HeForShe Congress examines how to speed up gender equality in Ukraine

Date: Thursday, November 7, 2019

HeForShe Congress 2019 volunteers. Photo: UN Women/Andrii Maksymov
HeForShe Congress 2019 volunteers. Photo: UN Women/Andrii Maksymov

At Ukraine’s HeForShe Congress, equal numbers of women and men discuss Ukraine’s gender equality realities – and how to speed up change in business and throughout society.

On 17 October, HeForShe Congress, Ukraine’s annual gender equality speaking event, hosted a wide-ranging public talk on making Ukrainian businesses and society more gender sensitive. Topics included the gender policy of Ukraine, women in leadership positions, gender pay gap, gender stereotypes in academia, the role of women in Ukrainian culture and developing corporate policies on nondiscrimination.

Held at the M17 Contemporary Art Center in Kyiv, the meeting began with an in-depth look at a recently concluded social experiment to mainstream gender in Ukrainian society. During the experiment, seven male industry leaders – supported by seven female mentors – analysed for 21 days the pros and cons of implementing gender equality in their business. They then shared their experience and thoughts with attendees.

One of the speakers was struck by the widespread sexism in TV advertising.

“I began by watching TV ads. They always portray a woman as a housewife, a bad leader, a hysterical or unstable person. It's a vicious, outdated, bad circle – the people who create these ads don’t even notice their sexism,” said Serhiy Vovk, co-founder and curator of Kyiv Academy of Media Arts.

“Advocating for equality means being strong, unafraid, open to new opportunities. If men are raised in a tradition that they should be leaders and hold power, then they need to understand that being a leader means advocating for gender equality,” noted Dmytro Kuleba, Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine.  

One corporate participant discussed the mechanics of setting up a corporate code of conduct.

Michael Tsarev, CEO of StarLightMedia media group, explains why a corporate culture based on gender equality principles is important. Photo: UN Women/Volodymyr Shuvayev
Michael Tsarev, CEO of StarLightMedia media group, explains why a corporate culture based on gender equality principles is important. Photo: UN Women/Volodymyr Shuvayev

“We want to make gender equality a part of our corporate culture and company strategy and we’re finalizing a Code of Ethics with a non-discrimination policy. Although we’re only at the beginning of this journey, we feel it’s important to have two systems of mentorship: HeForShe and SheForHe,” said Michael Tsarev, CEO of StarLightMedia group.

Three panels highlighted popular perspectives. Popular TV personalities and HeForShe Ukraine advocates Roman Vintoniv and Yaroslava Kravchenko discussed jokes about feminism – and their limits – and how to connect with the public about feminism.

Academics discussed gender equality on university campuses and sexism in educational programs. Nominees and winners of Women in Arts Award 2019 – cultural manager Olesya Ostrovska, artist Alevtyna Kakhidze and poet Kateryna Kalytko – discussed breaking the glass ceiling in the arts and changes in women’s roles in Ukrainian culture.

“The most striking discrimination in literature begins when male writers tell you how to write, how a woman should think, how she should express herself, how a woman's physicality should function in literature,” said Kateryna Kalytko, writer and poet, winner of Women in Arts Award 2019.

Ukraine’s HeForShe Congress 2019 aimed to involve male leaders, new people, new ideas and new industries to accelerate gender equality and create real changes in society.

“Seeing so many new faces today means that the movement is growing and is taking a new life and we are looking forward to the results that this new experiment can bring,” said Anastasia Divinskaya, UN Women Ukraine Representative.

Michael Tsarev, CEO of StarLightMedia media group, explains why a corporate culture based on gender equality principles is important. Photo: UN Women/Volodymyr Shuvayev
H.E.Tobias Thyberg, Ambassador of Sweden to Ukraine, and Anastasia Divinskaya, Representative of UN Women Ukraine, welcome attendees to the HeForShe Congress 2019. Photo: UN Women/Volodymyr Shuvayev

In Ukraine, HeForShe is made possible with support from the Government of Sweden.

“The Swedish government’s priorities in the HeForShe campaign are to ensure workplace equality, increase the number of women in top and middle management and improve equality in health care – all areas where women remain marginalized and face discrimination,” said H.E. Tobias Thyberg, Ambassador of Sweden to Ukraine.

Initiated by UN Women, HeForShe is a global solidarity campaign that invites people – particularly men and boys – to make a visible, positive statement for gender equality. Since its Ukraine launch by UN Women in 2018, HeForShe Ukraine has developed strategic partnerships and public events across the country to promote gender equality.