viewpoint-east.org

Behövs en ukrainsk kvinnohistoria?

Category: by sophie engström, gender, photo by prallin, ukraina
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Under rubriken Behövs en ukrainsk kvinnohistoria? föreläste Oksana Kis (forskare vid Katolska universitetet i Lviv) om kvinnors plats i den ukrainska historien. Tisdagens föreläsning skedde på bokhandeln Ye. Oksana Kis diskuterade var de ukrainska kvinnor var i de avgörande ögonblicken i Ukrainas historia. Vad gjorde de t.ex. när kristendomen introducerades? Var de involverade när kosackerna lade grunden till den ukrainska nationen? Vad hände under den kommunistiska tiden? Var fanns kvinnorna då? Och hur har de olika bilderna av den ukrainska kvinnan sett ut?

genus1234

Kvinnohistoria, eller Herstory som det också kallas, är en inriktning med anor. När jag själv började studera genusvetenskap tyckte jag att det var en ganska mossig forskning, och jag saknade helt intresse för den. Under tisdagens föreläsning på bokhandel Ye i Lviv funderade jag således onekligen på om den typen av kvinnoforskning som Oksana Kis bedriver är intressant, utanför den ukrainska kontexten, och svaret blev att den självklart har en viktig betydelse för den fullständiga förståelsen för den centraleuropeiska och den ukrainska kontexten. Oksana Kis knyter samman det ukrainska nationsbildandet med olika hjältinnor i den ukrainska historien. Det känns egentligen ganska främmande för mig att i dagsläget bedriva en forskning som knyter samman kvinnors historia och narrativitet med nationsbildandet, men det kanske snarare beror på att den nationella identiteten är inte är lika viktig för en svensk. För Oksana Kis är det däremot viktigt att genom kvinnors plats i nationsbildandet förstå deras specifika erfarenheter, och hur det lett fram till dagens ukrainska syn på kvinnor, feminism och jämställdhetsfrågor.

Jag måste medge att jag känner en djup tacksamhet över att Oksana Kis finns och att hon bedriver sin forskning, trots att hon har haft många motgångar. Det finns mycket att mer att förtälja, men hoppas att jag kan få återkomma till det efter att jag fått en intervju med Oksana Kis.

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Gender Approach and Gender Education in Primary Schools in Ukraine

Category: by sophie engström, gender, ukraine
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English This product is part of the project “Gender Approach and Gender Education in Primary Schools in Ukraine”, a project in cooperation between Women’s Folk High School in Gothenburg, Sweden, Women’s Consortium of Ukraine and National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Kyiv. The basis of this product was laid at a conference in Kiev October 11-13, 2010. The product is meant to serve as an aid for those who want to work with gender and gender equality in schools, but is by no means a complete product. Based on experiences from the Swedish popular education, we can hopefully provide some ideas and proposals that can function as a support and a basis for local work in Ukraine.

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Українська Цей посібник належить проекту «Гендерна концепція та освіта в початкових школах України», що здійснювався у співпраці між Жіночою вищою народною школою у Ґетеборзі (Швеція), Жіночим консорціумом України та Києво-Могилянською Академією. Основа посібника була закладена під час семінару 11-13 жовтня 2010 року в Києві. Посібник задумано як допоміжний засіб для тих, хто хоче працювати з гендерними питаннями та рівноправністю у школах, проте у цій функції він далеко не повний. Те, чого ми, вочевидь, можемо досягнути цим текстом – це передати певні рамки та пропозиції з досвіду шведської народної освіти, які можуть стати опорою та точкою відліку для роботи на місцевому рівні.

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Svenska Denna produkt ingår i projektet “Gender Approach and Education in Primary Schools in Ukraine”, ett samverkansprojekt mellan Kvinnofolkhögskolan i Göteborg, Sverige, Women’s Consortium of Ukraine och National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy och viewpoint-east.org. Grunden lades under en konferens 11-13 oktober 2010 i Kyiv. Skriften är tänkt att fungera som ett hjälpmedel för dem som vill arbeta med genus och jämställdhet i skolan, men är som sådan på inget sätt komplett. Det vi med denna idéskrift möjligen kan göra är att, utifrån erfarenheter från svensk folkbildning, ge några ramar och förslag som kan vara stöd och utgångspunkt för det lokala arbetet.

