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A story of female unionists in Belarusian prisons told at the IUF Women’s Committee meeting

On May 13, 2024, a meeting of the Women’s Committee of the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, and Allied Workers’ associations (IUF) held in Lausanne (Switzerland) discussed topical issues and achievements in the struggle for women’s rights in all regions of the world including Belarus.

Lizaveta Merliak attended the meeting as an observer representing the Belarusian Independent Union (BNP) in the women’s’ committee of the IUF region for Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA).

The speakers at the WoC meeting included another representative of our region, Nadiya Burlaka (Ukraine), who gave a report on the developments in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and Kyrgyzstan, touching upon the promotion of women’s rights and the ratification of the ILO Convention 190 (combating violence and harassment at work) in Kyrgyzstan and Moldova. Then, Lizaveta Merliak was given the floor to report on the situation in Belarus.

In her address, the Belarusian representative stressed the grave situation of women in Belarusian prisons where seven female unionists currently serve their terms having been convicted for their trade union activism. She described the atrocious conditions and forced labour the female political prisoners face in Belarus.

Lizaveta called upon the IUF affiliates to never give up their struggle against injustice and inequalities and do all they could to preserve freedom of association for workers which is so easy to lose but almost impossible to win back once it is lost.

The participants also discussed gender-related inequalities, violence and harassment, as well as opportunities for making progress in those areas. They recalled the example of India where SEWA, an association of self-employed women, was created half a century ago to grow from scratch into a three-million strong movement today. The IUF intends to proclaim November 2 as the International Day of Women in Informal Economy.

Particular attention was given to the climate crisis which disproportionately affects women workers of the world. Also, the participants had a presentation of an application recommended by the Swiss authorities to employers for the purpose of doing equal pay analysis and calculation with the view of eliminating the gender pay gap.

The Belarusian Independent Union, an affiliate of the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, and Allied Workers’ associations (IUF), continues to receive substantial political and international support.

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