To mark International Women's Day 2016, for which the official theme is #PledgeForParity, we are profiling some of our female peacebuilders around the world and asking them: What can gender parity mean for peace?
Inna Topal, Ukraine
Inna Topal is Project Manager for our work on preventing the marginalisation of those severely affected by the war in Ukraine.
Please describe your professional background and the project you are working on.
I am a lawyer and linguist by background, but for the last 17 years, I have been working in the spheres of democracy and governance, raising public awareness of democratic tools and instruments to support dialogue between the government and civil society, as part of designing and implementing reforms in Ukraine.
I believe that empowering people, and women in particular is very important, especially in the critical situation Ukraine is now facing.
What are the challenges/ opportunities for gender equality in your country?
In Ukraine, men and women have equal opportunities - in theory. But perceptions and stereotypes, and what some describe as male chauvinism create a ‘glass ceiling’ and prevent women from realising their ambitions.
Indeed, based on the results of Gender Gap Index for 2015, only 19% of companies in Ukraine have women as top managers, and only 32% have women in their ownership structure.
Despite the equal level of education for men and women in Ukraine, women get paid 75% of their male counterparts, and only 67% of the pensions. The law stipulates the same rights for women and men, but some employers refuse to hire young women because of the possibility they might go on maternity leave. Companies also refuse to hire women older than 40 years.
That’s why my feelings towards Women’s Day are quite mixed. Not having much objection to smiles and flowers on that particular day, I would prefer being treated equally and respectfully every day, in all spheres of life rather than having a ‘special official’ day when men are obliged to show their ‘admiration’ for women, as is often the case in Ukraine.
What role do you think gender equality/ women’s empowerment could play in long-term peace Ukraine?
I believe women play an instrumental role in encouraging peace and reconciliation processes in post-conflict countries. In Ukraine, female political representation is traditionally low, except at community level where it can be as high as 55%, as women have traditionally played an important role in civil society initiatives. As women are predominant in schools, the socialisation and integration of internally displaced children and families would largely depend upon their capability to build a bridge between the host communities and IDPs.
Which women inspire you and why?
During the protests on Maidan Square in Kiev, it was fascinating to watch how ‘ordinary housewives’ became active participants and drivers for arranging the support for Maidan activists, being particularly active in providing medical care, food and clothes.
Often lacking knowledge and tools, they became real civil society activists helping to advocate for people’s rights and freedoms.
Will you be celebrating Women’s Day this year? How?
Women’s Day for me is no different than any other day! It’s just the flowers in the morning that set the mood.