Thoughts on March 8th

By Tamara Martsenyuk, Assistant Professor at National University of “Kyiv Mohyla Academy”

From when I was in kindergarten, I remember that on the edge of winter we used to exchange presents between boys and girls. Firstly, girls give presents to boys on February 23 – the Day of the Soviet Army. And it did not matter that those kids had not been in the army yet. They are supposed to be later, to prove that they are “real men” and are always ready to defend their motherland against the enemy. Two weeks later, boys gave presents to girls on March 8 – International Women’s Day. And nobody cared that it wass not just women’s day but Women’s Rights Day. Almost nobody knew about female mass demonstration, protests, and hunger strikes in Petrograd (modern-day St. Petersburg), setting off the Russian Revolution. March 8 became the holiday of flowers for women and “special” attention from men. And a famous joke, “Keep silent, woman! Your day is the 8th of March,” is nothing but reality.

Now, there is no more Soviet army. Ukrainian men are not very eager to join the army, trying to avoid doing so by either going to university or faking an illness. The military has lost its masculine appeal because of bad economic conditions. It is possible to say that obligatory military service only for men is a form of discrimination both against women and men. But young Ukrainian men don’t protest against it. They listen to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on February 23 as he greets them with Day of the Motherland Defender (a modern interpretation of Soviet Army Day). And probably, they honor their grandfathers as veterans of the Second World War or other wars. But are they ready to learn how to defend their own motherland in a country where the military has such a bad reputation in society?

Of course, in his greetings to male “defenders,” Mr. Yanukovych can’t avoid Ukrainian women whose role in society is not only to be beautiful but also to procreate. So, on March 8, he gave the rank of “Mother-Heroine” to 4,000 Ukrainian women (who gave birth to or adopted more than five children).[1] In his greetings,[2] Yanukovych didn’t promise Ukrainian woman better state support for children, but instead wished a “sunny spring,” “blue skies,” and “tender, successful days.” Ukrainian women, who are, according to state leaders, the best in the world, should smile and sincerely believe that everything is wonderful. But is it? Ukrainian and international non-government organizations have tried to inform Ukrainian society, media and authorities about gender discrimination in the labor market and in Ukrainian politics, as well as domestic violence and human trafficking. But when will high-ranking Ukrainian politicians ever hear it?

Even Yulia Tymoshenko again proved to be far from reality. In her March 8th greeting[3] – “the holiday of love, hope and beauty” – Tymoshenko wished Ukrainian women that “Ukrainian men at least for one day become knights capable for real actions for the sake of women”. Moreover, she “dreams that every second of every day Ukrainian women feel themselves the most beautiful, the best in the world.”

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