Ukranian Feminist Workshop: "After 24 February, we've faced many difficult questions"

News - 2023-03-24
Lviv-based organization Feminist Workshop on how Russia's full-scale invasion has changed their organizational work and what Sweden can do to support Ukrainian civil society in 2023.
Feminist workshop in Lviv

Could you please tell us a bit about yourselves?

The Feminist Workshop was formed in 2014 as an initiative created to unite feminists and activists and spread knowledge about feminism and gender equality. We started working specifically with educational projects. We also created content about feminism and initiated projects aimed at strengthening female activists and implementing feminist projects together.

 For several years our organization has also been the organizer of street actions on 8 March and the UN campaign “16 days of activism against gender-based violence” which is arranged in November every year.   

 As we developed and expanded our mission and projects, we realized that we wanted to focus specifically on the formation and support of the feminist community in Lviv and the rest of Ukraine. So, in addition to the usual events, and educational and artistic projects, we also joined a larger community of activists in Ukraine and abroad.

 How has your organizational work changed with the war?

 After 24 February 2022, we faced many really difficult questions.

 Firstly, how we can help people in a situation when a lot of people suddenly need a lot of help - and our resources are limited. Before the full scale invasion, we as an organization had never provided any humanitarian services.

 We decided to create new branches in our activities. Like humanitarian support for elderly women in Lviv and providing housing for women and kids who came to city because of war. We also arranged babysitting services and psychological support for internally displaced people.

 Now we continue to work with the community. We still do educational projects and host different events, along with implementing humanitarian projects for people affected by the war. Much of the activities that we started in the first months of the full-scale invasion continues to work and expand. For example, we started providing housing from a small shelter-apartment for 7 people. Today, we coordinate two large shelters that houses 40 people, including children of various ages.  

How does being a feminist organization resonate with Ukrainian society?

 We are an organization that has always focused more on people already interested in feminism and activism. This field of course has its own difficulties, but it is not related to attitudes towards feminism.

 If we talk about feminism with teenagers and young women, they usually respond to the problems we want to discuss. Because these are problems that they are faced with, and they might already have reflected on similar issues.   

 A lot of feminist ideas in Ukraine in recent decades have basically become part of mass culture. Thus, some women may not call themselves feminists, but they have liberal feminist views.

The older generation and men are a completely different audience. They are more prejudiced towards feminism. The situation depends a lot on political views. Feminism is often supported by male activists from friendly movements, like the LGBT community, and people who support ecological and liberal views and movements. Most active opponents are men from right-wing movements.

Feminist Workshop: Three things that Sweden can do to support Ukrainian civil society

1. Reform old structures for international peace

Advocate not only for fighting against military aggression, but also for prevention the possibility of imperial states such as Russia and others, to attack the sovereignty of other states. For ages we’ve been fighting for our own state and boundaries. For us, this cruel war is not a coincidence, not a surprise. But for the whole world it’s time to recognize that dependence on cheap resources and allowing the maintenance of nuclear weapon can lead to big wars. The structures for peace that were developed after the Second World War are not helping any longer. We need to develop better solutions for global peace. This will be best for civil society in Ukraine and in fact for all of Ukrainian’s society.

 2. Support for a diverse civil society

Support grassroots initiatives and volunteers. In times of active military actions society functions in a very different way. We need to be very quick and flexible in our responses, in aiding and in rebuilding new structures. Grassroot structures are essential to this and actually do most of the work. Women, youth, queers, people of color are a big part of these movements. But they are not visible, they don’t have PR departments. To build a new diverse and strong civil society we need to recognize different efforts and different actors.

 Highlighting the stories of grassroots activist and giving the money directly to them instead of supporting big funds or international organizations that support Ukraine will be very helpful.

 3. Value local experts and efforts

Speaking about International organizations. While fighting against Russian colonialism it has become clearer to us how post-colonial relationships in Europe deepens economic inequality and justify the gap between rich and poor.

 We call on old Europe to face that not all “best practices” and standards are applicable and helpful in our specific context. When some International NGOs comes to Ukraine to teach us and they bring staff who are receiving salaries three times bigger than our local and real experts, this is not helpful, but it could undermine our own efforts to build a strong and independent civil society. 

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