Yanukovych invites to Ukraine for sex-tourism?

By Dr. Tamara Martsenyuk, Carnegie Research Fellow, NYC; Assistant Professor, National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”

Welcome to Ukraine: see our beautiful girls! This is the message that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych sent to the international community at the World Economic Forum in Davos in late January. Playing off Ukraine’s promotional slogan for the EURO 2012 soccer championship – “Switch on Ukraine” – Yanukovych said, “In order to switch on Ukraine, it is enough to see it with one’s own eyes, when chestnut trees start to blossom, when it is getting warmer and in Ukrainian cities women start to shed their clothes. To see such beauty – it is marvelous!” Is this the president’s idea of a successful publicity campaign?

An average Ukrainian citizen would probably find truth in the president’s words. “Our women are really the most beautiful in the world,” they would believe. Yet many have never traveled outside Ukraine. And Mr. Yanukovych publicly (and even internationally) promotes this stereotype. But any Ukrainian political leader should be aware that Ukrainian women are highly educated and actively involved in the labor market and state building process. Moreover, in a state that proclaims the advancement of human rights and the development of democracy (which Ukraine supposedly does), it is absolutely unacceptable to disseminate such sexist rhetoric. It means that Yanukovych reduces Ukrainian women to a commodity by which he ostensibly attracts “customers” – foreigners who come to Ukraine.

Watch Yanukovych’s speech at DAVOS

Watch “Switch on Ukraine” promo

Is sexism widespread in Ukrainian society? One needs only to look at the half-dressed female body promoted in media and advertisements. Many women are raised in an environment (formed especially by media), in which one should first invest effort in constructing her “beauty,” which she could then benefit from “selling.” So is the president simply helping to sell this “commodity” on the international market?

Another, more dangerous norm in Ukrainian politics are sexist remarks from high-level politicians about the future of women in Ukrainian politics. Last spring, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov made a particularly big splash when he publicly stated that “conducting reforms is not a woman’s business.” According to Azarov, apparently, it is clear that Ukrainian women are also merely a “beautiful commodity” to look at, if only to inspire politicians. And now, we see how “inspired by Ukrainian beauty” Yanukovych is as he advertises it to the international community under the seemingly harmless slogan “Switch on Ukraine.”

Visit official cite of Euro 2012 Ukraine

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