UN Panels on the Status of Women in Ukraine

April 11, 2021

The 65th annual session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) took place in virtual space in 2021.  The parallel sphere of the NGO Forum offered over 700 panel events for over 28,000 attendees who represented a wealth of grassroots initiatives in the world, confirming the expectation that this new option to gather for the CSW virtually was in many ways a felicitous and productive innovation.

The World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations (WFUWO), a member of the NGO Committee on CSW, sponsored two parallel events in the CSW 65 NGO Forum program.  One panel event was organized in partnership with the Kyiv Institute for Gender Studies (KIGS) and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FEF) in Ukraine; the other event was co-organized with the National Council of Women of Ukraine. The events were livestreamed to WFUWO at the UN Facebook.

On 16 March 2021, WFUWO, in partnership with the KIGS and FEF, broke ground with a public discussion of Countering Anti-Gender Ideology in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. While Ukraine has been making progress in supporting gender equality on its way to fulfilling its European choice, anti-gender groups are waging campaigns using widespread disinformation against the concept and the very word gender.  The issue is of dire importance and critical in its timing, given Turkey’s recent threat to withdraw from ratification of the Istanbul Convention. Since 2010, Ukraine is on the front line of a hybrid war waged against its Euro-Atlantic integration, and the other countries of the region are feeling the same pressures.

Greetings and context were offered by Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the UN, WFUWO (Dr. Martha Kebalo); the Kyiv Institute of Gender Studies (Director, Dr. Marfa Skoryk), and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (Ms. Olena Davlikanova).

Moderated by Maryna Prykhodko, a WFUWO UN representative in New York, the panel included presentations by Dr. Nadiya Stefaniv, a justice of Ukraine’s Supreme Court and president of Ukrainian Association of Women Judges, Lisa Shymko, President of the Ukraine Support Fund (Canada); Dr. Kateryna Levchenko, Government Commissioner of Gender Equality Policy (Ukraine); Dr. Julia Strybkova, KIGS.

After a discussion by Dr. Stefaniv of the evolving legal framework of gender equality in Ukraine, the panel continued to expose the real threat of gender ideology that is wielded as part of the hybrid war promoting the geopolitical ambitions of the Russian Federation.  Lisa Shymko unveiled the evidence for the weaponization of religion (i.e. the rhetoric of the World Congress of Families) and exploitation of dark money in a global anti-gender campaign. Dr. Levchenko (the author of Гендерне тяжіння 2019, 2020) analyzed the genesis of the anti-gender front in Ukraine since 2010 and emphasized the need to confront the manifestations of anti-gender by close monitoring and strategic counteraction by many actors working in wide coalitions. She emphasized that anti-gender is not only concerning for women’s groups and civil society but a matter of national security. Dr. Strebkova’s presentation provided a detailed overview of the spokespersons (mostly young males), the language (usually Russian, with materials promoted through the Russian Orthodox Church), and of the variety of images, verbiage, and tactics used in anti-gender media campaigns that obviously aim to devalue women (particularly as political actors) and to prejudice the public against gender equality values.

On 18 March 2021, a spectrum of speakers addressed the needs of rural communities as one of Ukraine’s major priorities, in a discussion about Sustaining Rural Communities through Civic Tech in Time of Covid.  The panel was sponsored by the WFUWO (a greeting and end-summary delivered by Dr. Martha Kichorowska Kebalo, WFUWO main representative to UN/ECOSOC), organized by the National Council of Women of Ukraine, under the leadership of NCW President Dr. Lyudmyla Porokhnyak Hanowska, and moderated by Dr. Kateryna Levchenko, Ukraine’s Government Commissioner for Gender Policy and the vice-chair of the COE Gender Equality Commission.

The panel opened with a video-address by Ukraine’s First Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzheppar, the architect and advocate of the Crimea Platform, who summarized the challenges faced by Ukraine’s women and girls during a pandemic that fundamentally threatens their well-being even as they continue to bear the effects of seven years of Russian armed aggression. She thanked the National Council of Women for “never standing aside from difficult issues” and for, in this case, demonstrating how the needs of the rural populace, especially women and girls, are being addressed by both government and grassroots initiatives.

The panelists included the Deputy Minister of Social Policy of Ukraine, Nadia Komarova of the Institute of Family and Youth Policy; Natalia Gnatyuk, president of the NGO grassroots initiative Old Volyn’, Oksana Kravchenko of the Uman State Pedagogical University, Tetiana Tarasova, educator; Tetyana Koval, library director.  Especially gratifying was the opportunity taken by several women from village communities to voice their thoughts as participants in the panel.

By Martha Kichorowska Kebalo, a member-at-large of the board of directors of the Shevchenko Scientific Society in the United States and WFUWO main representative to UN