Forbes proposed American and Ukrainian politicians, top managers, volunteers, paramedics, diplomats and actresses to write an essay on the topic «What modern female leadership is». Our hope for freedom and the rule of law is in the courage and determination of Ukrainian women, notes former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In March, on International Women’s Day, I was honored to speak with First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska at an international conference.
I have long admired her courage and determination to rally support for Ukraine and its struggle for freedom and democracy.
But I gained an even deeper appreciation listening to her talk about the countless brave Ukrainian women fighting back against an unjust invasion by a brutal tyrant.
My heart breaks for women like Yana, who worked in IT before the war and quickly volunteered as a tactical medic to serve her country.
Tragically, Yana lost her life while rescuing others.
And my heart soars when I hear of women like the teacher in Kyiv so committed to her students that when her electricity was cut – just another example of Russia’s targeted assault on civilian life – she sought out a Wi-Fi signal in a snowy street beside a supermarket, set up her laptop on a parking barrier, and continued the lesson in the biting cold.
There are so many other Ukrainian women who inspire me and people around the world. Women like Oleksandra Matviichuk and her team at the Center for Civil Liberties, who have devoted themselves to documenting Russia’s war crimes against civilians. And Kateryna Levchenko, the Government Commissioner for Gender Equality Policy, who is committed to ensuring women’s full and meaningful participation in Ukrainian economy and political life.
We know that women in conflicts are often overlooked or seen only as victims. But that’s not accurate. Eleanor Roosevelt, one of my heroes and predecessors as First Lady of the United States, once said: «A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water».
We see this every day in Ukraine. Women, undaunted and unbroken by Vladimir Putin’s brutal attacks, are summoning the courage to rebuild their lives and their communities. Health care workers are sacrificing comfortable careers, so they can treat the wounded on the front lines. Civil society leaders are coming together across political divides to support democracy.
There are millions of Ukrainian women who will never make headlines, but who are quietly holding together their families, their communities, and their country in the face of aggression and adversity. Whether they carry arms or not, they are surely freedom fighters. And as I’ve seen all over the world, nothing scares thin-skinned autocrats like Putin more than strong women who stand up to their bullying.
We’ve always known that democracy is not guaranteed. We have to fight for it, again and again. And Ukraine’s fight is a righteous one. Putin’s unjustified, illegal war is a grave threat to both Ukraine’s sovereignty, global security, and progress for women and girls at home and abroad.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in my life, it is that no one should underestimate the strength and resilience of women. Ukrainians are carrying on a long tradition of brave, visionary women who have shaped a better world in the face of impossible circumstances. So my message to every woman in Ukraine is this – never doubt that your work will be the vehicle of progress. Our hope for freedom and the rule of law is in your courage and determination.
The world stands with you.
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