Natalia Tochelinkova and Maria Alekseenko, Women’s Consortium of Ukraine

October 2009

Russian transcription: Olga Zelinska

Translation and editing: Sophie Pinkham

Natalia Tochelinkova: I work at the Women’s Consortium of Ukraine, a public organization created in 2001.  Our organization is a network with 32 organizations in different regions of Ukraine.  Each of the organizations works independently and has its own objectives.  What unifies us is that we all work for gender equality and defense of the rights of children.

… Now I work as coordinator of a project on rights and opportunities…on the national level we had a project, “Participation of women in the public and political life of Ukraine,” supported by the American consulate in Ukraine…our other big project on the national level was “Equal participation of men and women in the decision-making process.”  That was also supported by the US Embassy in Ukraine, through the Democracy Grants Program.

We have two main areas of work, though of course we’re not limited to these.  The first is work against sexism in advertisements, since this theme is insufficiently developed in Ukraine.  We’re still trying to raise awareness about it.  This is the use of stereotypical images of men and women in ads, naked female bodies that have no direct relationship to whatever’s being sold.  We raised this issue at the national level in Ukraine, we have discussion clubs in different regions.  In discussions, we try to invite people from different spheres connected to advertising…in Ukraine, we have an expert commission on the defense of public morals.  We get everyone together and have discussions that are publicized in the media.  We raise the question of how moral it is to use these images in advertisements—naked female bodies, stereotypes…

In Kiev the ads aren’t the same way anymore, there aren’t as many.  But when you go to the regions—it’s a disaster.  It’s an outrage, but it’s offensive that there are no concrete mechanisms, including legal mechanisms, to use to fight this process.  Now we understand that the problem has to be recognized.  And further along we have to take practical steps, which we’re planning now.

Our second main area of work is the collection of gender-differentiated statistics.  There are very few of these statistics, of official statistics.  That is, you can get them on request.  But in order to go to the site and get publications, information—there’s almost nothing.

We consider it impossible to work on gender issues without real statistics to show the most vulnerable areas, where you should allocate finances, energy, work…honestly, it’s very difficult to find information.  In general, our government committee on statistics doesn’t give out this information.  You have to pay for it.  It should be free, and that’s the goal of our project.

Eventually we’re planning to present an electronic map where we show the situation, based on statistics, in the various regions of Ukraine, using specific indicators that we’ve developed.  We want to show this map to the authorities and to the mass media.

For journalists, as far as I know, it’s a big problem—to see a general picture.  “Gender,” “feminism,” everything’s all mixed up.  And to see the real situation, what is “gender” in practice in Ukraine—there’s nothing.  So it’s clear why there’s so much skepticism among journalists on this theme.

Our third area of work is to send official questions to potential Presidential candidates in Ukraine.  We’ll have an election in January…and the candidates’ programs will be announced in mid-October.  Now we’re working on preparing an official letter from all 32 organizations in our network.  In the letter, we’ll pose several questions about how the candidate will realize the idea of gender equality.  And since it’s the Presidential election, we wrote these questions with the specific powers of the President in mind.

We want to find out the candidates’ attitudes to gender issues.  How he plans to work on them, does he understand that such a thing exists, because it’s possible that some of them have never heard of it.  So we’ll attach information about our organizations to the letter and offer our assistance.  For free, of course.  If the candidate wants, if his headquarters are willing to receive some information, we’re prepared to provide it.

This project aims not only to make some kind of rating—that’s not the point.  We want people who vote—and women aren’t only half, they’re the majority of our population—to know how the candidate plans to deal with their specific questions, those that are more relevant to women than the majority of general questions.  It’s a way of influencing the candidates.  Not only asking them, but forcing them or their headquarters to think about these questions.  Even if they’re just thinking about increasing their number of supporters, but in that way we can better influence their concern about gender issues.

We have trainings for young members of political parties…it’s very interesting work, with a lot of potential…young people think relatively progressively.  Working with them, you see much greater results than when you work with people who are fixed in their views about gender issues.  [Young people] are open, they absorb information—these are people who will soon, we hope, be decision-makers.  And they can develop their ideas.  That’s what we need.  Also, they’re open, they consider Ukraine to be striving for democracy, integration with Europe, and that gender equality is necessary for this.  That is, our country still doesn’t recognize this, but the international community understands it very well.

We even have some projects in Ukraine—foreign projects, not social, but business.  And we have the opportunity to meet with them so that these projects will have gender components.  They’re interested in how to develop these gender ideas.

[On Yulia Timoshenko, then Prime Minister of Ukraine] Based on our own observations, since we haven’t researched it, Timoshenko is a woman who doesn’t especially concern herself with gender issues.  When they evaluated gender questions in the parties, how many women were in each party, Timoshenko’s party was far from first place.  It was near the bottom.  A party led by a woman.

Sophie Pinkham: In your opinion, what is the difference between young women and older women in Ukraine today?  How do they understand the role of women, and how do they understand gender and gender equality?

NT: According to my observations, and I have a quite wide social circle, younger women are completely different [from one another].  Some live according to stereotypes—they get married early, have children, are financially dependent on their husbands.  And there are girls, of course, who, from our point of view, think progressively.  Who achieve their goals…and then family relations where gender equality is established, where there isn’t this imbalance.  Of course, there’s a tendency for young people to be more “progressive” in their understanding of gender.  They think in a less stereotypical way, a less traditional way.  Coming from life experience—I meet people who are completely different [from one another].  I don’t really see any trends.

Maria Alekseenko: It’s like that in our network.  We have young women and old women.  I wouldn’t make generalizations based on age.  In how people receive information, yes.  Older people aren’t as open.  Younger people are more flexible.

SP: How do you think that the role of women has changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union?

MA: In the Soviet Union there was declarative, absolute gender balance.  That is, complete equality, and more [women] in government than there are now.  But how much they really participated in decision making, how much influence they had—that’s a question. In relation to government, on paper we had more equality.  Now, maybe, we see the real situation…on the other hand, then and now women maintained an active role.

NT: I was little during the Soviet Union…and so was Maria.  From what I’ve read, there was supposed to be gender equality, but it became a triple burden for women.  Women were at work.  Women were at home—“guardians of the hearth.”  And so on.  And that was called gender equality.  It’s hard to say [whether it’s better] to have women do everything, have every right, and then have a double or triple burden, or…so the understanding of “gender equality” is very specific.  I don’t think that’s what we have in mind.

SP: Can you tell me a little about yourselves?  How did you start this work?

NT: When I was studying at the institute, I helped the Consortium with some translations, I really liked what they were doing and they offered me a job.  I accepted right away.  When I was still studying at the institute, I wrote a paper about the relation of gender equality to socialization of youth, political aspects.  The work here and the work I did at the institute were quite intertwined.

SP: In your opinion, what are the main problems facing women in Ukraine today?  Social problems.

MA: The list of these questions can be different for each woman.  Because Ukraine is big, with big regional differences.  There’s a big difference between a woman from a city and a woman from a village.  In cities there are lots of opportunities, in villages there isn’t enough information, and women understand themselves differently.  There’s a difference in access to services.  If in a city you have access to medical services, social services, in a village you have to travel to get tests, mammograms—you have to go to the oblast center.  So the problems are completely different.

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