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Women fighting for democracy in Belarus

17 September, 2020On 12 September, around 10,000 women marched on the streets of Minsk, demanding the departure of Lukashenko. Since the protests began in August, and despite violent repression, women’s peaceful marches and protests continue in Belarus.

On 13 and 15 August, women were the first to take to the streets, protesting against Lukashenko’s claims to have won the presidential elections. Thousands of protesters were arrested, and the images of tortured and beaten prisoners brought women to the streets to protest against police terror. Strikes in many state-owned factories followed the peaceful protests.

Since the beginning of the resistance against Lukashenko, women have been involved and women trade unionists continue to play an active role in the movement.

Patriarchy is deeply institutionalized in Belarus, reaching all the way to the top. When Lukashenko received news of the candidacy of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the wife of a jailed political opponent, he remarked that a housewife would never be a real competitor.

In May, Lukashenko claimed that the Belarusian society "has not yet matured enough to vote for a woman", saying this was "because according to the constitution, our president has strong powers".

The candidate and her two female allies during the campaign, Veronika Tsepkalo, also spouse of a male presidential candidate, and Maria Kolesnikova, member of the election office of another male political opponent Viktor Babaryko, have shown the Belarus society that women can raise their voices and be leaders. Their actions have inspired many of the thousands of women taking to the streets for more than a month.

The images of the violent police repression show that women have not been spared. During the presidential campaign, Amnesty international denounced the Belarusian authorities for targeting women activists and family members of political opposition representatives. The night of the alleged re-election of the dictator, women protesters were arrested and there were reports of rape of female prisoners.

Zinaida Mikhniuk, chair of the Radio and Electronics Industry Workers’ Union, an affiliate of IndustriALL, says:

“I support Svetlana Tikhanovskaya because as women we should be able to decide for ourselves whether we want to be housewives or not, and not be forced to take a bank loan in order to equip our children for school when both parents are working. We, the women in Belarus, are a benchmark for many men; they cannot afford to be weak next to us. We are courageous, strong and determined, we stand with our husbands, brothers and especially our children and we will not stop fighting for ours and their future.”

Photo credit: Gazeta.by