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Round table “A new paradigm of sustainable demographic development”

31 October 2019

October 30, a round table “A new paradigm of sustainable demographic development” was held in Minsk. The purpose of the round table was to work out and discuss the key elements of the position of the Republic of Belarus at the High-Level Summit on Facilitating the Acceleration of the Programme of Action at the International Conference on Population and Development, which will be held in Nairobi, Republic of Kenya, on 12-14 November 2019.

The round table was attended by Marianna Shchetkina, Deputy Chairwoman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus, National Coordinator for Achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, Chairperson of the Public Association “Belarusian Union of Women”, Joanna Kazana-Wisniowecki, UN Resident Coordinator in the Republic of Belarus, Alexandra Solovieva, UNDP Resident Coordinator in the Republic of Belarus, Olga Atroshchenko, UNFPA Deputy Representative in the Republic of Belarus, Valery Kovalkov, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Development of the Republic of Belarus.

Marianna Shchetkina noted in her speech that the main goal of sustainable development is a long active life and high standards of well-being of citizens, and the main components of its achievements are sustainable demographic reproduction, productive employment and decent income of the population, quality health care, and a developed education system that fully meets the sustainable development of the country. “Demographic issues are issues of the future of our country, our statehood and our national identity”, she stressed.

One of the main priorities of the demographic policy is to increase the birth rate with a focus on creating additional incentives for the birth of second and subsequent children.

“Special attention should be paid not only to the issues of further improving the forms of material support for families with children, but also to the development of tools to enable parents to combine professional activities and family responsibilities, as well as a set of measures to enhance the role of fathers in the process of upbringing of children, addressing domestic and other family issues”, the National Coordinator said.

It is necessary to ensure a long and healthy life, to develop a set of measures to promote the active longevity of older persons, their social and economic integration into society. “The strategic goal in the field of demographic policy is to maintain the population at the level of 9.4-9.5 million people. In order to achieve this goal, the Concept of the National Strategy for Sustainable Development until 2035 provides for the solution of a number of tasks in the sphere of economy, ecology and social policy”, summed up Marianna Shchetkina.

Gender aspects of demography “are a cross-cutting theme of the Sustainable Development Goals. The principle of Agenda 2030 "Interrelation and indivisibility" does not allow us to focus only on Goal 5 (Gender Equality), but requires the introduction of a gender perspective in all areas of sustainable development. That is why the gender-equal society is one of the four platforms to accelerate the achievement of all the Sustainable Development Goals in our country”, said the UN Resident Coordinator in the Republic of Belarus, Joanna Kazana-Wisniowiecki.

The need to integrate gender equality issues into various national programmes and policies is reflected in both the fifth National Plan on Gender Equality until 2020 and the outcome document of the First Sustainable Development Forum.

Gender mainstreaming (through integration) involves the introduction of gender expertise in legislative acts, as well as the use of gender-responsive budgets. Gender-responsive budget is not a budget that is divided in half between men and women, but one that allows for the most complete consideration of their interests and needs and protection of their rights. For example, whether the distribution of resources for the realization of women's and men's reproductive rights, especially those with disabilities, is equitable, taking into account different patterns of behaviour and self-preservation skills.

These two priorities (gender expertise and gender budgeting) were reflected in the National Review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which Belarus submitted to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe in May this year.

Integrating a gender perspective into the 2030 Agenda also requires expanding the circle of familiar actors who can make a significant contribution to the achievement of de facto equality between men and women.

For example, the private sector has already been active and socially responsible in partnering with UN/UNFPA to improve access to reproductive health services for women with disabilities. Belarusian companies are also beginning to implement successful international practices that help workers with parental responsibilities to reconcile family and professional responsibilities. In order to reduce the time that men and women, especially those with children under the age of 10, spend on household chores more than twice as much, it is important to recognize the value of women's unpaid domestic work and to increase men's contribution to childcare and education.

Men's sharing of household responsibilities is not only important for equality of partners in the family. This plays an important role in strengthening the emotional bond between fathers and children and in improving the quality of life of men. The invisible and undervalued contribution of women to the household economy increases the well-being of all family members. Therefore, the resources that the state invests in the development of preschool infrastructure and services should not be seen as expenses, but as investments.

In the context of the challenges of ageing, it is also important not to exclude older women and men from reproductive health programmes and services. The United Nations also welcomes and supports the proposals of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to improve legislation to prevent domestic violence. This was discussed at the National Consultations on the priorities of the UN-Belarus Cooperation Framework until 2025.

The first session was devoted to the key components of sustainable demographic development in the Republic of Belarus.

Victoria Yuodeshko, Head of the Demography and Gender Studies Department at the Research Institute of Labour of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Republic of Belarus, presented the results of the study on gender and generational aspects of the distribution of roles in the family. According to these results, the majority of respondents recognize the work and family as equally important for men and women, as well as consider the equal distribution of roles in the household important. Nevertheless, in reality, the conservative distribution of roles prevails: two-thirds of household responsibilities fall on women. In the discussion, the round table participants noted that this is related to the resilience of stereotypes about the roles of men and women, which continue to be supported in advertising and the media.

