Today we join the #16days international UN Women campaign and introduce #16feminists — survivors and allies — who will share their experience to overcome the stigma around gender-based violence.

25 November – 10 December 2019
Producer: Bozhena Makovska
Photographer: Michael Tulsky
Translator: Maryna Isaieva

Bozhena Makovska, founder of Feminists of Kyiv

“Two things helped me to cope with the experienced violence — feminism and time. Thanks to feminism, I learned about the consent culture. I realised that my body belongs to me, and I should not allow other people to treat me like they want to please them or stay in a relationship. I understood that I should not endure pain. The stories of women from different parts of the world united by the struggle for their life, and its better version, supported me very much. As for time, I began to forget. It’s great to lose in memory the details of what used to paralyze. I am glad to be part of a huge community and help other women in this project. I’ve never felt as strong as I am now.”

Maria Proshkowska, artist

“When I was 9-12 years old, my father used to tell me in detail what could happen if I put on a short skirt or walked alone on the street late in the evening wearing makeup. He worked in law enforcement and was quite a tough person. The whole of my life, I lived being sure that if someone attacks me or rapes me, I will be guilty, like the one who provoked it. Only a few years ago, I learned about an alternative point of view. Nevertheless, I keep observing discussions where people blame the victim of violence and take one or another position on that matter. Now it’s obvious to me that there is only one correct position regarding violence — the rapist is to blame. A lot of my close friends suffer from this, and I can do nothing but support them morally and recommend to ask for help. Unfortunately, we are used to keeping all the problems in the family, and the police do not adequately regulate the problem of violence against women.”

Ulyana Nesheva, artist

“Often, we refuse to listen to our intuition, use the common sense that protects us from danger. It is important to get away from tyranny, humiliation and violence in time. As well as find the strength to respect yourself and value your personality as the most sacred thing. Domestic violence is neither the norm nor the ‘fate’. It is a life-threatening environment from which one has to look for a way out.”

Dinara Kasymbekova, civic activist

“Three years ago I shared a story on Facebook about how I was subjected to harassment and sexual abuse by a cousin. After that, other girls from Kazakhstan followed my example and told how they had been raped by family members. In Kazakhstan, as in Russia, there is no domestic violence law. Those who managed to bring the case to court are heroines for me because apart from the violence itself, they experienced psychological pressure from the police, who tried to “reconcile” them with the rapist, as well as from the relatives of the rapist. There is no responsibility for the “stealing the bride” tradition. Young guys feel so confident now so they can kidnap any girl they like on the street and, at home, together with their parents, persuade her to marry. If they manage to keep the girl at home all night, in the morning the girl’s parents may not let her back at home. This is one of the main causes of suicide among young girls in Kazakhstan.”

Nata Lunio, feminist and eco activist

“For me, one of the most relevant issues now is the language and the way it reflects things that lead to violence. People do things that legitimize violence without thinking: they pave the way for it, make stigmatizing jokes using the discriminatory vocabulary. From time to time, I witness such jokes at work and try to draw the attention of the speaker to their fault, to explain that there is a so-called “pyramid of violence”: it all starts with a joke, then it goes into a stereotype, and eventually physical violence may happen. The problem with gender-based violence is that it takes invisible forms and is born invisible.”

Iryna Slavinska, journalist, gender coordinator of the campaign against sexism “Povaha”

“I first wrote about gender issue in 2012, and then it was unpopular and almost freakish position. In 2015 I joined “Povaha”: we had meetings with representatives of different editions, and there was no need anymore to explain what we were talking about. Nowadays, even more editions feel their commitment to gender equality topics. They wonder how many women are involved in their programs and articles, what vocabulary is chosen to speak about them. The topic of domestic violence is present more systematically in the media due to the #IAmNotAfraidToSay flashmob and #MeToo. Also, it is important to mention that two years ago, people’s deputies did not vote in favour of the Istanbul Convention ratification. This way, the topic has gone beyond the private domain. It turned out that we can talk about it not only in social but also in other dimensions: political and economical.”

Katya Taylor, founder and CEO at Port Agency

“In my life, I have experienced both psychological and physical violence. Now, as an adult, I can fight back, so it’s easy for me to talk about it. It is impossible to threaten or intimidate me. However, even with my character I fell into this trap and was there for a very long time. Also, there are women who cannot stand up for themselves. Their uptightness is caused by the way they were brought up and the structure of our society. Lately, people talk more about the fact that the victim of violence is not to blame, no matter what she was dressed in or how she behaved. Although we still blame ourselves. I would like women who did not find the strength to protect themselves to not despair, and know that there are a lot of other women and men ready to support them. If something happened, it’s important not to be silent. I see no other solution to this problem but to talk out loud about violence as much as possible.”

Olga Diachuk, HeForShe Ukraine coordinator

“HeForShe is a solidarity movement, and our main tool is communication. By means of online and offline projects for everybody and not only for people in the know, we want to increase the number of supporters of gender equality. We have often heard that this problem exists, but it is somewhere far away. This is a misleading idea because, at first, violence is difficult to recognize, and second, it often goes unreported. Not only the consequences but also the causes of violence must be addressed. Theses about “buying pepper spray for all the girls” or “send them all on self-defence classes” are very popular in our discussions, frequently expressed by men who thus take care of their wives, sisters, daughters and girlfriends. It is extremely important for us to explain to them the need to change men’s behaviour and the way boys are brought up.”

