Ukrainian legislation provides for mechanisms to protect against insults, threats and violence, says Khristina Kot, head of the Ukrainian Women Lawyers Association. During the election, Kot, a lawyer, recommended that candidates facing discrimiantion contact the police, Ukraine’s Human Rights Commissioner, the hotline for free legal aid and women human rights organisations. Kot’s organisation also recommends suing in defence of an individual’s honour, dignity and business reputation – e.g. a defamation case – and is currently supporting two defamation lawsuits.
“It’s important to talk about problems so we do not entertain the following illusion, which sometimes legislators and deputies try to create: ‘What else do you need, there are quotas, there is the right to vote, there is the right to run in elections. Everything is there. What else do you need?’” Kot comments. “We cannot regulate all the issues with legislation. It is impossible to fit every action into a normative act. Here, it’s an issue of legal culture, awareness, attitude towards women as equal subjects and respect for their rights. Unfortunately, in our culture, this is not yet very developed. And this is reflected in political parties.”
“We would vote for you at a beauty contest”
According to the OPORA civic network, 44% of candidates in the recent local elections were women – 10% more than in the previous local elections in 2015.
Most women candidates ran on the lists of Oleh Lyashka’s Radical Party, Homeland (Batkivshchyna), led by Yulia Tymoshenko, and the Our Region party – 46% of these parties’ candidates were women. The nationalist Svoboda party and the party of blogger Anatoliy Shariy had the least – 42%.
However, this does not mean that we will see these numbers reflected in the final results, the Ukrainian Women’s Fund noted. Vita Dumanska, CEO of the CHESNO public movement, analysed that a third of the deputies on Kyiv City Council are women. This is more than Ukraine’s last local elections in 2015, when 19% of women were elected to the council. The situation is similar in other cities: there are more women deputies compared to the previous elections, but fewer than at the stage of running. The reason, according to Vita Dumanska, may be that party lists were often headed by men, and women were placed at the end of the list.
During the election campaign, Yulia Eremenko, who ran for Kherson City Council, was numbered in fifth place for the list of Oleh Lyashka’s Radical Party. She believes that if it were not for the gender quota, she would not have been assigned it. However, the party did not get enough votes to get into the city council, and Eremenko did not become a deputy. In total, the percentage of women who made it into Kherson city council is 25%.
Eremenko notes the sexism towards candidates during the election. “When I told voters about the only woman candidate to be mayor of Kherson, they would remark on her beauty rather than her competence. When we, together with other candidates for city council, went to campaign, the voters told us: ‘We would vote for you at the beauty contest.’ You’ll agree that a male candidate would not be told this, even if he is very attractive,” she says.
“Stereotypes used to be more prominent. Candidates were constantly asked questions about marriage and children. This year it has decreased,” – comments Yulia Kostenko, a candidate for Poltava city council. After a negative experience in the Svoboda party, she decided to run for another party – European Solidarity – and became a deputy. Six people from the party made it into the city council, and half of them were women. In total, the percentage of women on Poltava city council is 30%, and at the regional council – 23%.
The Ukrainian Women’s Fund concluded that the gender quota has worked, but not as effectively as it was supposed to. “Due to the gender quota being observed, there were more women in the electoral lists of parties. However, the 43% of women in the electoral lists did not lead to this level of representation among the elected candidates,” the foundation notes.