While we celebrate International Women's Day this year on March 8 2022, and celebrate the achievements of women and girls around the world fighting for their rights, it’s important to remember that the fight is still ongoing.
There is not a single country in the world that has achieved gender equality, and it’s estimated that it could take another 136 years to get there if we continue at the current rate of progress.
We’ve written before about how the conflict in Ukraine, as with all conflicts and crises globally, has and will continue to disproportionately impact women and girls. The crisis has engulfed the country and instances of suffering and trauma dominate the headlines. This is why it’s more important than ever to shine a light on the women activists fighting for gender equality. Ukraine is more than just a country experiencing war. It is its people, its culture, its spirit, and its strong feminist women.
Here are four incredible Ukrainian women activists everyone should know, using their voices to fight for gender equality and peace.
1. Inna Schevchenko
Schevchenko was born in Kherson, Ukraine, and is part of the famous feminist group FEMEN. She dared to hold a topless protest outside the headquarters of Belarus's KGB in 2011 but was abducted and tortured by the secret service’s agents. She says that the agents drove her and two other activists blindfolded into a snow-covered forest, stripped them naked, doused them in oil, and threatened to set them alight if they didn’t complete a series of humiliating drills.
Then, in 2012 in protest of the prosecution of the Russian feminist punk band, Pussy Riot, she hacked down a 4-meter high Christian cross in the Ukrainian capital Kiev with a chain saw.
Writing for Der Spiegel, she has condemned Putin's invasion of Ukraine and accuses Western Europe’s male leaders of not cracking down hard enough. “When men fight wars,” she wrote, quoting Elizabeth I of England, “it is up to women to win them.”
2. Olena Selenska
The First Lady of Ukraine is determined to be a strong role model for Ukraine’s citizens. She is a screenwriter and producer as well as an advocate for equal opportunities and children's health.
In 2019, she ranked 30th in the list of Focus magazine’s 100 most influential Ukrainians. Right now she is using that influence: separated from her husband, who has remained in Kyiv, she is sending messages to Ukrainians from a distance.
Most recently, she filmed a video in which she made it clear: "We are at war. Because of Putin's attack, Ukrainians are taking their children to basements every night and fighting the enemy from their own homes. Ukraine is a peaceful country. We are against the war and did not attack first. But we will not give up."
In addition, she stressed the strength of Ukrainian women, of whom there are 2 million more than men in the country, who are courageously resisting the war.
3. Natalia Klitschko
The former model from Ukraine is married to politician and mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko. She is currently in Hamburg finding ways to show solidarity for and help her home country. On Instagram, she has already spoken out about the current situation with a powerful photo, appealing to the West: "Take to the streets, raise your voices in defense of democracy and peace!"
4. “The Sunflower Seeds Woman”
On social media, her video has been shared thousands of times: a woman confronts armed Russian soldiers. She asks them and asks them why they have come to her country. She then requests they put sunflower seeds in their pockets so that flowers will grow if they die on Ukrainian soil.
"You have come to my country, do you understand? You are squatters. You are the enemies," the woman says. The woman, whose identity is unknown, has acquired internet fame across the globe.
Stand with the women and girls of Ukraine, and join us in urging governments to support the UN's urgent call for $1.7 billion towards life-saving humanitarian aid. Take action to support those impacted by war in Ukraine, and all people around the world impacted by conflict and crisis, here.