While the origins of International Women’s Day date back to the early 20th century, it wasn’t until 1977 that the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 an official U.N. holiday for women’s rights. It has since been commemorated annually by the U.N. and much of the world, including in Ukraine where marches this year were held in Kyiv, Lviv, Kramatorsk, Kharkiv and Zaporizhia, among other cities.
The annual celebration has largely been forgotten in the United States, where activists in the early 1900s first sought to focus attention on promoting equal rights and fighting for women’s suffrage. It became a prominent holiday in the Soviet Union and some other countries in the 1970s, though calls for women’s rights and equality were eclipsed, to a substantial degree, by gifts of greeting cards, bouquets and sweets. Indeed, in the lead-up to the holiday this year in Ukraine, television and the Internet was filled with advertisements that focused on flowers, chocolates, hearts and holiday recipes.
Critics of the holiday in Ukraine say that they have no issue with the flowers and chocolates, but they argue that there is too much focus on these items while the plight of women in the country has been largely ignored. A recent report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty illustrates their point.
Oksana Mayboroda, a councilwoman in the city of Rivne, addressed a town hall meeting on February 26 regarding the importance of pedestrian-only zones in urban planning, according to RFE/RL. She made her remarks while holding her two-year-old daughter. As a result, she faced fierce criticism on social media after a photo of her during the meeting holding her child was posted on Facebook. The first comment on the social media platform asked, “What, nursery schools aren’t accepting toddlers anymore?” Another individual wrote that it was “improper” for Ms. Mayboroda to appear onstage with her child.
Ms. Mayboroda said on Facebook that many of the more than 800 comments on the photo amounted to “political bullying, internalized misogyny and discrimination based on motherhood.”
According to RFE/RL, the data analysis consultancy Global People Strategist said in a February report that the gender pay gap between men and women in Ukraine is about 32 percent. On average nationwide, women make the equivalent of more than $4,000 a year less than men, according to an April 2020 study conducted by the Association of Women Lawyers of Ukraine. A 2020 survey by the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) found that Ukrainian men did most of the rearing of children aged 3 or younger in only two percent of households, while mothers did most of the rearing in 85 percent of households.
Meanwhile, a majority of women in Ukraine continue to face various risks to their own personal safety. A 2019 report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe found that two out of three women in Ukraine have experienced psychological, physical, or sexual violence. Flowers, chocolates and other treats only mask the reality that there is clearly much more work that needs to be done throughout the world to ensure true equality for all women.