From where I stand: “We helped our community feel alive”

Aliona Vdovenko is acting head of the village and leader of a women’s community self-help group “Fiesta” in Novomykolaivka, in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. Only 450 people reside in Novomykolayivka village and regional level budget-planning often doesn’t take into account the needs of those who live in small villages. Vdovenko advocates for the allocation of necessary resources for small villages, including hers, especially in line with the decentralization reform – one of the key reforms in Ukraine which aims to transfer power, resources, and responsibility from the executive branch to the local self-government.

Date: Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Aliona Vdovenko, Photo: Ukrainian Women’s Fund/ Ievhen Maloletka
Aliona Vdovenko. Photo: Ukrainian Women’s Fund/ Ievhen Maloletka

Quote I perfectly remember my first day as the acting head of the village. We had a meeting within the community and, unexpectedly, many people attended it. I stood in front of the crowd and clearly saw how sceptical people were about my appointment. “Is this girl going to lead our community?” – one could see in their eyes. I started talking and felt that they were interested. Since then, over a year has passed and I feel trusted!

I studied Pedagogy at University and after my maternity leave, I got a position at the local school in the village. I soon felt that I can do more for the community than just organizing holidays for children. I lacked space for my activities. A playground for kids became our first initiative as a self-help group, which we organised with the help of the UNDP-UN Women programme. We received trainings on how to voice our needs and priorities to the authorities at different levels of power. Now, we are heard.

A self-help group was a great initiative at that moment. The village seemed abandoned and nothing was happening here. When our group started working, it brought some life to the community. Just imagine, we organised a rock-concert here! And in the summer, we took a projector from the local school and organised an open-air cinema. 25 people came to the first movie screening, 40 people attended the next one. At the third screening, we had around 100 spectators. People from neighbouring villages started to ask us to announce the date and time for the next movie. It sounds like we are doing trivial things when there are real problems like healthcare, post-conflict recovery and internally-displaced persons. But the community needs to feel alive. Now we’d like to grow more and establish a women’s organization. We have many plans, such as continuing our environmental campaign. We have already started cleaning the local river. We also would like to strengthen our relationship with local businesses and neighbouring villages and communicate our needs at all levels.”

SDG 5: Gender equality

Aliona Vdovenko, 28, strengthened her knowledge and skills regarding human rights, gender analysis and evidence-based advocacy as part of the community mobilization for empowerment (CME) work of UN Women, which is implemented within the UN Women-UNDP Joint Programme “Restoration of Governance and Reconciliation in Crisis-Affected Communities of Ukraine,” funded by the European Union. Vdovenko established a self-help group and started to advocate for gender-sensitive provisions to be included in local programmes and budgets for 2018. Her work contributes to Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality, which aims to ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.