Gender issues first came to prominence when looking for ways to protect women’s rights and ensure legal and de-facto equality between women and men. Modern Belarusian society dictates that both women and men should adhere to rigid gender roles and their lives are limited by existing stereotypes.
Societies with a high level of de-facto equality between women and men see equal life expectancy for both sexes. In Belarus there is a 10-11 year gap in life expectancy for men and women (which means men on average live less than women), while in Northern and Western Europe this gap is around 3 to 5 years.
What is the reason for this? Our women and men have equal access to health services, breathe the same air, drink the same water, and both are able to find employment and study. Gender equality experts have found that the reason for such a significant gap in life expectancy is social, cultural and gender bias. Gender stereotypes prevent men from seeking medical and mental health assistance, enable men to choose risky behaviour models, lead to men struggling to express their emotions, to go to jail more often, suffer on-the-job injury or commit suicides. According to experts there is a common denominator to explain these devastating facts - gender bias. Boys acquire this bias on how to become a “real” man when they are young.
Gender equality should therefore be a priority for the government in Belarus. Major national policy commitments in promoting de-facto gender equality are declared in the fifth National Action Plan on promoting gender equality in Belarus for 2017-2020. It contains both measures to empower women and promote their rights as well as a number of activities on promoting self-care techniques for men, taking into account their specific gender profile. Providing gender-sensitive healthcare services and a gender equal approach in partner relationships is also part of the Statewide Programme “National Health and Demographic Security in the Republic of Belarus” 2016-2020, where special attention is being paid to men.
Acknowledging the importance of these issues for Belarus, the International Public Association “Gender Perspectives” has launched a project “Promoting gender equality in Belarus by engaging men and young people.” The major partner and donor to the project is a Swedish feminist non-profit “Men for Gender Equality” based in Stockholm. Local cooperation is also being developed with national actors, such as the Republican Charity Organization “LION’S CLUB Belarus” in Minsk. The project has been registered by the Humanitarian Department in the Administration of the President of the Republic of Belarus.
The project’s major objectives are to improve the quality of life for men and young people by shattering harmful gender stereotypes and developing new self-care practices. There are two main project components that aim to achieve these objectives. One of them is to develop and launch an information and counseling service for men. Its main purpose will be to help men and young people develop the ability to ask for assistance, and to discuss their problems and difficult emotions. Together with the service launch, the project aims to increase awareness among young people about the opportunities and advantages of egalitarian relationships between women and men and overcoming harmful gender stereotypes.
This project also plans to launch a statewide information and awareness campaign geared at undermining old-fashioned gender stereotypes and developing new modern profiles of men and women for contemporary Belarusian society.