Minsk Forum XXI Warsaw Session: Advancing Gender Equality and LGBTQI+ Rights in Belarus

Minsk Forum XXI

The Minsk Forum workshop provided a platform for insightful discussions and valuable insights into the challenges surrounding gender equality and LGBTQI+ rights in Belarus.

Takeaways from the workshop

The Warsaw session of Minsk Forum 2023 took place on 2 October 2023 and comprised of two workshops.

During one of them, a group of 8 passionate participants facilitated by Julia Mickiewicz delved deep into the complex issues surrounding gender equality and LGBTQI+ rights in Belarus. The group, comprised of experts well-versed in these critical subjects and individuals with a keen interest in promoting change in these domains, embarked on a journey to dissect these pressing issues through various brainstorming sessions, pair and small group discussions, silent debates, and thoughtful analysis.

Part I: Analyzing the Landscape

In the first segment of the workshop, the group sought to understand the current state of affairs in Belarus, seeking answers to thought-provoking questions posed by the Forum’s organisers:

  1. The Female Face of Belarusian Democratic Forces: have Belarusian democratic forces retained a “female face” after the revolution, or are women, as well as LGBTQI+ individuals, underrepresented on the democratic agenda?
  2. Lukashenkoism and Toxic Masculinity: political repressions in Belarus have primarily been targeting men, with most activists and protesters harmed by Lukashenka’s regime being male. Are these repressions directed more towards men than women?
  3. Semi-Official Homophobia and Sexism: how can Belarus overcome the legacy of the Lukashenka regime’s homophobia and sexism, given its location between conservative Poland and regressive Russia? Does Belarus have a unique path to follow?

Part II: Finding Common Ground

In the second part of the workshop, participants discussed the commonalities and distinctions between these presentations. They contemplated what differentiated them and what actions could be taken moving forward. This phase was crucial in identifying opportunities for future progress.

Part III: Defining the Way Forward

The third and final stage of the group’s work aimed to formulate tangible tasks to address the challenges and obstacles to gender equality and LGBTQI+ rights in Belarus. Discussions led to the identification of three key actors: Belarusian society, democratic forces, and independent media, as well as the vital role of civil society and political activists as intermediaries and advocates.

The group concluded that the struggle for gender equality and LGBTQI+ rights in Belarus often resembles a frustrating cycle. These issues aren’t given the priority they deserve due to several interconnected factors:

  1. Fear of Backlash: Belarusian democratic forces hesitate to prioritise these issues, fearing societal backlash. They are wary of being branded as “enemies” by Lukashenka’s propaganda if they advocate for European values.
  2. Electoral Concerns: there is a prevailing belief that addressing gender and LGBTQI+ rights might alienate the electorate, given the assumption that Belarusian society rejects these issues as secondary or unimportant.
  3. Low Awareness and Education: due to a lack of public awareness and education, coupled with ingrained gender stereotypes, these issues remain largely unexplored. Independent media rarely highlight these topics, and when they do, they struggle to find relevant experts or commentary.

The workshop highlighted the urgency of breaking this cycle, as gender equality and LGBTQI+ rights should be non-negotiable components of Belarus’s path toward democracy and human rights. The future calls for a concerted effort by Belarusian society, democratic forces, and independent media to elevate these issues to their rightful place on the agenda.

The group reached certain conclusions and formulated a set of recommendations regarding potential methods and tools for reshaping the prevailing status quo.

  • In conferences such as the Minsk Forum that pertain to the themes of the future of Belarus and transformative democratic changes within it, it is deemed imperative to incorporate gender as an immintent value and a feminist perspective as a common framework across various domains, including politics, social issues, national revival, culture, ecology, economics, and others.
  • More extensive discussion on the broader human rights agenda, encompassing the rights of gender and other minority groups, is advocated for among political figures, representatives of civil society, and within the media.
  • In the media, it is recommended to present more positive instances that counter arguments such as “now is not the time.” For instance, illustrating how Ukraine ratified the Istanbul Convention during the war and conducted media campaigns featuring women in the military and LGBTQ individuals participating in combat. Moreover, media personalities and opinion leaders who are willing to challenge gender and sexist stereotypes should be invited.
  • Democratic Belarusian politicians are reminded that they serve as role models, and their statements and actions significantly shape public opinion, consciousness, and behavior. Hence, it is of paramount importance to adopt an inclusive, compassionate, and unified approach. An illustrative example is the mayor of Vilnius, representing the conservative party, who for the first time in the city’s history participated at a recent Pride event, where a Belarusian group was also present.
  • Democratic forces, including the Office of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the Coordination Council, and the United Transitional Cabinet, should be encouraged to leverage gender equality issues to foster a more positive image in Belarusian society. They should underscore their commitment to the needs and well-being of various social groups, particularly the vulnerable, while advocating for social justice. This positions them in stark contrast to the Lukashenka regime, which merely feigns engagement in social policies and, consequently, fails to safeguard the rights and freedoms of different segments of society.
  • Donors collaborating with Belarusian democratic political entities and civil society organisations are urged to underscore that gender equality is one of the fundamental values of the European Union, a priority for democratic forces. It is further emphasized that modern democracy is contingent on respecting the rights and freedoms of all political and social minorities, in addition to adhering to socio-economic and cultural standards.
  • The media and democratic forces are urged to establish closer cooperation and abstain from ignoring proposals, ideas, and requests emanating from entities and individuals working on gender-related issues, such as the Femgroup in the Coordination Council and the Belarusian feminist-queer community/network, along with individual experts.

The Minsk Forum workshop provided a platform for insightful discussions and valuable insights into the challenges surrounding gender equality and LGBTQI+ rights in Belarus. It is evident that the road ahead is marked by obstacles, but also by the collective determination of individuals committed to promoting inclusivity, equality, and human rights.