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‘But Do You have Enough Eggs’? – About gender stereotypes and solidarity amongst women in Ukraine

Category: by Tilia Maas Geesteranus, gender, guests, ukraine
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A couple of women is busy raking up the dry grass. The sun shines mercilessly. A few men lie under a nearby tree and observe the women. One of the men, a young guy still, gets up and suggests his comrades to help the women. “No”, say the other men, “let’s not waste our energy. Because, in case there will be war tomorrow we should be fit. Let the women do the daily work”.

This Ukrainian anecdote already exists a bit longer, but is nowadays still topical. The general conception assumes women to be good (house)wives, men are involved in public life and earn the family’s living. In this article it will be discussed which consequence such conservative stereotypes could have on mutual man-woman relationships and how potential negative consequences could be investigated. The importance, therefore, of solidarity amongst women will get extra attention.

Within Ukraine, many traditional role patterns that strongly define the daily interaction between human beings are anchored. Some stereotypes (see frame) are conservative by nature and deal with man-woman relationships (gender, see frame). These stereotypes are not only vivid amongst people in cities and villages, but also within official institutions and in legislation and regulations. For instance, single fathers – unlike single mothers – do not get holiday subsidy for their children and women get less salary than their male colleagues for the same job. These stereotypes result in the fact that gender relationships within Ukraine are unequal. This is an unhealthy situation through which the freedom of movement and the potentials of women and men are being limited. This situation, for instance, often leads to violence against women and to women in leading positions. This is unacceptable from the human rights point of view and hinders economic and political development.

A Few Facts
In gender statistics Ukraine scores badly: it ranks 63 on the Gender Empowerment Measurement (GEM), measured from 75 countries. That means that awareness and development of women empowerment (the ability to participate in social and economic development) can be much improved. Also the UN committee of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) in its recommendations for Ukraine criticizes the fact that traditional gender stereotypes are still strongly present within the family and society, education, media and towards vulnerable groups in society. These stereotypes are the main cause that women continue to be in a disadvantaged position, amongst others in politics and at the labour market. The NGO (non-governmental organisation) Women’s Consortium from Kyiv, in cooperation with 22 other NGOs, shows that Ukraine invested much in gender legislation and regulations (for instance since 2006 there exists a law with regard to gender equality), but undertakes too little to implement those. The NGO Women’s Perspectives in L’viv, too, criticizes the stubborn existence of stereotypes. “Women should be seen as human beings with character and possibilities, not as women only”, says Director Luba Maksimovych.

Between City and Village and East and West
So, a lot of attention is being given to institutions such as government, media and education, but relatively little to changes needed in companies and the church. But even the NGOs that critically report on such issues are not able to reach out to all layers of society (such as women of minority groups). Amongst others because they themselves come from a certain, mostly academic, layer of society. Researcher Alisa Tolstokorova states that women and gender NGOs should at least disseminate a clearer message to counteract the question posed: what is harmful of conservative gender stereotypes? But first of all focus should be on mechanisms of social processes that cause conservative stereotypes or strengthen them. And when doing so, is there a difference between city and countryside and East and West Ukraine?

According to research conducted by Women’s Consortium amongst Ukrainian inhabitants, 81.8% of the respondents acknowledged to experience a constant or regular expression of stereotypes. Herewith it is not being said that this is considered by the respondents as problematic, but do people know enough about what gender stereotypes are? Within cities, information and knowledge is probably much better available than in the countryside, due to media coverage, access to internet and tourism. And, “within villages social control is stronger than in urban areas”, says Gender coordinator Olena Suslova. “Do you have guests, what will you prepare for them, do you have enough eggs? are frequently heard questions. A woman driving the tractor, who goes running or carries heavy things (except the shopping bag) is rather unusual. A man changing nappies as well. But eventually the same stereotypes can be found in urban areas and the countryside. Both men and women maintain them.

