Female Forward International
Meet Maryna Rusia Shukiurava from Belarus
For Belarusian musician and artist Maryna Rusia Shukiurava, her voice is her platform to speak up for a free Belarus and communicate to the world.
Through her artistic work, she explores the new female identity of Belarusian women, deeply rooted in folklore traditions but now more powerful after the battle against Alexander Lukashenko’s regime.
When Shukiurava, then 41-years old, took part in the first flower protests in her home country, she knew they represented a big change for Belarusian society. She saw the clash of two mentalities – the old Soviet one, refusing to let go of its rule, and the new one, representing a generation which values freedom more than anything else.
Throughout the protests, women also realized their power and took the leading role they deserved.
“In Russian, there is a saying: the man is the head, the woman is the neck – in our society women have always been influential but hidden. But that summer everything changed and everyone saw how strong, how powerful, how full of life the women were. They took to the streets; as sisters, mothers, wives; all fighting against the regime", as Shukiurava tells the story of the revolution.
Her own realization that the old power structure had run out of life came on the streets as well, while she heard people chanting: “We are the power here.”
“When I heard this slogan, it changed my attitude to everything”, Shukiurava says. “I realized that for 26 years this man had tried to persuade me that I was nothing. That I have no right to feel at home here. That I have to serve his needs with my taxes and loyalty. But now I, not this man, am a representative of the real power here.”
But once the protests were met with brutal violence from Lukashenko’s regime and many activists were arrested and imprisoned, Rusia Shukuirava had to flee the country to protect her family. She took her mother and her 2-year-old daughter and joined the hundreds of thousands of Belarusians living in exile.
But when she moved to Kyiv, she didn’t stop working for the revolution. She’s involved in two NGOs, one that support artists who have lost their jobs because of their political opinions, the other educates women on gender and feminist issues.
Rusia has no doubt about where her feminism originates from. It’s the legacy of her own mother who raised four children by herself in post-Soviet Belarus.
“My mother is a very strong woman. She gave me two important messages – to not be afraid of anything and to use your traumas for transformation. So, trust other women and never hurt them. We are a sisterhood. That’s what gave me the seeds of future feminism”, Rusia explains.
Shukiurava has turned the traumas of her difficult childhood, with an alcoholic father who abandoned his family, into a learning experience. She realized that this life made her who she is – strong, freedom-loving, and independent. Now she helps other people overcome their own haunted pasts through her work as a vocal therapist.
Embracing many identities (a single mother, a singer, a female activist, and an entrepreneur), her source of inspiration is the traditional women’s culture of Belarus. In the ancient songs and rituals, passed on from mother to daughter, she has found feminist ideas, humour, and resilience.
For Shukiurava, embracing your root culture is the key to understanding all other world cultures. As an artist, she takes traditional songs and turns them into electronic music that appeals to the younger generation. Through that, she passes on this cultural code that keeps modern Belarusians connected to their base.
But her songs are also rich with political messages against corruption, misogyny, and the constant pursuit of power.
Shukiurava admits that before the revolution, she thought that a national consciousness was just a mental construct, a social trick. But now, when something bad is going on in Belarus, she turns off for a couple of days. No showers. No brushing teeth. She’s just grieving.
“Unfortunately, we have to pay a steep price for this process of transformation. But I realize it is like when a woman is leaving a relationship with her abuser. It is painful. It takes time, but there’s a new life ahead that’s happier, peaceful, and healthier”, Shukiurava concludes.
She believes that example of Belarusian women is an inspiring one for women all over the world – motivating them to be brave, shifting attitudes, promoting and supporting women leaders.
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Women Leading Protests Documentary
In the documentary film “Women Leading Protests” by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, Shukiurava shares how the protest movement transformed not only her but the whole of Belarusian society, as women took the leading role they deserved.
The documentary follows four women fighting for democracy in Belarus, Hong Kong, Venezuela, and Lebanon. Their stories reveal a wider narrative of women all around the world, who are realizing their power to move their societies towards progress and freedom. But they also show governments that are ruthless and violent in trying to weaken their influence.
Find below more about the story behind the documentary film.