From Beauty Queens to Freedom Fighters

Belarusian Women’s Political Evolution

16 September 2020

While tens of thousands continue to march in Minsk and other Belarusian cities, women have taken a particularly palpable role in the mass protests against Alexander Lukashenko. Even last Sunday, in the face of police crackdowns and brutal beatings by masked men, they have shown remarkable resilience and empathy, and no sign of giving up on their calls for a change of leadership.

When in November 2019 the 22-year-old winner of a beauty contest Maryia Vasilevich became a member of the Belarusian Parliament, a number of international media outlets immediately wrote about “Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s favourite” and her new accomplishment. At that moment Belarusian, the parliament achieved again an informal quota of more than 30 per cent of women. Earlier, many served as the Belarusian president’s proxies during the previous elections, such as employees of state bodies or his favourite singers or sportswomen.

Female members of the parliament have never been especially active or vocal in the decision-making processes. The only exceptions were Alena Anisim and Hanna Kanapatskaya, who became deputies during the previous parliamentary elections in 2016; they were the only representatives of the opposition there. However, with the end of their term in 2019 and no re-election, the Belarusian legislative branch risked remaining without pro-active female voices once again.

The women at the executive branch never played a huge role in Belarusian politics. Women’s highest positions in the Belarusian state bodies never reached higher than the minister of education, health or labour issues and the head of the president’s administration. In other words, no key strategic ministerial positions connected with military, defence and foreign relations have ever been held by women.

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Veranika Laputska

Co-founder of EAST Center in Warsaw and a Research Fellow at GMF Rethink.CEE

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