Tuesday 21 May 2024 | 01:57

Point of view: Belarusian society isn’t yet ready to accept shorter maternity leave

18.02.2016  |  Society   |  Lizaveta Kasmach, BelarusDigest,  
Point of view: Belarusian society isn’t yet ready to accept shorter maternity leave

The maternity leave reform will require changes in Belarusian mentality as well as guarantees of good care in nurseries, writes Lizaveta Kasmach.

On 13 January 2016, Kiryl Rudy, an economic adviser to the Belarusian president and a representative of a young cohort of a pro-reform current within the Belarusian political milieu, suggested a decrease in the duration of maternity leave.

Currently Belarus allows mothers to take time off work for three years, with their workplace secured. This is the longest paid maternity leave in the post-Soviet space. Rudy argued that reducing the paid maternity leave to two years instead of three would lead to annual growth of GDP by 2.3 per cent.

Considering the challenges that the Belarusian economy is facing in 2016, with falling oil prices and the ongoing recession, the state is trying to find ways to optimise the inefficient social security system as a means of stabilising its expenditures.

Rudy's suggestion sparked a lively discussion in the media. It reflected the negative reactions of most Belarusians to the proposed amendment.

Motherhood and benefits

Mothers and babies in particular receive a number of benefits. The one-time family allowance for the birth of a child is about $750, while the average salary is around $340 per month. The state guarantees a maternity allowance (about $70) to every woman, provided she reports her pregnancy before reaching her 12 week term and follows medical advice. Finally, women receive 100 per cent paid maternity leave of 126 days during the final months of pregnancy and following childbirth.

New mothers can stay on paid maternity leave for up to three years. In this case, the monthly allowances for the newborn depend on the average salary in the country. Currently, the monthly allowance for the first child equals 35 per cent of the average salary, or slightly over $115. The monthly allowance for each subsequent child lies at 40 per cent, or about $130.

According to the UN, maternal mortality rates in Belarus are among the lowest in the world. Mothers can also be confident that they will not lose their jobs after having a baby. However, the family-friendly image of the country is not entirely reflective of reality. Child allowances barely cover basic needs, leaving families with babies in a disadvantaged position.

2015 Family Capital program

To improve the demographic situation in the country, in 2015 Belarus launched a 5-year family capital program. It supports families raising more than two children, providing them with a one-time cashless allowance of $10,000. By January 2016, the government had approved 11,600 families for this program.

It is too early to tell whether this new initiative will be successful. For the government it is a good publicity move. However, it does not provide an immediate solution for people who choose to become parents.

The experiences of pregnant women, particularly in provincial Belarusian hospitals, indicate a number of problems, often discouraging women from giving birth. Inadequate facility conditions along with rude and callous personnel turn childbirth into a traumatising ordeal, as in the recent case of Maryna Michnevich from Babruisk which went viral on social networks in Belarus last month.

Realities of the Belarusian social state model

In 2015 Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenka promised full support to mothers and babies. However, with the October 2015 presidential elections in the past and the economy in recession, the government is now more willing to reconsider the system of social support, including the terms of the maternity leave.

Experiences of young families also show that many women return to their work duties sooner in order to keep their families afloat. The monthly child allowance combined with the salary of the partner (provided the woman is not a single mother) is not sufficient to guarantee subsistence.

The housing issue adds to the financial struggles of young families: many do not own any real estate and are forced either to live with their relatives or to rent an apartment. Renting expenditure can range from $100 to $400 per month.

Finally, those women who use up their full maternity leave allowance face challenges in reintegrating into work life. If they choose to have a second child within this period, they are most likely to lose their professional skills and qualifications, becoming less competitive on the labour market.

Unfortunately, Belarus does not promote the option of parents dividing the leave and having fathers taking care of the baby. The legislation also allows close relatives to take leave from work for childcare purposes. Neither the state nor society actually discusses these alternatives.

Stay-at-home moms vs. neglected daycares

At first sight, reducing maternity leave from three to two years appears to be a rational and timely reform. However, it needs to be accompanied by a corresponding overhaul and expansion of the existing pre-school facilities. Currently the state lacks the necessary infrastructure to organise adequate childcare.

Another problem is the underpaid and insufficient staff at daycare facilities, leaving doubts about the quality of these institutions. The news site Tut.by recently published a story of a former daycare worker who highlighted low incomes, hiring of random people, and a lack of professionalism. According to official statistics, the average salary in the education sector in 2015 was only about $200.

Finally, Belarusian society is not yet ready to accept that existing maternity leave might become shorter by a year. The prevailing view is that children need to stay with their mothers until they turn three and are more independent and less prone to fall sick, thus not forcing their mothers to take sick-leave.

It is evident that maternity leave reform will also require changes in mentality - society will need to free itself from patriarchal stereotypes. Women preferring to remain housewives after their children grow older should stop relying on state benefits. Shorter maternity leave should be accompanied by guarantees of good care in nurseries. Time will tell whether the Belarusian economy will be able to afford this.

