Interview with UHHRU’s gender expert Tamara Martsenyuk for ProMosaik, the International Press Portal for Human Rights and Diversity

Interview was taken By Milena Rampoldi and Denise Nanni (8th of March, ProMosaik)

Tamara Martsenyuk holds PhD in Sociology and her research interest focuses on the social structure of society and, particularly, on gender relations. Tamara is a gender expert of Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, responsible for internal organizational gender and non-discrimination policies, and the author of project “Women Human Rights Defenders, Who Change Ukraine”. She is also Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology, National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” (Ukraine). Her courses include “Introduction to Gender Studies”, “Gender and Politics”, “Feminism as Social Movement and Social Theory”, “Masculinity and Men’s Studies”, and others. She is the author of around 80 academic publications, chapters of textbooks and chapters of books (Gender, Politics and Society in Ukraine, published in Toronto University Press in 2012). Tamara’s latest research is connected with women’s activism in Ukraine, particularly on Euromaidan protests 2013-2014, and women’s participation in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

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We talked to her about the main gender issues in Ukraine, about the strategies to struggle against gender-based violence and to achieve gender equality in the country.

What are the main gender issues in Ukraine?

Ukraine as a post-Soviet country has been in the process of transition to democratic institutions that also include gender component. Recent events in Ukraine connected with Euromaidan protests of 2013-2014 and later armed conflict in the Eastern part, brought changes into women’s lives and their roles both in the society and their families.

From one hand, the threat of violence makes women more vulnerable towards socio-economic situation. For example, women are the majority among IPDs (internally displaced persons) from Eastern Ukraine responsible for children, elderly, and disabled relatives. From the other hand, during these turbulent events Ukrainian women managed to challenge traditional gender roles (as cares and victims of conflict) and reclaimed visibility, recognition, and respect as revolutionaries and volunteers.

Among achievements of gender politics in Ukraine three major developments could be divided legislative framework on gender equality; non-governmental organizations in the sector of gender equality and women empowerment (that keeps pace with the increase of gender sensitivity of non-profit sector at large); raising awareness in the society on gender equality and gender education.

At the same time, there are some challenges like the level of women representation in social and public life is still very low; low level of legal awareness of citizens in terms of gender discrimination; lack of political will to implement gender politics.

According to the UNDP Millennium Development Goals for 2015, ratified by Ukraine, those goals were not successfully reached. By 2015 the Ukrainian state planned to have at least 30% of women in the Verkhovna Rada(Ukrainian Parliament), but this number fell far  short of meeting its international obligation. Following the 2014 parliamentary elections, the Verkhovna Rada continued to be an almost totally male-dominated body, consisting of only 12% of women. Since independence Ukraine has shown little improvement in increasing the number of women in Parliament that could be explained by a number of factors on the societal, political and individual levels. Women have less money and fewer social networks to work with, and the stereotype of politics as dirty business further justifies patriarchal notions of blocking them out.

Ukrainian women are supposed to fulfill two main roles – to be beautiful (in order to inspire men) and to be mothers (to provide reproductive resources and care for a nation). In this situation it is hard to perform the other roles.

Ukrainian labor market could be characterized by two major forms of gender segregation: vertical and horizontal. Ukrainian women are concentrated in the less status and lower paid labor market spheres. The Ukrainian labor market is characterized by a high rate of female participation and regulation that is relatively gender neutral, apart from some protective regulation for women workers in mines and other parts of the heavy industry. According to the Labor Code of Ukraine, women may not be employed for hard work or dangerous jobs, they may not be involved in lifting and moving items, whose weight exceeds specially established limits. Women don’t have the right to do any work or to have one of the professions that are included in the “List of heavy jobs and work in harmful/dangerous conditions” approved by the Ministry of Health. Also, women may not be involved in work at night, except for the sectors and types of work with the maximum night hours for women approved by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. These paternalist regulations also do not allow official employment of women in a majority of professions in the military sector.

What Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (UHHRU) is doing to solve gender inequality problems?

UHHRU’s work adheres to the principles of gender equality. We try to ensure equitable participation of women in projects activities and try to make them more gender-sensitive. For example, we provide legal advice and assistance to women through UHHRU network of public reception offices on matters such as women’s rights, prevention and protection of women from domestic violence and human trafficking, labour rights, property rights and family rights and other women sensitive issues. Moreover, we promote greater gender equality awareness among legal professionals by including relevant modules in human rights training curriculum.

Gender dimension is also taken into account in course of human rights monitoring and analytics: there was prepared a section “Women’s rights and gender equality in Ukraine” as a part of the annual report “Human Rights in Ukraine 2015” promulgated by UHHRU and civic partners since 2004.

