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Honoring Women, Ukrainian Government-Style


Sticking together? Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, President Viktor Yanukovych, and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov (left to right, in a file photo)

Sticking together? Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, President Viktor Yanukovych, and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov (left to right, in a file photo)

Earlier this month, the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament became the latest male of the species to join the country's Male Chauvinist Neanderthal Club (no offense intended to our extinct relatives), which, some would argue, already has the country's president and prime minister as proud members. Commenting on proposed legislation establishing quotas for women in government, Volydymyr Lytvyn said such issues could not be decided with laws. "Society will not abide by such laws until we get rid of that which is our tradition and stems from our Christian mentality: Man is the higher being, as woman was made from Adam's rib. Consequently, she is the lesser being" affirmed the speaker.

Last year, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych made his position on women clear during his unfortunate presentation at Davos. Yanukovych invited tourists and others to discover Ukraine for themselves. "All you need is to see it when the weather gets warm and Ukrainian women begin taking their clothes off," promised Ukraine's commander in chief. "What a beautiful sight."

To round off the branch of government approach to women's place in Ukrainian society, one can turn to none other than Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, the oldest of the trio, who until very recently had no women in his cabinet. (Now he has one, but seemingly not through any effort on his part.) When asked why there were no women ministers in government, he replied: "Some say our government is large. Others complain there are no women; there's no one to look at during our meetings, only dull people. With all due respect to women, implementing reforms is not women's work."

These three men are using March 8, International Women's Day, to bamboozle Ukraine's overworked and underpaid women with lofty but essentially empty words about women's role in society, their value and worth, their beauty and kindness.

The Ukrainian president received a group of women community leaders on March 7 and said women should have "women's happiness" in their lives, because for him, a woman is first and foremost a mother.

In a 39-second video greeting posted on his website, the prime minister -- framed by a vase of pink tulips and with a pained expression on his face -- droned on about March 8 being that day when women could hear "all those warm words which we often don't tell you during other days."

"May your families have prosperity, may your children grow up healthy, may you have love and happiness," he said.

The beleaguered speaker, who claims his words about Adam's rib were taken out of context, has posted a greeting on his site that is one of the finest examples of Soviet pompous polysyllabic profundity. "On this holiday and every day, there should [be] more light, goodness and warmth, attention, and respect to Woman, mother, sister, beloved wife, the keeper of the hearth and citizen on our Motherland. This is the task of the state and the ruling powers, the permanent and honorable duty of the stronger sex."

All one can do in the face of all this is to paraphrase Barney Frank, the exceedingly witty but often testy U.S. congressman from Massachusetts: "On what planet do these men spend most of their time?"

On Planet Ukraine, a country that in many ways seems to be the place that time forgot. It is old fashioned, male-oriented, tribal, and much in need of modernity. Not only in terms of concrete infrastructure, but first and foremost in the heads of its politicians.

Women in Ukraine are architects, factory managers, and high-level bureaucrats and are represented in almost every profession in the workforce. Despite this male chauvinism is firmly entrenched and surprisingly widespread. Some Ukrainian men will never take a woman leader seriously. The younger generation, however, seem more willing to accept women in positions of power.

That's the country advice provided on the international moving company Interdean's website.

Ukraine has no women mayors, no women governors, only one newly minted minister, just two parliamentary committees are chaired by women. The country's best known female politician Yulia Tymoshenko is behind bars. But Ukrainian men looooooooooove women, the hearth keepers, the mothers, the long-legged arm-candy blondes.

Yes, hooray for International Women's Day, that much-loved Soviet Ukrainian holiday, during which fat, jowly, perpetually hungover men present their women folk with flowers and ply them with champagne, only to treat them like second-class citizens for the other 364 days of the year.

-- Irena Chalupa

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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