The Ukrainian Revolution of 2014, also known as the Euromaidan Revolution, induced a widespread series of changes to the sociopolitical systems of Ukraine. This self-organized revolution was focused on ensuring closer ties to the European Union while also working to dispel corruption within Ukraine, starting with the removal and exiling of Ukraine’s president at the time, Viktor Yanukovych.
One of the most significant changes was the installation of a new government filled a great number of inexperienced and idealistic youth. But as time progressed it became clear that the criticism faced by these young politicians and bureaucrats has fallen mainly on the women holding these positions of power. The question for Ukraine is how it will handle the upheaval of its traditionally male-dominated political landscape?
In Mid-November 2016, 24-year old Anastasia Deeva was appointed to the position of Deputy Minister of the Interior, becoming the youngest person to hold a post of a Deputy Minister in Ukraine. The decision by Arsen Avakov, Minister of Interior, to appoint the young 24-year old to such a high level position was met with both excitement and outrage. But, by the end of the week, she was already at the center of the major political scandal. In her own words, Deeva described the controversy as “a dirty hate campaign,” and focused on the release of private pictures from Deeva’s accounts. Her appointment alongside the controversy followed have caused many to debate the roles of women in politics.
Currently, about 12 percent of the Ukrainian legislature are female. This number is a high proportion compared to previous parliaments. But within the government women struggle to be taken seriously. Olena Sotnyk, who gained acclamation for her work as a lawyer, providing legal assistances to victims and families during the Maidan, explains, “I think it took me about one year to show the parliament, and especially the men in the parliament that I am not just a woman.” Her, as well as the other MPs, are often only associated with healthcare and education reform, as these as considered to be traditionally female pursuits. Sotnyk goes on to explain that Male politicians do not take her seriously “especially if they think it’s a ‘man’s issue’ – for example, military or security issues.” But that seems to contradict the true work of these young politicians. Sotnyk, for example, has become a leading voice on judicial reform and government transparency.
The focus on the military is also essential to the current political situation facing the eastern region of Ukraine. In 2014, Russian troops illegally occupied and annexed the region of Crimea. Since the illegal annexation, Russian-supported separatists have taken the fighting into the Donbass regions of Eastern Ukraine. The area has experienced a series ceasefires under the Minsk Agreement but fighting has resumed in 2017, thus making military and diplomatic negotiations at the forefront of Ukrainian Politics.
Whether it be pursuing government transparency initiatives or expanding information access to voters, these young female politicians are combating Ukraine’s long history with corruption and new issues of conflict. Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, for example is 44, who serves as deputy prime minster for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, has been a leading figure in Ukrainian-NATO relations. Before that she spent her timing battling apathy and corruption through the heading of an NGO, running for mayor, getting elected to the district council and raising two children. Following the fall of communism, many politicians were able to gain power and wealth through backdoor deals due to the lack of power held by the government. But as time progresses the younger generation, especially women who have no ties to the old boys club of Ukraine, are taking the reins on battling corruption.
Sixty to seventy percent of Ukraine’s parliament is composed of young people. Alona Shkrum became a member of parliament in 2014. She was 26 at the time and was highlighted due to fierce rhetoric and activist experience in combating the corruption of Viktor Yanukovych, former President of Ukraine who was removed from power in 2014. Shkrum explains that the success of these politicians comes down to their lack of ties to the old elite: “They don’t have bodyguards, yachts, private islands or jets: they all came either from civil society – journalists or people on Maidan – or from business.”
“We are earning respect by doing,” says Klympush, “There is no real distinction between what men and women can achieve or deliver in terms of work.” These women see their roles in government as simple. They believe in creating real reforms that be not only implemented but held accountable.
But is this all really such a surprise? Ukraine is a nation full of clever, passionate and strong women. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and the fierce politician and former army pilot Nadia Savchenko are just two examples of Ukrainian women standing strong on the international stage. Even when looking back to the Soviet Unions’ treatment of women, many saw themselves as equal to men in the workplace, while also being saddled with the duties of a housewife and mother. Thus the promises of western feminism, which many Ukrainian women see as the dismissal of femininity, holds little appeal. Ukrainian women aren’t afraid to speak their mind. It is women who rebuilt Ukraine after the Second World War.
And as we watch the nation of Ukraine reform and rebuild once again, we cannot help but stand in awe of the youth leading it. As Anastasia Deeva reminds us, “Youth is not a sin,” and although these women face many challenges, they will preserve and eventually, thrive.
Featured image: Sasha Maksymenko / Flickr (Creative Commons)