Are they equal? How Ukraine deals with gender equality issues

Natalia Chermoshentseva, Bureau of Gender Strategies and Budgeting (Kyiv, Ukraine)

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Gender equality and anti-discrimination campaign remain on the EU’s agenda. Equality between men and women is one of the key values for the EU and for its Eastern Partnership policy. How is Ukraine fulfilling the gender-oriented provisions of the Association Agreement and of the 20 Deliverables for 2020 working document?

The European Union (EU) encourages gender equality through legislation, monitoring, political leadership, raising awareness and project support. The EU’s new 2016-2020 Gender Action Plan highlights the need for a change in institutional culture and the importance of using gender analysis to achieve equality and expand rights and opportunities.

The Joint Declaration of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels in November 2017 expressed commitment to the promotion of equality between men and women and to the empowerment of women. It also focused on “the importance of vibrant civil society and gender equality to release the full economic and social potential of their societies, improving economic development and strengthening social cohesion” (it. 5).

The text of the Joint Declaration is based on 20 Deliverables for 2020. Focusing on key priorities and tangible results, the framework working document was revised in June 2017. It clearly lists the key vectors of development for Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries. Notably, the theme of gender equality is a cross-cutting deliverable in 20 Deliverables for 2020 rather than a separate subdeliverable. This signals understanding of how important the gender approach is in the spheres, outlined in the document. Among other things, special attention and efforts are to be focused on countering negative gender stereotypes, gender violence and inequality of pay to men and women.

It is thus important to evaluate the progress and to set the tasks for solving the challenges faced by the partner states in this area.

Where is Ukraine in this context?

The analysis of the Gender Equality and Non-Discrimination as a cross-cutting deliverable included evaluation of progress in the areas specified by the joint staff working document. Among others, these areas include the following ones:    

– gender analysis of policies and programs implemented by EaP countries;

– availability/effectiveness of anti-discrimination laws and entities to ensure equality;  

– ensuring opportunities for women within EU competitions for the youth;

– ensuring opportunities for women in overcoming the gender gap in the access to finance.

Article 420 in Chapter 21 of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (AA) writes that the AA should ensure the accomplishment of a number of goals, including gender equality and equal opportunities for women and men in employment, education, training, economy and society, and decision-making. It refers to  some directives on gender equality. Article 419 of Chapter 21 also mentions gender equality under the title of Cooperation on employment, social policy and equal opportunities.


Goal 1: Include gender issue in the state policy with accessible detailed data on gender issues in policy by every area and with better gender statistics available. Implement gender action plan.

Ukraine has made significant progress in adopting basic documents to strengthen the gender equality policy over the past eighteen months.

Gender issues were included in the Government Priority Action Plan for 2018 for the first time. In April 2018, the State Social Program to Ensure Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men Through 2021 was adopted. For the first time since Ukraine ratified the Convention in 1981, a National Action Plan (NAP) was developed and approved in September 2018 to implement recommendations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women listed in the Concluding Observations on the Eighth Periodic Report of Ukraine concerning its compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women through 2021.

The revised National Action Plan for implementation of UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security until 2020 was assessed and adopted in September 2018. Importantly, Ukraine is the only country to have adopted the NAP while in a military conflict.

In addition to drafting and passing framework documents, Ukraine has abolished provisions that discriminated against women. The Ministry of Health abolished Decree No256 from December 29, 1993, with the list of arduous and hazardous work banned for women. These included food and tobacco production; fermentation facilities; railway and metro transport maintenance; work at automobile, sea and river transport; print production; agriculture and many more. We now live in a different time and conditions of work have changed accordingly. The list was no longer compliant with Ukrainian and EU laws, or Ukraine’s international commitments on gender policy.

Gender Budgeting in Ukraine is another good practice. Implemented with the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) since 2013, the project aims at enhancing economic efficiency and transparency of budget allocations taking into consideration the different needs of women and men. The project works actively with the Ministry of Finance. Gender approach and gender-oriented budgeting have thus been integrated into the 2017-2020 Strategy for the Reform of the Public Finance Management System.

Taras Shevchenko Kyiv National University has launched the first Master’s Degree program for Gender Studies at its Sociology Department.  The first group of students includes 8 women and 2 men.

