viewpoint-east now located in Lviv

Category: by sophie engström, ukraine

(Läsningstid: < 1 minut) is now located to Lviv in Ukraine. I will stay here for at least one year, hopefully much longer. Since it is my first visit to Lviv it will perhaps take some time to find topics on essays, articles etc. But after been able tracking those down, will of course be more active. If you have any suggestions, please contact me.

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

Category: by Tilia Maas Geesteranus, gender, guests, ukraine
Tags: ,

(Läsningstid: 10 minuter)

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.

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. 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.

Kyiv Feb 2010

Category: by sophie engström, ukraine

(Läsningstid: < 1 minut)

My lastest visit to Kyiv, but hopefully not my last, was in January-February this year. Cold and dark, but even so, more nice, warm and friendly. Hopefully these pictures can share some of those feelings.

Kyiv Nov 2008

Category: by sophie engström, ukraine

(Läsningstid: < 1 minut)

These pictures was taken during one of my visits to Kyiv. It is one of my own favorite albums, possibly because somebody managed to capture my face and because there are many faces in this set that I like. But even so, there are many faces I miss too. I have promised myself to try to be better in taking photos of friends. But still I am far too shy for that.

EU and UK visa policy towards Ukrainians – ‘go back to Russia!’ (?)

Category: by Jonathan Hibberd, EU, guests, ukraine
Tags: , , ,

(Läsningstid: 3 minuter)

The shameful treatment of Ukrainians by the Schengen and UK visa systems continues to hit new heights, with at least two more atrocious stories emerging this week.

The UK’s Independent highlighted the rejections of visas for Ukrainian children who were due to spend a month away from the vicinity of Chernobyl. Whether these trips are healthwise still strictly necessary is open to question, but the point is that these summer trips have gone on for years without any problems. In just one example, only 7 out of 17 children due to spend part of the summer on the Isle of Wight were permitted to travel and, to make matters worse, they were in some cases informed only the night before travelling, with suitcases packed, that they would not be making the trip. The UK Border Agency tried to blame it on unsuitable host families in the UK, but the claims seem to be spurious.

Chernobyl/Pripyat Exclusion Zone (083.8244)
Photo from Chernobyl by Pedro Moura Pinheiro.

Another case highlighted this week was of two PhD students bound for Italy who had their student visas rejected. There is an exhaustive list of similar cases, including the Ukrainian dance troupe which protested against their UK visa rejections by performing outside the British Embassy in Kiev. A folk festival in Bellingham had been deprived of the same pleasure. A recent article in the Kyiv Post highlighted an unfortunate Ukrainian student’s extended stay in the departure lounge of Paris Charles de Gaulle airport due to the Icelandic volcano. The fact that he had friends in nearby Paris and was on a US student visa cut no ice with the French authorities despite clear evidence in favour of the applicant. Another case brought to my attention by my father was a group of Ukrainian steam train operators which was prevented from attending a gathering of railway preservationist organisations in Hungary. The gathering was part of the process of trying to bring Ukrainians round to creating the kind of railway preservation projects which have grown tourism in myriad places across the continent. Such developments are fairly alien in somewhere like Ukraine, but these are good examples of how visa rejections will serve to reinforce the status quo.

One not to be ignored result of this policy is the stress that it has caused to EU citizens in each case. With cases of a more personal nature this stress is amplified. In such cases the inviting party is treated as irrelevant to the matter in hand or even worse, de facto made out to be liars. These rejections are damaging business, cultural, educational, family and personal contacts of EU citizens. Don’t we have rights too?

With the common thread here seeming to be the apparently arbitrary nature of many visa rejections, does it smack of conspiracy theories to begin to question whether there is a more sinister motive at work here? Are the EU and UK in fact telling Ukrainians in fairly blunt terms to ‘go back to Russia’? The line has been drawn and, sorry, you’re on the Moscow side. If this is not the message they wish to give out, they’re not doing a very good job!

This was previously published at Chicken in Kiev.

Jonathan Hibberd recently completed post-graduate studies at Sussex European Institute, University of Sussex in the UK and has carried out research into questions of Ukraine’s European integration and the country’s relationship with NATO. He currently works with the British Council in Kiev.

“FEMEN? Again?!”

Category: by sophie engström, gender, ukraine
Tags: , , , , ,

(Läsningstid: 4 minuter)

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.

Korydor – A new venue for contemporary culture

Category: by sophie engström, ukraine
Tags: , , ,

(Läsningstid: < 1 minut)

Today, on May 26 2010, the Foundation Center for Contemporary Art in Kyiv invites readers and authors to KORYDOR – online magazine in Ukrainian, dedicated to contemporary art and contemporary culture. seeks to create archive of critical phenomena and events on contemporary culture. It is an open platform for discussions and lectures. KORYDOR has a goal to develop a professional and responsible criticism. The magazine will also work for a joint discussion with European partners. through international discussions, reviews, translations of critical texts. English versions will be launched in autumn 2010.

For more information write to art[at]cca[dot]kiev[dot]ua