Media Advisory

Masculinity crisis in Ukraine: is there a way out of the “man box”

27 June 2018

“It’s female’s job to be a house-keeper. Man’s is to be a breadwinner.” Such a view on division of family duties is not a relic of the past. It’s the reality for majority of Ukrainians who participated in the first ever comprehensive study of men’s attitudes to gender equality issues, initiated by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

 

Achieving gender equality is one of the top tasks on agenda for many countries, Ukraine in particular. However, even though more effort is put into closing the gender gap, the actual situation is far from good.  “We’ve surveyed 60 thousand respondents in the last 10 years, and our conclusion is quite upsetting. It appears that there is still a strict division between gender roles in the world,” says Brian P. Heilman, Senior Research Officer at NGO Promundo, which works on advancing gender equality and preventing violence in over 40 countries.

According to the Global Gender Gap Report, published by the World Economic Forum (WEF), data of 2017 showed worsening of the gender equality globally for the first time in the last 11 years. Women are said to have 68% of opportunities that men have. According to WEF researchers, closing this gap might take up to 100 years. Good news is that Ukraine, on the other hand, has an 8-point improvement, having become 61st among 144 countries.

 

Activating the dialogue on equal rights for men and women, including gender equality in the priority list of national development agenda and adopting gender-sensitive laws have set preconditions for Ukraine to enhance its position in the Global Gender Gap Index. Still, closing the gender gap requires us to pay closer attention to men’s stereotypes and their attitudes towards gender roles. This is the reason why UNFPA undertook the first comprehensive study of men’s attitudes to gender equality in Ukraine.

At first we were interested to find out what makes men become perpetrators in their families. But it came out that adult men base their actions on experiences of childhood and youth,” explains Caspar Peek, UNFPA Country Representative for Ukraine and Belarus.

 

The nationwide survey covered 1,520 men from all regions of the country (except AR of Crimea). Moreover, in order to better understand the nature of domestic violence, 355 men referred to intervention programs for perpetrators of domestic violence were interviewed. Conclusions of this study are meant to assist change makers in closing the gender gap in Ukraine.

 

Masculinity crisis: the origins

The study proves existence of so called ‘man box’, which is a set of qualities that every man has to possess to play his particular role in the society. For instance, he is not allowed to show weakness, to ask for help or to confess that he does not know how to solve a problem. From early childhood boys are put into this ‘man box’. It is then that they are told how they should act to be “real” men. Inability to play this particular role, imposed by the society, leads to so called ‘masculinity crisis’ in the adulthood.  

“What does it mean to be a man? Does it mean to be a breadwinner? My father has never come into a close contact with a vacuum cleaner. Yet my brother shares all chores with his wife 50/50. It all depends on how we bring our children up and how we want them to be,” underlines importance of upbringing Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Ukraine Judith Gough.

Experience of ill-treatment from relatives or peers in the childhood and youth significantly affects men’s personal development. Every 4th Ukrainian, as a kid, witnessed his father’s physical violence against his mother. Half of respondents experienced physical punishments by parents. Practices of violence culture were not ended there, but continued and strengthened at school and in the army, where every second one either was a victim or a witness of ill-treatment. Such a “heritage”, undoubtedly, puts its imprint on the psycho-emotional state of the adult man.

Challenges of adulthood, stressful work, financial hardship and dissatisfaction with one’s achievements only deepen individual masculinity crisis. Every third respondent confirms that he feels stressed out due to his job or hard work conditions. Every 6th man had problems with focusing on his current activities and felt depressed during the last month preceding the survey.

“Times of mammoths are far behind, yet aggression, power and intention are still considered to be essential for men. Yes, at first these qualities do provide preferences, but afterwards you have to pay a high price for them,” states Deputy Minister of education and science Roman Greba.

Gender roles in the household

Masculinity crisis and inner feeling of deficiency are linked, in particular, to the ubiquiotus opinion that the major husband’s duty is to be a breadwinner. In fact, 60% of men in Ukraine confirm that they are the main breadwinners in their families. In less than one-third of Ukrainian families both man and woman make an equal contribution to the family budget. Thus, a stereotype “man is a breadwinner, woman is a house-keeper” can only be affirmed with this data.

It is quite interesting that such an archaic division of gender roles is not questioned, but widely supported by men. 7 in 10 Ukrainian men are convinced that woman’s most important role is to take care of her home and cook for her family. However, we can observe how this prejudice is changing depending on the respondents’ age. Younger men are more inclined to share chores with their wives.