Besides, the National Action Plan to implement the Ukraine’s first ever National Strategy in the sphere of Human Rights until 2020 (a five-year roadmap to address broad spectrum of human rights, adopted in 2015), elaboration of which on the part of civil society was coordinated by UHHRU jointly with the Ukrainian Parliament Human Rights Commissioner, includes a sub-section on combating discrimination, ensuring gender equality, and countering domestic and gender-based violence.

UHHRU continues implementing Gender Equality Action Plan and Gender Equality and Non-Discrimination Policy under supervision of the Gender Advisor. This, among others, included a series of tailored trainings conducted for the UHHRU’s staff to fill in revealed knowledge gaps and satisfy existed demands on gender issues within the organization. Moreover, we started updating UHHRU’s website section devoted to the gender-based violence and giving advice on what to do if you face a violent behavior as well as preparing a series of success stories (in Ukrainian) devoted to the female human rights activists working at the UHHRU/cooperating with us, who can serve as a role model for younger generations.

What strategies are used in Ukraine to fight gender-based violence?

The Constitution of Ukraine (1996), Section II “The rights, freedoms and duties of man and citizen”, Article 24 guarantees to citizens equal constitutional rights and freedoms, “there can be no privileges or restrictions based on race, color, political, religious and other beliefs, sex, ethnic or social origin, property, residence, language or other characteristics.”

In 2005 Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted the Law “On ensuring equal rights and opportunities of women and men”.

It is important to note, that Ukraine was the first post-Soviet country to introduce domestic violence legislation more than ten years ago (Law of Ukraine “On prevention of family violence)”. Moreover, in 2011 separate legislation on the prevention of human trafficking (an important gender-based problem) was adopted.

But gender-based violence is still large problem in the Ukrainian society. There is lack of mechanisms and political will to solve this problem. One of the strategies used concern involving all so called actors (state bodies, NGOs, media, research institutions) in order to make problem of gender-based violence more visible.

That is why new project “Preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence in Ukraine project” (2013-2016) was introduced in Ukraine. The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention) is the first legally binding instrument in Europe on this subject and the most far-reaching international treaty in this field. According to Council of Europe project “Preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence in Ukraine project”, the Ukrainian Constitution guarantees equal rights for women and men, and the country has made significant advances in ensuring equality between women and men however.

But Ukrainian women still face discrimination at legal, policy and practice levels. The legislation is inconsistent which added to the lack of available data, results in the low effectiveness of measures aimed at combating violence against women. Lack of cooperation between various bodies and services makes it impossible for victims of violence against women to receive assistance. Ukraine signed the Istanbul Convention on 7 November 2011. The purpose of the mentioned above project was the ratification of the Istanbul Convention by Ukrainian authorities, including the preparation for the ratification and its implementation. Unfortunately, Istanbul Convention is still waiting for its ratification.

In what ways do you advocate women’s rights and empowerment at the policy level?

Discrimination on the basis of gender is prohibited both by the Constitution of Ukraine and the Law of Ukraine “On Principles of Prevention and Combating Discrimination in Ukraine” (2012). Ukraine also has specific legislation designed to promote gender equality: the Law of Ukraine “On ensuring equal rights and opportunities of women and men”.

De jure gender equality is supported by national institutional mechanisms and legislation. International and national NGOs monitor the results of state and regional programs, and propose issues for improvement.

At the same time, de facto, it could be argued that despite different legislative attempts not much has been implemented in terms of tangible policies. Unarguably, there is a lack of accountability by the government for meeting those legislative initiatives. Mentioned above gender legislation “On ensuring equal rights and opportunities for women and men” is a clear example of such ineffectiveness.

One the one hand, the Law introduced such gender sensitive terminology as equal rights and opportunities for women and men, gender equality, discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual harassments etc. The aims of government policy to ensure equal rights and opportunities for women and men have at least been proclaimed. Concrete bodies, institutions and organizations are named as those with powers in the area of ensuring equal rights and opportunities for women and men (article 7). On the other hand, most articles are simply declarative, without any real mechanism for implementing them (particularly the Administrative or Criminal Codes), or sanctions for violating them. For example, according to Article 17, “Employers shall not discriminate by offering jobs only to women or men in vacancy advertisements, with the exception of specific jobs that only persons of certain sex can perform. Employers shall not put different demands to employees based on their sex giving priority to one of the sexes and require from them information about their personal life and plans to have children.” But in the absence of any sanctions the Ukrainian labor market vacancy advertisements are full of such discriminatory descriptions.

