Amplifying Women’s Voices in Ukraine

5 Jun

Editor’s Note:  This is the first post from Danielle Peck, who comes to GAPW from the University of Wyoming.   Danielle will take leadership for some of GAPW’s program work in the areas of youth development and human rights, and she will be writing in this space from time to time. 

At the recent (pre-election) panel discussion “Invest in Women for Peace: Conflict Prevention and Women’s Participation in Ukraine,” part of the speaker series for Women, Peace and Security, panelists Natalia Karbowska and Gregore Pop-Eleches highlighted the unsettling situation facing women being excluded from the political processes taking place in the Ukraine.

Karbowska began the panel with an example detailing how talk of war in other states often includes the gender perspective, which looks at the impact of gender on people’s opportunities, interactions and social roles during war. Ukrainians as well as the international community have yet to apply the gender perspective on the current situation in Ukraine. Karbowska explained that when Ukrainian women fight to be heard, they are told that their opinions are important but that they can be heard later. Women, not only from the Ukraine should be asking, “When is this later that you speak of?” Women all around the world have been silenced for many generations, too many generations. I say, enough is enough. While it is 2014, women are in need to be heard now especially in countries like the Ukraine that are attempting to implement serious reform.

While NGOs and Parliament are implementing reforms to help overcome crisis and fight corruption, they often still do not sufficiently incorporate a gender perspective or promote women’s participation in political processes. Karbowska explained further, “During this moment in time, many important developments within social policy are being made. Ukrainian women are at risk of losing their own rights; they are at risk of losing their only rights and permanently.” Women need to be involved not only to secure but also to protect their liberty. She also stated that organizations and programs that include women are often the first shut down due to budget cuts. The National Action Plan on gender equality is one of those programs at risk. The narrow window of opportunity for Ukrainian women to finally and fully be heard is closing.

The National Action Plan on gender equality to improve the situation and status of women was first approved in 1997, and then later modified in 2001 to not only improve the situation of women, but to implement gender equality in society. Many positions were implemented all over the state to ensure its success. One major goal of the plan was to significantly raise the female representation within the highest positions by 2015. The National Action Plan not only incorporates a list of goals and tasks to accomplish gender equality, but it supports other programs that support the interests of women. Karbowska referred to the National Action Plan as an essential tool to guarantee women’s involvement in the political decision-making process.

Pop-Eleches focused his presentation more on the divide between East and West Ukraine, which helped explain where and possibly why Ukrainian women’s voices are having the least impact. Due to the lack of mass media in the country, the East and West gather different perspectives from the surrounding countries’ media sources, which can lead, as a result, to a different perception of political reality.  Women from eastern Ukraine are the least represented within the state. As shown in the recent election, there was a high voting turn out everywhere except for regions in eastern Ukraine where polling stations were shut down by pro-Russian separatists. Even though statistics of women’s participation in the election have not yet been revealed, Karbowska explained that in past elections male voters outnumbered women two to one.

Taking all of the above into consideration, what can be done to assure Ukrainian women’s political participation? The international community ought to support Ukraine’s National Action Plan on gender equality. Funding and budget advising should be given to increase the program’s success. The international community should also support other grassroots woman’s civil society organizations in the country. Pressure and education about the importance of including women through media attention, and UN and other state capacity assistance to the Ukrainian parliament and government are both needed. The Ukraine is going through an unsettling period of political reform at this moment in time and cannot afford to ignore the voices and talents of its women. A nation whose policies represent only the interests and positions of men is a nation that, in reality, is only half a true society.

Danielle Peck, GAPW Intern

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