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Ukrainian Vlogger Takes On Sexism

Marichka Naboka, a journalist with RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, is tackling gender stereotypes head on in a series of stories for her social video blog Youth Plus.

Naboka has used the platform to explore topics ranging from women in Ukrainian politics to the experiences of women working in the Ukrainian army and public services, to public opinion of families with same sex parents. Her latest video explores how school children are impacted by gender stereotypes.

Launched four years ago as a radio series, Youth Plus later moved on to Facebook, and is now an award-winning video blog that bravely confronts a variety of controversial topics in Ukrainian society, including the kinds of gender issues few others are willing to address.

An episode titled “Is There Sexism In Ukraine?” discusses gender stereotypes and sexist speech commonly used in politics and in the media by the country’s prominent personalities and political leaders.

A snapshot of gender discrimination in Ukraine, the video shares examples of sexist and derogatory comments by some of the country’s male politicians, including a remark on girls in short skirts by ex-President Viktor Yanukovych. Cases of subtle yet outrageous sexist adverts that have bypassed commercial regulations in Ukraine are also exposed, though Naboka assures Lady Liberty that those shown in the episode were not the worst she found.

The episode not only won Best Audio Broadcast on gender-related issues in a competition sponsored by multiple press organizations in September 2017, but also granted Naboka a Special Certificate from the United Nation’s Publications For Change contest in January this year.

Marichka Naboka interviewing about gender stereotypes for her video blog Youth Plus.
Marichka Naboka interviewing about gender stereotypes for her video blog Youth Plus.

​With over 110 thousand views and more than one thousand shares, the video has gone viral, reaching more than 300 thousand people and sparking a wave of discussion on social media. The episode’s visibility also attracted ad hominem attacks against Naboka online, with some commenters speculating that she is driven to cover sexism because of problems in her love life.

“Is There Sexism In Ukraine?” exposes prejudices that persist at a “domestic, working, political, and even lexical level” in Ukraine, Naboka explains. The prejudices are often unseen, she says, pointing out that while women in Ukraine are generally paid less than men, and are fewer in parliament, only 48 percent of women believe gender discrimination exists.

Although she has done previous episodes on the dwindling number of women in Ukrainian parliament, who hold 12 percent of seats (the EU’s average is 30 percent), Naboka’s award-winning video was her first in-depth analytical study on the topic.

“My main discovery was that men deny sexism while women do not notice it,” said Naboka, adding that the stereotypes ingrained in women’s lives, like the unfair burden of domestic responsibilities and pay inequality are so common in Ukraine they go unnoticed by most women. Gendered behaviors are “especially rooted,” she notes, in more rural areas.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2017 ranks Ukraine at 61 out of 144 countries with a score of 0.705. While the indicators for health, education, and economic participation for women in Ukraine align with the global average scores, political empowerment lags far behind (103 out of 144 countries.)

“Gender equality is a permanent topic—it never goes away,” said Naboka, noting that fixed and oversimplified labels attached to men in society deserve attention too.

Having won recognition in Ukraine, Naboka hopes her video and her efforts through Youth Plus will engage women in demanding their rights and pursuing their ambitions. “We can beat these situations, through educating girls about their opportunities, establishing a quota in parliament, introducing rules in the workplace” said Naboka. “But if a girl wants something, I think she can achieve it in Ukraine. Maybe she will have more problems than men, but she can achieve it.”

--Claudia Shute