Darya Svetlova, art director

“I was raised by a single mother, and together with her, I had to be stronger. That’s why I guess I developed a deep resentment towards traditional gender roles. The difficulties that I had to cope with as a child encouraged me a lot in my life — I managed to get out of an abusive relationship with a guy I was in for a year. Just at some point, I analyzed my current life and never wanted to come back to this. But I was lucky, I supported myself. If a woman is financially dependent, she has nowhere to go. Then, obviously, it is very difficult. It is important to remember that you are you, and you are a person.”

Photo: Roksolana Potsyurko

Hrystyna Kit, head of Ukrainian Women Lawyers Association “JurFem”

“We have to work as efficiently as possible to prevent violence against women and to take measures to protect victims. That’s what legal mechanisms are for. Istanbul convention still hasn’t been ratified, but the standards of the Convention were partially introduced into new Ukrainian legislation. We just have to start working on and applying them. Our organisation develops methodological recommendations on identifying gender discrimination as well as the algorithm of legal assistance to women. On the basis of “Legal Feminism: Activism, Lawyering, and Legal Theory” work on feminist jurisprudence, we’ll be implementing the “Gender equality and women’s rights” course in law schools. It’s important for us that the legal community provides gender-sensitive legal services and understands which challenges and issues men and women have to face in access to justice.”

Darina Dmitriievskaya, M.D., lecturer

“Two years ago I attended the training of NGO Insight for doctors and started to work with transgender people. Thanks to the reform, patients in Ukraine can now choose any doctor they want: word of mouth has worked, and now among my patients, there are about 100 trans people from all over the country. The medical community is still very conservative and paternalistic. So, I joined the team of trainers who instruct doctors from other regions and cities. When I myself experienced psychological violence, LGBTQ community supported me a lot. Other people’s stories and articles on gaslighting were also very helpful. I realize that I have a whole set of social privileges that make people listen to me: I am a white cis woman, a mother, and a doctor. I try to use my privileges in the right way.”

Edward Reese, non-binary, queer activist, blogger, performer at PostPlay Theater

“I was in a toxic relationship for 12 and a half years. This was a relationship between two transgender people, and I had suffered from all possible kinds of violence: physical, sexual, psychological and financial. Even though most rapists are men, it can also be done by women, non-binary and trans people. My partner regularly acted out different roles; one of his favourites was Joker. That’s why romanticizing abusers in pop-culture is a serious issue we should fight with. Mysterious manipulators who force you to obey them are neither romantic nor beautiful. I wish young boys and girls wouldn’t fall for it. Psychotherapy, videos about abuse, and support groups on Facebook helped me realise what was going on. I managed to run off to another city, and now this story is left in the past. However, I think we should talk about violence as much as we can, and for me personally, it’s important to mention that it happens in LGBT couples too.”

Olena Shevchenko, head of Insight LGBTQ NGO

“It is considered that if you are a lesbian, something is wrong with you and you just ‘haven’t met the right guy’. You can often hear stories from African countries about parents who hire men to rape their daughters in hopes of turning them ‘straight’. In Ukraine the situation is somewhat different, young women mostly from religious families are pressured into marriage with a man. I know the situations when parents set up their gay daughters with men counting on physical contact between them which will cause pregnancy and therefore lead to marriage. Lots of girls may not describe it as an act of violence. Our organisation provides all possible assistance to women survivors of violence and primarily a psychological one.”

Dzvenyslava Shcherba, volunteer, Amnesty International Ukraine activist

“I come from the western part of Ukraine, and my family is highly conservative: they have imposed their religious beliefs on me since childhood. I watched how they were fighting, and my dad threatened my mom to leave her. I tried to protect her, but obviously, I couldn’t do that as I was a kid. When the war started, my classmates and I were volunteering in a military hospital, and one of the officers harassed me. I didn’t know what to do, attempted to take off his hand, which he almost had put in my underwear. It was horrible. Everybody, including other officers and hospital workers, saw that but did nothing. When I told my parents about it, they blamed me. As I became a feminist and LGBT activist, I was accused of going against traditions and family. Nevertheless, I keep attending and organising actions because it is very important for me.”

Tetyana Kuzmenko, activist, Cannabis Freedom March speaker

“Dad’s friend was molesting me. I was around 6 or 8 years old and it was going on for a while. When my daughter got to that age, I decided to tell everything to my mum. The thing I heard from her just killed me. She said that everybody had difficulties in their lives. The women of her age are used to feel and hide their pain, find violence acceptable. I educate my daughter in a manner that the next generation will have the ability to empathize. I ask her what she wants and can I hug or kiss her; prohibit other people to tell her what to do and break her personal boundaries. I myself often experience violence and the only thing that saves me is my inner strength. I love life, so I have to fight for it and for a smile on my face.”

Marta Huda, volunteer and activist

“People who don’t perceive violation as a crime normalize it. Like when they’re saying: ‘I don’t do anything wrong’, ‘I didn’t mean that’ or ‘it’s all your imagination’. When you clearly say what you want, and someone disregards it, invades your privacy — that is violence. At moments like these, it’s so great to find support in somebody. Back in the day, I didn’t realise what harassment is and was afraid to talk about it. I was scared that someone would blame me and ask something like, “Why have you drank?.” Now there are people who are ready to listen to me. I talk through my traumatic experiences with them, write and talk about it publicly, so that way, I can ease the suffering.”

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