The Power of Change: Seven Women Leaders of Ukrainian Communities Tell Their Success Stories in New Special Project

July 5, 2021

Illustration: UNDP Ukraine

The need to ensure equality between women and men in politics and decision-making is no longer a matter for debate. It is, rather, a necessary requirement for economic growth and the development of society as a whole. 

The world, and Ukraine in particular, are inspired by the success stories of women who are changing the planet and making it a better place for very different people. At the same time, while reading such stories, one should also note the thousands of examples of women's activism in Ukrainian communities small and large. Women's leadership in Ukraine is gaining more and more ground. However, open support and encouragement are still very important for its growth and visibility. 

Therefore, a new special project conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and The Ukrainians not only tells the stories of women politicians from Ukrainian communities, debunking myths about women in leadership and proposing people test their misconceptions, but also provides a simple checklist with advice about how to encourage women to exercise their leadership skills, and how to support them in doing so.

Ensuring gender equality in politics and strengthening the network of politically and civically active women is one of the priorities of UNDP in Ukraine. A project to enhance women’s role in politics and decision-making at the subnational level in Ukraine and to strengthen the institutional capacity of amalgamated territorial communities to make gender-sensitive decisions is being implemented with financial support from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry from August 2020 until September 2021. The said measures are helping achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5 (Gender Equality), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions).

About 20 million women live currently in Ukraine, which is about 54 percent of the total population. In spite of that, women currently make up less than 28 percent of oblast councillors, with the total percentage of women in local councils being almost 37 percent. At the same time, thousands of women leaders every month actively tackle many difficulties in meeting the needs and ensuring the development of their communities. 

It is obvious to everyone that the more balance there is in gender representation in public decision-making, the sooner we will find ourselves in the better future to which we aspire. Put simply, the greater the number of women involved in the lives of their communities, the better it is. After all, we should understand that it is only we who shape the environment and the country in which we live. One should also bear in mind that quality transformations in society and a country start in each of their smallest communities.

That is why as part of the Enhancing Women’s Political Participation at the Subnational Level project, three areas of focus have been selected, and the following actions have been implemented:

●          providing training to over 50 local women councillors to make them more effective in political processes;

●          launching a free online course for civil activists and local council representatives that focuses on promoting gender equality and the rights of vulnerable groups;

●          developing a community of like-minded women to enable them to share experiences, advice, contacts and information;

●          launching an information campaign to change the conduct of women’s colleagues and close relatives.

It all stared with a study of women’s political participation and representation at the subnational level, which was carried out in the autumn of 2020. The first thing we did was talk to Ukrainians about women’s participation in politics: what are the practices, barriers, achievements, perceptions, and areas for growth. This not only provided us with more detailed knowledge of the context, but also with a clear understanding of what training courses are required, and what recommendations for newly elected women councillors we could make. 

This was used as the basis for the “I Am a Councillor” workshop, which lasted several months, and in which over 50 newly elected women councillors from Zakarpattia, Mykolaiv, Kherson and Khmelnytsky oblasts took part. The training programme was aimed not only at increasing the "technical" efficiency of the participants, but also at raising their confidence and trust in their own abilities to enable them to become professional and decisive leaders. 

The project also envisaged the creation of a community of like-minded women to enable the participating councillors and politically and civilly active women to exchange information and experiences, and to provide them with training and support. 350 women leaders from across Ukraine have already joined the community.

The best case studies and the most relevant information about five key areas of local governance were included in the free online course “Effective Community Governance: Simple Instructions.” The course is slated to be launched in September 2021. Materials that focus on promoting gender equality and the rights of vulnerable groups will be of interest to both councillors and local government officials, as well as to all those who care about these issues.

A special media project entitled “My Place Is Where I Want It To Be” has been initiated, with a view to enhancing the role of project activities in empowering women in local governments. This project is part of the information campaign launched to change the conduct of socially and politically active women’s colleagues and close relatives. It consists of five parts and contains materials that: 

The materials of the special project are already being actively distributed by opinion leaders, social change activists, gender platforms, NGOs, and, of course, women politicians from all over Ukraine – over 80,000 Ukrainians have been reached so far! 

You can find the special project here!

Translation from Ukrainian: Kristina Zasypkina