Melanne Verveer /Getty Images

«The leadership of Ukrainian women is indispensable». Melanne Verveer about the role of women in the future of Ukraine

Melanne Verveer Фото Getty Images

Forbes proposed American and Ukrainian politicians, top managers, volunteers, paramedics, diplomats and actresses to write an essay on what modern female leadership is. The prominent role being played by Ukrainian women today reflects the longstanding traditions of feminism and notions of women’s equality which have deep roots in Ukrainian society, says the Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women Melanne Verveer.

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The women of Ukraine have been on the frontline defending their country since Russia’s unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine. They have been courageous and resilient leaders. What is often missing in media coverage is the strengths and commitment of Ukrainian women in protecting their country.

Many women are mothers, not only struggling to keep their children safe from Russia’s attack on civilians. They are also teachers and even sole breadwinners. Many have been driven from their homes and displaced. They are carrying on despite the war-related challenges they confront.

Others are active in the security sector. Reports indicate that over 60,000 women are actively participating in the military as soldiers, medics and in other roles. During Russia’s invasion in the eastern part of the country in 2014, many volunteered to serve, even though women were not allowed in combat roles. 

They were volunteers who rose to the defense of their country even though they received none of the benefits that accrue to soldiers. They were later called the «Invisible Battalion». Since the 2017 reforms in the Defense ministry, women can engage in military roles in combat, and are proving indispensable for their operational effectiveness. 

Military ability is not solely defined as physical strength, but Ukrainian women in the military today are also contributing new skills and abilities in modern technology, among other contributions. 

Having both men and women ensure more responsive and better security. One of the strongest NGOs are women veterans.

Thousands of women are spearheading humanitarian responses and contributing to the social cohesion of the country as Russia is working to rip it apart. Women’s organizations and NGOs are working to meet health needs, food outreach to communities, emergency services and so much more. 

With decentralization, many of the women leaders at the grassroots level have assumed enormous responsibilities in meeting the needs of the local communities. 

One NGO leader recently remarked that she had spent years working to stimulate and build a vibrant voluntary sector in Ukraine. «Today, she said, everyone is volunteering to do whatever they can to support the country and its citizens in this time of grave need». 

NGOs and other women experts are documenting war crimes. They are gathering evidence of Russia’s crimes against humanity as its soldiers have engaged in torture, assault and rape as a tool of the war. 

They are perpetrating crimes and Russia is waging a war on Ukrainian women. Gathering documentation is essential to prosecute the perpetrators in international and domestic courts. Justice and accountability are essential. The survivors of these crimes require medical and psycho-social assistance. They have endured brutal attacks and healing will not be easy.

Even as the war brings with it terrible devastation, many women are operating small businesses. Women are starting fifty percent more new businesses, often to respond to critical needs. 

Many businesses have been displaced and have to be moved to safer areas. Women are playing a leadership role in the economy.

Women are often leading the «diplomatic battalions». They are engaged in advocacy on behalf of Ukraine’s needs in capitals around the world as they urge other nations to support Ukraine with the weapons it needs. 

As many who are participating have noted, they never thought they would be advocates for weapons, but if Ukraine doesn’t receive the weapons it needs to win, nothing else will matter. Many who have met with the Ukrainian advocates have commented on the competency, capabilities and commitment of the Ukrainian women. 

They have been highly effective in their presentations, whether to government officials in other countries, thought leaders, the media or others. Some of the advocates have been women parliamentarians, and they have been playing a leading role.

In negotiating an end to the war and adopting an agreement for sustainable peace will require women’s full and meaningful participation. There is an evidenced base case that illustrates the efficacy and women’s participation in these critical discussions. They put critical issues on the table that will be essential if there will be a sustainable peace.

When the war is over and Ukraine is victorious, the women also have to be central to relief, recovery and reconstruction efforts. They need to be participating in donor meetings that are already taking place to bring their perspectives and leadership to the discussions. 

The need to build back better will need the vision of the women as well as the men. They will also be critical to anti-corruption efforts that will be seriously challenged in the rebuilding, given the vast amounts of money that will be involved. 

The prominent role being played by Ukrainian women today reflects the longstanding traditions of feminism and notions of women’s equality which have deep roots in Ukrainian society and which the historian, Martha Chomiak, wrote about in her history of the Ukrainian women’s movement, «Feminists Despite Themselves». 

It was a feminism that worked within the community and was tied to the struggle for an independent Ukrainian state. As has been pointed out, women’s journey to equality is a work in progress; inequalities persist, patriarchal attitudes and unfavorable gender norms and attitudes persist. Thousands of women played a pivotal role in the Euromaidan anti-corruption, pro-democracy and pro-West protests. 

At least half the participants were women. Strides have also been made in the numbers of women elected to the Parliament and in local office. Close to half of the village councils are led by women. A commissioner for Gender Equality Policy is based in the Deputy Prime Minister’s office for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration. Ukraine has a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security and has made other significant strides.

The courageous women of Ukraine are working to transform Ukrainian society. They are the changemakers. Their role cannot be restricted when Ukraine wins the war. Their leadership is indispensable. 

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