The event brought together a wide range of women leaders to exchange good practices from Belarus and beyond concerning women’s political participation, work-life balance and the role of universities in supporting women's leadership.
“Today’s event has shown what amazing women leaders we have at the local level throughout the OSCE region,” said Ajla van Heel, ODIHR’s Acting Chief of the Democratic Governance and Gender Unit. “Many decisions affecting people’s everyday lives are made in local councils, and these women have the power to be changemakers. Supporting and strengthening women’s leadership at the local level will therefore also improve the lives in their communities.”
Participants in the forum’s interactive panel highlighted the obstacles to women’s political participation at the local level, pointing out that some of the largest hurdles women face are societal attitudes and expectations. Women still carry out the majority of domestic duties and face difficulties in combining political activism with other tasks and responsibilities. Women are also often faced with belittling comments and attempts to undermine their expertise as leaders.
“It is important to take joint action, learn from each other and ensure women’s participation in all spheres of life, be it politics, economics or any other,” said van Heel. “Governments need to take their gender equality commitments seriously and work to ensure adequate childcare, work-life balance and equal opportunities for women and men to participate actively in their communities.”
A series of thematic workshops brought forum participants together to seek practical solutions to the challenges identified. Altogether, 90 women from more than 10 OSCE participating States took part, including local leaders, state officials, parliamentarians, entrepreneurs, academics, civil society activists and gender experts.
ODIHR co-organized the forum with the Belarus Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, in partnership with the Yanka Kupala State University of Hrodna, the United Nations Populations Fund in Belarus and the Council of Europe. The event was funded by the European Union as part of the ODIHR project Promoting Democratization and Human Rights in Belarus.