Two soldiers in Debaltseve, Donetsk region, December 24, 2014 (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)
Until recently their role was not recognised, although some took part in the fighting: things are changing today
According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, there are currently 41,000 women serving in the army, of whom 5,000 are directly involved in combat. As he said As the Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine Hanna Malyar notes, today women have the same opportunities as men to get a military job in the Ukrainian army, but this was not the case until a few years ago, when their role was not recognized. Things have changed since 2016 thanks to the mobilization also supported by the so-called “civil society”.
In 2014, when Russia invaded Crimea and a war broke out between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian army in Donbass, it was difficult for women to join the regular army: established laws restricted their access to certain military professions. They could be cooks, secretaries, communicators, but there was a list of roles, such as those of shooters or tank drivers, that were closed to them.
For those who wanted to take part directly in the fighting, one solution was to join the volunteer battalions: this was the case for example Andriana Arekhta, who later became a central figure in the fight for women’s rights in the army (she is now in a disenfranchised clinic in Kiev After being seriously wounded in the Kherson region, in December 2022). Another solution was to fight de facto, and therefore in an “invisible” way and without the task being formal: without recognizing rights, salaries or titles commensurate with their real job and obligation, explains Ukrainian sociologist Hana Hrytsenko, an expert on gender equality issues.
To express this situation, and to raise awareness among citizens, local feminists, researchers and sociologists in 2016 created a movement they called their “invisible battalion”. Studies have been published documenting women’s participation in the war against the Russian occupation of Crimea, and how their role was obscured or belittled; And One has been posted regarding sexual abuse of women within the Ukrainian army. Then a photographic exhibition was organized and two documentaries were produced: the first in 2017, titled Invisible Battalion Which tells about the lives of six volunteers in the Donbass. the second, There are no clear signs 2018, the story of a woman who returned from the front with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Also thanks to the awareness campaign, a law was adopted in 2018 to ensure equal rights and opportunities for women and men during military service in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other military formations. The law officially allowed women to combat and revise the list of professions they could practice: today reaching two-thirds of the positions is based on the principle of equality, even if in reality the leading roles are still assigned to men.
Sociologist Yulia Shokan, a professor at the University of Paris Nanterre who has been studying the development of Ukrainian and Belarusian societies for twenty years, l said Le Monde That the perceived gender division within the military, which was also officially active prior to 2018, is partly a result of the “Soviet and post-Soviet concept” of the military itself, which relegates women to subordinate positions.
Under the Soviet Union, Schokane said, the communist project tried to liberate women by declaring equality between the sexes and recognizing their rights, but historical research has since shown that it was a “false liberation” because at the same time, women were assigned “a reproductive work that was It is considered obligatory at certain times. According to Shokan, the nationalist ideology that prevailed after Ukraine’s independence also promoted “the construction of a traditional family system in which women allow the nation to reproduce”. Today, Shawkan concluded, many of these models have been proven wrong, due to the role of women in Ukrainian politics, but also in major events such as the Independence Square protests in Kiev in 2014 (the one against former President Viktor Yanukovych). Increase women’s participation.
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Perhaps the most important changes were those that occurred precisely in the military field, traditionally reserved for men, and where today there are various attempts to adapt to the new reality.
Arichta – one of the founders of the veterans movement Veteranka, based in Kiev, among others – recounted by example how her group began sewing appropriate uniforms for women to send to the soldiers (at the moment the armed forces do not have them). Deputy Minister Maliar said a Le Monde Prototypes of women’s military uniforms are being tested, which will then be produced. Moreover, he started thinking about producing jackets suitable for women’s bodies.
However, many problems remain: for example, there is a shortage of gynecologists, many military women face misogynistic behavior and actions within their units, and there are leaders who do not respect the law and refuse to send soldiers to fight on the front lines.
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