Tamara Martsenyuk – our interview about women in Ukraine

By Milena Rampoldi and Denise
Nanni, ProMosaik. In the following, for the 8th of March, our
interview with Tamara Martsenyuk of the
Ukrainian Helsinki Human
Rights Union
Tamara Martsenyuk holds PhD in Sociology
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
[1], responsible for internal organizational gender
and non-discrimination policies, and the author of project
Human Rights Defenders, Who Change Ukraine”
[2]. She is also Associate Professor at the
Department of Sociology,
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 8
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.
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
What are the main gender
issues in 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
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
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.
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. A
ccording 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.
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
Gender dimension is also
taken into account in course of human rights
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
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
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[3].
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
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.
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.
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?
participation in the international projects has an important cooperation
component – with authorities, NGOs, educational institutions etc.
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 opportunities in Gender Equality Policies and eu Integration – experience of Visegrad for
EaP Countries
, p.
2.      Martsenyuk, T. (2015). Women’s Top-Level Political Participation:
Failures and Hopes of Ukrainian Gender Politics
in New
Youthful Reinvention of Ukraine’s Cultural
, ed. and translated by Marian J. Rubchak, New York & Oxford:
3.      Martsenyuk, T.
Child Marriage in Ukraine (Overview),
United Nations Population Fund, 12 p.