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Renata was introduced to YWCA Belarus when she was 18 by a teacher at her university. Her volunteer journey began with topics of gender equality and advocacy, then grew to include menstrual health, gynaecological violence, intimate partner violence and contraceptives, among other sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) issues.
Belarus is a traditional society, with several stereotypes. There is also the problem of misinformation among young women in her region. A lot of women are misled about SRHR, they frequently consume the morning-after pills, they’re unaware of their period of ovulation, and consider body hair to be strictly unattractive. These contribute to women’s low self-esteem and affect their health.
In her leadership role, Renata organises training marathons for gender equality and has even participated in sex education festivals to help drive change. Considering the popularity of social media in Belarus, she leverages it to connect with young people, teachers, parents, influencers and youth experts, and widen online safe spaces.
“World YWCA enables many young leaders like me to provide real and tangible ways for women to change the world through local, regional, national & international leadership roles,” she says.
With the shift to virtual meetings in the pandemic, Renata carefully navigated the line between privacy and safe spaces. Conversations about SRHR and its effect on mental health required confidentiality, but at the same time she encouraged people to use their real names and turn on their cameras to foster an empathetic and judgment-free atmosphere.
Renata’s experiences with girls, young women and women have been a learning journey for her. She has to constantly unlearn and learn to engage with teenagers, to better understand the woes of young mothers, and to support women who’ve been abused.
In this journey, Renata has also faced backlash in more ways than one. She has been accused of “being interested in gender when there are more critical issues to address in Belarus”. However, Renata is sure of what she’s doing, and she’s glad to see women accepting their bodies, recognising their needs, and putting themselves first.
Renata’s support during the pandemic has been unwavering. She has frequently set up live streaming interviews with gynaecologists and psychologists to discuss SRHR and reach out to young women and women who were feeling isolated. She also continues to advocate using social media to share accurate information about SRHR, and support them.
Renata says that change needs to be bottom-up. People need to change their views, attitudes, behaviours, and values. And for this they need more awareness, trainings and knowledge to make informed decisions and sustain change. She believes, “The future of Belarus is female; it’s only a matter of time.”
As the World YWCA, we will continue to share more evidence from the ground about the power of investing in feminist movements and leaders who embrace the challenges and make real impact on-the-ground.
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