“When communicating equal gender roles in the household, we should, in my opinion, put our main efforts towards younger men. They are the most flexible and, also, the most interested in being birth partners, bringing up children and sharing household tasks with their wives,” states Hanna Herasymenko, Leading Researcher at the Institute for Demography and Social Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.

 

Let’s have a look on the division of duties when it comes to childcare. 63% of men have no doubt that babysitting (changing diapers or clothes, giving a bath to a child) is exclusively a woman’s job. One-third of survey participants assure that men do not know how to take care of babies at all. However, when it comes to talking and playing with their children, then both men and women are equally engaged. In general, women spend around 49 hours per week with their children whereas men spend only 22. Why there is such a pivotal difference? More than every 7th man states that excessive working hours is the reason.

Taking a parental leave is an unpopular practice in Ukraine so far. Unlike Sweden, where every dad has 90 days of parental leave, which is not transferrable.

“Bringing up a child is not a responsibility of a mother only, it’s the family’s responsibility,”  states Ambassador of Sweden to Ukraine Martin Hagström.

In Ukraine over a quarter of interviewed men used their vacation on parental leaves. Only 1 in 1520 respondents stayed on the parental leave for a year. It is important to take into account that these numbers might be explained by the lack of public awareness about labor legislation in Ukraine. Less than a half of respondents, before the survey, knew that a father has the same right to take a leave, as a mother. Vast majority of those that are aware about such an opportunity have difficulties defining duration of such a leave. What could be the reason? Established perceptions of a man as a breadwinner and a woman as a house-keeper, which we outlined earlier, can shed some light on the low interest of men in learning parental leaves.

37% of interviewed men think they are not worthy anything if they earn less than their wives. The most explicit in this particular matter are the youngest respondents. Even though they’re also the most enthusiastic supporters of the equal division of household tasks. In addition, more than a half of respondents aged 18-24 are not employed and receive financial aid from their parents.

 

We can make the following conclusion from the foregoing: until breadwinning remains considered the main (if not the sole) duty of a man, rare stories of fathers on parental leave will be met with biases.

Gender-based violence

“Ukrainian society has been traumatized throughout XX-beginning of XXI centuries. Consequences of nation’s destruction, feeling helplessness in particular, have had an impact on modifying Ukrainian families,” draws attention to the special historical context Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine, Roman Vashchuk.

International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) revealed that from 18% to 46% of men around the world have experience of violence against their intimate partners. “The more masculinity is enhanced, the more aggression, stress and mental health problems we witness. Also, we see that violence leads to more violence,” says Brian P. Heilman, Senior Research Officer at Promundo.

In Ukraine over a million women become victims of gender-based violence annually. However, real numbers might be even higher, since only 30% seek help from social services or police.  “Do not put garbage out of your house,” says a well-known Ukrainian proverb about dealing with family conflicts at home, which in this context gains a special meaning. Women do not seek help, because they are scared of stigmatization, their perpetrator’s revenge or merely do not know where to find such help. In addition, belief that domestic violence is common for many Ukrainian families also favors women’s silence.

Every 10th man thinks that woman should tolerate violence to keep her family together. Furthermore, the whole range of advantages of a family conflict are named: it “cleanses emotions”, helps to” better understand your partner” or assists in “creating a dialogue”. To avoid conflicts, though, a vast majority of men want to have compliant wives, that never argue. Two thirds of respondents are convinced that a man should have the final word about mutual decisions. Anger outbreaks and forthcoming violence in this case is a way to prove he’s right or simply remind his wife who’s the master of the house. According to Maria Efrosinina, Honorary Ambassador of UNFPA in Ukraine, women themselves often have “doubts whether they have a right to make a certain decision and what the reaction of their husbands will be.”

Every third survey participant knows men who use physical force in their families. The same number of respondents think it is a private matter of a couple. Yet, if it happened in front of them, every second one would be ready to interfere. 

To study the problem of gender-based violence more profoundly, we turned to men that currently participate in intervention programs for perpetrators. “We tried to compile some portrait of a potential perpetrator, yet they all differ. What unites them, though, is a masculinity crisis that they have found themselves in, and discontent in their marriages,” tells Hanna Herasymenko, Leading Researcher at the Institute for Demography and Social Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.

Assumption that using physical force can lead to “emotional cleansing” was proven to be deceptive. Indeed, level of perpetrator’s aggression at the onset and after a conflict decreases significantly, however his emotional state does not improve. Majority of perpetrators feel tired, depressed or irritated after family conflicts. Thus, driving the conflict does not eliminate those emotional states that preceded it. It displays clearly that not only victims, but also perpetrators suffer from domestic violence’s consequences.

