difficult to get through it.
- Repressions against men have almost always been directed to the activities of men, repressions against women has almost always been directed to the destruction of her beings as a person, the destruction of her personal space, interests, her creative self-realization. It is important to mention that quite often relatives are blaming the woman for repressions, i.e. saying that she “provoked this”, “if you had sat quietly, none of this would have happened.” Here the situation is very similar to the rape when the Belarusian society considers the victim of rape to be responsible for the violence.
- The Belarusian society puts tacitly under a taboo the participation of women in the public sphere unless it is not a state sphere. So, if the repressed man gets support and admiration (as a hero and a real fighter), then the woman in the same situation does not mirror the sympathy or support, but rather a condemnation and she starts to condemn herself as well.
- A number of women were arrested in their offices or elsewhere before they even could join the protest rallies. Effectively they were detained on no ground whatsoever because, technically, nobody could know whether they would have protested or not. In those preventive arrests the scheme was always the same. Men in police uniform stormed into the office, detained the women present there, and either released them after the protest rally was over or filed a case against them for their participation in an illegal manifestation. Alternatively, women were stopped on false accusations, like of stealing their own cars, or attempting a random bank robbery. Eventually, it always transpired that those pretexts were nothing but an excuse to prevent those women from reaching the protest sites.
- Women protestors tend to be fined more often than men. This, however, does not represent a special kindness towards women. It is how women are framed by the Belarus’s legislation. In accordance with the law, a mother of a child younger than 14 years old cannot be subjected to confinement in jail for this type of offence. On the other hand, the fines these women had to pay constituted a sum of money equivalent to 1-2 months of salaries. That can be a real tragedy given the current economic state of most citizens in Belarus.
- The majority of the detained/ arrested women reported the humiliating behavior of the policemen towards them or, in other words, behavior that was aimed at lowering their pride, self-respect or dignity.
To date, the greatest challenge in our work is the “invisibility” of repressions against women for human rights organizations and society, as well as the early prevention of conflict or the prevention of repressions against socially and politically active women.
- The invisibility of repressions against women. Human rights defenders should begin to record repressions against women in Belarus. Initially, our team did not plan to monitor repressions against women, until we noticed that for some unclear reasons, human rights defenders do not pay attention to repressions against women and children, and especially repressions against women in the regions. This is a huge problem.
- Awareness of conflict, repression, and detention of a woman. As our experience shows, unfortunately, none of the human rights organizations of Belarus has been developed a protective mechanism for rapid notification of detentions and repressions occurring in the regions so far. If about 95% of all repressions and detentions are recorded in Minsk, then in regions the majority of repressions against women (in our opinion, even 10 times more, but it is difficult to estimate the number) remains invisible for human rights organizations. Very often, we get informed about the detention and trial of a woman after a week, or even a month or two months after the trial. The situation is fundamentally wrong because it leads to the fact that the woman in court and after the trial (especially one who has a term of imprisonment) remains alone with the huge state machine, which, of course, destroys her.
- The mass exodus of women from the human rights sphere, media, and civic activism after the repressions. The system of successful rehabilitation of women after the repressions has not been worked out yet. According to the human rights center “Vesna” (“Spring”), the number of repressed women is 1,164 females from 2007 to 2017, and “Our House” thinks that this figure is about 10% of the total number of repressions. This figure is very understated, taking into account that in 2010 there was a violent dispersal of the largest protest after the presidential elections and mass repressions, in 2011 there was a “Twitter revolution” and three months of arrests of peaceful protesters on the streets, as well as several large election campaigns, took place from 2007 to 2017, during which the level of repression was traditionally high. But, even if to have a look at this list of repressed women (which by the way is very unsystematic and chaotic, the same women are recorded under different surnames, there are a lot of technical mistakes and blank lines), it is obvious that about 70-80% of women abandoned the public sphere after the repressions (left the country, ceased to be active). This is a humanitarian catastrophe of the civil society of Belarus, because first, we train women in training and seminars, in different campaigns and advocacy, and then the woman is subjected to repression, she is left alone and … she gets disappointed and then leaves. This situation keeps continuing not for years, but at least for 20 years. One can imagine how many perfectly trained women with excellent leadership and managerial potential Belarus have lost over the years!
- Early prevention of conflict and assistance to human rights defenders. Firstly, there is simply no system to help human rights defenders, journalists, activists in Belarus. There are sporadic or ad hoc actions or events, but the system of assistance and maintenance has not been developed yet. Yes, there are some fines paid for women, that can be a help, but this is far not enough. For example, Larissa Shchirakova from Gomel, a journalist of Belsat, had to abandon her work in Belsat’s news program due to the fact that the government had drawn up 10 reports on her in a year. The fines were paid for her, but the woman could not withstand the psychological pressure and threats of her son’s removal from the family. And this is a very standard situation today – women had to leave journalism and activism because there is no any system of support and solidarity. This is the biggest problem for nowadays. In addition, the woman feels awkward and inconvenient, while asking for help in the sphere that seems to is included in her direct responsibility, i.e. in the house and in the family. It is difficult for a woman to ask for help when her activities, her views, her actions or disobedience cause conflict with officials who start to put pressure on the family. In addition, relatives put a pressure on her to not report anything, because this is a “shame”. This means that women reach “Our House” at the late stage of repression and it takes considerable time and resources for us to halt or remedy the situation.
These facts show following:
- Human rights organizations need to build a system of early warning about the conflict between active women and the state and system of early intervention of human rights defenders in this conflict. It is cheaper, safer and more effective than waiting for the conflict to heat up until repression, arrests, kidnapping children and other problems.
- Human rights organizations in Belarus should develop a more clear, systematic, timely and sustainable scheme for fixing repressions, as well as assistance to victims of repressions, especially to women and children from the regions.
- First of all, the focus should be on the prevention of repressions, i.e. work with public opinion and with government agencies through advocacy campaigns. Practice and experience of “Our House” show that it is quite possible in Belarus; this requires only (again) systematic and smooth functioning work.
This all may not be done, but then democratic changes will never occur in Belarus because there will be no one to do them. In the truest sense of the term.
Note: This monitoring and analysis of the level of observance and protection of the socially and politically women’s rights in the Republic of Belarus is made on the basis of applications from women (usually mothers of underage children) to OUR HOUSE ICCI (International Center for Civil Initiatives), also is made on the basis of “Vesna” (“Spring”) Human Rights Centre date basis of repressed people and also is drawn from the publications in the media that address the most pressing issues in this field.