“Not only the difference between urban areas and countryside, but also the differences between geographic East and West Ukraine bring along different gender perspectives”, asserts Alisa. Due to its history (only since 1944 joining the Soviet Union whereas the East joined already at the end of the 18th century) the West has experienced a stronger (Catholic) religious development. This counts less for the East and if so, most of the population is orthodox. Contemporary Western Ukraine for instance knows a strong religious movement in which unequal gender relationships are predominantly present. On the other hand, though, many women from the western part of Ukraine who work in the EU bring home other gender ideas. The eastern part of Ukraine instead seems to hold on to more liberal interpretations of gender relationships. However, according to Olena “We have to wait and see what happens now that Yanukovych is in at the helm”. He is associated with the (Russian) orthodox church which also holds on to conservative interpretations of gender relationships. Director Maria Alekseyenko from Women’s Consortium agrees: “The orthodox church does not recognise problems that occur as a consequence of unequal gender relationships”.

Together We Stand Strong?
In order to achieve equal gender roles it is for instance required that women show solidarity amongst themselves. People should be able to let go traditional images and feel strengthened in a yet abstract and collective ideology. “Solidarity is to support each other in word and deed in case of difficulties and ideas”, says Luba. So far it seems that various forms of solidarity amongst women in Ukraine mainly add to keep conservative stereotypes in place instead of dismantling them. That is because women help each other with typical women’s issues and frown when something unusual is being done. A few arguments can be given that help to explain that.

Firstly, amongst inhabitants from cities and countryside there is a lack of clear understanding of gender stereotypes and the potential negative consequences of those. Education, church, government, NGOs and other institutions still have to take a great step forward in discussing existing conservative stereotypes and that they have a negative impact on society. Gender problems are being seen as women’s problems and thus women’s emancipation is being seen as its solution. That is a good first step forward, but mainly emphasizes the differences. Women and men should jointly take a step forward.

Secondly, the problem lies partially at a higher level: the lack of a shared national identity. “An ideological vacuum”, as Alisa calls it, causes that there is a lack of proper gender role models. She firstly sees a responsibility for scientists to develop such role models and give direction to the discussion.

Thirdly, it is due to the heritage of decades-long collectivism. Within these times people used to live in terms of community, but everyone with a certain caution, and to distinguish from the existing role patterns was suspicious. It is therefore difficult in contemporary Ukraine to feel solidarity with strangers only on the basis of a shared situation or position with regard to women’s rights or unequal gender roles. And even though a first step towards women’s emancipation has been made, empowerment still has to start.

Fourthly, the difficulty to join institutions such as networks and organisations. This idea is confirmed by a friend in L’viv: she knows quite some women that combine a (starting) career with taking care for their families, but an institutional network in which such women support each other is hardly existing. It still depends on the individual search for options and resist critical remarks. Also women that return home after some years of migrant labour experience difficulties – “alienation from the family, difficulties to implement renewed gender ideas”, says Alisa. However, according to Luba there lies great potency with returning women as so-called change agents. “They are in the position to stimulate that more women take positions in companies and at leading political posts”. However, this might too easily skip the fact that these women also strongly compete with each other on the tight labour market (talking about sisterhood is too farfetched, according to Alisa) and fall back in unchanged social structures of family and society. And, in what sense do Ukrainian women that have married a foreign man really have the opportunity to strive for equal gender relationships? The existing image is that men choose a woman in depending position, which is different from the often self-conscious Western women who no longer accept stereotypical gender roles.

Also in Ukraine, the road to break through conservative gender stereotypes and to reach equal gender relationships is still a long one. The basis for change is recognising the problem of conservative gender stereotypes and the required solidarity amongst women in need of change. Not with the intention to emphasize the differences between men and women even more, but to achieve solidarity with people that aim to live a life that is pleasant for them and does not unnecessarily harm others. Standard views on how others have to live and behave will have to be challenged strongly.

