They’re not exhibitionists who flash their breasts to get a point across, and they didn’t form to get in the lucrative grant-winning racket.
They’re the real deal: a genuine, grassroots, women’s-only group that is overtly feminist.
They act under the name Feminist Offensive, or Ofenzyva, as they prefer to call themselves. And they’re not afraid of the sometimes hostile stigma associated with calling themselves feminist.
Bare breasts are replaced by meaningful marches on International Women’s Day on March 8 that strive to reclaim the holiday’s political meaning from its current candy and flowers celebration of feminine beauty.
And slogans of “Ukraine isn’t a Bordello” is replaced by art exhibitions and dialogue enriched conferences that have titles like, “Feminism: Assemblage Point,” an allusion to a Carlos Castaneda novel.
“Our principles are to stand against all patriarchal forms of power such as, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ageism, and racism,” said 30-year-old Ofenzyva activist Lesia Pagulich.
Spawned in December 2010 by like-minded women who mostly grew up without a kindle of memory of the Soviet Union, and who had some sort of education in the West, Ofenzyva is a loose-knit group that is committed to fighting for equality between women and men in a society they claim is patriarchal. A society where men should be men, and women should be women, in the classical gender understanding.
“Ofenzyva acts like a watchdog, our role is to raise awareness of women’s rights,” said Olga Plakhotnik, a sociology professor in Kharkiv who takes part in the group’s activities.
This means having women realize that domestic abuse and sexual violence aren't private family affairs or justified violence, but a systemic problem that needs to be properly addressed, according to activist Pagulich.
It also means offering alternative views in society on the role of women. Ofenzyva promotes the use of non-sexist language, and wants women to detect workplace discrimination, for example, when hiring managers extract promises that they won’t get pregnant in the first two years of employment.
Ofenzyva acts like a watchdog, our role is to raise awareness of women’s rights,
- Tamara Martseniuk, a sociology professor in Kharkiv who takes part in the group’s activities.
“Another example is that women see their often double burden of work in the office and at home as a necessity to serve their families,” said Pagulich of some of the inequalities between women and men.
Feminist blogger, translator and former Fulbright scholar Maria Dmytrieva who is not associated with Ofenzyva said that an episode in February when a flasher was caught on video in Kyiv’s metro rubbing his genitals against a women showed to what extent some women are afraid to fight for their rights and the symptomatic way law enforcement treats women.
The man who exposed and rubbed his genitals against a woman was booked for hooliganism. And the victim, Dmytrieva said, didn’t appeal the hooliganism charge for attempted rape.
Kharkiv professor Plakhotnik said many women don’t realize that when there’s only 8 percent of women in Ukraine’s parliament and fewer in top government posts, that essentially men run the lives of women.
“People don’t understand that men control women because women aren’t in power,” said Plakhotnik.
This is partially why men aren’t allowed in the core decision making body of Ofenzyva. Pagulich said the main premise behind the separatist practice is because women in society aren’t decision makers at the higher levels of government and business.
“We want to create a safe place without hierarchies, without men dominating discussions,” said Pagulich. “We want to empower women to speak freely, to take decisions and to be assertive.”
Plakhotnik explained: “The logic is the same, there are closed male groups like parliament, hunting clubs, bathhouses, etcetera, where women aren’t allowed, this is normal, including exclusion in some professions – one needs public space for exclusive female membership.”
Pagulich quickly added the group cooperates with other pro-feminist and mixed groups, including men. And one-third of last year’s March 8 march consisted of men.
This year’s March 8 march attracted a number of organizations to protest laws they claim the state and church have drafted, some of which already voted upon, that violate basic women’s rights.
Professor Plakhotnik said that although Ukraine is constitutionally a secular state, the church and state joined forces to pen laws that would tax families aged over 30 without children, limit abortion and the use of new fertility technologies and prohibit the advancement of homosexuality.
Asked to what extent Ukrainian society is ready to embrace some of their values, Plakhotnik said on the surface there is understanding but that conservative attitudes emerge at a deeper level.
“Many find it difficult to envision a family with a stay-at-home father and a working mother, or a family with two fathers or two mothers,” noted Plakhotnik.
Kyiv Post staff writer Mark Rachkevych can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.