Research on needs of Belarusian women involved in the transformation processes within the country
In order to better understand the needs and concerns of women involved in protesting against the political regime, research was conducted by the Fem group of the Coordination Council of Belarus back in September-October 2020. The study was based on an Internet survey that contained questions about relevant hardships of women activists, changes in their workload as well as mental and emotional state. In other words, we wanted to know what their participation in the transformation processes was manifesting through and how much time it takes them to be active in bringing about political and social change. The questionnaire was disseminated via Telegram channels covering women’s protests as well as through social networks.
As a result, 906 women of various ages and professions have taken part in the survey. 74% of the respondents lived in Minsk. Judging by the number of our respondents and their social and demographic characteristics, we can say that the data we have acquired can be extrapolated with relative certainty onto all the women who have been protesting (one way or another) to achieve social and political change in the country.
Forms of participation in transformation processes
Typically, women spend 2 to 8 hours on a day off and 30 minutes to 4 hours on a working day on various protest-related activities. In addition to partaking in various forms of street protests (more than 90% of the respondents), women have also been spreading information (75,7%), caring (both for and about) their family members (58,5%), participating in daily life of their local communities (48,3%), donating money (45,3%) etc. Seven percent of women have pointed out that taking part in the protest inspires them and helps them manage their mental and emotional state that has been challenged significantly by the events unfolding.
‘I go to the marches. I feel much more confident when I can breathe the air of truth, freedom and justice and realise how many people are united by this one cause. My stress then recedes noticeably for the upcoming week.’
‘The marches are a must-go! It helps to keep up believing in your cause, makes you see that no one’s going to give up - and neither are you!’
Change in workload, mental and emotional state of women (protesters)
No doubt, the entire world is in awe with political engagement of Belarusian women, but what does it cost them?
Double burden of pulling off paid and unpaid housework/reproductive work had been a sad reality for most of Belarusian women long before the protests broke out. As of now, they also have active political participation on top of it (which also noticeably increases the amount of emotional labour performed, as will be demonstrated further).
More that sixty percent of our respondents report increase in the amount of time they spend doing unpaid protest-related work. About a half of all the women have faced increase in the amount of time spent on caring (again, both for and about) their loved ones as a result of transformation processes happening in Belarus, along with Covid-19 pandemic which Belarusian people have been left to fight on their own on all levels.
‘Well, I spend less time on housework because I don’t want to – I mean, I don’t have anything left in me – to do it. I spend a lot of time emotionally supporting my family – now I have to ensure they’re all holding up.’
‘My husband had been detained for a long time, and I just couldn’t do any housework, I had other things on my mind. All my time was occupied with caring for my kids and him.’
‘My extended family, my mom and myself - we all had Covid, and my husband had been taken to a detention center…’
Thing is, there are still 24 hours in a day, so women find themselves in a position where they sacrifice time they used to spend on paid work and housework to participate in political change. More than 50% of women surveyed said they reduced the amount of housework they do. At the same time, only two out of nine hundred and six reported that they now share it with their husbands/partners.
‘My husband now does more housework than he used to, some things we’ve stopped doing at all. Having to support family members emotionally adds a lot to the strain. I’ve got elderly parents who require assistance and attention on a permanent basis as is, and they are worried about all this a lot too, so you have to calm them down, explain everything patiently, reassure them it’s going to be okay. Friends often need a shoulder to cry on too these days... You can’t just turn your back on all those people you know personally who’ve been going through detentions and pain and all that!’
‘Many people I know have served short terms in detention, I myself have been detained at one point too, and you want this dictatorship to end so badly you’re ready to do anything it takes to bring this moment a little closer. My housework has been long abandoned, there’s simply no time for that, I’m gonna clean everything up later.’
The pandemic, economic crisis and political protests have led to some women losing their jobs or being sacked for their political views. 37% of women spent less time on paid work as a result of their activities, and having children becomes just one more serious strain to add to their vulnerability money-wise.
‘The tourism industry is in ruins now because of Covid, and moreover, our clients don’t want to leave because they’ve been protesting actively’
‘I’ve been doing a lot for our fight. It’s volunteering for now, but it’s been three months already, and financial losses make everything very difficult.’
‘I can’t concentrate, I don’t have any plans for the future. I don’t know whether I’ll be sleeping in my own bed tonight or dragged into a paddy-wagon by strangers breaking into my house and kidnapping me. I’m just praying to be killed there and then, with no torture.’
Regardless of how women manage their time, it’s simply impossible to do everything. As a result, many of Belarusian women have been feeling constant fatigue and guilt for ‘not dedicating enough time to [their] family’, ‘doing a bad job’ at work, ‘not doing enough to bring change in the country’.
‘I don’t have time. I work two jobs. And whenever I’ve got a spare minute, I go out to the street, to stand in a solidarity chain, to attend a protest gathering. Then I come home late and have nothing left in me to cook, clean or talk, and tomorrow I’ve got another 24-hour shift at work, or my other work, then some political activity again and more work.’
‘I don’t deserve to be paid. I’m a nobody. I can be stripped naked at a police station and made to do sit-ups. I don’t have the right to choose. Or the right to refuse. I have to obey. And money is only for those who have rights and can make their own decisions.’
‘My loved ones understand that I’ve been working for the sake of our revolution and don’t criticize me for doing less housework now.’
More than 80% or women estimated their stress level to be 7+ out of 10, and 70% have found their level of fatigue to be of the same intensity. At the same time, 63,5% of the respondents had no plans to seek psychological support, and 7% do not do anything to manage their stress.
‘I have children, I cannot afford to panic.’
‘I just need rest, feeling of security and to be able to plan things. I’m trying to take short breaks, but something always comes up, one thing or another. It just doesn’t work out.’
‘I have to print and distribute leaflets and newspapers; I’m trying really hard to find time for everything.’
Speaking of their needs, 67% of women involved in transformation processes say they don’t need any financial support, and less than 10% of them said they needed some help with children and household chores, despite admitting they don’t have enough time to do this work. Women believe that they must pull it off all by themselves, and that the events unfolding in the country affect them in a less significant way, therefore they don’t need any help (or don’t feel they have the right to ask for it).
‘I’m ashamed to ask for help because I haven’t suffered anything directly. I’m afraid to waste time a psychologist could otherwise spend with someone else who really needs it.’
‘I’ve been trying to cope on my own.’
The major call Belarusian women have is to get support of like-minded people (62,4%) and professional mental help (51,1%). Fortunately, 45,5% of our respondents reported their close circles fully support their participation in activities bringing social and political change. Close people of 30% of women support activities they consider to be safe for them. 29% of women have said that speaking to like-minded people helps them cope with daily stress. This reaffirms once more how crucial peer support can be and how much we can overcome if we feel we can rely on it.