In this article, I shortly review the social-economic situation in Ukraine from the perspective of women and other vulnerable groups touching upon the issues of the structural adjustment policies, the armed conflict and the increase of the far-right violence.
Ukraine has undergone significant changes since 2013 with EuroMaidan protests, the outbreak of the armed conflict and more confident intervention of international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. According to the World Bank database, Ukraine had the lowest GDP per capita in Europe in 2017 (Ekonomichna Pravda, 2018). Growing of nationalism, the militarization of society and rising level of ultra-right violence are also characteristics of contemporary Ukraine.
In this article, I review the current social-economic situation in the country. I want to support the claim that it is important to question the bigger socio-economic structures when rising the issue of emancipation of women and other vulnerable groups.
The CEDAW (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) shadow report is one of the few investigations made on the effects of the austerity measures and the war on women in Ukraine (CEDAW Committee, 2017). According to it, the ongoing reduction of the public sector especially affects women since women depend significantly on state support and are most of the employees in the public sector. In 2014, 12,000 social workers lost their jobs causing problems both for employees most of whom were women and for vulnerable groups who need the services (CEDAW Committee 2017, p. 6).
Poorer women, older women and women from rural areas are significantly affected by the austerity policies since they rely more on the “safety pillow” of the state support. Needing to be included in the labour market in order to survive these groups can be heavily exploited by employers. According to the research of O. Dutchak conducted as the part of the project of “Clean Clothes Campaign”, the seamstresses who sew clothes for famous brands in Ukrainian factories receive the lowest wage in Europe. Moreover, even though the conditions are mostly not threatening for their health, problems such as high temperature in summers and overtime working occur (Semchuk, 2017).
The ongoing armed conflict also affected the lives of many women. The war was estimated to both increase the level of gender-based violence and lessen the amount of support to its survivors (Folke Bernadotte Academy, 2018). Moreover, due to it, new vulnerable groups appeared. They are Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) and people who live in the conflict-affected area. Women constitute the majority of IDPs and are especially vulnerable within both groups. Facing various restrictions from getting the state support, some of them struggle to find means to satisfy their basic needs. The phenomenon of ‘survival sex’ appeared in the conflict-affected areas, where women and girls exchange sex for the provision of basic needs for them and their families (CEDAW Committee, 2017).
The other phenomenon which increased in Ukraine in recent years is far-right violence. In the context of growing nationalism, militarism and tensions in the society, far-right groups flourish. Some of them took part in the armed conflict and now enjoy the legacy as veterans and some of them are integrated into the law enforcement, which leads to police not interfering and often not launching investigations on the attacks. Some of the cases and the far-right groups are listed in the joint letter to Ukrainian officials by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other organizations (Williamson etc., 2018). The far-right violence leads to (self)-censorship and fear experienced by activists, which “suffocates” the movements.
So, the structural adjustment policies and the armed conflict influenced the lives of people from the vulnerable groups. The shortage of state expenditures in the context of the ongoing armed conflict turned out to be catastrophic for some groups of women. Impoverishment and rise of violence affect women and other vulnerable groups in the first place, which poses the question of revisiting the bigger structures when talking about the emancipation of women and other vulnerable groups.