Deputy Minister of Social Policy of Ukraine Natalia Fedorovych: “Inaction regarding domestic violence leads to exceptional responsibility”

29 November 2018

Ukrainian pioneer in combating gender-based violence talks about a cost of GBV for communities and the state as well as defines major steps made in Ukraine to decrease it.


Ukraine has been participating in the international campaign “16 Days of Activism Against GenderBased Violence for 17 years. Why is this topic important for Ukrainians?

By no means can human rights be doubted by anyone. The right to be free from violence is one of the vital human rights. That’s why a problem of gender-based violence is very important for our society. Ukrainians talk about it more readily now. Time has come, when victims of violence are ready to speak up. A brilliant example is a social media flashmob “I am not afraid to say”. It began from a single post, written by a young Ukrainian woman about gender-based violence against her. In a matter of 3 days, 3,000 women also shared their stories with the same hashtag. Another point is that society starts to understand the importance of taking action and the consequences of inaction.


What can inaction lead to?

If today you, as a community, do not react to genderbased violence in your neighbour’s home, then tomorrow the Law will oblige you to give shelter to the survivors. Now we have 7 shelters in Ukraine, developed by UNFPA Ukraine, most of them were transmitted to the local state funding. But new law obliges to have more safe spaces.  This means expenditure of your money, money of your community. So, if you’re unable to prevent and stop violence, then you’ll pay for victim’s assistance afterwards.
The same stands for violence against children. If you, as a community leader, haven’t provided safety of a child and haven’t explained to parents that domestic violence is unacceptable, then tomorrow you’ll spend money on correctional programs for this child. Domestic violence, experienced at home, negatively influences results at school, and then at work. This child will grow up into an insecure individual. So what will we eventually have? A society of unconfident citizens, unable to stand for their state’s interests on the international level. Everything is interconnected. Thus, society has to be aware that inaction leads to exceptional responsibility for this inaction.


If talking about expenditures, which Ukrainians have to take due to their inaction, could we define a cost of domestic violence in Ukraine?

It’s not difficult to put some numbers together. Let’s count how many people suffer from violence, how many of them have to take sick leaves, how many people serve their needs, how much GBV leads to underperformance and lack of productivity at work. Domestic violence costs Ukraine 208 million USD annually, according to UNFPA report. Bringing offenders to justice also bears costs. We spend 14 million USD per year on reaction towards violence.


This year you are chosen as one of 16 champions combating GBV globally. Where does your interest in this topic come from?

When I occupied a position of Deputy Minister of Social Policy back in 2014, my first meeting was about domestic violence. We discussed how urgent it is to change Ukrainian legislation. I volunteered to take a personal responsibility for this issue. Why? Because I understand how serious it is. I used to have a colleague, who had been a victim herself. At work she was always incredibly efficient and skillful, a natural leader. But before going back home at the end of the workday, she would cringe and start mumbling: “At 6 pm I should go home”. It repeated from day to day, until she started sharing what was happening in her family. No, she was not a victim of physical violence. Yet she was constantly blamed for something and made felt as if she didn’t know anything and couldn’t do anything. If she was late from work, her family members simply did not let her in. She could stand at the doorstep for 30 minutes and wait until somebody would open the door for her. In situations like this you start to understand that fight against domestic violence is far more that your duty at work.

This fight requires a lot of efforts and patience. What motivates you on a daily basis to keep on?

I will always recall my grandma’s words: “You can hide from people, but not from the God. Time will come, when you’ll answer for everything you’ve not done”. I am motivated by my upbringing. I was taught to treat my duties with responsibility. I cannot even understand, how it could be done any differently.
I am also motivated by people, insecure people especially. I will always recall a woman that once came to our office. There was a lot of pain in her eyes. She wore some old jacket, one empty sleeve was tucked into her pocket. I realized that she had no arm. That woman stroke me. I still have tears in my eyes, when talking about her. A feeling of injustice has always made me oppose. Not only inside, but letting it out as well.


Your current occupation helps to oppose domestic violence on the state level and drive solid actions. What would you advise to those, who also feel this inner opposition, but don’t know what to do?

If that’s a person, that suffers from violence, then I would suggest to analyze her situation and make a decision on what to do next. If you believe that you can change situation, then do it. Ask for assistance. If not, then change circumstances. But, first of all, make a decision for yourself. If you are a state official or a citizen, then do not be indifferent. Cooperate with the government, join forces with like-minded people and create non-governmental organizations, express your opposition against domestic violence openly.


What are the major achievements and challenges for the Ministry of Social Policy and you personally in combating domestic violence?

Our major success is that the Law, which criminalizes domestic violence was adopted in Ukraine in 2017, and all factions voted for it. In addiction to the law we already have order what each state entity have to do and what responsibility they have. One the big win is that UNFPA’s psychosocial support mobile teams of emergency respond to GBV cases are officially recognized and now we have an official order from the primeminister to all local communities to establish such service in their places. Also, we have a fantastic working group of experts that dedicate even their free time to solve this problem. What remains challenging at this point is reforming central bodies of executive branch and making the problem of domestic violence integral. We need to have enough employees to react to it, to shape and execute relevant policy.
As for me personally, I identify myself with the Ministry. Therefore, I have my big contribution to its successes. The next important goal, which I’ve set for myself, is building a system of prevention and counteraction to domestic violence. In the next 5 years this system has to work immaculately throughout the country.


Read about more champions on combating gender-based violence here: