From time immemorial, “being single” has meant some transitional stage of women’s development that is supposed to end in “being happily married” or “staying a miserable old maid.” In other words, womanhood is solely recognized “through heterosexual attachment, marriage and reproduction” (Byrne, 2003). On the other hand, due to recent transformations in society, the concept of family has changed considerably. As Beck and Beck-Gernsheim (1995) point out, “[N]uclear family, built around gender status, is falling apart…” Such changes influence the way modern women perceive themselves. Singleness becomes an identity issue that should be understood as a matter of choice. However, this modern principle comes into conflict with the traditional doctrine of family-oriented societies, which promote a familistic way of life at the level of their official politics. They put family values behind the lines of state laws and decrees that lead to the elimination of single-by-choice women from public discourse. Therefore, single women are experiencing discrimination through the system of state and public policy in family-oriented societies. This discrimination occurs through several mechanisms. Firstly, family-oriented government, stating the priority of family before singlehood, exclude single women from “normal” society and place them into a marginal category. Secondly, the government ignores the needs and demands of single women due to its system of social benefits for families and parents. Lastly, single women are perceived as potential mothers and spouses rather that singles by choice in a long-term perspective. In order to demonstrate these arguments, I will use the case of Belarusian governmental policy.
Single women are marginalized and stigmatized through the system of Belarusian state policy. The presidential decree, “On establishment of main direction of governmental family policy” (1998), affirms the “imperishable value of the family for life and development of the person.” Thus, the Belarusian government creates an image of a single person that comes into contradiction with “being developed” and “having a proper life.” Women’s singlehood is polluted through the discourse of state policy. In front of the public, the Belarusian government defines and offers an evaluation of which lifestyle is preferable and which is not, which leads to the creation of social stigma around single woman. Moreover, the same decree states “the necessity of taking into consideration family interests and the provision of special measures for its social support.” Therefore, the Belarusian government creates such conditions where the choice to be single automatically stands in opposition to official state ideology and society’s values. That means that the Belarusian government implements only one-sided support, for “not being single” statuses. Accordingly, women’s singlehood becomes an unacceptable category in society.
Such nonacceptance is initially connected with the discrimination of single women against their needs and demands. It should be noted that the Belarusian government carries out family-oriented policy that is revealed in the system of social benefits for young families, young mothers and families with more than three children. The needs of married women are prioritized before single women. Thus, according to the presidential decree, “On the financial governmental support for young families and families with more than three children,” the Belarusian government provides low-cost credits for purchasing accommodation and also helps with its redemption. Analyzing the correlation between the average Belarusian wage (approximately 350 euros monthly in January 2017 – according to National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus) and the average price for an apartment in Minsk (1,083 euro for square meter on March, 21 2017 – according to Realt.by), I assume that it is not possible for the average Belarusian woman to purchase accommodation by herself without using extra funds or financial support from outside. Therefore, women’s singlehood and childlessness become untenable from a financial point of view. The “choice to be single” is positioned as a hard decision for a woman that leads to struggles and limitations in comparison with the “married status” filled with governmental support and social acclamation. Thus, the Belarusian government ignores the single woman’s needs and is oriented toward supporting only those who have already created a family cell.
Further, Belarusian society presupposes that “single woman” is a “waiting category” that has no other choice other than to be a future mother and wife. Therefore, her reproductive function should not be damaged by social and professional life. That sentiment is reflected in governmental health and professional policy, which provides a list of occupations banned for women because of “harmful and/or unsafe work conditions” (181 occupations in total). The Belarusian government pretends to care about the health of women. However, it is caring only about their future reproduction and child-bearing abilities. Thus, Alexander Zaicev, the main technical labor inspector of the Belarusian Federation of professional unions, in his interview to Belarusian newspaper “Komsomol Truth,” commented on the improvement of the List in 2014 in the following manner: “I can tell you that there are such occupations that we should not let women in. Let her give birth to children, let her be involved in the family, creating a good mood. There is a huge number of easy jobs and woman should work there but earning good money.” I consider this comment as the reflection of overall Belarusian governmental policy on women. They are viewed as inseparable from family values and coupling. The existence of specific measures of health defense for women as for future mothers acts as direct evidence of discrimination against those women who have chosen to be single. The Belarusian woman is always in the condition of being socially compelled to perform her function as a good mother and a wife. Otherwise, the woman is considered incomplete and defective.
In short, the ideology of marriage and family becomes the factor that limits women’s freedom in choosing a single life-style. The single woman meets a set of obstacles on her way to being single by choice. Such obstacles are transmitted through the system of state policy and are created by ideological and financial instruments that stimulate young marriages and childbearing. The Belarusian government ignores single women’s needs and creates the conditions under which their professional choice is restricted by their motherhood responsibilities. Consequently, single women in Belarus do not have the free right to choose to be single in a long-term perspective.
Stanislava Yevarouskaya is a student of Master’s degree in Cultural Sociology
Article was proofread and edited by Nadya Jaworsky
Beck, Ulrich and Beck-Gernsheim, Elisabeth. 1995. The Normal Chaos of Love. Oxford, United Kingdom: Polity Press
Byrne, Anne. 2003 “Developing a Sociological Model for Researching Women’s Self and Social Identities.” The European Journal of Women’s Studies. 10 (4): 443-464.
Decree of the President of the Republic of Belarus of January 21, 1998. “On establishment of main direction of governmental family policy.”
Decree of the President of the Republic of Belarus of November 22, 2007 №585. “On the financial governmental support for young families and families with more than three children.”
Directive of Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Republic of Belarus from June 12, 2014 № 46. “On the amendment of the list of physically-demanding jobs and jobs with harmful and/or unsafe working conditions, for which women may not be recruited.”
Yerohina, Olga. 2014. “Professional Unions on banned occupations for women: “Let her give birth.” Konsomol Truth. Retrieved March 20, 2017 (http://www.kp.by/daily/26264.5/3142480/).