The study demonstrated direct connection between experiencing violence in one’s childhood (every 4th boy witnessed father’s or stepfather’s physical violence against mother) and committing violent acts in the adulthood. Let’s add excessive working hours, financial hardship and feeling discontent, and it becomes obvious where depressions and anger outbursts start from.

However, barely anyone reaches out for medical help. 8 in 10 respondents have never visited psychologist. Seeking help from a specialist, in their understanding, is the least trustworthy. The most trusted is assistance of parents and relatives. Only 13% of interviewed perpetrators are ready to listen to their wives’ advice. Every 4th one does not have any opinion leaders that he is willing to listen to.

“It is vital to conduct a study of gender-based violence, in particular to interview perpetrators, in order to understand how to develop preventive measures, provide help and plan our intervention programs,” says Deputy Minister of social policy Nataliia Fedorovych.

Prejudices towards psychological help and unwillingness to share one’s feelings can be explained with a stereotype that man has not right to show some weakness, he is obliged to deal with his low emotional state by himself. Nevertheless, a level of reported depressions and increased anxiety among respondets is a clear sign that such a cultural practice is neither beneficial for men nor for their families.

Emotional violence has remained an unexplored issue up to now. If bruises and scars can attest physical violence, then emotional one is far more difficult to bring to light. Furthermore, victims themselves often do not consider insults and humiliations as acts of violence. Reasons for such attitudes could be found in upbringing and socio-cultural practices, where offences are considered either acceptable or not worthy special attention.

Nearly every third man confesses that he has performed some actions related to emotional abuse against his partner. Usually these are intimidations and insults, and 13% of interviewed men reported that they used them against their partners during the last year. In addition, absolute control over a woman is also emotional abuse. More than a half of respondents agree that they have to know where their partners are at any moment of time. It is important to note that in 6 out of 10 cases a woman is dependent on a breadwinner, which might explain why she tolerates humiliations or manifestations of ownership from her partner.

Only one-third of respondents know that legislation, which criminilazes domestic violence, exists in Ukraine. As to those informed, scepticism is prevalent. Majority believe that it will not protect victims, yet might cause further suffering. It is also remarkable that every 5th man thinks that the law is too harsh to abusers.

 

Already equal?

The sole interest to study gender equality issues comprehensively often makes respondents puzzled. “Why do you pay that much attention to providing equality if we already have it?” This is a question that a quarter of all respondents are ready to pose. Furthermore, majority believe that this equality is absolutely natural and does to require any legal ground to be based on. Only one-third of interviewed men are aware that gender legislation exists in Ukraine. It confirms a low level of interest in gender issues among Ukrainian men and human rights at all.

The vast majority of interviewed support an idea that men and women are equally good at their jobs as well as deserve to receive an equal pay. Nevertheless, 82% of men agree that there is a division between “female” and “male” professions in Ukraine. When it comes to estimating equal opportunities in business and politics, then stereotypes of social roles get even more evident. For instance, 4 in 10 men believe that entrepreneurship is a male occupation. Half of respondents are convinced  that men are better political leaders than women. Ultimately, such a biased attitude and set concepts regarding “male” and “female” occupations finds itself on the employment market. Only 30% of top managers are women while there have been only 12% female deputies in the Ukrainian Parliament since Ukraine’s independence.

“The problem can be seen in our culture. Everything is permeated with gender inequality. That’s why a year or five years is not enough to solve it. But we do need to start working on a new foundation right now,” emphasizes Deputy Minister of Justice Denys Chernyshov.

New Ukrainian School began to create such a foundation. In particular, the Ministry of Education and Science gathered a group of experts, who conduct anti-discrimination expertise of school textbooks to counter discrimination based on ethnic origin, discrimination on the basis of age, gender, health status, etc. “Mother washed the window frame” and a series of similar outdated concepts about distribution of gender roles will, hopefully, disappear from the book pages, as well as separate lessons for boys and girls. 

 
Besides school, an important role in overcoming the masculinity crisis and gender stereotypes belongs to media. “A huge task of media representatives is to promote gender equality as modern and trendy,” says Deputy Minister of Social Policy Nataliia Fedorovych. After all, with the rise of social media, this role belongs to every user of the Internet. Yaroslav Vedmid, founder and CEO of digital agency Postmen titles Facebook as “a second family of every Ukrainian” and assures that “manifestation of our best virtues and taking care of children gathers a lot of likes.” In fact, social media set trends and can make people come to an understanding that gender equality is not only modern and trendy, but also beneficial for both men and women. 

 

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