Since the beginning of the 20th century, Finland has been a pioneer in gender equality. As the country celebrates its centennial, Finland seeks to put gender equality once more in the spotlight and help others in creating more equal societies. Supporting the work of the Council of Europe in Ukraine is one of the ways it hopes to achieve this goal.
Since April 2017, Ms. Katja Tiilikainen, a Finnish expert, has been working as a gender adviser of the Council of Europe Office in Ukraine. Her position is a secondment by the government of Finland as a part of Finnish participation in international civilian crisis management. Her responsibilities include enhancing gender mainstreaming in the Council’s projects, capacity building for the staff, advising project officers and participating in gender donor coordination meetings.
The Finnish government is keen to support the kind of work done by Ms. Tiilikainen due to its commitment to fostering gender equality as part of its foreign policy. Although, putting high value for gender equality is nothing new for Finland -- as the first country in the world to give women both the right to vote and stand for elections in 1906, Finland has been a pioneer in the field for a long time. More recently, Finland ranked second in Global Gender Gap Index 2016 and in 2017, Helsinki launched a 100 Acts for Gender Equality campaign as well as an International Gender Equality Price in an effort to advance gender equality across the world.
Even though Ms. Tiilikainen started her position only about six-months ago, she has already become familiar with gender situation in Ukraine. While the country has made advances over the last decades, many women continue to face discrimination at various spheres of life.
Gender stereotypes remain a big challenge in Ukraine, says Tiilikainen. Politics, for example, is still largely considered as the sphere of men with political participation of women remaining low. Many Ukrainian women also face challenges in combining work and private life, but even those who do manage, run into obstacles in achieving substantial career growth in male-dominated business life.
According the Council of Europe, women constitute only 11% of the Ukrainian Parliament. Of the 27 parliamentary committees only six are headed by women, and the country has seen only one female head of state (out of its 18 governments). Moreover, there is just one woman in the Constitutional Court (of 18 judges) and the heads of the higher courts in Ukraine are currently all men.
Violence against women, including domestic violence, is one of the most serious forms of gender-based violations, and this remains a key challenge in Ukraine. For a long-time violence against women was considered a private matter and therefore it remained invisible.
"If he hits you, he loves you – phrase hurts my heart”, confesses Tiilikainen and notes that the situation regarding gender violence in Ukraine must change. Yet, women facing violence often have problems with access to justice due to economic factors and stigma, which perpetuate the problem further.
The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, known as Istanbul Convention, is the Council’s first treaty that seeks to establish a legal framework at pan-European level to protect women against all forms of violence.
The Convention foresees taking the necessary legislative and other measures to ensure that victims have access to services facilitating their recovery from violence. In practice, it means for instance setting-up of appropriate shelters to provide safe accommodation to the victims, 24/7 free telephone hotlines and immediate, short- and long-term specialist support services to any victim.
Ukraine signed the Istanbul Convention on November 2011, but has not yet ratified it. As noted in a statement in June, EU strongly encourages Ukraine to proceed with ratification of the Istanbul Convention.
The original version of this article was published by the Embassy of Finland in Kyiv at their Facebook page on October 23, 2017.
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