«You just have to start»: the deputy of city council about the woman’s way in regional politics

Voznesensk is a city in the Mykolaiv region with the population of 30 thousand people The city isn’t big but has its gender passport and actively implements the policy of equal rights and opportunities for women and men. Tetiana Bobrynichenko works in the city council there. She initiated changes about the policy for equality in her city in 2018. So, we decided to talk with her about women’s political leadership at the local level.

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: You live and work in Voznesensk, that is a small city. What was the reaction of your colleagues for the proposal to start implementing gender equality policy on the local level?

Tetiana Bobrynichenko: I was always sensitive to gender issues and in 2018 I initiated all these processes in our community and proposed to launch a new position for the Commissioner for equal rights and opportunities in the local government.

The first stage was really challenging because I had to motivate people for work. That was the time when newly created territorial communities were just starting to talk about gender policies and tried to understand what it was supposed to be in practice.

I was lucky because the major of our city was loyal to such an initiative and offered me any help I needed.

At firsts I was faced with ironic attitude to gender issues, but then we went through it to accepting the necessity of those steps for our community. I got support and understanding from deputy majors, and they were active participants of gender budgeting group. Thanks to that the first stage was acceptable yet had some nuances.

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: Let’s image that you would not have gained support from your colleagues for this idea. What could be your arguments to prove that gender equality was important?

Tetiana Bobrynichenko: Apparently, certain examples are very bright motivators in this process. For example, in 2019, when we were preparing for a charity evening, we had a row of decisions and some of them were analyzed without gender analysis and the others through the prism of gender analysis.

When you compare two decisions, then it becomes clear why gender approach is necessary. We chose the location where this charity evening will be held, and at first the decision was made purely by men (the mayor and deputies).

The location was chosen very well, but there were no seats at all, although the event was to last about four hours. In addition, in order to reach the location, it was necessary to walk on the rubble. When the women joined the working group, they explained that the woman in heels, who would come to this charity evening, would not be able to stand for four hours. In addition, the elderly would not be able to stand either.

This is such a very banal, simple, but vivid example, which explains making decisions through the prism of various aspects.

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: You said that you are sensitive to gender issues. What does it mean for you? How does a person like you live and react on the surrounding situations?

Tetiana Bobrynichenko: In general, I have a heightened sense of justice since childhood. I always knew that everything should be honest. I took the side of those who were in the minority, defended an opinion that was fair, even if it exposed me to certain problematic points.

In 2017 I graduated with a degree in public administration, and we had a very good course in gender policy. This was probably the turning point when I asked myself the question: why all European countries understand, recognize, and actively deal with gender policy issues, and in our country, where there are so many such problems, no one cares much about them. And from this point of view, I began to analyze these processes…

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: Which processes?

Tetiana Bobrynichenko: Educational ones. For example, I had no idea why the sports school is 80% aimed to train boys.

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: You’re talking about football, basketball, are you?

Tetiana Bobrynichenko: Yes, these are mostly group, stereotypically “boys’ ” kinds of sport. The schools are oriented towards them. And there are much other issues.

We do not stand for women, because pedagogical collectives mostly consist of women, and it also influences our kids. I had teacher’s experience and I understand that female teachers give the material from the women’s point of view.

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: Have you ever felt the influence of any gender stereotypes while you were on the managing position?

Tetiana Bobrynichenko: Before I started working with gender issues and was asked the same question, I replied that I had never encountered discrimination on the grounds of sex, but I was very sensitive to gender policy, I wanted to implement it and so on.

But then, when I started analyzing, I had to admit that there were such discriminatory moments in my life. When I received offers to work in a higher position, often I heard the phrases told by men: “Honestly, I’m more comfortable working with a man, because I’m a man.”

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: And this is a very vivd example of stereotypes among people. But we tend not to pay attention and take it like something of daily business.

Tetiana Bobrynichenko: Today I’m a deputy of city council. When I ran for elections and became a real opponent for men, I started feeling pressure. And I’m not sure that it would be the same for male opponents.

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: What was it? Any threatens or comments?

Tetiana Bobrynichenko: No, not any threatens. But of there were any articles published there always were people who made pressure, and interpretation of my words in the wrong way.

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: Didi it look like online bullying?

Tetiana Bobrynichenko: Yes. I can’t say it was an everyday reality, but there were pretty many unpleasant cases, and it was my first election experience.

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: Why did you decide to run for elections?

Тетяна Бобриніченко: When I was a local Commissioner for equal rights and opportunities in the Executive Committee of the Voznesensk City Council, I declared 2020 the year of increased activity of women in the community. Why? Because it is illogical to talk about gender policy, about sensitive policy, if we do not have a completely correct representation of women in the leadership.

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: What is the situation now?

Tetiana Bobrynichenko: Now it is in line with the law – 44% of women in the city council, 41% of women in the executive committee, four out of five commissions in our community are headed by women, so we have balanced this process a bit.

The previous representation was much worse. When I analyzed for myself the leadership of the advisory bodies, it turned out that there were almost no women. We have more than 60 NGOs, and there were only three women.

Therefore, to deal with gender policy, to make gender-sensitive decisions, it is necessary to attract more active women. That’s why I have dedicated 2020 to this and I believe that we have achieved something. There was the implementation of a project prepared by me, and a personal conversation was held with many women so that they could go into politics, run for elections, and influence decision-making.

Of course, not everyone got into politics, but for them it was a very useful experience. However, there are women who came to the council, thanks to my work, and I am proud of that, because today they are very active ones. I did not perceive them as competitors or opponents – for all the trainings I knew, I involved women from different political parties.

