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The National Democratic Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.


When Zinayida Galchynska was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago, she was directing a health-care organization in Zaporizhzhya, in southeastern Ukraine. Already a community leader, she vowed that if she survived she would run for office, a move she believed would allow her to have a larger impact on decision-making in her community, particularly on health care issues.

She did survive and set out to make good on her promise, though she knew the political odds were against her. Despite the prominence of former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko and a few other women, traditional gender roles still prevail in Ukraine. There are no women among the Cabinet of Ministers, regional-level governors or advisors to the president. Women make up only 8 percent of Ukrainian parliamentarians, far below the 30 percent target Ukraine agreed to in ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 2003. Women often lack the monetary and logistical support of their political parties to make a successful run for office.

To support Galchynska and other potential women candidates, NDI launched a program that teaches women the skills needed to make a serious run for office and to take on more meaningful roles in political parties. Over the long term, the program seeks to change the cultural perception of women in politics in Ukraine.

In September, NDI conducted a series of multi-party training sessions for women candidates from three regions. The curriculum was tailored to recent electoral system changes, especially a switch to single-mandate constituency districts for half of local council seats, meaning that one there is one winner per district, regardless of overall percentage the party wins. The other half are filled by a party list system, which does take the party's percentage of the vote into account. Single-mandate races are a particular challenge for women because parties will often nominate rich community members as their single-mandate candidates, who then run the campaign at their own expense. Since men are often wealthier than women in Ukraine, fewer women run for these seats, and those that do tend to have fewer resources to spend on the campaign. The NDI training focused on campaign strategies and tactics that rely less on money and more on community organizing and direct voter contact.

Galchynska’s campaign took place in an urban residential district. She was not expecting much support from her party and did not have a lot of person funds to spend on the campaign. With skills and support from NDI’s training, she focused on direct contact with voters through door-to-door campaigning, a tactic that is often overlooked in Ukraine.

Galchynska organized 16 volunteers to do the door-knocking, designed her own campaign literature and decided what neighborhoods and demographics to target. The campaign’s message focused on improving the life and health of the community. Her party took notice, and also put her high on the party’s list for local council seats. She narrowly lost her single-mandate race, but won a seat on the council through the list.

She is one of 11 of 74 women candidates who took part in the NDI program and won elected office.

In December, NDI convened the winning candidates to discuss their campaigns and future work as elected officials. Like Galchynska, many of them overcame tremendous obstacles, and most had little support from their political parties.

During that session and in ongoing communications, NDI has shared tools to help the new councilors build coalitions, develop professional networks and perfect other methods to help them succeed in their new roles. The Institute will work with the women to form a network of female elected officials throughout the country to share best practices, exchange practical advice and, ultimately, recruit and encourage more women candidates.

Using her new platform as an elected official, Galchynska, is working to build coalitions in Zaporizhzhya to deal with urgent community problems, particularly improving health care.


Pictured above: Galchynska's campaign literature reads "Slogans do not heal - care is what heals," and urges voters to vote for her, number three on the ballot.


Published January 24, 2011