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How is Ukraine going to tackle violence against women by 2030?

21 March 2020

Everyone should feel protected anywhere: on city streets, in public transport, in a public place and, of course, at home. Especially at home. However, statistics show that this feeling is being lost.

Every year, more than a million women in Ukraine suffer from domestic violence: these are the data provided by the UNFPA (the United Nations Population Fund). Just imagine: the Olimpiyskiy football stadium in Kyiv can hold 70,000 fans! So how many stadiums will it take to seat all the survivors of domestic violence? Ian McFarlane, UNFPA’s Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, put this question to the audience at the Ukraine is on Track for Combating Domestic and Gender-Based Violence international forum held in Kyiv on February 20-21, 2020.

The problem of domestic violence is universal. By its signs, consequences, scars that forever remain in the heart of the survivors. After all, physical violence is coupled with psychological and often economic one: when one partner controls the expenses of the other, takes away all the money, thereby making a person dependent on himself. However, according to the UNFPA, only 51% of Ukrainians know what economic violence is, and only 56% can define the psychological one.

“I’ve heard mothers telling their daughters, granddaughters and sisters that violence happens. They say it’s just a fact that you have to live with. And it makes me angry. Physical wounds can be healed, we have doctors for this. But who should you turn to if a wound is much deeper? Especially if you can turn neither to your friends nor to your mother nor to your sister. Loneliness becomes all-encompassing”, said Larisa Galadza, Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine, at the same forum. But she also added that the problem of violence can be solved, because we have the knowledge, tools, survey data, we have governments, organizations and citizens who are ready to invest their resources in solving this problem.

So what has been done in Ukraine and will Ukraine be able to overcome gender-based violence by 2030?*

Progress has been made

Yes, progress has been made, because finally the Ukrainian government has created a unified national hotline available nationwide in 24/7 format. The phone number is 1547. Yuliia Sokolovska, Minister of Social Policy of Ukraine, pointed out that, although it is a pilot project launched only a few months ago, more than 1,200 calls have already been received during this time. It should be added here that a hotline has operated in Ukraine before on the basis of La-Strada public organization. It is still operating now providing psychological, information and legal advice, its phone number is 116 123.

Shelters are being opened where women who have suffered from domestic violence can find refuge for themselves and their children. They are also provided with social support and the necessary psychological and primary legal assistance there until they get back on their feet. Such shelters allow survivors to plan their next steps to start a new life. The Ministry of Social Policy is currently drafting an order regarding the shelters’ quality, as well as their location.

A number of day centers for psychosocial support started to work in our country. They are places where a person who has suffered from violence can receive psychological and primary legal assistance there and then within a day. By the decision of the founder, a crisis room can be created in the center, where the victim can stay no longer than 20 days. Five such centers have already been created in Ukraine with the support of the UNFPA.

Mobile police groups responding to domestic violence work in our country. Today, they operate in all regional centers, as well as in Bila Tserkva, Kramatorsk and Berdiansk. Kateryna Pavlichenko, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, says that the Ministry is now considering the possibility of increasing the number of such groups. The National Police is also stepping up the work of all the units involved in responding to domestic violence. In 2019, the police received 142,000 reports of domestic violence, 107,000 records were drawn up. About 16,000 urgent restrictive orders were issued, and 72,834 persons were put on preventive record.

Emergency and routine social and psychological assistance is also provided by specialized mobile teams. Their format allows each of them to include specialized professionals who could work gently and correctly with a person who has suffered from violence. Mobile teams find survivors through routine visits, personal appeals and reports from survivors’ workmates. During the period from 2015 to 2019, 47 such teams were created with the support of the UNFPA and provided help in more than 67,000 cases. Currently, local governments are organizing their work as required by national laws. And now the number of such teams exceeds 300.

What else?