Originally published at BelarusDigest

Other news section «Society»

What actually the State List of Historical and Cultural Values gives to Belarusan Heritage Sites?
What actually the State List of Historical and Cultural Values gives to Belarusan Heritage Sites?
The Belarus Committee of ICOMOS announces the collection of cases on the effectiveness of the State List of Historical and Cultural Values as a tool of the safeguarding the cultural monuments.
The right to heritage according to the standards of the Faro Convention: is it possible in Belarus?
The right to heritage according to the standards of the Faro Convention: is it possible in Belarus?
On March 27-28, the Belarus ICOMOS and the EuroBelarus held an online expert workshop on expanding opportunities for community participation in the governance of historical and cultural heritage.
“It is our big joint work”
“It is our big joint work”
It is impossible to change life in cities just in three years (the timeline of the “Agenda 50” campaign implementation). But changing the structure of relationships in local communities is possible.
The “Agenda 50” campaign was finalised by the Regional Development Forum
The “Agenda 50” campaign was finalised by the Regional Development Forum
The Forum was devoted not so much to the outputs as to the challenges and prospects after the creation and signing of local agendas.
Mikhail Matskevich: How to create a local agenda and make it a problem solving tool
Mikhail Matskevich: How to create a local agenda and make it a problem solving tool
To achieve changes, you need to be interested in them and stop pinning all hopes on the state.
“If a person cannot leave the apartment, he or she does not need an accessible Opera House”
“If a person cannot leave the apartment, he or she does not need an accessible Opera House”
In Stoubcy, they talked about universal design and conducted pilot monitoring of two urban sites accessibility.
Local agenda in Valożyn: mission accomplished
Local agenda in Valożyn: mission accomplished
"Specificity is different, but the priority is general." In Valożyn, a local strategy for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was signed.
How Ščučyn was proceeding towards the solution of problems of people with disabilities
How Ščučyn was proceeding towards the solution of problems of people with disabilities
The campaign "Agenda 50" was summed up in Ščučyn, and a local action plan for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was signed there.
A program to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities was designed in Stolin
A program to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities was designed in Stolin
The regional center has become the second city in Belarus where the local plan for the implementation of the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was signed.
“Agenda 50” in Belarus: from strategies to implementation
“Agenda 50” in Belarus: from strategies to implementation
Representatives of the campaign “Agenda 50” from five pilot cities discussed achievements in creating local agendas for implementing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
In Stoubcy, a local action plan for the implementation of the Convention was signed
In Stoubcy, a local action plan for the implementation of the Convention was signed
It is noteworthy that out of the five pilot cities, Stoubcy was the last to join the campaign “Agenda 50”, but the first one to complete the preparation of the local agenda.
The monitoring of accessibility was presented in Stolin
The monitoring of accessibility was presented in Stolin
On May 28, the city hosted a presentation of the results of the project "Equal to Equal" which was dedicated to monitoring the barrier-free environment in the city.
“They think if the legs don’t function, neither functions the head.”
“They think if the legs don’t function, neither functions the head.”
In Babruysk, wheelchair users are fighting discrimination.
The real work of the Convention depends on all interested communities and organizations
The real work of the Convention depends on all interested communities and organizations
What results has the campaign "Agenda 50" given, what helps to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the regions?
The Convention is a fight against fears, barriers and stigmata
The Convention is a fight against fears, barriers and stigmata
Experts in Valožyn have determined that the quality of people’s life depends on their awareness.
The Convention should become a "living tool”, rather than remaining just an ordinary document
The Convention should become a "living tool”, rather than remaining just an ordinary document
On March 3, members of the campaign "Agenda 50" from different Belarusian cities met in Minsk. The campaign is aimed at the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The main thing is one’s personal motivation for full active life (PHOTOS)
The main thing is one’s personal motivation for full active life (PHOTOS)
There are being implemented three projects under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities campaign in the city of Babruysk.
One man does not make a team, but united we are able to do a lot
One man does not make a team, but united we are able to do a lot
In Ščučyn, people with disabilities learned to be leaders and to advocate their interests.
Barrier-free environment – it is not a ramp, but a means of independence (PHOTOS)
Barrier-free environment – it is not a ramp, but a means of independence (PHOTOS)
In Stolin, social organizations and local authorities are implementing a project aimed at independent living of persons with disabilities, and creating local agenda for the district.
Polish experts: We say “equality” and you say “inclusion”
Polish experts: We say “equality” and you say “inclusion”
Will creation of local agendas be an effective tool in ensuring rights of persons with disabilities in Belarus, just as it was in Poland?
Gintautas Mažeikis: The relation of political field and arena in the framework of information war

In his report, philosopher Gintautas Mažeikis discusses several concepts that have been a part of the European social and philosophical thought for quite a time.

“It is our big joint work”

It is impossible to change life in cities just in three years (the timeline of the “Agenda 50” campaign implementation). But changing the structure of relationships in local communities is possible.

Shhh! Belarus Wants You to Think It’s Turning Over a New Leaf

Minsk’s muddled media clampdown could jeopardize warming of relations with the West.

Mikhail Matskevich: How to create a local agenda and make it a problem solving tool

To achieve changes, you need to be interested in them and stop pinning all hopes on the state.