Men in Ukraine hold fast to gender norms, landmark study finds

The first-ever comprehensive study on men's gender views in Ukraine finds that one in ten men believe women should tolerate violence to keep their families intact. © UNFPA Ukraine / Maks Levin
  • 13 September 2018

KYIV, Ukraine – As low birth rates, vast outflows of young migrants, and devastating conflict in the east corrode economic progress in Ukraine, another threat looms.

According to a landmark study initiated by UNFPA, a crisis as pervasive as it is silent is emerging in the country – a masculinity crisis.
“The time of mammoths is far behind [us], yet aggression and power are still considered to be essential for men,” said Deputy Minister of Education and Science Roman Greba, consulted for the first-ever comprehensive study on men’s gender views in Ukraine.

The study draws on interviews and surveys from over 1,500 men across the country, as well as interviews with 355 men referred to intervention programmes for domestic violence. 

Grim findings

Men in Ukraine are holding fast to gender norms, the study finds – and the consequences for women and girls are dire. 

The majority of men believe showing signs of weakness and submission, whether at home or in public, is disgraceful. Roughly 82 per cent say that women, too, should adhere to traditional gender roles, like cooking, cleaning and caring for children. 

Yet men are going to violent lengths to enforce this division. 

“My friend’s wife tried to have the final say in everything and make final decisions, because her mother behaved like that in her family,” a 36-year-old interviewed for the study said. “My friend physically punished her several times – and all [her] attempts stopped. There is peace and tranquility in the family now.”

This account is far from unique.

One in ten Ukrainian men believe that women should tolerate violence to keep their families intact – to devastating effect.

Each year in Ukraine, over a million women become victims of gender-based violence –  though the actual figure is likely much higher, since only an estimated 30 per cent of women come forward to report it. 

The UNFPA-initiated study was conducted with support from the Government of the United Kingdom and in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine. © UNFPA Ukraine

Financial dependence, fear of stigmatization and a sense that domestic violence is ‘normal’ all contribute to women’s silence.

But while the prevalence of gender-based violence has been well established, a long-term solution has not. Legislation criminalizing domestic violence has done little to deter perpetrators. In fact, only one third of men, the study finds, are aware that gender equality-related legislation even exists in the country.

Preventive measures

What’s needed now, policymakers affirm, are data-driven interventions that prioritize prevention.

“It is vital to conduct a study of gender-based violence, in particular to interview perpetrators in order to understand how to develop preventive measures, provide help and plan our intervention programs,” said Deputy Minister of Social Policy Nataliia Fedorovych.

Collecting data is a critical, yet often overlooked, requirement for preventing violence and promoting gender equality. Data can reveal where progress has taken place and where it is flagging. 

In Ukraine and around the globe, UNFPA works with governments to build capacity for data gathering and analysis. 

"Gender equality and the elimination of gender-based violence are among the key areas of UNFPA activities in Ukraine,” said Caspar Peek, UNFPA's representative for Ukraine and Belarus. 

Roots of violence

The study’s findings will be critical for developing policy reforms that address the root of violence. Understanding the culture of masculinity – and the ways in which behaviours and attitudes become entrenched in public and private spheres – is key to engaging men themselves in efforts to advance gender equality. 

“At first, we were interested to find out what makes men become perpetrators in their families,” said Mr. Peek. “But it came out that adult men base their actions on experiences of childhood and youth.”

About 23 per cent of Ukrainian men have seen their fathers physically abuse their mothers. 

As evidence of a link between witnessing gender-based violence in childhood and committing violent acts as an adult mounts, researchers are hard-pressed to find other factors that unite perpetrators.

“We tried to compile some portrait of a potential perpetrator, yet they all differ,” explained Hanna Herasymenko, Lead Researcher at the Institute for Demography and Social Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. 

“What unites them, though, is a masculinity crisis that they have found themselves in.”

                                                                                                                         – Kelly Ashton

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