Women are building Ukraine’s future and playing prominent roles more than ever before in the nation’s democratic transition – particularly since the 2014 Revolution of Dignity (also known as Euromaidan). Public demand for new faces in government, and calls for sweeping political reform, have fueled both the increased election of women and the introduction of legislation to address gender inequities. And in 2017, the Cabinet of Ministers created a new position – Gender Equality Commissioner – to respond to the growing demand for government action on gender issues.
Despite this progress, women still need a dedicated platform to share their experiences and ideas, and to form a cross-cutting gender equality agenda. For that reason, the Ukrainian Parliamentary Equal Opportunities Caucus (EOC) organized the First Ukrainian Women’s Congress, which brought together more than 400 accomplished women and men representing the executive and legislative branches of government, civil society, business, academia and media. These gender equality advocates discussed the challenges to advancing women’s rights in Ukraine and the path for women’s advancement in the future. By the end of the Congress, the participants had developed a gender policy resolution to help lawmakers, businesspeople and civil society grow opportunities for women in the country. The Congress was organized with the support of the National Democratic Institute, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), the Council of Europe, UN Women, the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Population Fund.
Volydymyr Groysman, prime minister of Ukraine, opened the Congress by affirming his support for gender equality, and for the provision and protection of women’s rights in Ukraine.
NDI invited leaders from newly amalgamated communities, where the Institute works with women to encourage them to engage in the formation of gender policy at the local level. One of those leaders was Svitlana Spazheva, the head of Pokrovska CC, who spoke about ways to enhance the role of women in decision-making and community development, and about promoting gender equality at the local level. Spazheva pointed to an alarming trend in local election results which suggests that as races become more heavily contested – with funds shifting to the local level as part of decentralization reforms – women who currently hold elected office are at increasing risk of losing their seats.
In addition to providing a forum for women leaders to share their insights and experience, the Congress produced important tangible results. For example, Hennadiy Zubko, deputy prime minister for regional development, construction and housing, met with gender equality activists, and shortly thereafter his ministry became the first in Ukraine to introduce a Code of Conduct on Gender Equality. Zubko has made gender equality a priority because his ministry is responsible for the decentralization process and the development of women at the community level.
The Congress also unified women to stand up and press for equality on the ground. Natalia Marchuk, a city councilwoman in Khmelnytskyi, wanted to form a gender-focused caucus (GFC) in her community council in Khmelnytska oblast, but the head of the council was against the idea and suggested she join existing groups instead of “wasting her time on creating a new initiative.” Marchuk persisted, and cited remarks made at the Congress by the president and prime minister, both of whom said that gender equality should become a priority for Ukraine. By quoting the country’s leaders, Marchuk was able to convince the council head to support the creation of a GFC in Khmelnytskyi. With the council head’s support, Marchuk began the process of organizing a GFC, including recruiting fellow women councillors and male allies.
Another participant, Larysa Rymar, Ternopilska oblast council member struggled to form a gender caucus prior to participating in the First Ukrainian Women’s Congress. Because of the knowledge and skills she acquired at the Congress, she successfully created a gender caucus immediately upon her return. A story about her and her participation in the Congress later appeared on the national 1+1 TV channel.
As a result of the Congress, the participants issued a resolution and identified key actions to achieve gender equality in Ukraine. These include:
- introducing gender quotas for parliament, and defining sanctions for noncompliance raising public awareness about gender equality issues
- eliminating discriminatory restrictions on the participation of women in the security and defense sector
- strengthening interagency cooperation on the implementation of the National Action Plan for the United Nations Security Council’s Landmark Resolution on Women, Peace and Security (UNSCR 1325)
- initiating a dialogue on the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention)
- amending and strengthening domestic violence laws and punishment for offenders
- introducing and promoting gender-oriented budgeting
- reducing the list of professions that are prohibited for women*
- implementing a strategy for the promotion of gender equality and non-discrimination in public education
*Due to the efforts from multiple advocates, including NDI partner Povaha, the Ministry of Public Health (MPH) revoked Order № 256, which prohibited women from working in 450 jobs such as subway and train drivers, locksmiths and firefighters. This revocation occurred in December of 2017 – just one month after the Congress took place. This represented a substantial victory on behalf of greater gender equality and opportunities for women. The initiators and co-organizers of the First Ukrainian Women’s Congress committed to hosting the event annually, and the next Congress will convene in October, 2018.
More information about the Congress can be found here: http://womenua.today/