“There is a long way to go before women and girls can be said to enjoy the fundamental rights, freedom and dignity that are their birthright and that will guarantee their well-being,” wrote Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary General, in his official statement before March 8 this year.

Oleksandra Kuzhel, a member of Crimean parliament, said women are still disrespected and even despised. “What respect and equality can we expect from average men, if the three first men in the country remain in office after offending women?” she asked at a panel discussion on gender issues organized by The United Nations Population Fund on March 6.

She went on to quote President Viktor Yanukovych, who imfamously said two years ago: “If she is a woman, she must go to the kitchen and show her whims there.” Then she moved on to Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, who responded to criticism about lack of women in his Cabinet in 2010 by saying that “carrying out reforms isn’t a job for women.”


The most recent pearl of wisdom about women came from Verkhovna Rada Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, who last week gave his personal interpretation of the Bible, saying that “a man is a higher being than a woman,” causing an outrage among both women and Christians.

On this background, common discrimination does not surprise.

“An equal attitude to men and women in the workplace is often reserved to paper,” said Vasyl Kostrytsya, national coordinatorof the InternationalLabour Organizationin Ukraine. He said about 1.5 million people in Ukraine work in hazardous conditions, of which 396,000 are women. They don’t always get compensations.

Moreover, women still make less money than men – even in the same jobs or the jobs that have traditionally been occupied by women. Kostrytsya said in some regions women earn up to 31 percent less than men in the same job.

On the other hand, some women end up being trapped because of the laws designed to protect them, says Ella Libanova, director of the Institute for Demography and Social Studies at the National Academy of Sciences. One case in point is the law allowing women to take a three year child-care leave.


“When an employer sees a young girl, he thinks ‘ShouldI hire her now, invest time and money in her, and then lose her for three years?’ And he won’t hire her,” she says.

Libanova suggests that the only way to change that is to detail out in law work conditions for mother to work part-time if they wish.

According to Maryna Stavniychuk, a Ukrainian member of the Venice Commission and an adviser to the president, a higher percentage of women in parliament would be of a great help for solving problems like these. Only 8.1 percent of deputies are female, compared with a global average of 13 percent, according to the National Democratic Institute, a U.S. pro-democracy group. The percentage is roughly equal to that I Iran.

“Political parties talk up women’s rights to be elected, but don’t give women places in their party lists,” she says. She said the society should demand a greater presence of women in social and political life.


It won’t be easy with the current set of leaders, though, who, like Lytvyn, often believe that women stand “at a lower level than men” and that “it can’t be solved by law.”

Kyiv Post staff writer Alyona Zhuk can be reached at [email protected]

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