Decrease Font Size Reset Font Size to Default Increase Font Size

Homepage / Library / How are women faring in Ukraine?

How Are Women Faring In Ukraine?

On the eve of the January 17 presidential elections in Ukraine, Olena Suslova, Chair of the Board at Women’s Information Consultative Center in Kiev, offers a glimpse of the status of women and women’s rights there.

By Masum Momaya

AWID: What is the status of women and women’s rights in Ukraine generally?

Olena Suslova (O.S.): Women in Ukraine have equal constitutional rights as men in the economic, political, cultural and social fields, as well as in the family, but there is some difference between formal legal equality and reality. For example, women make up 48% of Ukraine’s labor force, and while our Constitution guarantees equal pay for equal work – and this is mostly observed – industries dominated by female workers have the lowest relative wages and are the ones most likely to be affected by wage arrears. Moreover, some employers refuse to hire younger women likely to become pregnant or women over 35. Generally, women also have fewer opportunities for career advancement.

AWID: Will the upcoming (January 17) elections provide an opportunity to elect officials that might advance women’s rights or are the elections simply a formality?

O.S.: The upcoming elections will elect the President but not officials, who will ultimately influence public policy. Depending on who is elected, new officials may be appointed, including diplomats and the Attorney General. However, under Ukraine’s constitution, the President has limited powers. In general, I don’t think that the upcoming elections will radically change public policies related to gender equality.

AWID: Are women’s groups mobilizing around the elections?

O.S.: No. This time women’s groups are not active themselves, and political parties are not mobilizing women either.

AWID: Is there much political participation generally by women in Ukraine, as voters, candidates and officials?

O.S.: Female voters in Ukraine are more engaged than male voters. As individuals, women more actively participate in campaigns and vote more often. In this upcoming election, 3 of the 18 candidates for Parliament are women. And currently, 75.5% of government officials are women, but most are not in positions of power.

AWID: Are corruption and bureaucracy major factors in how people experience and interact with the political system?

O.S.: Yes, corruption and bureaucracy influence how people interact with the political system; however other factors are important, too, including people’s ignorance of the political system, mutual bias and stereotypes, lack of activism and some “activist depression” after the Orange Revolution.

AWID: Has the presence of a prominent woman leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, made any difference in terms of women’s rights?

O.S.: No and yes.

Yulia Tymoshenko is not considered by most to be a leader with feminist thinking and declarations. Usually she is gender neutral in her expressions and approaches, avoiding raising issues of women’s leadership and sometimes pointing out the masculinity of her own actions and those of “real men”.
At the same time, by example, she has encouraged women to get more involved in politics and motivated women to be more insistent, confident and forthcoming in their career advancement.

In my opinion, Tymoshenko walks a feminist path but is not ready to declare it. In previous years, she did a lot to support “big wise men” even after many of them betrayed her, but lately, she has finally understood that she needs to leave behind the “supportive” gender role. Now, she often talks about how badly men have managed our country and why we need to give women an opportunity.

AWID: Ukraine has experienced much economic transition since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. What kinds of occupations do women work in? And what is the situation of women economically more recently amidst the global economic crisis?

O.S.: Women in Ukraine have been economically active for many generations, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union has not decreased this. Still, most women work in “female” fields like education, trade and the hospitality industry. Now, though, more women work in “male” dominated fields like the military and information technology.

There is not yet much research on the influence of the global economic crisis in Ukraine from a gender perspective, but, in general, the crisis has not hit Ukraine as hard as many other countries. We are not as integrated into the global economy as many other countries. Also, we went through a very harsh “vaccination” period during the first years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, when our economy experienced many shocks. Inflation rates during those years reached 1000%, and unemployment increased from practically zero to 5 – 10%. Women did a lot of compensating during this time.

These economic shocks were compounded by a cultural shock in which people had to reformulate their words, actions and lives. So the current economic crisis is not as difficult as what we went through nearly 20 years ago.

AWID: Does the Eastern Orthodox Church exert much influence on women’s rights today?

O.S.: The influence of the Eastern Orthodox Church on women’s rights is not substantive in general. Traditional values such as the prohibition of abortion and the subordination of women are not visible in society as a whole and not aggressive. The church could have much influence within some families, but this is more exception than the rule.

AWID: What is the status of sexual and reproductive rights for women in Ukraine? And are these rights complicated by Ukraine’s low birth rates and natalist policies?

O.S.: Sexual and reproductive rights for women are not limited by law, and Ukraine has one of the highest abortion rates in the world. The government has been trying to encourage women to have children through financial incentives, but this policy has not been very effective, because, even with the incentives, people cannot afford to have children. Moreover, in rural areas, there is limited access to hospitals and health care.

AWID: How strong are civil society and the women’s movement in Ukraine? Are they adequately resourced? And is the spirit of the Orange Revolution still alive in these movements?

O.S.: Civil society in Ukraine has had more and less favorable times during its 20 years in existence. The Orange Revolution could be considered as an opportune moment for civil society despite deep disappointment among population related to lost expectations.

The number of active NGOs including women’s ones is less than it was 10 years ago; however the quality of NGO work has grown. Because of the Orange Revolution, government bodies are more open and this has given civil society organizations more space to make change, including pushing for a more tolerant and human society.

Some women’s NGOs became the first gender advisors of governors after the Equal Opportunity Law entered into force after the Orange Revolution in 2005.

AWID: Is the concept of “rights” well received in Ukraine?

O.S.: The perception of the concept of human rights in Ukraine has changed over time. In the first years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, donors and other stakeholders were excited to make it a “cure–all” for the ills of the dictatorship; later, it brought a lot of disappointment because changes didn’t take root and did not come so fast. Also, donors declared and supported this concept, but in practice were very often not sensitive; they ended up themselves violating these human rights. This led to a period when NGOs did not address rights visibly and directly. Now, we see some maturity of civil society in Ukraine, and this gives us the opportunity to return to this concept again at more deep and reflective level, converting it into more practical steps.

The author would like to thank Betsy Hoody at the Global Fund for Women for her support with this interview.

Article License: Creative Commons - Article License Holder: AWID


Log in or create a user account to comment.


Log in or create a user account to comment.