Anastasia Fedchenko – one of the participants of the Women’s Squadron. Picture from Anastasia’s Facebook page
“Yesterday, at the entrance to Ukrainian House. Security was there, as it should be: tough men in balaclavas and uniforms.
Men need to show their documents, and women just need to smile, I’m told.
Why? I ask.
Women should smile to make life pleasant for others! (said condescendingly and with a strong conviction that this is the best compliment anyone has ever paid me.)
I was sorely tempted to lob a grenade, to be honest,” recounts community activist Anna Dovhopol on her Facebook page.
“Ladies, if you see a mess, tidy it up; you’ll please a revolutionary”, “Entrance to Ukrainian House is given to men with a permit and girls with a smile”. “A man’s place is on the barricades, a girl’s – in the kitchen…”
These and similar slogans can be heard and seen from time to time on the Euromaidan. This is the story of how the reaction to these slogans and to the belittling of women’s roles led to the creation of an informal grouping of women-maidaners called “The Women’s Squadron”.
This idea had been floating around amongst female Maidan participants for a while, says Nina Potarska, community activist and one of the organizers of the Women’s Squadron.
“Women and girls of all ages and positions are doing a huge job. Obviously, women on the Maidan are not just good souls or “service staff” simply because their work consists of making sandwiches, tidying up or providing medical help,” says Potarska.
“Amongst women on the Maidan, there are human rights activists, journalists, women on the barricades; this is at least half the Maidan. That’s why it was so condescending to hear messages from the stage along the lines of ‘women, do something nice for the men, they need to relax…’ It’s more like an escort service than a thank you to women for taking part in life on the Maidan at the same level as men,” she adds.
One evening at Euromaidan-SOS headquarters, the female activists who had gathered started half-jokingly discussing establishing a “women’s squadron”. To see if the idea was worth carrying out, they wrote about it on Facebook.
Within a day, the organizers had received almost twenty phone calls, wondering where and how to sign up for the squadron.
In three days, the Women’s Squadron had amassed close to 200 participants. Even better, Andriy Parubiy, commander of the Maidan expressed his support for the squadron and stated that he’s not against officially registering the initiative.
“This is an important statement from a person who belongs to an organization which, to put it mildly, did not care much for women when they prepared draft laws which prohibit abortion, etc.,” says Potarska.
The Women’s Squadron is just beginning to pick up speed. So far, it has taken the form of self-defence master classes for women, discussions, lessons and legal aid.
The first self-defence class for women took place on Monday, and the next one is planned for this Friday. On Tuesday, feminist and blogger Maria Dmitrieva gave a lesson in the Ukrainian House on the history of women’s movements.
Legal aid is also already being provided, with lawyers taking cases to court. The focus has been on representing the victims of Berkut’s actions.
“The Women’s Squadron coordinates women on the Maidan without being an organization. We don’t want to ask permission to “sign up” in order to do what we are good at.
All decisions are made laterally; each woman is responsible for her own field of work. For the time being, we don’t even have a leader who would be in charge of coordinating,” says Potarska.
“There are many opportunities, but we are limited by fear and stereotypes”
Oleksandra Nazarova – community activist – one of the first to join in establishing the Women’s Squadron.
“We’ve got a hot topic on our hands – the role of women, protecting their rights, changing stereotypes, banishing discrimination and sexist attitudes. We chose a clear and simple name – the Women’s Squadron. Through the activities of the Women’s Squadron, we have a platform through which to discuss feminism. For example, feminists aren’t scary and wicked women who want to rule men, as many would believe. Feminists stress that women in the community must have equal rights and must be of equal value to men. And those sexist displays which are, unfortunately, quite common on the Maidan, are inadmissible.
There should not be any boundaries as to what a woman can and cannot do on the Maidan.
If the Euromaidan is going to reinforce the stereotypes that our official authorities are perpetuating, then how is Euromaidan better? On top of that, reinforcing these stereotypes will alienate many women who find themselves feeling like an afterthought. This is not smart,” says Nazarova.
In her words, the Maidan is a unique place where an immense variety of initiatives are emerging. It’s an amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity: “We women really have many opportunities, but we are limited by the fear and apprehension, as well as the stereotypes, that society thrusts upon us.”
In terms of the reaction from men, Nazarova says that it’s been varied. “From those who immediately and sincerely gave us their support to… comments on Facebook such as Our world has come to this… a catastrophe. Soon there will be an LGBT Squadron. These are very serious matters. If someone is not even aware that they are lumping a constructed group together with women, then it is a very significant and sorry sign as to the current status of women. Whether this reaction was unwitting, or not – we don’t discriminate. Our goal is to advocate and defend. Nevertheless, this truly attests to the status that, in their minds, women deserve.”
In the activist’s opinion, “it’s best to change stereotypes by setting an example, and the Women’s Squadron is precisely that, an example.”
Maria Dmitrieva – blogger, feminist, one of the first to support the Women’s Squadron initiative. She is convinced that the Maidan will succeed only when women are accepted as equals to men.
Ann Sarapion, coordinator of emergency medical services, constantly on duty at the hospital at Bratyslavska, 3.
“I was one of the people who began standing guard at the hospital. The people who stand guard are both men and women with a liberal worldview who are against violence, who don’t want to stand in the line of fire or throw rocks at Berkut, no matter how that sounds… But they want to help people; they are showing their humanism and solidarity. In Ukraine’s current situation, this is our option.
The majority of us are women. Perhaps they’re not ready to head out to Hrushevskoho, but neither do they want to sit at home. We’re on duty at the hospital where activists were taken. We find out what medications they need, what clothes and food… At first, when the victims were brought in, we took down their names so that the activists couldn’t disappear, God help us, only to be found later along the road to Boryspil… dead.
When the mass unrest first began on Hrushevskoho, a friend called us and asked my husband to go protect the Maidan from titushky. I really wanted to go with him. To this our friend asked, Why?
What do you mean, why? I replied.
Why do we need women? he asked in astonishment.
To be honest, this really offended me, because I don’t consider myself to be weak, nor that our women are weak, so why can’t I stand shoulder to shoulder with my husband? In the end, my husband was going to refuse to go, in solidarity with me, since I wasn’t going. But I said that this is wrong, and that we need to do something. And so we had the idea to organize people to stand guard at the hospitals. This does not mean that I, as a woman, am afraid to be on the barricades. I’m simply fighting using other methods.
The Women’s Squadron is a great initiative, and I support it. I’m always following what’s new. I went to the self-defence master class for a few minutes but, unfortunately, I just don’t have the time to go to all that’s happening… I’m almost constantly at the hospital at Bratyslava 3; we are in dire need of people.”
Svitlana Blahodyetyelye-Vovk, teacher, Maidan participant:
“The problem is that Maidan is not only a democratic revolution, but also a gender revolution. Because for the most part, women are oppressed both at home and at work.
I am a teacher. In twenty years, I’ve had over six thousand students graduate… But the system is set up so that even though you have a lot of experience and are doing important work, you still earn less than your husband.
Signing up for the Women’s Squadron, I’m seeing myself for the first time as a person who is heading out in the street and openly saying I am a feminist. I didn’t identify myself that way previously, but the Maidan has changed that fact.
Iryna Vyrtosu, Human Rights Information Centre, special for Ukrainska Pravda Life
Translated by Motria Mielnik
Source: Ukrainska pravda