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Experts Comment on Role of Women, Language Issue in Ukraine Protests

Released: 26-Feb-2014 2:00 PM EST
Source Newsroom: Indiana University
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Indiana University faculty members comment on aspects of the struggle that has caught the world's attention in recent weeks.

Women play key roles in Ukraine protests, civil society

Ukrainian women have played essential roles in the protests that drove President Viktor Yanukovych from office, says Indiana University Bloomington anthropology professor Sarah Phillips, the author of two books on contemporary Ukraine.

"Women have been especially active in work related to provision of medical services, food preparation and distribution, and information gathering and dissemination," she said. "Women have also ‘manned,’ so to speak, the barricades in Kiev, and women have organized themselves into self-defense units in Kiev and Ternopil."

Sociological surveys show that 47 percent of those active in the Maidan protest activities are women, Phillips said. Highlights include:

-- Member of parliament Lesya Orobets wore a bulletproof vest to parliament in late January to protest the fact that police were firing on protesters, drawing world attention to the escalating violence.
-- Physician Olga Bogomolets, now a likely candidate for minister of health, has coordinated and supervised much of the Maidan-related medical care, and members of feminist groups have staffed 24-hour hospital vigils over injured protestors.
-- Women are using social media for vibrant discussions of the roles women play in society and politics. One Facebook group is called “Half of the Maidan: Women’s Voice of Protest.”

"In Ukraine we have seen civil society, broadly defined as the self-organization of society, in vibrant action as citizens of different backgrounds and political commitments have worked together," Phillips said. "EuroMaidan stands for social and political change, and for many women who have played immensely important and active roles in the protests, it represents a chance to change the gender culture of Ukraine -- traditionally a patriarchal society with strong gender role stereotypes. Let’s hope that these women’s voices, in all their diversity, continue to shape reforms in post-Maidan Ukraine."

Phillips is the author of "Ukraine: Women’s Social Activism in the New Ukraine: Development and the Politics of Differentiation" and "Disability and Mobile Citizenship in Postsocialist Ukraine." She can be reached at sadphill@indiana.edu. For assistance, contact Steve Hinnefeld at 812-856-3488 or slhinnef@iu.edu.

Language law an important issue in Ukraine

Along with last weekend's ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych came the repeal of a language law that led to heated discussion in Ukrainian society in 2012. Svitlana Melnyk, a lecturer in Slavic languages and literatures at Indiana University Bloomington and a native of Ukraine, said this was important to her country regaining its national identity.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, newly independent Ukraine introduced its official monolingualism, with Ukrainian as the sole state language. But the 2012 language law allowed for the use of Russian and other "regional languages" in courts and certain government operations.

"For post-Soviet independent countries and Ukraine in particular, the state language has symbolic meaning and a great symbolic value in the process of nation building. This is a national symbol along with the flag and anthem," said Melnyk, a faculty member in IU's School of Global and International Studies who has researched bilingualism in Ukraine.

"The language issue is highly politicized in Ukraine, and its future management heavily depends on the evolving political situation," Melnyk added. "The Ukrainian parliament abolished the language law. This means that a new language law should be developed and adopted. I believe that Ukrainian has to be the only state language in Ukraine. At the same time, the law should consider the current sociolinguistic situation and protect the languages of national and ethnic minorities in the country."

Melnyk can be reached at 812-855-1868 or smelnyk@indiana.edu. For additional assistance, contact George Vlahakis at 812-855-0846 or vlahakis@iu.edu.

Perspectives from other Indiana University experts on Ukraine are available in a previous tip sheet.

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