•••••

With thanks to Caecilia J. van Peski, Maria Alekseyenko, Luba Maksimovych, Alisa Tolstokorova, Olena Suslova and Olenka Grencheshen.
PS: a critical note with regard to the formation of this article is that I have talked with various persons, men and women, about gender relationships. These are persons that I meet in daily life. On the other hand I have interviewed a few persons that are involved with gender issues from a professional point of view. Not entirely coincidentally these are only women. A next article will profit when adding more active statements of both men and women.
PS: about the author: Tilia lives in Ukraine since July 2009, near L’viv. She helps a centre for disabled children in L’viv, Dzherelo, with issues of management and communication. Her partner is an organic farmer. Within the Netherlands Tilia worked for Cordaid (one of the large development cooperation organisations) as a project manager on themes of women and minority issues in India and Afghanistan.

Cadre – Conservative Stereotypes
Stereotypes are predefined images or characteristics. We need positive stereotypes as role models, conservative stereotypes are undesirable. Conservative stereotypes with regard to women in Ukraine are for instance as wives, mother, attractive, caring house woman, social networker, doubtful. Men as generating income, manager, intelligent and decision-making. Women as thorough, rational persons and as a manager are images that not frequently are associated with women. And if so, then on a second place (2008 Women’s Consortium).
The same counts for men: caring, sensitive or doubting are no conventional character images. Such stereotypes continue to exist due to the contemporary education system, few gender specific legislation and regulations and an instable political and economic situation (it is then generally more likely to rely on existing social patterns) (2008 Women’s Consortium).

Cadre – Gender
Gender can be seen as “…How women and men are perceived and expected to think and act in a particular political and cultural context” (Angrita 2000 in Makkonen 2002:3). Gender is a collective concept of expectations, roles, patterns, etc. and the consequences that concept might have for the interaction between men and women.

Sources
Makkonen, T., 2002. Multiple, compound and intersectional discrimination: bringing the experiences of the most marginalised to the fore. Institute For Human Rights, Åbo Akademi University, Turku.
Marth, D. and A. Priebe, 2010. Mühen der Ebene « contra » Glamour-Feminismus. Die gegenwärtige Debatte um Frauenbilder und Geschlechtergerechtigkeit. Ukraine Analyse no.77, 20100622.

Tolstokorova, A., 2010. Where have all the mothers gone? The gendered effect of labour migration and transnationalism on the institution of parenthood in Ukraine. Anthropology of East Europe Review. Vol. 28(1) Spring 2010.

UN CEDAW. 2010. Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Ukraine. 20100205

Women’s Consortium. 2008. Alternative report. On the implementation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women in Ukraine. Women’s Consortium, Kyiv.

www.gendermatters.se Augustus 2010

Email contact with NGO Women’s Consortium (Kyiv). 20100613

Personal communication with NGO Women’s Perspectives (L’viv). 20100803

Telephone conversation with Olena Suslova, Chair of the Women’s Information Consultative Centre, (Kyiv). 20100806

Telephone conversation with Alisa Tolstokorova, independent Gender Expert, (Kyiv). 20100806

•••••••

Tilia Maas Geesteranus (Essay and Photos) lives in Ukraine since July 2009, near L’viv. She helps the organisation Dzherelo in L’viv (a rehab centre for children with disabilities) with management, communication and Montessori project. Her boyfriend is an organic farmer south from L’viv, growing potatoes, grains and buckwheat. They live on the countryside and enjoy coffee on the balcony, strolling through the fields and along the river and practicing their Ukrainian with the neigbours. She occasionally tours tourists through L’viv or to the countryside.

Tilia holds a Master in International Developmentstudies (2007, Wageningen University) and in Advanced Developmentstudies (2008, CIDIN, Radboud University Nijmegen). At Cordaid (development organisation in The Hague) she worked as a Project Officer on theme’s of women and minority groups, in India and Afghanistan, and on domestic violence within the Netherlands. Since living in Ukraine she tries to continue being involved with women and gender issues.

