Belgium is home to a rich and interesting mix of cultures, and foreigners from all over the globe are drawn to this European hub. Read on for information about diversity and inclusivity in Belgium.
Accessibility in Belgium
Belgium aims to help disabled people live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, and there are various laws that address direct and indirect discrimination. Public funding is available to support employers with wage subsidies if they hire disabled workers with reduced productivity.
Cities like Belgium, Antwerp and Ghent work hard to ensure they are accessible to all people. Many shops, hotels, restaurants, museums and cultural sites have been adapted to help people with reduced mobility. Buses, trams and trains are accessible to those using wheelchairs, and there are tactile paving and audible signals at pedestrian crossings. There are dropped curbs on pavements, but many of the streets in these ancient cities are surfaced with cobblestones, making journeys a little shaky. Wheelchair taxis are available.
LGBTQ+ in Belgium
Belgium is considered one of the most gay-friendly countries in Europe. There are laws that prevent discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, and same-sex activity has been legal since 1795. In 2003, Belgium became the second country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage. Recent polls indicate that most Belgians support same-sex marriage and adoption rights. People who identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth can change their legal gender by submitting a statement attesting to this – medical intervention is not required.
The last Prime Minister of Belgium, Elio Di Rupo, is openly gay, one of the first heads of government in the world to publicly identify as such. Belgium also had the world's first openly transgender government minister.
The LGBTQ+ community is accepted and well integrated within Belgium society. In Brussels, the main gay scene is located behind the Grand Place, the central square in the city. There are also vibrant and open gay scenes in Antwerp, Ghent and other Belgium cities, and each has bars and clubs that are favoured by the local LGBTQ+ community.
Gender equality in Belgium
The Belgian Constitution explicitly affirms equality between men and women. Belgium ranks 8th in the EU on the Gender Equality Index, putting it towards the top of the group of 27 countries. It maintains its tenth place in the OECD’s Women in Work Index, but its ranking is pulled down by the low number of women in the labour market. Just 65 percent of women are in work, compared to the OECD average of 70 percent. This ratio reflects the country’s strong tradition of women fulfilling predominantly domestic and childcaring roles, rather than professional ones.
The gap between women's and men's average hourly wage is a relatively low 5 percent, and this ratio continues to reduce year on year.
Women in leadership in Belgium
Although women are frequently recruited at lower levels, they are increasingly underrepresented on each rung of the management level. Nine out of ten CEOs in Belgium are male. The federal and regional government have taken steps to redress the balance – quotas were introduced in 2018, stipulating that 33 percent of positions on corporate boards must be filled by women. All companies with 50 or more workers need to report their pay data no less than every two years.
Women are better represented in within parliament. In 2021, over 40 percent of the elected representatives within federal, regional and community parliaments were women. Sophie Wilmès was Belgium’s first female Prime Minister, running the country from 2019 to 2020.
Mental health awareness in Belgium
Expats can be at greater risk of mental health issues, especially depression and anxiety, exacerbated by stress and loneliness. Fortunately for expats moving to Belgium, there is a good range of mental health services, both private and publicly funded.
Most international companies have policies in place to provide support for employees with mental health issues. Mental illness is usually covered by the company’s chosen employee healthcare schemes, although this is worth checking.
Belgium focuses on providing community-based mental health support, which is proven to be more effective than hospital treatment, and reduces the stigma attached to mental health issues. Regional governments provide psychiatric and psychological consultations through Mental Health Care Centres (MHCC).
There are a low number of psychiatrists in Belgium specialising in severe mental health conditions, and waiting lists can be long. It is, however, relatively easy to find psychologists with private practices in Belgium. The Brussels-based Community Health Service (CHS) is a non-profit organisation that offers mental health support for the international community in several languages.
It is possible to make appointments directly with a mental healthcare professional without a referral from a GP/ family doctor. Only a GP or a psychiatrist can provide prescriptions for medication.
The Community Health Service is a non-profit organisation established as a resource for the English-speaking expatriate population of Belgium
The Commission of Psychologists website provides a search function to find a registered psychologist
Unconscious bias training in Belgium
Unconscious bias is an implicit set of often stereotyped ideas an individual carries about groups of people different to themselves. These ideas are not purposefully adopted but rather develop subtly over time, and people tend to hold unconscious biases about groups they never or rarely come into contact with. As a result, they're often inaccurate and based on assumptions. Belgium is no exception, and employers are likely to employ its own nationals, and nationals of other EU countries, over foreigners, even if they are otherwise qualified for the job.
Unconscious bias can profoundly affect both personal and work conditions. In the workplace, unchecked bias undermines vital aspects of the company, with negative effects on employee performance, retention, and recruitment. In a bid to create a better work environment, many companies are beginning to institute unconscious bias training. There are also a number of online resources that can be used to improve self-awareness regarding bias.
Diversification in the workplace in Belgium
Belgium, and Brussels in particular, is one of the most culturally diverse places in the world. Expats living in the city will hear as many languages as in London or Paris, whether taking the metro, standing at the school gate, or going grocery shopping. Despite the huge diversity, most of the international community stays within their own expat bubbles, with little contact with local Belgium residents.
In 2021, over 1.48 million people living in Belgium were foreign nationals. Most of these are EU nationals, due to the country's location and its role as home to most EU institutions. Almost one-third of foreigners in Belgium are of African origin.
Safety in Brussels
Belgium is safe by international standards, although petty crime is higher in the capital Brussels than in the smaller Flemish cities of Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent. People moving to Brussels should take the same sensible precautions that they would in New York or Berlin.
Public transport is generally safe, but there is a high risk of pickpocketing in crowded trains and stations. Taxis are considered safe, though there is a risk of being overcharged by unlicensed cabs. There are some areas of Brussels that should be avoided at night, including Anneessens, Anderlecht, Brussels North, Molenbeek, Saint-Josse and Schaerbeek.
Calendar initiatives in Belgium
January – Gay and Lesbian Film Festival
4 February – World Cancer Day
8 March – International Women’s Day
March – TB Awareness Month
April – Stress Awareness Month
1 May – Labour Day
19 May – Global Accessibility Awareness Day
May – Gay Pride
June – Pride month
10 September – World Suicide Prevention Day
October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month
10 October –World Mental Health Day
14 November – World Diabetes Day
November – Men’s Health Month ('Movember')
1 December – World AIDS Day