SEATTLE — Women’s empowerment in Ukraine has seen a concurrent evolution with the Ukraine conflict. In 2014, protests erupted in the capital, Kiev, after the Ukraine President did not sign a trade deal with the EU. The situation worsened as the protests became violent, Russia annexed Crimea and a war erupted in eastern Ukraine. The conflict has led to a surge in violence against women and increased women’s insecurity in the economy.
The conflict has cumulated in eastern Ukraine, where over 3.8 million people are adversely and directly affected, nearly 70 percent of whom are women. Domestic violence is a large part of the adverse effects on women. La Strada, a Kiev-based International Women’s Rights Center, relates the increase in domestic violence issues with the war: “Women call and tell us that they were married for 15 years, that they had a good family, and that their husbands were never violent […] then they left for the war and returned completely changed.” In 2015, the number of women calling their hotline claiming domestic violence was more than double what it was the year before. In addition to violence, women are also suffering as an internally displaced population.
Of the 1.6 million people internally displaced because of the war, 61 percent are women. The crisis in Ukraine has forced women to move their families out of conflict areas and leave any security they had in their homes. Women file 95 percent of the complaints in application of the Ukraine law “Ensuring the Rights and Freedoms of Internally Displaced Persons.”
Destabilization for displaced women in Ukraine has also led to job insecurity. Of internally displaced women, 70 percent are unemployed. More than 500 types of jobs are prohibited to women, who are further restricted to only working day hours. This limits the economic opportunities available to women, who already earn 35.6 percent less than men in equivalent positions.
In March 2016, the UNDP called on the international community to promote the protection of women’s empowerment in Ukraine. That same year, the UNDP announced that their cooperation with the NGO Women’s Perspectives provided “startup grants [that]have helped create almost 250 businesses.” In line with empowering businesswomen, the UNDP has also provided networking events and consulting services that have benefited more than 500 women-led enterprises. In the rural circle, MEDA, an international economic development organization, works with the Ukrainian Women’s Farmers Council to supply business grants to women farmers as part of their Women Empowering Women project. Other organizations work to empower women in political positions, and, like the previously mentioned La Strada, to support women against violence.
In cooperation with the U.N. and women and human rights organization in Ukraine, the country has seen small advancements. The U.N. announced that “25 percent of the police force in Ukraine is women and a parliamentary subcommittee on gender equality and non-discrimination started in 2016” to grow decision-making opportunities for women. The U.N. noted that “advancing women’s equality could add $12 trillion to global growth” and is a necessary investment for a country’s development.
In 2017, Ukraine ratified the U.N.’s international bill of rights for women, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. With this, Ukraine pledged to join the U.N.’s initiative to reduce inequality and discrimination against women. With continued support from the U.N. and growing recognition of the importance of women’s economic contributions, women’s empowerment in Ukraine can be better protected in the future.
– Eliza Gresh