Since 2013, a system of free legal aid has been in place in Ukraine. And since 2018, survivors of domestic violence have also been able to receive secondary assistance from the Coordination Center for the provision of free legal assistance within the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine. This includes court advocacy and drafting of procedural documents. According to Oleksandr Baranov, acting Director of the Center, only a little more than a thousand persons have applied for services during this time. He also believes that the number of survivors of domestic violence is actually much higher than a million, and cited confidential data of a study conducted in Brovary: “30% of respondents say they have suffered from domestic violence in their lives, and 20% are suffering right now.”

Next level

And if the numbers do not decrease, where do we head for?

Firstly, the ratification of the Istanbul Convention. Kateryna Levchenko, Government Commissioner for Gender Equality Policy, believes that meaningful changes will occur when the Istanbul Convention is ratified: “Ratification of the convention will be an important symbolic step showing that there are changes in the minds of society and there is an understanding of what needs to be done. Indeed, gender-based violence addresses a wide range of issues, in particular human rights, separation of powers, and equality. And it would be wrong to treat these issues separately.”

As a reminder, the Convention adopted in Istanbul by the member states of the Council of Europe on May 11, 2011, was the first European agreement aimed specifically at combating domestic and gender-based violence. In Ukraine, the document was to be ratified as early as in 2016, but so far this process has been postponed.

Secondly, a coordinator has been appointed in each region to ensure equal rights and opportunities for women and men and prevent violence. There are also responsible entities, advisory bodies. But Ms. Levchenko asks a reasonable question: have the functional duties of these people been determined? Do they have enough powers? This is the next step of the analysis to be made to ensure that those people, who are already appointed today, can do their job.

Thirdly, monitoring the implementation of the Law of Ukraine On Preventing and Combating Domestic Violence. It came into force two years ago, and today it needs to be monitored so that the Law is more effective and the policy against domestic violence becomes comprehensive.

Fourthly, outreach to offenders should become similarly comprehensive. Galyna Skipalska, Director of the Ukrainian Foundation for Public Health, believes that we need to work not only with survivors, but also with offenders. Specialized rehabilitation centers should be opened for abusers, and a mechanism should be developed to hold them accountable for refusing to go through a rehabilitation program.

Of course, concurrent processes must take place in outreach and education. We need quality information campaigns focused on the younger generation in order to raise zero tolerance for violence; on survivors so they do not keep silent and are not afraid to seek help; on society so it is not indifferent. Addressing the problem of gender-based violence should not fall on the shoulders of the survivors. It should fall on our shoulders. It should fall on the shoulders of concerned neighbors, colleagues and relatives, on the shoulders of the media highlighting the topic of violence without compromising survivors, on the shoulders of the national government, which should prioritize the issue of addressing gender-based violence. All this is possible if we remember that the survivors should always be the top priority, we should hear them out without bias and disapproval and help them build a new life after what they have been through. Of course, concurrent processes must take place in outreach and education. We need quality information campaigns focused on the younger generation in order to raise zero tolerance for violence; on survivors so they do not keep silent and are not afraid to seek help; on society so it is not indifferent. Addressing the problem of gender-based violence should not fall on the shoulders of the survivors. It should fall on our shoulders. It should fall on the shoulders of concerned neighbors, colleagues and relatives, on the shoulders of the media highlighting the topic of violence without compromising survivors, on the shoulders of the national government, which should prioritize the issue of addressing gender-based violence. All this is possible if we remember that the survivors should always be the top priority, we should hear them out without bias and disapproval and help them build a new life after what they have been through.

*On September 30, 2019, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a decree on sustainable development goals in Ukraine for a period until 2030 (https://www.president.gov.ua/documents/7222019-29825). The decree mentions the support for the global sustainable development goals until 2030 proclaimed by the General Assembly in resolution 70/1of September 25, 2015 and guarantee of compliance with them. In particular, the list of goals contains item 5: ensuring gender equality, empowering all women and girls, which provides for addressing the issue of domestic and gender-based violence.