Winter of Discontent, Ukrainian Women Lead Dissent

protest in Keiv

December 13, 2013: Thousands of protesters have taken over Maidan - Ukraine's Independence Square - in Kiev because pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych refuses to sign a document that would build stronger ties with the European Union. Global Fund for Women advisor and board chair of the Ukrainian Women's Fund, Natalia Karbowska, shares her perspective on the protests and the women's rights movement in Ukraine.

What’s been the outcome of protests thus far?

Today is the 22nd day of protests and so far we don’t see any concrete steps that the government and President are making to respond to the demand of people at Maidan. However, one of the biggest achievements of protests is obvious – people united in the fight for their rights and for their freedom, and in the realization that their future is in their hands. It is important that they are united not under political parties’ agenda – many of them have different political views and support different parties. The most important is that they want to protect democracy and democratic values and show real dedication, durability, and mutual support.

The experience of Maidan shows that people in Ukraine – women and men of different ages, from different parts of the country, from small villages and big cities – are ready to take responsibility and do everything possible and impossible to change their country.

Does Russia, with its abysmal human rights record, have any influence on Ukraine's human rights situation or on women's rights?

Ukrainians came to Maidan and started massive protests not only because the association agreement was not signed as planned. The catalyst of this was the night of November 30 when police cynically and violently dispersed peaceful protest of students. Clearly this practice looks very similar to the one in Russia, where we observe serious violations of human rights, especially when it concerns people who don’t agree with the government. Moreover, human rights according to Russian rhetoric are a "Western concept" that contradicts with traditional Slavic values. One can clearly see the same trend concerning women’s human rights – real Slavic women should stay at home, take care of the family, and realize their potential in the kitchen. The religions and pseudo-religious organizations that promote this ideology are very strong, powerful, very well funded and united in the networks. They are implementing huge informational campaigns aimed at discrediting gender equality principles and human rights values. Unfortunately, the same campaigns are taking place in Ukraine as well.

How are women's movements organizing citizens?

In my opinion, Maidan is a very good example of gender equality. It is showing that in critical situations our society is ready to live beyond the traditional stereotypes. In all spheres of Maidan life women and men are involved equally/almost equally – from preparing food to staying in the front lines at barricades.

We can see hundreds of thousands of women at Maidan – women of different generations. This proves that in our country, women are not staying in the kitchens where our politicians are persistently sending them. Women have a voice and claim the right to express it.

Women’s rights groups from all regions are both at Maidan in Kiev and work in the regions; women politicians are at barricades together with men, they mobilize people, and they protect the rights of imprisoned activists. Many women’s rights groups officially stopped working with the government. Women’s groups [with women specific focus] were created in social networks and we see that these groups are very effective tools to mobilize people.


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