Olga Lukashkova, Gender Equality Project Coordinator at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), made a presentation "Family and work balance: is it real in today's world?" She noted that one of the solutions to achieve this balance can be the creation and promotion of jobs that are friendly to parents – both men and women. It is also important to change the attitude of employees towards the contribution made by working parents – parenthood should be presented as a value, not a burden.

Already today, Belarusian companies are beginning to implement successful international practices that help employees with parental responsibilities to combine family and professional responsibilities, offer employees assistance in combining work and family. MTS shared its experience and told what management solutions and tools they use to balance work and family. These included three additional paid days of vacation for the father in the event of the birth of a child, a floating start and end time of the working day, corporate medical insurance for employees and their families.

Philip Bikanov, Project Manager of LLC “CSBT SATIO”, presented the results of the research on the attitude of the population towards elderly people and the perception of old age. The survey showed that Belarusians still have a high level of ageism: elderly people are often perceived as boring, they do not want to be with them together, their social significance is denied. Even people with a high level of education and qualification have such an attitude. Belarusians also perceive old age less well in comparison with people in other countries according to the data of international researches. Nevertheless, people in general are ready to help elderly people and communicate with them. Ageism harms the society as a whole, that is why it is necessary to change the communication strategy from the message “an elderly person needs help” to broadcasting the image of an elderly person as interesting, active and in demand.

Valery Kovalkov, Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Protection of the Republic of Belarus, summed up the results of the session, telling about the perspective directions of the state demographic policy development. He stressed the link between the demographic policy and the economic and social processes, noting the importance of strengthening intergenerational ties, active longevity and the equal contribution of parents to the upbringing of children.

The second session of the round table was devoted to women's health and well-being.

Lyudmila Legkaya, Head of the Department of Medical Assistance to Mothers and Children of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Belarus, in her presentation "Health of every woman is one of the most important directions of the state policy in the field of health care" presented the indicators of the health care service in the 1990s and the modern ones. For example, the maternal mortality rate fell from 29.1 per 100,000 live births to 2.8 in 2008. The frequency of abortions and teenage pregnancies has decreased, so it is important to work with children and adolescents, educate them and provide them with professional knowledge. In the area of health care, clinical protocols for medical care in the area of obstetrics and gynaecology have also been adapted to international standards, medical limitations for persons with disabilities have been reduced, and more attention is planned in the future to male health, in particular the problem of male infertility.

Svetlana Nagibovich, Deputy Director of RRC “Mother and Child”, Venera Semenchuk, Head of Reproductive Health Department of RRC “Mother and Child” presented the achievements of health care in the field of women's health care, technology of modern obstetrics, perinatal technologies that make this process safe.

One of the new approaches in Belarus' demographic policy is to change the position of the employer in relation to the employee-parent, i.e. to create parent-friendly jobs. Already today, Belarusian companies are beginning to implement successful international practices that help employees with parental responsibilities to combine family and professional responsibilities, offer employees assistance in combining work and family. MTS shared its experience and told what management solutions and tools they use to balance work and family. These included three additional paid days of vacation for the father in the event of the birth of a child, a floating start and end time of the working day, corporate medical insurance for employees and their families.

Yevgeny Shevko, Chairman of the Republican Association of Wheelchair Handicapped Persons, pointed out the importance of promoting equal rights in the reproductive sphere in the report "Access of women with disabilities to reproductive health services". The problem is still the barrier-free environment, as there is no access to gynecological offices and equipment, so women with disabilities can not always visit the gynecologist.

Ludmila Zhilevich, Head of the Republican Gerontological Center (Active Longevity) made a presentation "Women's Health as a Condition for Active Longevity (Menopause)". The women's life expectancy is now 10 years longer than that of men, who have a higher mortality rate from noncommunicable diseases. However, these risk factors, which are manageable, are an opportunity to improve the situation. Self-assessment of health, education and proper management by a doctor are important not only for reproductive health, but also for active older age.

The key positions of the round table will be presented at the High-level Summit on Accelerating the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, to be held in a few days in Nairobi, Kenya. The Summit will reaffirm the international commitments made by 179 countries 25 years ago to empower women and girls, as well as families, communities and nations. The Nairobi meeting will be organized with an integrated approach in 5 thematic areas that are the focus not only of the international community, but also of the Republic of Belarus. At the same time, they are reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals. These include: universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, responding to demographic challenges and their impact on sustainable development, combating violence against women and girls, and allocating resources to ensure progress.

The round table was held with the support of the UNDP/UNICEF/UNFPA project “Supporting the functioning of the management architecture for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of the Republic of Belarus”, of which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus is the national executive agency.

 

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