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: So you mean women solidarity matters?

Tetiana Bobrynichenko: Sure. Today we may have engaged 50% of women but they provide really significant result. Because it is not a great deal to attend meetings and push or not the buttons as one of political leader’s assistant. But we have many women in our council who are not afraid to talk, claim their opinions in public and make reasonable decisions.

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: You talked about institutional mechanisms for implementing equal rights and opportunities in communities at the 1st UWC’s training for regional network. What are they?

Tetiana Bobrynichenko: Firstly, it is a public recognition, for example, as we have when joining the European Charter for Equality between Women and Men and preparing an action plan for it. This is important because this is about spreading the policy in all areas.

The second point is the integration of gender policy into the basic strategic documents. We have singled out a whole section on gender policy in the strategy, we understand it is possible and we will deal with it. In my opinion, the gender passport that we have built is important.

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: Why does gender passport of the city matter?

Tetiana Bobrynichenko: For us, it was important tool in gender policy integration, because we have collected gender statistics from about 60 indicators. Collecting it was not simple, because, for example, at the regional level, there are indicators in the statistics, but there is lack of them in small cities. So we collected it manually, but when we saw the picture we were slightly shocked without any additional analysis – the gaps were huge and obvious.

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: Could you provide any example? Maybe there was a gender gap in salary?

Tetiana Bobrynichenko: It turned unreal to get any economic information, so it is not in gender passport yet. We will try to find it now, but I’m not sure that we will succeed. It is difficult to see the real numbers, we understand that there are illegal salaries and work. At the city level, it is challenging to follow, because most of the population works in the market, in the field of services – these are the areas where it is exceedingly difficult to trace.

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: What indicators did you manage to get?

Tetiana Bobrynichenko: For example, the number of tuberculosis decease among women and men was interesting. We found out that more men suffer from it in Ukraine. But in our city there were years when women prevailed in the number of diseases. The analysis suggested that this may be due to the fact that we have quarries, polluted air, and so on. But the reason turned out to be very simple: most of our women work in the budget sphere and regularly undergo professional examinations, respectively, more diseases are detected.

Regarding mortality from injuries and poisonings, we also had a very high rate, and this figure was almost the same for women and men. The explanation for this was the fact that we have a route of national importance that runs through the whole community, and many people – both pedestrians and drivers – fall victim to road accidents and die.

But a lot has been done since then, pedestrian crossings have been illuminated, special “men” have been installed to attract drivers’ attention, and the relevant areas are equipped with special traffic lights that constantly give a light signal and draw attention to the fact that there is a pedestrian crossing.

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: So gender passport is a kind of issue map with gender prism, which could be the beginning of a gender action plan?

Tetiana Bobrynichenko: Sure/ fer example in culture and education there were numbers that impressed even without additional analysis.

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: Is this gender passport of your city public?

Tetiana Bobrynichenko: Yes, it is published at our website. And today we have to fulfill it with one more aspect connected to the pandemic and quarantine limitations, which also influence economic state of women and men. Also the decease rate would be interesting.

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: Domestic violence, maybe?

Tetiana Bobrynichenko: As for domestic violence, an interesting point is that we did not see rapid growth during the quarantine. I think the problem was that it could not be systematic, or perhaps during the pandemic there was an escalation, but most cases were the first time, so women were simply not ready to publicly declare it. Now we have social advertising at the national level, so there is still a moment that needs to be worked on.

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: Why did you decide to be a regional representative of Ukrainian Women’s Congress in Mykolaiv region?

Tetiana Bobrynichenko: Maybe, because I feel lack of exchanging the experience. I understand that as of 2021, many communities have been partners with DOBRE, and each community has a lot of work to do on gender policy. Therefore, I would like to keep in touch with these communities, with their public organizations.

Here in our city there is no public organization that would not only take care of gender issues, but as if it had at least some appropriate direction of work. So, I would like to consolidate efforts at the regional level. This makes the problem visible, the work visible, and the results visible. This will encourage those who may not yet be involved in these processes. Well, for those who are in these processes – it’s an exchange of experiences, support, communication, and it’s very important.

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: You say that there is no public organizations for gender issues, but UWC was also created by the people’s deputies of Ukraine Olena Kondratiuk, Maria Ionova and Svitlana Voitsekhovska. You can also unite active women who did not pass the lections to council.

Tetiana Bobrynichenko: We are now in the process of completing the project – the Studio of Women’s Leadership, we also have a Women’s Council, but it is created of the women from the villages of Novogoryhorivka and Rakovo. So, the idea is, we start with a studio that has already brought together such mega-active women. We have premises, and in March there were already interesting ideas for the meeting, but, unfortunately, now there is a quarantine that makes its adjustments and creates obstacles in the process. But we have a very comfortable room, based on a youth hub. We have equipped it so that women with small children can be present there – there are also a changing table, a play area for children. It can grow into a public organization.

Ukrainian Women’s Congress: What would you say to women who want to enter the politics at regional level but still hesitate?

Tetiana Bobrynichenko: Just try. When I started my election campaign, I went to women to meet them in person. I knew that they were smart and active women in their best years, ready to join politic processes. I met more than 20 of them, and always heard that they were not smart enough or did not have enough enthusiasm. But today the ones who came to the council have constant flow of new ideas and willing to change something. When we recall the moment they didn’t want to do the politics, smile appears on their face. So you just have to start. And it’s a 100% you will succeed.