Mainstream news coverage of the Ukrainian protests last week was littered with images of men in masks, hurling Molotov cocktails and clashing with riot police. Huddled behind the barricades, praised as heroes and mourned as martyrs, it was fair to say that men appeared to be the dominant gender in Kiev’s Independent square.
Women, on the other hand, appeared to ‘go to the kitchen’, a phrase former President Yanukovych has used in the past to describe his former female opposition’s role in Ukrainian politics.
“The guys are just sitting there and pretending they are very important, very cool. And the women are really working,” said Nina, a security volunteer.
“I know how to cook. I know how to clean. And also I know how to talk. And I know how to think, how to organize and how to fight.”
As Nina points out, women played a much more prominent role in the ousting of former Yanukovych than any international news coverage has given them credit for. Let us not forget that one of the most iconic images from the protests was a YouTube video entitled ‘I am a Ukrainian’, which has now received over 7.4 million views. The video depicts a young women explaining why people have taken to the streets, accompanied by graphic pictures of clashes between citizens and riot police. But it is not just social media which has spurred feminist discussions.
Of course, one of the most prominent women to feature has been former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Under the leadership of Yanukovych, she was sentenced to seven years in prison, banned from seeking electoral office and ordered to pay the state $188 million.
However, before her political career, Tymoshenko was a prominent business woman and high earner, and famously co-led Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. In fact, in 2005 Forbes Magazine named her the third most powerful woman in the world.
Despite, Tymoshenko’s fragile appearance as she addressed the crowds in Independence Square, her release not only marked a key victory for protesters, but more importantly her experiences may inspire females to follow in her political footsteps.
Sarah Phillips, Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University Bloomington and writer on contemporary Ukraine, spoke of the role of women in the Euro-Maiden protests as representing “a chance to change the gender culture of Ukraine – traditionally a patriarchal society with strong gender role stereotypes.”
“Let’s hope that these women’s voices, in all their diversity, continue to shape reforms in post-Maidan Ukraine.”
by Alice Key
I am a final year political science student at the University of Birmingham. My main areas of written interest are feminism, British Politics and student protest movements. I am interested in pursuing a career in broadcast journalism.