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03.29.2023

Empowering Women and Promoting Gender Equality in Ukraine

Across Project HOPE’s regional offices in Ukraine, our team hosted events on International Women’s Day with services tailored to empower women and girls, especially those displaced by the ongoing war.

By Graziella Piga

In many places, the celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD) has been controversial among different women’s rights groups and has divided opinion on the merits of the day’s celebration.

In Ukraine, this divide arises from both the history of the day’s celebration in the former Soviet Union and the recent evolution of IWD into a consumer-based holiday where women are simply given flowers and candy in a show of appreciation and gratitude. In fact, this day of appreciation can be celebrated in ways that mask women’s structural oppression and further ingrain gender roles and stereotypes that glorify motherhood and domestic obligations while questioning women’s civic rights.

The idea to recognize and celebrate IWD came out of early 20th century labor and women’s suffrage movements that believed in the importance of having a designated day for women around the world to advocate for equal rights, better working conditions, and access to political decision-making. Then, in 1975 the United Nations formally recognized IWD and declared 1975 as International Women’s Year. Today, the United Nations and women’s rights organizations are working to reclaim this day and use it to celebrate women’s achievements and contributions; advance women’s social, political, economic, and cultural rights; bring global attention to women’s rights and gender equality; and encourage women and girls to reach their full potential.

How Project HOPE is using International Women’s Day to empower women in Ukraine

Project HOPE has used IWD as an opportunity to bring attention to gender inequality and emphasize the importance of including women’s empowerment in humanitarian responses.

In Ukraine, Project HOPE supports six safe spaces for women and girls in Kyiv, Odesa, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipro, and Mykolaiv. Within the framework of its regular mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) services, Project HOPE has organized a series of activities, from job workshops to movie screenings, that give women and children an opportunity to discuss women’s rights and empowerment.

The war has disrupted employment opportunities for many Ukrainian woman and re-integration into the job market is particularly difficult for those who have younger children and for women above 40 years old. To address this, Project HOPE hosted a job interview workshop and headshot photo session in Odesa to support internally displaced women looking to re-enter the job market by helping them to leverage their transferable skills and update their resume. The women that attended the workshop talked about how they were affected by both discriminatory hiring practices against women, and the lack of confidence and high amount of stress associated with their displacement — which is often compounded by their role as the sole caregiver for their children, usually without an adequate support network.

Alla, who is 40 and previously worked in a customer service center, arrived to Odesa in September from Kherson. Alla first visited Project HOPE’s safe space in November 2022 with the idea of getting some psychological support and creating a social network for her 10-year-old daughter. Later on, Alla started to attend the workshops for adults and began individual counselling. Despite her prior lack of a support network, Project HOPE’s Psychosocial Support Center quickly became a space for her to acquire a renewed confidence and other useful skills. She now attends English classes, art therapy, and recently participated in the job interview workshop. Alla is amazed by the progress both she and her daughter are making.

The photoshoot for resume headshots at the job interview workshop allowed internally displaced women a chance to put on their best outfit and find the time to take care of themselves, a rare opportunity since their displacement. These activities not only provide tangible, practical assistance, but they also foster sisterhood and mutual support. At events like this, we’re providing women with the opportunity to claim their space, relax, and focus on themselves.

Furthermore, Project HOPE has organized MHPSS activities in Ukraine that underline the importance of empowering women and girls to reach their full potential. Project HOPE recently screened the movie “Moana” — which features the story of a strong-willed and powerful girl — for the children attending our center in Odesa. One of the main messages of the movie is that the worst thing that happens to you does not define you and through it all you can be strong and proud. After the movie, a Project HOPE psychologist guided a discussion about gender roles, stereotypes, and expected behaviors from boys and girls within their community.

a group of adults and children watching Moana.
Project HOPE staff watching cartoons with children forcibly displaced by war in the center MHPSS Odesa. Photo: Nikita Hlazyrin for Project HOPE, 2023.

In Kyiv, Project HOPE’s staff organized activities at its four centers for the entire week of IWD. The team held an information session called “Women Role Models” and reached out to internally displaced women standing in distribution lines to encourage them to attend. At the event, our team printed inspirational and empowering quotes on gender equality and women’s rights, placed them in a basket, and invited internally displaced women to pick one and read it. This sparked a conversation on the meaning and importance of these quotes:

“The place of a woman is everywhere.“ — Marta Bogachevska-Chomyak (Ukraine)

“We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced.” — Malala Yousafzai (Pakistan)

“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fears; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” — Rosa Parks (USA)

Also in Kyiv, Project HOPE screened the movie “Suffragette” and facilitated a discussion on women’s rights. The movie made a great impression on the participants, many of whom said they had never heard about this historical women’s movement. Afterwards, many of the women expressed an increased sense of confidence and hope for what can be achieved in the future, with one woman excitedly saying she was going to recommend the movie to all of her friends and watch it with them again.

Another aspect of women’s empowerment Project HOPE is addressing, is connecting women with the resources they need to tend to their own health and well-being, even in a situation of crisis and displacement. In one of Project HOPE’s centers in Kyiv, we held an information session with a gynecologist-endocrinologist. A recent United Nations report highlighted how the ongoing war and subsequent internal displacement has disrupted access to regular check-ups for women and impacted access to sexual and reproductive health services, heightening the risk for breast and cervical cancer. At this session, women were shown how to do self-checks, recognize warning signs, and were reminded of the importance of early detection. This session was well-received and appreciated by all participants.

a group of women doing yoga
The yoga and art classes held for IDP women and kids at our Zaporizhzhia mental health center, Ukraine. Photo: Oleksii Kozodaiev for Project HOPE

Along with physical care, Project HOPE is focused on helping internally displaced women improve their mental health and well-being. In Zaporizhzhia, women celebrated IWD by taking free yoga classes. These classes are offered on a regular basis and encourage women to carve out time and space for themselves amidst the ongoing crisis. These services have a powerful effect — helping women regain confidence and strength when everything around them seems to crumble.

Across Ukraine, Project HOPE’s safe spaces provide support and MPHSS services to women and girls every single day. In February alone, over 2,500 women and girls accessed these crucial healing and empowering services. In the future, Project HOPE will continue to support women and girls through this crisis, create opportunities to discuss gender equality and social inclusion, and raise awareness of women’s achievements in Ukraine.

By Graziella Piga, Regional Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Director

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