In 2019, the Association of Ukrainian Cities (AUC) staged its third competition of short-term gender initiatives aimed at promoting women’s involvement in local economic development, with support from the International Technical Assistance Project “Partnership for Local Economic Development and Democratic Governance” (PLEDDG). One of the winners is the NGO “CIVITAS Social Action Centre” with a project designed to enhance the impact of local decision-making by women from the Hoshcha District and the Smyha United Territorial Community of the Rivne Region. The initiative calls for the establishment of NGOs and aims to popularize local women’s successful practices. Activists are certain that these very tools can accelerate the process of debunking social stereotypes about the role of women in community life.
A high-quality communications campaign was the first step to get women from the Hoshcha and Smyha communities onboard. It included regional TV broadcasts, publications in the local media, and outreach via social media. In late September 2019, the “Workshop of the City of Rivne”, a public space, hosted a conference entitled: “Gender Initiatives Develop Communities: Stories of Experience”, which drew over 40 women activists from the Rivne, Volyn, and Ternopil regions.
The project in Smyha resulted in the creation of the “Tone of Change”, a community development agency NGO, while the team in Hoshcha launched the “DiyaMy Women’s Initiative Platform”. Their development strategies were mapped out and operations planned during a series of targeted educational events. Strategic sessions and trainings were held separately in Smyha and Hoshcha, with close to 40 women joining the training in each village. Effectively, the women formed separate teams in their communities and jointly formulated the goal, mission, objectives, and values of the newly-created organizations. In addition to strategizing experience, the participants acquired project management knowledge. This helped some of them to successfully prepare applications for the NGO projects competition in their community and emerge victorious.
The DiyaMy Women’s Initiatives Platform was created in the wake of a gender project called “Success Story: Women in the Limelight”, which was implemented at the Hoshcha Village Council and was named in 2018 as the best NGO initiative carried out in a small Ukrainian community. This brought together a team of women in Hoshcha District, who identified the creation of an effective NGO as one of the priorities for continued development of their community.
Apart from creating new NGOs, the initiative involves activities aimed at mainstreaming the idea of gender equality, and shedding light on the need to get women involved in community development. One of the promotional tools is a series of social videos that tell stories of women who live and work in the Hoshcha and Smyha communities. The videos feature women directors of educational and cultural institutions, a family doctor, a businesswoman, parents of children living with disabilities, and women leaders of the new NGOs. We expected the videos to get close to 10,000 views, but the actual figures exceeded our expectations threefold. One of the protagonists of this series of video stories is Iryna Hnatiuk, a mother of many children, director of a community centre in the village of Bereh, and member of the youth council of the Smyha United Territorial Community.
“For the past five years, my family and I have been living in the village of Bereh in the community of Smyha. Even though we moved here from the Mykolayiv Region and one could say that I’m ‘not a local’ here, I am never indifferent to what is happening in the community in general and in the village in particular. First and foremost, I want to create quality pastime opportunities for local children and adolescents.
This year I gladly participated in a training course delivered as part of a gender initiative. I was most captivated by the idea of writing a development strategy for an NGO. I never once regretted participating: it was really interesting and I gleaned lots of useful insights. In the fall, I ran in the election for a seat at the Smyha Village Council. Even though I did not receive enough votes, I am not discouraged. I have my ambitions and will keep moving in this direction. I believe in the potential of my community, and I trust that I can have an impact on its life. Lately I’ve been seeing a growing number of active women all around me. They want to show their skills, learn, grow professionally, and be an active part of the community. I believe that diverse outreach and training activities bring about significant mindset changes and the attitude among women towards themselves,” says Iryna Hnatiuk, project participant.
In February 2020, the newly formed NGOs, the “CIVITAS Social Action Centre”, and the “Rivne Regional Office of the AUC”, signed a memorandum establishing a coalition: “For Equal Opportunities”. Other NGOs and local government bodies will be able to join it in the future. The coalition team hopes that the experience acquired by them will be gradually expanded to other districts of Rivne Region, and the association of NGOs will lay a groundwork for cooperation among rural activists, promote an active community life and involvement in local decision-making.
Hoshcha and Smyha activists continue to liaise, generate new ideas for cooperation, and are now becoming drivers of local change themselves. Women run for seats on local councils, acquire experience, and gradually occupy active positions in communities. They will continue to make their voices ever louder and share successful experience with others, thereby building a society in which women and men will have equal opportunities and means of utilizing them.
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