Public gaffes made by President Viktor Yanukovych and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov reveal their backward views towards gender roles and women in society.
Ukraine’s women can rage all they want about the fact that their new government, which has little female presence, is sexist and denies them equal rights. But they cannot change the fact that those in power making the sexist comments have no idea what the big stink is about.
This week’s hullaballoo about women’s rights, equality and sexism was kick-started by Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, who said “it’s not women’s business” to implement reforms. In January, then-presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych made derogatory and unapologetic sexist remarks. Referring to his opponent and then-Premier Yulia Tymoshenko, he said: “If she is a woman, she belongs in the kitchen.”
This ignorance and discrimination by Ukraine’s top two officials sent out international shock waves. Britain’s Guardian newspaper came out with a March 24 headline implying that Azarov is a Neanderthal. Perhaps the Guardian’s headline is more right than they had themselves expected. The day after this headline, Azarov’s office stumbled in trying to backtrack on his controversial statements. A press statement claimed that Azarov’s position “was misinterpreted,” and went on to give “the correct quote.” Apparently, Azarov meant to say: “At the moment ministers have to work 15 hours per day. To none of the women, especially those with children, would I wish this workload.” But this quote implies that the right place for women is taking care of children, not working long hours to change the country for the better.
These recent statements by the president, the prime minister and his office show quite clearly that their “coalition of dudes” has no clue what the storm is all about. They imply that women are the weaker sex. Asking them to drop their 19th-century ideas about men and women is like asking a Neanderthal to stop hunting an endangered species.
Strangely, more women voted for Yanukovych in the presidential elections than for Tymoshenko. Perhaps these millions of female voters should rethink their choice, or help cure their leaders' ignorance. Yanukovych has a handful of women in top presidential office positions and in parliament – some solid economists, others loud-mouthed spin doctors. But strangely, these women have been silent on the recent chauvinism expressed by their bosses. Obviously, more courageous and sound-minded women are needed in this strongman’s club, and fast.
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