Summary of the 5th Ukrainian Women’s Congress Kyiv, September 15-16

The 5th anniversary Ukrainian Women’s Congress “Women Leadership as a Value” was help on September 15-16, 2021 and united national and international decisionmakers, business, public sector and media representatives on one of the largest Ukrainian leadership events in the equality of women and men.

Participants discussed women’s part in politics, state of women in security and defense sector and peacebuilding, women’s participation in economics and innovations, women’s leadership in local communities, and witnessed presentation of new projects and opportunities.

Gender equality is the most just and tangible change in the life of the country, said Deputy Speaker of Ukrainian Parliament Olena Kondratyuk at the opening of the Fifth Ukrainian Women’s Congress. “It is an example of successful and effective women’s leadership, which changes not just the rules of the game, but introduces a new ethic and culture of interaction between women and men that becomes an essential feature of everyday communication,” she added.

“Another challenge is the coronavirus pandemic. Doctors, nurses, and junior staff are mostly female workers. They once again demonstrate leadership in protecting the health of our citizens,” the Chairman of The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Dmytro Razumkov said.

The Ukrainian Women’s Congress’s historical project launched in the partnership with the Ukrainian Women’s History Research Association was also represented during the event. “By the 30th anniversary of Ukrainian independence, we have decided to pay attention to local women who lived about a hundred years ago rather than discuss prominent female figures who are widely known,” UCU professor Oksana Kis said.

Sevgil Musayeva, editor-in-chief of Ukrayinska Pravda, said there is a lack of female figures in Ukrainian history. The head of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, Anton Drobovych, outlined one of the main reasons for this phenomenon. Women’s experiences were often not documented and this is an obstacle for the research, he said. “I heard all ten stories for the first time and they became a revelation for me. Historians usually work with those materials that are preserved. But historically, there has been a habit of ignoring and not documenting what a woman said,” he explained. Therefore, a historian should keep that in mind while developing a methodology.

First Lady Olena Zelenska opened the second day of the Fifth Ukrainian Women’s Congress. In her speech the wife of the President spoke about the results of Ukraine’s participation in the Biarritz Partnership. “Equality is not only about equal rights, but also about equal opportunities and access for every member of society to any public space: airport, train, restaurant, cafe, pharmacy or business center. All of this is part of our commitment under the Biarritz Partnership and one of the major areas of my work, which is called “barrier-free space,” Olena Zelenska stressed.

The majority of Ukrainians define equality of men and women as their highest priority. These are the results of a sociological survey presented by the political analyst of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation at the Fifth Ukrainian Women’s Congress. Young people aged 18 to 39 who were born and grew up in independent Ukraine find gender equality issues the most important. Equality is also a higher priority for people with higher education, Petro Burkovsky mentioned. According to him, the introduction of gender quotas is also approved by the vast majority of respondents. The results of the sociological survey will be considered by the Government, said the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine Olga Stefanishyna.

“When they say that the topic of equality in Ukraine is new, brought from somewhere and is irrelevant for Ukrainian society, it should be noted that Natalia Kobrynska introduced the idea of ​​pragmatic feminism back in the 19th century. We must remember those women who started this struggle,” Svitlana Voitsekhovska, co-founder of the Ukrainian Women’s Congress and MP of the 8th convocation, said.

Societies where there is gender equality and human rights are accessible to all are safer and have a better chance of a sustainable, prosperous, and stable peace. The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Ann Linde noted. She stressed the importance of realisation of the National Action Plan for the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Resolution.

Women in Ukraine have got better access to military education – Lieutenant General Serhiy Naev The commander of the Joint Forces of Ukraine’s Armed Forces reports. According to him, today one fifth (20.1% of the total number of the Armed Forces of Ukraine) are women servicemen and civilian workers. Moreover, women make up more than 10% of the total number of personnel involved in the Joint Forces Operation. About 8,000 women have received the “Combatant” status since 2014, more than 6,000 women have been awarded state and departmental awards and distinctions.

There were also restrictions on service on ships of the Ukrainian Navy. “But the American ships that we expect to incorporate in the Ukrainian Navy will have appropriate living conditions for women servicemen,” said Lieutenant General Serhiy Nayev. Still, there are very few women in the leadership of the Armed Forces, although many women deserve it, according to Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Yulia Laputina. According to her, the solution to this problem is a complex issue. Nonetheless, according to the Minister, compared to 2014, Ukraine is improving very fast.

Jaime Nadal, Head of the United Nations Population Fund in Ukraine, UNFPA, spoke about the challenges faced by families due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ambassador of Sweden to Ukraine Tobias Tiberg said that the COVID-19 pandemic affected women more than men because of the disproportionate level of family and household responsibilities. In Sweden as in other countries, women take on more domestic responsibilities. Director of the Corporate Social Responsibility Development Center Maryna Saprykina talked about which companies are more flexible in their response to the today’s challenges and better prepared to support employees and children. The project, which was implemented in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund, aimed to create a rating of family-friendly companies. Criteria for the rating included: corporate culture, flexible work schedule, workplace, social and material support of the family. A total of 52 companies took part.

Of course, the issue of inequality is still unresolved around the world. This was stated at the beginning of the conversation by the Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Europe and the CIS Mirjana Spoljaric Egger. “At the current pace of progress, it will take almost 145 years to close the gender gap in political opportunities and 267 years to achieve full economic equality,” she mentioned.

In just 3 years, more than 60 cities in Ukraine have signed the European Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local Life. Chairman of the Current Affairs Committee of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe Thomas Andersson stated during the “Local communities free of discrimination and sexism – how to make it a reality” discussion at the Fifth Ukrainian Women’s Congress. Maryna Bardina, Member of Parliament of Ukraine, in turn noted that Ukraine is trying to actively initiate processes in the Council of Europe: “It is difficult to separate the national and local levels, because a lot is being done at the state level. International, national and local initiatives are very closely intertwined, they are parts of a single organism.”

Discriminatory societal norms and gender stereotypes determine who has power, voice, and opportunity. Therefore, it is necessary to challenge these stereotypes and change them so that everyone has equal opportunities. The acting UN Women Deputy Executive Director and Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations Åsa Regnér said this during the “Generation of Independence, Equality and Freedom” session on the second day of the Fifth Ukrainian Women’s Congress.

“The Congress is an effective platform where new ideas and meanings are generated,” Maria Ionova, co-founder of the Ukrainian Women’s Congress, Member of Parliament of Ukraine said during her final address at the Fifth Ukrainian Women’s Congress. “We are lobbyists for progressive change, which opens new opportunities for women, and by the way for men as well, in all areas. Starting the Congress in 2017, we wanted to raise the policy of equal rights and opportunities for women and men to the highest national level, involve the branches of government and form a priority action plan. Subsequent Congresses intensified gender mainstreaming in reforms”, – she said.

The results and recommendations of the Fifth Ukrainian Women’s Congress will be addressed to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the Government, local authorities, the private sector, and civil society organisations. The full text of the final document will be available on the website.