Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov’s view on women in his government is reminiscent of an old political joke from the era of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
Azarov, responding to questions about the lack of women in his government, said on March 19 that “it’s not a woman’s business to conduct reforms. Brezhnev, when asked why there is no meat in the shops, replied that the nation was moving towards Communism with huge strides, and the beasts are having trouble keeping up with the pace.
But the similarities of modern-day politics and the reality of the Brezhnev decades are more frightening than amusing. Fear is rising in Europe that, after five years of Orange Revolution moods, the “strong hand” of the male is returning to Ukraine – and these hands are more likely to reach out to Russia than to the West.
This is why the British newspapers Daily Mail and Guardian, as well as a number of other European media, christened our prime minister as “exorcist” and “Neanderthal.”
And the beautiful blonde speaker of the German Green Party, Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, was deeply offended and promised to continue an anti-Azarov crusade in Europe until he takes his words back.
In the April 9 issue of the Kyiv Post, the newspaper’s reporter, Nataliya Bugayova, sounded an opinion
defending the policies related to women’s issues by the head of Ukraine’s government and those in power. The journalist cites her own experience and sincerely thinks that women are unproductive, and are generally not suitable for tough Ukrainian politics. She thinks that in Ukraine everything is fine with opportunities for both women and men, and the attention to gender problems is exaggerated and works to discriminate professionals.
We couldn’t figure out what the author meant when talking about having a strong male team. Perhaps she was referring to the Asian model, with its proverbial cruelty and petty tyranny? But Ukraine is claiming to hold a course to Europe, with its democratic values, including the equality of sexes.
An activist with the Femen organization is arrested during a protest outside the Cabinet of Ministers on March 17. The demonstrators were calling attention to the lack of women in leadership positions in the goverment of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. (Yaroslav Debelyi)
However, unlike Europe, where the so-called “positive discrimination” is used to ensure women get a prominent role in the society, gender in Ukraine works against women. They get lower salaries, fewer opportunities to move up the career ladder, and even fewer chances to get a good job or a good education. It is in this light that deep antagonism exists between gender and professionalism that Bugayova singled out in her column.
After the unique precedent of female rights groups led by Femen in standing up against the sexism of the prime minister, contributing to the wave of world criticism, Azarov had to explain himself. But his answer sounded like a bad joke in the middle of a serious conversation.
Azarov said his new government consists of people who can work 16 hours per day, without holidays and who are not afraid to say “no” to their chiefs. Later, Azarov explained he would not wish any woman, especially if she has children, to work more than 15 hours a day, as his ministers supposedly do.
The effectiveness of a government does not depend on the number of hours they work, but on the decisions they take. Let the ministers tell those fairy tales to their wives about where they are for 15 hours per day!
Azarov stresses the power and strength of his team. But it seems that this force is not always directed to good causes – 12 ministers out of 29 were involved in criminal cases as suspects or witnesses.
The showcase in this cabinet is the career of Economy Minister Vasyl Tsushko. After two years of criminal investigation against him for exceeding his authority while he was interior minister in 2007, good luck returned to him in 2010 when all charges were dropped.
We shall not allow Ukraine to get to the point where power in the criminal world will become criteria for professionalism in politics.
The Femem movement stands for women-related policies, not women in politics. We stand to make those in power carry responsibility before the people, rather than take care of the people. We would like to also remind the team of President Viktor Yanukovych that their victory in elections was due to the promises of social stability.
While Ukrainians are still expecting change, we can clearly state that the changes are here already. If Azarov simply brushes off the powerful female intellectual potential, you can be sure that he will never direct his attention to the disabled, the pensioners and other needy parts of the population.
So, “stop raping the country” is our slogan for Ukraine under the new power team. We’re demanding that Azarov takes the only correct decision that would relieve the situation in Ukraine that is charged up due to the absence of women in the Cabinet. He could start by replacing the ministers implicated in criminal investigations with female candidates.
Anna Hutsol is the leader of Femen, a non-profit organization that promotes women’s issues. She can be reached at email@example.com.