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“FEMEN? Again?!”

Category: by sophie engström, gender, ukraine
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A couple of months ago I asked a friend of mine, Ukrainian researcher and gender specialist, if she could say something about FEMEN. She answered, with a deep sigh that could be heard even though it was on a chat “FEMEN? Again?! I just sent you some information about them! All foreigners only wants to know about FEMEN”. I answered her with a laugh: “But this is the first time I am asking you about FEMEN.” Even though she found that hard to believe, she decided not to argue about it.

The incident is mostly interesting because it illustrates how exposed FEMEN are in media and how their reputation have got far beyond the borders of Ukraine. It also implying that all other feminist movement in Ukraine are now even farer from the limelight. I don’t want to belong to those that gives FEMEN too much space, but I think it is important to analyze them seriously. Especially since it is had to decide what to think about FEMEN. I must admit I still don’t know of I find their actions repulsive and contra-productive (etc. etc.) or provocative in a good sense. I have however found it hard to find good analytic essays on FEMEN’s work, but Maria Dmitrieva’s eminent article in частный корреспондент shed a lot of light over how you can interpret FEMEN. (If you don’t know any Russian you can use Google Translate.)

The article is a solid work, but there are two issues that Dmitrieva looks into that I would like to highlight a bit more closely. One important point is however FEMEN denotes that they are a feminist movement or not. Interestingly enough, you can get two answers on that question, since FEMEN seems to have decided (?) to have one approach toward the international audience and an other for the domestic audience. In Ukraine they claim to be without any feminist ambitions, but on their international site they claim that they really are working for feminist issues. I find it very intrigues that this seems to come as such a surprise to Dmitrieva. Feminism has (as Dmitrieva surely knows) very different connotations in the West and former communists countries. And what does Dmitrieva means with a “feministic movement”? For me this is not completely clear. For instance, can we actually (as Dmitrieva seems to imply) call women that went out on the streets to demand bread in Russian Empire in the 1917 as an “feminist movement”? I would rather call it “women acting in a certain cause” or that it is a movement with a majority of women. From my point of view it is not an easy task to compare Ukrainian (which is not the same as Russian!) and Western situation without regarding their rather (or even, very) different political situation which has promoted feminist actions very differently.

I would however like to question something different in FEMENs action. FEMEN often shows their support for other issues than feminist issues. This is OK, of course, but I am not sure that I agree with that showing your naked bestas when protesting against the “blue buckets” outside the Russian embassy, actually contribute with anything significant… expect showing your breast.


From FEMEN at Flickr

The other important and interesting issue that Dmitrieva highlights is if FEMEN’s use of stereotypes are favorable for the feminist cause or not. Dmitrieva claims that this game of theirs, the play with patriarchy and gender stereotypes, will never work and will finally destroy FEMEN. FEMEN will be eaten alive if they continue to use gender stereotypes and play with patriarchy. I must say that in some sense I do agree with Dmitrieva. I also agree with Dmitrieva that it is unclear how and if FEMEN deconstruct gender stereotypes. But on the other hand, if they show how deconstruct the stereotypes, would it been so fruitful for their actions? Does we always be completely clear and transparent to be able to say we deconstruct? And what is “deconstructing” in these sense? To flash it like “Here we are deconstructing gender stereotypes”? Couldn’t the use of stereotypes be a way of deconstructing? I think that the performative act, by using stereotypes, can promote deconstruction and does not imply that we do not deconstruct att all. However, I agree with that it is complicated (and possibly dangerous) to play with values and norms like gender stereotypes. But I do not agree with her point is that FEMENs “play” will automatically imply that FEMEN will loose their cause.

By mentioning this I would say that Dmitrieva’s essay about FEMEN is actually the best and most important analyze on FEMEN so far. I do wish that somebody would translate it so it could be published for an international audience as well. And above mentioned remarks is not actual critic, but rather me getting inspired by an important and thought-provoking essay.

