VETERANKA at the 67th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women

On March 6, the co-founder of VETERANKA, Kateryna Pryimak, made history as the first representative of the Women Veteran Movement to speak at the 67th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women as part of the official delegation of the Government of Ukraine.

We are proud to have the opportunity to represent our country at such a high level and we are sharing Kateryna’s speech with you:

I am a veteran of the Russian-Ukrainian war and a co-founder of the Ukrainian Women Veterans Movement. As early as 2015, when it became clear that the issue of women in the military concerned only women in the military, we began to unite in a community. Soon this became an advocacy campaign called “Invisible Battalion”. The context was that women were seeking access to the front line to perform combat tasks, but in documents they were listed as seamstresses and laundry workers. After three years of working with women parliamentarians, government officials, scientists, and with the support of the UN women, we achieved visibility and opened up 63 combat positions for women in the military. However, the security and defense sector was not yet ready to accept women, and some women had already returned from the front, and society was not yet ready for it.

Our NGO emerged in response to the challenges faced by women in and after service. We manage to unite efforts with the state sector to meet the needs of female military personnel and veterans, we participate in the development of NАР, but even after 8 years of active participation of women in the war, we are still forced to overcome countless barriers on the path to women’s career growth. And one of them is the mindset of those who are not ready to live in an equal and progressive world and are afraid of competition from women in service, instead of partnership.

Therefore, the first thing that needs to be implemented, in my opinion, in order to implement the WPS agenda, is to carry out personnel reform in the army and create conditions for professional selection in the army, which will allow motivated women who want professional growth to join the service without manipulation and prejudice regarding their gender. Yes, there are still many structural problems for women’s career growth, but now highly motivated women who join the service are ready to tolerate the lack of uniform and hygiene, the lack of female doctors, and so on. However, the real barrier remains the humiliation of women based on gender, which is encountered in the command structure, especially in the middle level, which works directly with personnel. It is unacceptable for the human factor to be a hindrance to the achievement of the goals of the WPS agenda.

We are facing a terrible situation where we don’t know which problems to prioritize for solving, and taking long-term measures in a war situation remains a difficult task. The first obstacle preventing us from implementing resolution 1325 is the need to survive in a war with a formidable enemy.

Of course, WPS should become a global process because what do we have to counter armies of rapists?

However, it is precisely these highly motivated women who have the right to a fair competitive environment with equal rights and opportunities in the army and not a toxic masculine environment, and to hold leadership positions. However, women’s uncertainty about their ability to become leaders and to become authorities for male subordinates becomes an obstacle.

Currently, about 60,000 women are in the service, which is almost 15%. Given that they are represented on the battlefield, there are too few of them in leadership positions in the army. Women officers of higher rank were less than 0.5% as of 2021. Women in service and after service become vulnerable, not only due to combat experience but also due to displacement, separation from their children, and injury.

My friend and the head of our organization, Andriana, is undergoing treatment with a broken back after being injured. Her husband continues to serve, and she has not seen her child for almost a year. My friend Dasha, who is part of the Bahmut territory defense, has five concussions and continues to defend the ruined city. And there are tens of thousands of such stories.

We need to do everything to empower women not only with knowledge and skills but also with confidence that they are capable of any career heights. So that they can rightfully take their place in groups that negotiate or determine the course of the war. We must continue to advocate for corporate changes in the army for their professional growth. It is nonsense to receive a promotion for just being in a position for a long time, rather than for your professional qualities, experience, and contribution.

The challenges of implementing 1325 also include weak state institutions that are currently operating under the conditions of crisis due to the war. We are facing difficulties in implementing long-term measures that can preserve the future of Ukraine, and we need your support for that.