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Marianna Shchetkina about men in Belarus, gender equality and protection of economy

The Day of Defender has passed and we are now in anticipation of ladies' celebration, on 8 March is approaching, so we will continue the conversation on peace topics with a remarkable woman with high powers, the vice-speaker of the upper chamber of the Belarusian parliament and chairwoman of the public association Belarusian Union of Women Marianna Shchetkina.

Marianna Akindinovna, hello.

Marianna Shchetkina, deputy chairwoman of the Council of the Republic National Assembly of Belarus:
Hello.

I will tell the audience a little secret. Before you came to the studio, you congratulated me on the Fatherland Defender's Day. I won't say what you gifted me, but I will definitely reply on March 8.

Marianna Shchetkina:
I'll remember it!

You did not congratulate only me, did you? You have probably a lot of men around, you have a son.

Marianna Shchetkina:
All, of course, I congratulated all the men with whom we worked together, whom I know. Sure.

Not necessarily those who served in the army. Since Defender of the Fatherland Day in Belarus has become a public holiday. Even women greet each other.

Marianna Shchetkina:
Defender of the Fatherland is a very broad concept. Therefore, today more than ever we need to protect even our economy. Therefore, everyone should make a contribution.

I was recently surprised, too, in connection with the Day of Defender of the Fatherland. Only eight out of top 10 senior managers of our Belarusian television company (these are heads of directorates, deputy directors general) served in the army. So eight never kept a rifle in their hands. Maybe, thank God that they didn't. And, maybe it's bad, because everything is so tense around us. Hope nothing bad happens. Maybe you women would like men to be more prepared for defending of their homeland...

Marianna Shchetkina:
We are deeply convinced that this is true. Perhaps today we should also realize that in the age of high-tech, information technologies, one cannot solve problems with a rifle.

We have the Polonez missile system, too.

Marianna Shchetkina:
Therefore, we are convinced that our men have to be smart, educated patriots. They need to be strong.

Another story has come to my mind. Today, on Saturday, we had the Minsk Ski Track competition. It has already ended. I remember that four or five years ago, you were the only female minister who took part in that race. Was it the case? You outran half of the men, you were 16th out of 40.

Marianna Shchetkina:
You know, I did not actually want but I was asked to take part. It was decided that all managers were to be involved.

15 were in front and 25 were behind. 25 men! Should women pursue men in life too?

Marianna Shchetkina:
You know, women must be themselves, they should strive for their goals. And our women are no inferior to men. Do you understand? We can also do a lot of things. But this occupational segregation and wage gap (23%, which still exists today in the whole world)... This all raises certain questions.

You probably know the history of 8 March. Even in the middle of the 19th century, American female workers (seamstresses, as far as I remember) took to the streets and demanded...

Marianna Shchetkina:
With empty pots.

Yes. And they demanded equal wages and wanted their working day reduced to 10 hours. Now 10 hours is like slave labor. And then people worked 16 hours. It is clear that then followed Clara Zetkin, Alexandra Kollontai. The gist of this holiday was the fact that women have to fight for equality, for equal rights. Today, women in Belarus do not need to fight for equal rights.

Marianna Shchetkina:
Equal rights must always be defended. Our Belarusian Women's Union also conducted a specific monitoring as for the personnel reserves at enterprises and among public servants. We found there are not a lot of women there.

But it depends. When it comes to civil servants, there are more women than men. In my opinion, 70% are women.

Marianna Shchetkina:
Because wages are lower than anywhere else. But if you take sectors with high wages, there is a somewhat different situation.

But women don't become miners. Thank God.

Marianna Shchetkina:
Let's look at the situation, which was also just a few years ago, when I visited one mining enterprise. I was approached by women and they all told me (including men) that women could also work there at certain positions. In principle, wages there are much higher and working conditions are good. But it was prohibited. And then we looked at the situation and allowed women to work there.

But when we look at the number of unemployed, there are more men than women. One-third of the unemployed are women, two-thirds are men.

Marianna Shchetkina:
If you took the situation that was 7-8 years ago, the number of unemployed women would be more than 50%. And then, in the population employment program...

Then they gave birth and did not become unemployed, because they were on maternity leave.

Marianna Shchetkina:
No. Then, the program of employment back then even had a special sub-section, which was aimed against female unemployment. Today, the situation is really different. I also looked up. In 2016, the number of unemployed women was 35%, by the end of the year 34% and as of 1 February 2017 33.3%. But the reason is known. A woman will never let herself and the family remain without income. Women retrain faster, agree on a specific salary. Men are more selective but sometimes their qualifications don't match the salary they want. The rest, over 66% are men.