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Feminism in Russia? Like a sleeping beauty?

Category: by sophie engström, gender, russia
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During my stay in Moscow last month, I one night ended up looking at Russian TV at a friends places. My friend and her old mother was zapping through the channels and ending up at the news. While we was sitting there consuming the information (or whatever the TV viewer are expected to do) I started to feel physically sick. Since I never look at TV in Sweden I am probably rather sensitive towards what I see. At first I thought it was because I had too much tasty food to eat, but rather quick I understood it was the news in the box infront of me that was the course of my sickness. And why did I feel like that? Well, it was not the actual news. They look the same as they always have in Russia, so this did not upset me (enough, I should add).

No, it was an other unpleasant aftertaste I could feel. During the 30 minutes or 45 minutes news show there where not even one woman speaking. I could see women crying or walking in the background of some guy being interviewed, but not even one woman had a voice. Coming from a country where the newsrooms and editorial work have, may be not great, but at least an awareness how important representation and diversity actually are, I felt like I was pushed back to some kind of Medieval landscape just in one blow. It is true that women’s representation in Russia in, for instance, the Parliament, sucks but this was just too much! (Check the statistics at Wikigender.) And I might alos add that this is a rather unpleasant change since all my previous stays in Moscow and Russia. I felt an urge to talk to a feminist that could put some light on how it became like this.

I was lucky. The day after I had a meeting with one of the most prominent feminists in Moscow, Nadezhda Azhgikhina, journalist, literary critic, and executive secretary at Russian Union of Journalists. I asked her why women have vanished from Russian TV and why I can’t hear or read any protests. Nadezhda implies that most bosses or executive bosses are men, so basically the newsrooms or editorial are stuck with those. But when it comes to why TV news shows almost no women Nadezhda has a very interesting theory. She denotes that Russian TV should be regarded a theatre play. This play has as a purpose in trying to fool the viewer into believing that the government actually is in charge and can handle all occurring problems in the society.


Nadezhda Azhgikhina

– Men doesn’t show fear and are therefor regarded as the most effective power. So by excluding all women, they try create the picture that Russia is the strongest and best country in the world.

The second part of her theory is that she implies that TV, including all other media, do not want to promote the idea that there exists any gender problems in Russia of today. One explanation could be that it just don’t sell. The younger generations have not interest in feminism or gender issues, basically because they do not want to be influenced by “old” values. By “old” she denotes feminist values from 1990’s and during the Post Soviet Era. The feminist movement back then was very strong, but has drastically declined and today there are almost no feminist movement, she implies.

However, during the 90’s the feminist movement managed to create a good and stable network among those that are working with the questions.

But even so, I urge, while looking at Russia today I can only see stagnated stereotypes and mostly values promoting, for example, macho-masculinities and sticky sexisms when it comes to feminities. From my perspective Russia gender situation appears to be more conservative and obsolete than ever. I point at Ukraine and FEMEN and ask Nadezdha why we can’t see any reactions like that in Russia. Her answer actually surprises me. She claims that Ukraine is 10 years behind Russia., and that Ukraine’s radical feminist movement will also languish away. Her rather fatalistic attitude scares me, however she can be right. In Sweden we have had several strong feministic movements that have subsided. While Russia had a strong feminist during the 90’s, Sweden and many other countries, for instance USA, had a rather heavy backlash on feminists issues. From some perspective I would say that Sweden has never really recovered from that backlash.


FEMEN dressed as policemen protesting against the limitation of democratic liberties and freedom of the press during the first hundred days of Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency commemorated today.

The question we should ask ourself is perhaps how feminism can survive between every intervals of activity. What will for instance happen with an organization such as FEMEN when Ukrainian media has lost their interest in them? What plans do they have to survive the situation? After my meeting with Nadezdha I strongly feel that this is perhaps one of the weakest points of all feminist movements around the world. (And all other activism, I suppose.) When media turns their heads in other directions, too many feminists activists vanishes from the scene. How come? Not all feminists are exhibitionists for sure!!