Ukrainian legislation (such as the Code of Labor Laws of Ukraine), in its effort to become gender specific still tries to protect women, family and children, thus perpetuating traditional gender roles. Some examples of more favorable treatment of women (especially with children) than men:

  • articles 63 and 177 require employers to obtain the consent of women with children aged between three and fourteen years old or who have a disability before requiring them to work overtime or to go on business trips;
  • article 182 provides 56 days leave for women who adopt a child from birth (70 days if the woman adopts two or more children);
  • article 185 allows pregnant women and women with children under the age of 14 to claim vouchers to sanatoriums and rest homes as well as material aid.

So, researchers, NGO activists, and gender-sensitive journalists pay attention to legislative gaps in order to change the situation.

How extended is the practice of child marriages in Ukraine and what are the related causes? Is it practiced just among Roma communities?

Following recommendations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the CEDAW Committee, in 2012 the Family Code of Ukraine was amended to raise the minimum age for marriage for girls from 17 to 18; the minimum age for boys was already set at 18.

At the same time, international NGOs are worried about problem of early marriage that may cause problems such as school dropout, and prolonged economic and psychological dependency on parents. Early marriage in Ukraine is connected with the problem of early sexual debut of young people, and unplanned pregnancies. There is no particular course or approved curriculum on sexual education in schools. Some aspects of sexual education (such as HIV/AIDS prevention, sexually transmitted diseases, gender relations between boys and girls) are studied in grades 5 to 9 at secondary school, in the course “Fundamentals of Health”.

According to the statistical evidence available, early marriages in Ukraine are quite rare, and are more typical for villages than cities, for women with lower education, for poorest households. Moreover, for the age group 16-18, the number of women who married exceeded the number of men by seven times: 14 472 (or 2,6%) of women compare to 2 087 (0,4%).

Parenthood is a marginal issue and the role for men in the Ukrainian society. Men are expected to be, first of all, as “wallets” (or breadwinners) but not responsible fathers for their children. As it was mentioned above about Code of Labors in Ukraine, state perceived women as a major or even the only parent for the children.

Among the Roma minority, child marriage affecting girls and boys is driven by patriarchal traditions and poverty, among other factors. While no reliable statistics exist, rates of child marriage are thought to be much higher among the Roma population. Few Roma marriages overall are registered, partly because to register a marriage, both spouses must present a passport (and many Roma do not have a passport), and because many involve spouses under the age of 18. But if we take early motherhood as an indicator for child marriage, then the official data does support this idea. According to birth statistics, in 2011, 141 girls under the age of 15 gave birth in Ukraine; of these, 55 took place in Zakarpatska oblast, which has the largest population of Roma living in Ukraine.

Do you cooperate with local authorities and institutions? If yes, how?

Our participation in the international projects has an important cooperation component – with authorities, NGOs, educational institutions etc.

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For example, the European Union was actively supporting the empowerment of women and children via a technical assistance under the programme “Women and Children’s rights in Ukraine” 2009- 2011. Working with the Ministry of Family, Youth and Sport, as well as with other line ministries and civil society actors, the programme consisted of five projects run by international donors including the International Labour Organisation, Council of Europe, United Nations Development Programme and United National Children’s Fund’s and Safege company. Among the issues covered by the programme were domestic violence, child protection and gender equality at work.

At the same time, the women’s lobby in Ukraine witnessed some visible changes to its organizational forms since 2012. Large campaigns to empower women started a couple of years ago, for example, by National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Ukrainian Women’s Fund etc. In 2011 the Equal Opportunities Inter-Factional Union (Caucus) was first formed. The establishment of the Caucus is aimed at improving the status of women in the society and achievement the equal participation of women and men in governance. During the period of Equal Opportunities Caucus functioning its members had registered series of common draft laws designed to combat domestic violence, ensure equal salary for men and women, a fair pension reform and equal rights and opportunities for men and women in electoral process. What is very important, it members supported and lobbied the gender quota in 2015.

Sources and extra literature to read:

  1. Martsenyuk, T. (2016). Gender equality situation in Ukraine : challenges and opportunitiesin Gender Equality Policies and eu Integration – experience of Visegrad for EaP Countries, p. 203-225.
  2. Martsenyuk,T. (2015). Women’s Top-Level Political Participation: Failures and Hopes of Ukrainian Gender Politicsin New Imaginaries: Youthful Reinvention of Ukraine’s Cultural Paradigm, ed. and translated by Marian J. Rubchak, New York & Oxford: Berghahn.
  3. Martsenyuk, T. (2014). Child Marriage in Ukraine (Overview), United Nations Population Fund, 12 p.

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