Ukrainian women of XXI century become stronger and more independent. Talks about kitchen and diapers are now considered bad manners, and knowledge of art and latest books become a must. The world changes, as well as and woman's place in it. Our women and girls try to meet 'the requirements' balancing new image with the traditional role of mother and wife. In an interview with Kateryna Cherepakha, director of the social programs department of the International Women's Human Rights Center "La Strada-Ukraine", ForUm learned about the problems and tasks modern Ukrainian women face.

- What are the usual problems Ukrainian women come with to the Center "La Strada-Ukraine"?

- Usually, these are women who want to leave for working abroad and ask about how to protect themselves while looking for a job. There are women who already found a place and want to check whether the offer is legal. We often receive requests from relatives of people, missing abroad, especially when there are suspicions of human trafficking, violence or slavery. Victims also come here for help. Sometimes we get calls from abroad. Then, there are women - victims of domestic violence, women who want to marry or divorce a foreigner, women who need assistance in a child custody case.  Custody cases are very difficult, especially if the marriage was contracted in a Muslin country. If the child lives there, it is practically impossible to take him away.

We also have men asking for help. It mainly concerns work or study. Sometimes we represent men in cases of child custody, for example, when mothers follow asocial lifestyle.

- Do men suffer domestic violence? Are there cases when wives beat husbands?

- Well, the attitude can be considered as violence. In case of men, it is mainly psychological or economic violence. 

- "La Strada" is an international center. Do Ukrainian women face the same problem as European women, or the problems differ?

- The problems are similar, because we are all humans. If we speak about human trafficking, Ukraine is mainly the country of origin and supply, while European countries (France, Germany) are the destination point. However, European citizens can also appear in similar situation. As for domestic violence, the problems are the same, but the level of tolerance is different. In Ukraine it is considered a family matter or even a norm, while in European countries there are protection measures, like legal proceedings, restraining orders, etc.  Moreover, the history of assistance centers for women is longer. Ukraine also has such shelters, but it is difficult for our women to get there - they must have a bunch of documents, certificates, medical records.

- So, if a husband kicks out the wife, she should remember to take the passport?

- Well, yes. This is one of the recommendations we give. If a woman is kicked out of the house, she does not have much time for thinking. But if it is not the first time, it is better to have an "evacuation plan" - what place to go and what services to call. It is also important to have documents, money and valuables. In fact, it is better to keep these documents in a place where the woman can reach easily. It is better to have a planned escape, because often we have cases, when a woman calls late on Friday and asks where she can go. In dangerous situations we refer to the police, but in general it is difficult to reach social services on Friday night.

- Since 1997 "La-Strada Ukraine" has been working on cases of human trafficking, especially of women and children. Has the situation changed over the years?

- In 90s, human trafficking was associated with sexual slavery of women. Now there is understanding that men and children can also become victims. According to the statistics, the percentage of men fallen within labor slavery grows. At the same time, people become more aware. When the center only started working the most common request was "I want to go working abroad". When we asked about destination, they answered "abroad". "Abroad" was one big country for our people. When we asked about visas, people did not even now that a visa was required. Now people are not so ignorant. They study carefully information and analyze possible risks. People now understand that human trafficking is a real danger and try to protect themselves.

Moreover, there are so many schemes and technologies of recruiting, used by scammers. In 90s people appeared in labor slavery because they agreed on job offers from intermediary firms. We held explanatory work and taught people always to control documents and licenses of such firms. However, if you can ask a firm to provide a license, you cannot do the same with a friend of a friend. In such cases, it is a matter of trust. Employment through familiars is also risky.

As for the latest tendencies, here emerges the question as to employment contracts. Firms promise to make them, but already at the location. I am sorry, but it is too late. First of all, you will never know whether this contract is really waiting for you. Secondly, the conditions of this contract may not suit you. What happens in such cases is that people borrow money to go abroad and have no choice but to agree to any contract conditions in order to pay off the debt.

- Are the problem of gender discrimination and violence against women are still topical in Ukraine?

- Very. Gender discrimination manifests itself in various forms: unfair labor practices, gaps in salaries, discriminating advertisements, insulting comments of officials. Take for example a commercial, where a naked woman advertizes construction materials, or Azarov claiming that women's place is on the kitchen. By the way, we filed a suit against these words of Azarov, but lost the action, because the court did not recognize these words offensive. However, our suit and discussions drew attention of the international community, and we hope state officials would be careful with words in the future.

However, the biggest problem is that that discrimination and violence are considered a norm. If a woman suffers sexual harassment at work, it is her fault because she was wearing wrong clothes. If a husband beats his wife after a difficult working day, it is her fault because she did not warm up the soup on time. If a woman was raped, it was her fault, because she provoked a rapist. Or take the case of Oksana Makar, who was raped and then burned alive. There were comments saying it was all her fault because she agreed to go with those men. It is a shame that women are blamed for violence against them.

- What about sex trafficking?

- This problem still exists. The risk group includes girls from unfortunate families or foster homes, who have limited access to information. In most cases women fall in mixed slavery - sexual and labor.
- Do men happen to fall in sexual slavery?

- Experience of other countries proves such facts do happen, but we have not had similar cases in our practice.

- What countries are the most dangerous for Ukrainian women? Where do they have more chances to fall in sexual or labor slavery?

- There is no such thing as dangerous countries, just for certain period of time some countries become popular for 'import of humans'. In 90s, for example, people were 'exported' to Germany and Austria. Then there was the turn of former Yugoslavia countries. In recent years, it is Poland, Czech Republic, Russia and Turkey. Women from western Ukraine often went to Italy and Spain (to take care of children or old people) and men went to Portugal (construction works). We often received calls on fatal occupational injuries and there was a question of bringing bodies home. In Turkey, it is the services sector (sales managers, animators, dancers, hostesses). In Russia, it is construction sites, markets or agricultural works.

- How can a Ukrainian woman protect herself when getting married with a foreigner? 

- We recommend learning the laws of the country she intends to live in, especially the laws on citizenship and peculiarities of marriage articles. Our women also have to take into account the differences in mentality and traditions, especially if they go to Islamic countries. If a couple divorces, the case will be considered in accordance with the legislation of the country of staying. As I said before, the most difficult cases include custody of children. It is almost impossible to take the child, if he was born and registered there.

- And what about Ukrainian women going abroad for work?

- If a woman uses services of an intermediary firm, she should control the license of this firm. Moreover, she should study the contract with the very employer and control every detail - working obligations, salary, working hours, expenses for food and accommodation, medical insurance, overtime paycheck, etc.

- During the crisis many women left abroad as tourists, and stayed there illegally seeking better life. What if these women get into trouble, where can they apply for help?

- If it concerns violence, it is better to go to the police or Ukraine's embassy.

- But people are afraid of deportation...

- Well, it depends on what they fear more - deportation or violence. In fact, deportation means they will be simply sent home, and nobody will put them in prison. They may pay a fine for overstay or be detained for investigation period. People also fear deportation because in this case they won't be able to earn money. But, I'll tell you what, being in sex slavery you don't earn much money either.

Tetyana Hryhoriyeva


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