The challenges in achieving this goal include implementing the practice to apply gender analysis in developing and monitoring public policies; integrating gender priorities into sectoral reforms; establishing an effective mechanism to implement the above documents on the ground; and test-driving the monitoring and evaluation of the documents adopted. Collection and application of disaggregated data by gender is an outstanding issue too.

Goal 2: Adopt anti-discrimination laws. Move forward in harmonization of respective laws. Assess performance of established authorities in charge of ensuring equality. Effectively monitor anti-discrimination laws.

The Law On Preventing and Combating Domestic Violence came into force. It introduced criminal responsibility for domestic violence. However, ratification of the Istanbul Convention remains essential. It is important for Ukraine’s prospect of joining the EU, but more so for providing a comprehensive approach to the fight with violence against women and for strengthening protection from discrimination. Unfortunately, the Istanbul Convention remains a tool of manipulation and only exists as a plan for now.

The national gender mechanism was strengthened. Implementation of gender equality was integrated into the function of the Vice Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration. The post of Government Ombudsman for Gender Policy was established, together with the support staff.

Ministries now have a practice of setting up separate sectors on gender equality and a respective network of contacts within different departments of one Ministry,The Ministry of the Internal Affairs being one example.

Still, human and financial resources remain quite limited, and the activities implemented are not comprehensive at the level of some ministries, oblasts and consolidated territorial communities.

Gender equality and non-discrimination are included in the 2018-2021 Communication Strategy of European Integration. Raising wider awareness of European values and rule of law standards, ensuring gender equality and overcoming discrimination of any form is one of the Strategy communication goals. However, education campaigns on discrimination and ongoing monitoring of anti-discrimination laws remain an important task for Ukraine. The installment of a clear mechanism of responsibility for discrimination, including discrimination by gender, remains essential.

Goal 3. Young women targeted in EU4Youth initiatives (75% of the target audience).

This goal is accomplishable. Gender equality is defined as a key deliverable of the Program (including through the Women in Development approach) in the second phase of the project. Young women are defined as a priority group. Equal participation is one of the Project indicators.  

For Ukraine, the involvement of young women in competitions (50-75% of all target groups) remains an important issue, especially with regard to young women from the countryside.

Another important task is to increase the participation of young women and ensure mechanisms of their easy access to participation in the project competitions. Final conclusions can be drawn following the completion of the projects.


Goal 4: EU’s contribution to the Women in Business program. Help to eliminate gender inequality in accessing funding from at least 50% of local banks supported under the Women in Business program.

This task is important for Ukraine given its current significant gender disproportions in the representation of women in business. Women own only 22% of businesses and manage only 6% of large companies. Moreover, local development strategies and plans do not have a focus on the access to financial services for female entrepreneurs in local communities. Financial capability of women in Ukraine is nearly 25% below that of men.

Still, this goal can be described as fairly accomplishable. The Small Business Support Group works within the Women in Business aiming at supporting the participation of women in business and the access of female entrepreneurs to funding. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development offers grants to SMEs as partial compensation of consultancy fees and provides access to financial resources via lines of credit for women-led SMEs at local banks. In addition to that, the program offers trainings, mentorship and other support allowing women-entrepreneurs to share their experience and learn from each other. Previous expert evaluations confirm successful interim results in different sectors. The program has supported 17 projects in Ukraine at EUR 149.9mn. 15 EU4Business support centers have been established throughout the country.

Where are we moving?

The trends described above show that Ukraine has made significant progress in gender policy implementation over the past years. A lot has been done, and a lot is yet to be done. Improving the laws, including the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, remains in focus. So do integrating  a comprehensive gender approach into sectoral reforms and strengthening the gender mechanisms, especially on the ground. This requires political will and engagement of all respective players, as well as proper investment resources. Promoting the principle of equal rights and opportunities for men and women through the general anti-discrimination culture remains essential. Strengthening political representation of women at all levels is still important.

Progress should follow two parallel tracks. The first one includes strengthening gender legislation and special and specific implementation measures, integrating specific gender tasks and goals into the reform agenda, strengthening the national gender mechanism and implementing thereof in practice. The second one includes the implementation of a comprehensive gender approach in all strategies, policies and reforms in Ukraine to ensure equal rights and opportunities for women and men in all spheres of public life.