Equality Now has the privilege to partner with women’s rights activists from around the world. We’re sharing their unique perspectives and challenges advocating for change in their communities. We spoke to Nina Potarska, WILPF National Coordinator for Ukraine and participant of the Women’s Dialogues Without Borders initiative in Ukraine as part of a series highlighting activists across Eurasia, where we’re working with women’s rights groups to hold governments accountable for ending sexual violence and ensuring access to justice.
I work with the problems of violation of women’s rights in conflict situations, the rights of women peacemaking activists, as well as with the topic of socio-economic rights. I am the national coordinator for Ukraine for WILPF, the co-organizer of the Women’s March on March 8, the co-coordinator of the Women’s Network for Dialogue and Inclusive World, and I participate in the research of the Center for Social and Labor Research.
What challenges do you face while doing this work in Ukraine?
A common problematic place in the protection of the above-mentioned rights in Ukraine is the inaction of the police or the ineffectiveness of its work. A separate unpleasant fact is the close cooperation of law enforcement agencies with militarist nationalists and even openly fascist groups, such collaboration creates a vicious circle of impunity and fear among different groups of the population, especially their ideological opponents, LGBTQ people, feminists, leftists, and trade union activists.
No less problematic is the neoliberal political agenda of the state, which makes it difficult to see the needs of people and to notice the causes of problems. Sometimes it seems that we speak different languages and exist in different worlds with officials. They often fail to see the link between domestic violence and women’s economic independence, between funding kindergartens, and women’s opportunities for full-time employment.
What is the current situation in Ukraine in terms of women’s rights?
For the past few years, the women’s agenda has been on everyone’s lips, and this is positively reflected in the legislation and in the norms of the language (the norm of the Ukrainian language includes feminitives). But on the other hand, these changes seem superficial and indicative, since they do not in any way refute the very essence of inequality and unequal opportunities for women and men. On the contrary, the conservative agenda, coupled with socio-economic cuts, which primarily concern the female employment sectors (medicine, education, the public sector), drive a woman into even more difficult conditions, from which it is impossible to find a way out relying only on internal resources and will.
What is the most important reform or action that your government needs to take to improve the status of women and girls?
Ratifying the Istanbul Convention, and I hope we are close to that. This would provide the necessary mechanisms and strengthen the obligations of the state.
In addition, in my opinion, changes in the field of preschool and school education can change the position of women relatively quickly and effectively: funding full-time kindergartens and the creation of after-school groups. Today, extended schools are not provided for everyone, and kindergartens are open until 15: 30-17: 00, which does not correspond to the working hours of most parents.
How much has your organization achieved in the past five years?
While there are many, a great success for us was the collection of 25,000 signatures under a petition for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, and our Women’s March of several thousand on March 8 was no less inspiring.