Editor’s Note: This article is a part of the “Journalism of Tolerance” project by the Kyiv Post and its affiliated non-profit organization, the Media Development Foundation. The project covers challenges faced by sexual, ethnic and other minorities in Ukraine, as well as people with physical disabilities and those living in poverty. This project is made possible by the support of the American people through the U. S. Agency for International Development and Internews. Content is independent of the donors.
Society often encourages women in Ukraine to take the “traditional values” path in life: Get married, have children and take care of their breadwinning husbands.
Those who choose to live differently, often independently, encounter judgmental attitudes or worse.
When Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, in a 2016 interview with Korrespondent news website was asked about ex-military pilot Nadiya Savchenko’s political activity, he said that she should “take care of her personal life and start a family.”
Indeed, this is what many Ukrainian women choose to do.
According to the State Statistics Service of Ukraine, as many as 45 percent of Ukrainian women (6.8 million) aged 15-70 years were unemployed in the first quarter of 2016. For men, this index was lower – only 35 percent of men from this age group (4.3 million) did not have jobs at the same period.
But even when a Ukrainian woman works, she is often underpaid, earning 35.6 percent less than men.
Still, not everyone thinks there is a problem.
A 2016 opinion poll by Razumkov Center, a Kyiv-based think tank, revealed that 48 percent of women and 52 percent of men do not believe that gender discrimination exists in Ukraine.
The Kyiv Post talked to four successful Ukrainian women about their journeys.
“A man would always ask for more money.”
This woman remembers the time when she was holding her baby in one hand and making calls to political experts with another while also cooking soup. These efforts paid off: Today Nina Kuryata, 39, is an editor-in-chief at BBC Ukraine.
She is proud to say that gender is not an issue at the BBC: Here, no one will ask a potential employee how many children he or she has and if there is someone to watch them while parents are at work.
Kuryata has been working at BBC since 2011. Before that, she was a political journalist. In 2008, she was interviewing one of the top managers of the National Bank of Ukraine.
“When I came to him, I could immediately see his dislike,” says Kuryata.
When she asked questions during an interview, he would keep repeating: “If you just knew something about the subject…”
Kuryata believes it was his misogyny showing.
“In Ukraine, the men in power are not used to women being in charge,” she says.
Kuryata also notes that male job applicants at the BBC often ask for more money than women. “When a man comes to BBC for a job interview, sometimes he asks for a bigger salary than I have,” she says.
If couples share responsibilies, Kuryata says, then women don’t have to choose between work and home.
“Men compete with their bosses, women compete with each other.”
She is the first woman to serve as the deputy speaker of Ukraine’s parliament.
Oksana Syroyid, 41, was raised in a family where her father adored her mother.
“Thanks to my family, it never came to my head I would not achieve something because I was a woman,” she told the Kyiv Post on July 7.
She believes that in Ukraine, women are not fighting for their rights, but rather are taking them back.
“During the Hetman State (1654-1764), Ukrainian women had the right to inherit property,” Syroid said. “They didn’t have it in most of the European countries. Our women were very independent.”
Being a supervisor to both male and female lawmakers, Syroyid sees the difference in their behavior.
“Men are trying to compete with me; women compete with each other,” she said. Women, she said, should be more supportive of each other.
At the same time, Syroyid wants the society to treat women according to their achievements, not gender, age or out-of-date prejudices.
“I remember when in March Natalia Boiko was appointed deputy minister for European integration, there were so many negative comments because she was a woman and because she was young,” Syroyid says.
“Misogyny often comes from other women.”
Sophia Opatska, 41, is a founder and the dean of Lviv Business School at the Ukrainian Catholic University. She represents the western part of Ukraine where, Opatska says, people “are much more traditional.”
“In the west of Ukraine, to be successful, a woman has to do everything at once, to succeed both at work and at home,” Opatska told the Kyiv Post. “While for a man it’s enough to have a good job.”
She also noted that if something goes wrong, women tend to blame themselves while men blame everybody else, including the government, and “the system.”
Opatska has two children and a loving husband, and sometimes spends seven days a week at work. She also gives lectures in Lviv Business School and says the worst environment for a woman lecturer is programs for women.
“With men, what’s important is not to say silly things,” said Opatska. “Women are usually more judgmental.”
Opatska explained that, at the end of every class, lecturers ask students to grade their work, some of the harshest criticism of her comes from other women. “They usually give me lower grades than men,” said Opatska.
“Ukrainian Renault office has a global reputation for its women employees.”
Only one of Renault car manufacturer’s 128 global offices is run by a woman. Yana Minenko, 37, started to work in Renault Group in 2002, slowly rising to the top. In 2014, she became Renault Ukraine’s general director.
During the interview with the Kyiv Post on July 13, Minenko called herself a workaholic, saying that her work defines her.
Jan Ptacek, a former general director of Renault Ukraine and Minenko’s ex-boss, once told Minenko that he “used to promote women in Ukraine because here they are more ambitious.”
While Minenko says she has not encountered gender discrimination, stereotypes remain.
In Renault office in Kyiv, the proportion of male and female employees is 50/50, more balanced than in other European offices.
Minenko believes men and women have different approaches to business: Women try to satisfy everyone, while men are more challenging and argumentative. However, Minenko has no doubts that both male and female qualities are vital for building a prosperous business.