Apparently, not all women are so eager to work, because the dependency list includes a lot of women. Let's now talk about the major topic, which has recently been of concern to many, Presidential Decree number 3 on the avoidance of dependency.

Marianna Shchetkina:
Social dependency.

So, there are a lot of women on that list.

Marianna Shchetkina:
You know, firstly, such lists don't yet exist. I would not agree with you. Then we'll see.

But those to whom letters were sent...

Marianna Shchetkina:
So what? There will be further checks. Today the word "dependent", in principle, must not be offensive, because we have dependent children today, we now have dependent elderly people and pensioners.

Half of us are dependents of the state, taking into account the benefits we get.

Marianna Shchetkina:
Agree. It turns out that 54% of the cost of shuttle bus rides is subsidized by the state. No, it's people who subsidize it, in 2016 alone. We pay for public transport somewhere about 62% - 66%. Utilities somewhere around 60%. And the rest is subsidized by the state.

In all fairness, if you use free medicine, free education, then, please be so kind to make a contribution. Do you agree?

Marianna Shchetkina:
We earlier wanted to lay the burden of paying the full cost of the utilities on people. Yet we know that these requirements exist. The IMF requires this. But how will people pay for that? It's tough, because we have low incomes, and it will hit people's wallets. The state will always support people who live on its territory. But, again, we need some social justice. But we all use the same benefits provided by the state. We, on the one hand, want us to have a market economy and the free labor market in which people are not obliged to work. On the other hand, we want those benefits that carried over from the Soviet Union to remain as much as possible. But money is necessary for this.

Let's go back to women.

Marianna Shchetkina:
Ok.

You are the deputy chairwoman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly. Considering all the things we said, do we need to modernize legislation in favor of women?

Marianna Shchetkina:
We conducted gender expertise of the legislation. We compared it with international instruments, which includes conventions and so on. Belarus already has all the necessary regulations. We could basically extract them and merge into a single law.

The Council of the Republic includes 30% women, right? And the leadership of the Council is 50/50. Mr Myasnikovich and you. Mr Myasnikovich is your chief, of course.

Marianna Shchetkina:
We have that gender balance, of course. In Belarus, the share of women in the parliament is over 33%, while the world's average (taking into account countries with bicameral parliaments) is about 23%.

The President said that there should be more women, because the woman is softer, wiser, less extreme. Maybe the laws will be more reasonable. Because men can take some drastic decisions sometimes and then they have to sort out the problems.

Marianna Shchetkina:
Yuri, still the main word here is wise. I would not say that the woman is softer. Rather, now we can 'soft' about some men.

Feminism is very popular in the West even in the 21st century, sometimes it affects negatively even our women in Belarus. Tell me, does a woman of the 21st century differ from a woman of the 20th or 19th centuries?

Marianna Shchetkina:
Still, let me say that the elements of feminism are not bad. That means equal rights. Equal opportunities must be a consequence.

But we, men, don't like it.

Marianna Shchetkina:
Good to know! Then carry us in your arms, give flowers. But you know, women have changed, life has changed. And I must say that the attitude of men towards women has changed. Today's women became more financially independent. Some achieve a lot in professional activities. And they put a lot of goals.

And men feel it...

Marianna Shchetkina:
Yes, requirements to the partner have also changed. It changed from both sides. Today, the state has established such a system that provides these opportunities. But women must remain active. We have recently introduced a rule that allows women to retrain and work part-time during parental leave. Women can even use state funds to retrain. So we just need to properly and wisely use these changes.

Still, in the 19th century, women could not even vote.

Marianna Shchetkina:
Oh, yes, but that was so long ago. Thank God, everything is in order now.

It began with political rights and now some economic rights are expanding for women. At least this process is underway.
8 March is ahead. We started from 23 February and ahead is International Women's Day. Let's help our women do vacuum cleaning and prepare tasty breakfast for them. And not only on 8 March.

Marianna Shchetkina:
Even if it is tasteless, it will not matter. What is valuable is the very fact that you, men, did this.

Attention is all important. And you can gift an ugly 'broom' instead of a bouquet of flowers!

Marianna Shchetkina:
No, no, we need a beautiful bouquet.

I remember your gift and I will definitely reply with a beautiful bouquet of flowers! Thank you.

Marianna Shchetkina about men in Belarus, gender equality and protection of economy