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Ukraine’s Need for Gender Equality in Government and Beyond
18 March, 2020
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Perhaps nothing showcased gender inequality in Ukraine’s new government more than the new Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal forgetting to introduce the then only female minister in government – Maryna Lazebna – to the audience. He introduced the new Minister of Social Policy only after the parliamentary hall broke out in jeers and outrage.

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A week later, on March 11, the four remaining ministerial positions were filled with three men and... only one more woman.

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The inclusion of only two women in the government (one-tenth) – as opposed to a third, six out of 18 under the previous, Oleksiy Honcharuk government – has once again raised discussions in Ukraine about encouraging women to participate in government, and of gender equality in the country in general.

The composition of Ukraine's new government: only 2 out of 20 ministers are women.

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Melinda Haring, the deputy director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, believes that the new cabinet sends a signal regarding gender representation. 

“Having women in the cabinet is a good symbol,” said Haring on a recent airing of the Weekly Wrap-Up. “Ukraine has fabulous, strong, brilliant women... It's a shame [that so few end up in the government].”

And Ukrainians seem to agree. A recent poll showed that Ukrainians are 82% in favor of seeing more women enter politics. And while that is unlikely to solve all of Ukraine’s gender inequality issues, it could provide knock-on effects to lessen that inequality: a recent statement by the deputy minister for social policy, Serhiy Nezhinsky, stated that women are on average paid 25% less than their male counterparts in the same positions.  

Vadym Halaychuk, another Servant of the People MP, seemed to agree with the idea of more women in the government.

“I agree that more women should be in power. The fact is that there are a lot of women that deserve ministerial posts,” Halaychuk said earlier in March.

Haring had previously written an open letter to Zelenskyy’s wife, Olena, whom Zelenskyy called his "closest advisor", calling for her to push her husband into hiring more female ministers and advisors. But, considering the make-up of the current Cabinet, it seems Haring’s pleas fell on deaf ears. 

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The Women’s March in Kyiv on March 8, honoring International Women’s Day, showed that Ukrainians – or at least the march participants – know that they still face a long fight in terms of securing gender equality in the country. And the presence of the E.U. Ambassador to Ukraine at the March signals that the E.U. also considers this a priority. And while, as Haring commented, “I don’t think women should be [in the Cabinet] for the sake of being women,” having more women in power would represent a strong symbol for Ukrainian women. 

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So far, however, that signal is missing, and comments made by high-profile politicians – like Servant of the People MP Oleksandr Dubinsky using the phrase "acted like a woman" synonymously with "cowardly behavior" – shows that Ukrainians have an uphill battle in securing their rights and representation. 

/By Romeo Kokriatski