Polls showed that women were an important pillar of the Lukashenka regime – they are now at the forefront of the protest. What changed?

From the middle of this week, women of all ages began to predominate among protesters in Minsk and other cities – at least visually – with flowers and white balloons, they stood in human chains on the side of the roads. This new tactic of protest coincided with a sharp retreat of the security forces – the detentions and beatings of the protesters almost stopped, and the beaten citizens began to be released from the isolation wards. Earlier, people rallied around the “women’s triumvirate” and Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who, having no experience in politics, ran a spectacular and inspiring campaign (and, as the opposition insists, won the election). The women’s protest has thus become a key symbol of the current opposition movement. But until recently, even independent polls showed that many women, especially the older generation, were one of the main pillars of “stability” and the regime of Alexander Lukashenko itself. Meduza studied sociological data and tried to understand what has changed.

Women were more likely than men to support Lukashenka. In particular, its economic course

According to public opinion polls conducted in the country by the IISEPS institute (it lost such an opportunity four years ago, when it published data on a decrease in the approval rating of Lukashenko during 12 months of the economic crisis – from 47.5 to 27%), Belarusian women were far ahead of men in support semi-socialist policy of the current government.

  • Despite the fact that women made up slightly more than 54% of all voters in 2015 (before the previous presidential elections), there were 63% of Lukashenka’s supporters.
  • Until recently, women looked at the authorities with optimism and hope. At the height of the economic crisis, which lasted with short interruptions since the beginning of the 2010s, more than 40% of them were sure that the economic “bottom” had already been passed. Among men, such optimists were only 28%.
  • 57% of women (both those who supported Lukashenka and those who opposed him) preferred a planned economy to a market one. Among men, there were only 40% of them.

Women are still discriminated against in Belarusian society. Apparently, the state has long been perceived by them as the last protector

As in other “Slavic” republics of the former USSR, in Belarus the female part of the population is much older than the male, which is associated with the shorter life expectancy of men. At the same time, the older generation is much more likely to support the government and conservative (in the post-Soviet case, it is also left) values.

There are other reasons for the conservatism of Belarusian women. They are much less likely to be employed in the private sector or run their own businesses. This is due to the gender conservatism of the whole society and gender discrimination. For example, women businessmen in the country complain that they are suspected of being unable to produce the same financial results as men; they find it more difficult to get loans. There remains a more than 20 percent wage gap between men and women across the country, both because women tend to occupy low-paid jobs in the public sector and because they are paid less for the same job in a private sector. sector. Many women saythat they were denied employment after interview questions that were not related to their skills, such as having or wanting children.

Probably because of all this, they are more inclined to rely on the help and care of the state, which until recently Lukashenka tried to personify.

The situation changed dramatically when Lukashenka refused to take care of citizens during the epidemic – and ceased to personify security

Even before the elections, women  became the  main opponents of the construction of a nuclear power plant in the country, which is being led by the Russian “Rosatom” (more than 40% of women are definitely against). For Belarus, the issue of nuclear safety remains extremely painful – it was the main victim of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. And it is women who are the main group advocating for maintaining security at all costs. Until recently, the construction of a new nuclear power plant was one of their main complaints against Lukashenka.

Lukashenka’s inattention to security problems became especially evident during the pandemic, when, instead of declaring an emergency, he behaved like a consistent covid-denier and  offered Belarusians to be treated in a bathhouse and vodka. Obviously, this also did not correlate well with the image of the country’s defender against any threats.

Women have long felt that they have no influence on what is happening in the country. And demanded more representation in power

Back in 2015, 70% of Belarusian women believed that one of them could become the president of Belarus. At the same time, a significant part of men (although not the majority) are sure of the opposite, and  among them  is Alexander Lukashenko himself. “Our Constitution is such that even a peasant finds it hard to bear this burden. And if you load it onto a woman, she will collapse, poor fellow, ”he said before the current elections. And in 2011, Lukashenko assured : “We, the Slavs, do not really perceive when a woman is a president. This is a purely male profession. You don’t need to get into these presidents: this is a disaster, grief, God forbid ”. And he added that “the presidential chair would not yield to the fairer sex.”

Meanwhile, if earlier women did not support any of the opposition candidates, then at some point they began to consider such an option if this candidate is a woman. So, sociologists back in 2015 noted that a relatively oppositional, but very weak rival of Lukashenka – Tatyana Korotkevich – although she won really few votes in the presidential elections (how many, it is impossible to say because of falsifications; officially – less than 3%), but nevertheless encroached on the “nuclear” electorate of the country’s long-term leader. The president himself clearly scornfully called her “the man in the skirt.” However, before Korotkevich, no one had succeeded in taking away part of the female electorate from him. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, supported by the entire opposition in 2020, did it even better.

Perhaps, Lukashenka finally lost the trust of many women when the security forces loyal to him staged a brutal dispersal of peaceful protesters. Indeed, earlier, even during economic crises, they continued to support him as the only guarantor of civil peace in the country. Now he himself has destroyed that reputation.

(C)MEDUZA 2020

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