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#UkraineToo? National Specifics of the Gender Equality Initiative.

January 2018

#MeToo in Ukraine

#MeToo in Ukraine was perceived as a movement against workplace sexism. The hashtag wasn’t popular on Ukrainian Facebook*. Gender equality activists joined the discussion. 

The news about the movement in the US did start a debate here in Ukraine. However, it was not on gender-based discrimination. The debate was on the legality of public accusations with no evidence or court ruling, the false accusations, and #MeToo statements being a PR trick for celebrities. 

No major Ukrainian public person, whether a celebrity or a politician, stepped forward with a #MeToo-related statement. Regular Ukrainians did not join the conversation either. 

Why?

I would identify two reasons: 

1. The local campaign on gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence took place a year prior.

2. Ukrainians do not consider gender-based discrimination in the workplace a serious issue.

 

#ЯНеБоюсьСказати – #IAmNotAfraidToSay

In summer 2016, a man posted a story on Facebook. He found a beaten and raped a woman in the park late at night, and immediately took her to the hospital. He concluded his story: “That is why women shouldn’t walk alone in parks at night.” 

A Ukrainian opinion leader, journalist, writer, feminist Nastya Melnichenko wrote a post as a reaction to his story. “We are not guilty. The perpetrator is ALWAYS guilty.” In the post, she told the story of her abuse as a child, teenager, and adult. She also included the hashtag #ЯНеБоюсьСказати (Ukrainian for “I am not afraid to say”) and invited women to join her and share their stories. 

Dozens of women replied in the comments. Thousands wrote their posts using the hashtag. The accidental nation-wide campaign started. 

Many women told their stories of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse. Most survivor stories were met with support. However, you could find belittling and victim-blaming comments under almost every post.

Men shared their stories too. However, they were far more often met with belittling comments. 

Other men described the shock they experienced seeing the scale of the problem.  

Some stories were really worrisome. People described situations of men publicly beating women, and passerby trying to stop them. Women did not want to get help, because, as they say, “they deserved it.” There is an old Russian saying: “beating is loving.” Shockingly, many men and women still believe it to be true. 

The stories of child abuse sparked a discussion on children’s rights, sexual education and parent-child dialogue on personal boundaries and security. 

Nastya Melnichenko gathered the stories and wrote a book for adults and teenagers called “#ЯНеБоюсьСказати” about personal boundaries and overcoming abuse.

The accidental national campaign became international, spreading to Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and neighbouring countries. 

Today, almost two years later, questions arise: have any of the people, who wrote those Facebook posts, gone to the police? Were any of the perpetrators punished? Did it show the perpetrators they can get away with anything? Was it all just a “talk” with no real consequences? 

 

Why don’t women talk about workplace gender discrimination?

Ukrainian society yet does not start a discussion on the issues of physical violence and sexual abuse at home. That is why it is hard to expect that workplace gender discrimination will be considered a serious social threat.  

Women’s dependency on men is deeply rooted in the culture. According to a recent poll in Ukraine, both women and men agree that it is normal for women to earn more than men. However, women do not want to earn more than their actual male partners. Men do not want their actual female partners to earn more. 

There is another reason why Ukrainian women don’t publicly talk about workplace discrimination. They are afraid of “bad publicity” – being seen as “hysterical,” problematic employees. 

There is no real protection mechanism for people, discriminated at work. A woman can’t sue her boss for harassment at the workplace. In fact, the term “harassment” exists only on paper. There is no real legal mechanism to protect yourself against it. The lack of institutional support of discrimination victims gives them little to no voice on the issue. 

 

What now?

The wide engagement of people in the #IAmNotAfraidToSay campaign unveiled the scale of the problem. It showed just how deep the stereotypes run in our society, and how unprotected both women and men are from the legal perspective. 

Lack of #MeToo activism showed national specifics of the gender equality issue in Ukraine. 

However, the whole movement empowered people enough to talk about it more openly. Today, many activists gathered to spread awareness on gender equality and to protect those who need help. 

It is encouraging to see how much is being done to build a culture of equality in our society, and it is a great honour to be a part of it. 

 

* – Facebook is THE platform to discuss civic issues and politics in Ukraine.

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