But hopefully social media could play an important and different role for making campaigns to survive longer. FEMEN has been able to create their own media flow, with twitter, flickr etc etc. And I do hope that they have the strength to go on, even after the Ukrainian establishment has recovered from the chock that FEMEN (still) creates.


From FEMEN’s last campaign “Bloody tits”

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viewpoint-east.org in Moscow May 12 – 23

Category: by sophie engström, russia
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I will come to Moscow on the May 12. I have been invited to hold a seminar about “Social Media and Gender” at a workshop, that belongs to a joint venture project between IREX and FOJO. The workshop is funded by SIDA.


Moscow sky by me.

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If he hits you he loves you

Category: gender, guests
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On International Women’s Day viewpoint-east.org focus in an very important question concerning gender equality and human rights! The essay is written by Maria Nilsson, that has written two other articles on viewpoint-east.org before, read them here or here.

I was in the beginning of my twenties and this was only my second visit to the countries called the former Soviet Union. My first visit to Ukraine had resulted in an instant love with everything from the people to the Soviet architecture so when I was admitted to a summer course hosted by a Swedish agency I was more than pleased. Sitting in the, despite the summer temperature outside, cold classroom and listening to a lady with the title Head of the Social Department in the city, I was a little bit less pleased and a little bit more annoyed.

To start with not by the lecture but by my fellow Swedish “classmates” behaviour the last few days. I was the youngest in this course and by everyone’s standards by far the most boring. It appeared that this course was nothing but an opportunity for middle aged (and probably middle life crizing) Swedes to excess in cheap vodka drinking and flirtations. The dead serious “20-something Russian language student” was not their idea of a fun crowd. Therefore my attention was not directed to the comparatively ordinary very Russian looking woman giving the lecture until she uttered the sentence that I will never forget and that has come to follow me in life “If he hits you he loves you”.


photo: sophie engström
Kyiv, Podil, Feb 2010

As I remember it the lady made this remark upon a question from the audience on how the authorities is battling the high instances of domestic abuse in this country. At that time I was not fluent in Russian and had to wait for the translator until the full meaning of this remark came over me. “If he hits you he loves you”. If this was the official view on the domestic violence I will never know, but as I have come to travel to and live more in the former Soviet union I have realized that domestic violence is not something you address openly at any level.

Several years later, and following the knowledge of working in a women’s rights organisation for a few years, I now strongly believe in the notion of gender based violence being sedimented in the same structures regardless of its occurrence in the middle class Swedish family, the illiterate couple in Africa, a family from Middle East or somewhere in the former Soviet union. It is a question of power and the fact that women are considered by societal structures to be subordinate men. Hence the way in which this problem is addressed by society is determining the ability of preventive measures and support system of the abused women. If society in general shares the idea of “if he hits you he loves you” then there is indication that the problem of domestic violence is considered to be exactly a domestic problem, where the authorities have no mandate to interfere and problems occurring in this sphere should also be resolved within the private walls of the home.

Travelling and living in the former Soviet Union I have come to realise two things; there are very few women’s shelter outside of the big cities and secondly, many women blame themselves for being abused as well consider the husband or boyfriend to be the “real” victim. In example “I did not make him proper supper”, “He can’t handle not having a job”, although the latter is not different comparing to other contexts.

I have met women behind the phrase “if the hits you he loves you” and I don’t think that Elena after being repeatedly abused by her alcoholic husband and after which he in a drunken moment threw her little girl off the balcony, would ever consider this phrase to be correct. Her bruises both inside and outside will never permanently go away. The husband was not even sentence to jail. Elena herself did not believe that she deserved anything else and found herself in yet another abusive relationship believing that her life was over long before it should be

Discussing gender in development cooperation and foreign relations is often about gender mainstreaming and so called gender perspective. The question is if this is enough? More attention must be paid to domestic violence and start treating it as it is – a violation against human rights.

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