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Галина Кожушко (1957)

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Ukraine Creates a Network for Training Women Leaders
May 26, 2016

The number of women MPs in the Ukrainian parliament is 12 per cent. Although this is a record for any previous convocation, the figure is still the lowest compared to the global practice of democratic countries, according to the International Republican Institute. The level of women involvement as local elected officials across Ukraine remains low despite the gender quotas introduced recently by political parties. This statement was made by those who initiated the establishment of the Women's Democracy Network in Ukraine, whose mission is to increase the number of women at all levels of government. The program is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The Law "On Local Elections" that introduced gender quotas for party lists (candidates of the opposite sex should comprise at least 30%) somewhat improved the situation of women representation in local councils. As a result, about 24% of the elected officials in local governments are women. Many women LEOs admit that before the elections, they were persistently invited to fill in the ranks of political parties mostly for statistics’ sake. However, after they were elected, women LEOs started to tackle the existing issues with enthusiasm and found that they liked it.
However, the women admit they feel that they receive a different treatment because of their gender.
"I'm the only woman in our faction. When you are daily immersed in your job assignments and paper work, attend committee meetings, forums and seminars, it certainly takes away the time you could spend with your family. However, other factions started perceiving me in a different way; I became "inconvenient" for them because I have a significant voice in the city. First, no one listened to me because of my gender; now people consider my opinion. Besides, I have very strong assistants. I used to have severe problems in my family, but my husband has become my major helper. And now, when I have to solve a controversial issue, he is with me and it really helps," says Iryna Slavova, Melitopol City Council member.
Members of Parliament Speak on Women’s Issues
In Ukraine, almost 54% of the population are women; that is why they are entitled to appropriate representation in the governing bodies, says MP Olena Babak. First of all, it is necessary "to take into account the specific needs" of the better part of the country.
The more power the governing body has, the fewer women are there, says Olena Babak. She adds that women MPs created a cross-faction caucus "Equal Opportunities", which allows them to submit bills and solve issues focused on the rights of women.
"Women, regardless of political representation (we represent different factions of Parliament) are focused on solving problems, not on determining who's the boss," emphasized MP Olena Babak.
Women MPs believe that their male colleagues cannot take care of some issues as effectively as women can. Besides, as they stress, they do not compete for leadership but fight for women's rights, instead.
Maria Ionova, Member of Parliament, said that women need a particular attention in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Overall, there are 15 thousand servicewomen in the military, and about two thousand women soldiers fight in the combat zone. There is neither special military uniform for women in Ukraine, nor "boots" and body armor in the army for them, emphasized MP Maria Ionova.
"They do men’s job, too. Unfortunately, we are faced with the fact that some occupations are prohibited for women in uniform. They may be officially registered as telephone operators or cooks while being actually snipers or grenadiers. When dealing with this issue, we saw resistance, including on behalf of men, especially in the Armed Forces. These stereotypes must be challenged and rejected. But we heard no complaints from women," said Maria Ionova.
Development of Women’s Leadership Skills for Highest Elected Positions in Ukraine
Women-parliamentarians of the Verkhovna Rada cited the examples of “women’s issues” that need to be taken care of, and best if by women themselves, at the national conference in Kyiv with the participation of local elected officials. The Women’s Democracy Network Country Chapter is launched in Ukraine on the initiative of the International Republican Institute with the support of USAID. The Network is active in 61 countries of the world.
"Participation in political processes is a challenge for women. These challenges are universal for both the United States and Ukraine. I think we need more women at all management levels. The most important thing we can do is increase the overall number of women involved in the political processes globally. Give them the opportunity to practice and develop their leadership skills," said Valerie Dowling, Director of the Women’s Democracy Network (Washington, DC).
The organization members are convinced that women play an important role in maintaining peace. This is especially true for countries where there are armed conflicts and the need to sit at the negotiating table and come to a peaceful settlement.
In Ukraine, the Network plans to provide training for women who are elected to positions in local councils and to prepare successful candidates for election campaigns.
"Especially in the south and east of Ukraine, there is a very low percentage of women in municipal councils, young women in particular. This situation is a legacy of Ukrainian political parties and a result of the lack of programs that would search for strong candidates among both young men and young women to run for public office. We offer training for women, especially from the south and east of the country, including the occupied areas, which are difficult to reach," said Michael Druckman, Resident Country Director of the International Republican Institute in Ukraine.
The organization plans to create affiliated branches of women officials in various countries, and aims, through its programs, to establish strong communication between Kyiv and the regions across Ukraine.
Besides, the proponents of the program are interested in getting women elected to senior positions in government, both in Ukraine and worldwide.

Author: Olha Komarova
Translated into English by Halyna Koshulap (Kozhushko), IRI-Ukraine official translator